Archive | January, 2012

Spain and the Average Physique

Posted on 29 January 2012 by American expat!


thin spanish woman
I enjoy the sentiment here that people are born looking a certain way, and that the particular certain way doesn’t define who a person is, so natural appearances aren’t messed with too badly (other than from certain socio-economics groups like our aging Spanish ladies). That goes for things we Americans methodically correct as a rite of passage, for example crooked teeth. Lots of crooked teeth here with no closed lipped smiles to hide what Americans would call imperfections. Even if you wish that guy with the tobacco stained, gappy set of chompers would adopt such a smile.

Body Acceptance

Body acceptance of others is the norm, and to an extent one’s own body. I don’t mean that there are fat acceptance groups or hyper vigilance to be politically correct about fat people (or anything else for that matter). What I mean is, if someone is fat, they may be referred to as fat, but it isn’t with disgust or contempt or scorn. It’s just a defining characteristic they have and it’s an easy reference. No one watches them eat and whispers Does he really need the extra slice of jamon on his bocadillo?? It isn’t anyone’s business but his own, and no one treats it otherwise.

That being said, the standard body size is far smaller than that of a typical US citizen. I mean in height and weight and everything else. For women, the median dress size here is about a US 4,  which means there are also a lot of naturally thin women who are much smaller, like a size 00-2. These are women who do not think twice about what they are eating. They drink beer, they eat a chocolate croissant for mid-morning breakfast, they drink regular coke and they eat dinner well past 10pm and it usually includes something fried. But they also may skip a meals because they get too busy or perhaps just forget to eat. So while there is a level of body acceptance, there aren’t a lot of fat people here.

Daily Diet

There are a lot of differences in daily diet that I think may contribute to a naturally smaller size. The Spanish do not ever ingest high fructose corn syrup, they don’t eat much dairy other than a bit of soft cheese or very infrequently some grated hard cheese, they never eat butter in or on anything (olive oil is used instead), they eat fish daily, red meat and pork and chicken almost daily. I’d go on, but the hype about the “Mediterranean Diet” has already come and gone so you know the components.

Now, I don’t know if any of this has anything to do with their natural set point in body weight, because on the other hand, they also put oil on everything and eat crème brûlée and patatas braves: fried potatoes usually served  with some mayonnaise-y type sauce which sounds gross but isn’t bad (in fact the whole concept of Mayonnaise came from the island Menorca, here in Catalunya so it isn’t a strange adoption like that of the Dutch who do put straight mayonnaise on fries, which you already knew because you saw Pulp Fiction).

Excercise

And while the entire male world runs or cycles daily well into their 70s, the women generally aren’t very sporty. Spanish women may or may not go to the gym, but if they do, it isn’t with the fervor that the dieting (or the eating disordered) put into it. As far as I can tell, they go to socialize or to have something to do during the two hour lunch break everyone has. And they walk or ride bicycles or take public transportation, which involves a lot more walking than you think.

Genes

Despite the diet and exercise differences, I think a lot of it is in our genes. We of Anglo-Saxon decent (most of middle American and all of Northern Europe) are not just much taller than our Mediterranean brothers, but bigger breasted, assed, bellied and with substantially more back fat as well. Just give us an extra slice or two of pizza a week for a couple months, and we expand 3 pant sizes, while Alberto just has more energy during the day. We must have had some cold winters to naturally select that kind of fat storing efficiency. If we want to keep ourselves in check now that we are no longer hunting and gathering and storing extra fat blankets for lean winters, we have to be vigilant.  We could adopt the “Mediterranean Diet”, but considering what happens when you spend a week in Italy, I don’t think that is going to work for us. (That’s a joke, but regardless, I’m not willing to commit to such an experiment.)

Gender Differences

Interestingly, I hear Spanish men discussing their diets all the time. As in “I’m going on a diet” and “I need to get some more exercise because my abs are no longer so defined you can scrub your clothes on them”. In the US, a layer of fat on a man goes unnoticed by him and is easily described (inaccurately) as muscle by others by using the adjective big, as in “that’s a big dude”, as in “that’s a strong dude” instead  of “that’s a chunky dude”. Men here are inscrutable about a handful of gut and will work hard to rid themselves of it.

Leanness  is king. Which means that yes, the smaller and less muscled look for men (what hipsters in the US affectionately refer to as European, or Gay?)  is completely acceptable. Instead of fearing a scrawny body and striving for the kind of overinflated biceps that every US high school boy spends hours sweating in his garage while listening to Rush trying to achieve, skinniness is A-OK. In fact it’s an asset: you’re a skinny kid? Get on a bicycle! Cycling here is so popular that a fit but really skinny guy is universally envied for his climbing skills, potential or actual,while bicycling in the mountains. Because cycling is the way out. It’s the equivalent to our poor kid turned basketball star/rags to riches story. (just read up on Alberto Contador, 2x Tour de France winner. Yes, he is Spanish. Warning, translated site is not fantastic but you get the gist of it.)

Note: The pro cycling world is perhaps an unfair example, as any fly on the wall will tell you that the preoccupation with eating and not eating rivals that of any group of unnaturally slim models: Food restrictions, diet pills, off season binges and of course the deliberate avoidance of speaking of any and all strange eating patterns marks the cycling world in general.

So the average Spanish guy isn’t going to weigh his food and abstain from alcohol (ever!), though he may take it easy on the pasta and skip the dessert if his gut is starting to protrude over his belt a whole 10 millimeters. And he is going to admire rather than make fun of the physique of the tiny dudes on bicycles, even if he never wants to be that size himself.

If you are now envious of the Mediterranean natural size zero women and lean men with washboard abs, both of whom who eat bread dipped in olive oil everyday with their beer, let me help you feel better: They look older. That type of thinness over age 30 ages you a lot. And god help them if they smoke. (Or smoke while tanning, which I see a lot of women here doing. Trust me, they look 45 by age 35. So wear sunscreen and don’t smoke, for the love of Pete.)

And if you visit, or even come here to live, don’t worry about having a bowl of those olives and a glass of wine or two. These local delights are delicious treats like nowhere else on earth. And if you start feeling guilty, remember that there’s nothing like a little extra padding to make naturally age-thinned faces and necks look younger.

And no one is going to judge you for a couple of extra pounds either way.

Comments (10)

Eight reasons I live in Spain.

Posted on 03 January 2012 by American expat!

 

In no particular order, here are some things I am appreciating at the moment about living in Spain.

1-Cursing.

There is plenty of cursing in everyday speech here in Spain, from classrooms to courthouses. It is part of the daily vernacular of the Spanish to punctuate sentences with curse words. Natives generally speak pretty loudly in the first place, so if you are already yelling, what better way is there to indicate some emphasis than to curse? Personally, I find it amusing and even delightful. You gotta love a place that runs commercials for cold medicine that begin with a woman coughing and saying: “joder, estoy resfriada” which translates to “fuck, I have a cold”.

2-Flexible hours, in every meaning of the phrase. 

OK, I’ll admit – sometimes it sucks when it’s 4:45pm and you are still waiting outside the shop or bank that was supposed to re-open after siesta at 4:30. You might answer ahora to the person who shows up to wait along side you outside the shop when they ask what time the place re-opens. But ahora doesn’t necessarily mean now. On the other hand, when you show up late to an appointment, work, a meeting or dinner, lateness is almost always (if not actually always) overlooked. And for me, who is very rarely not late, it’s an acceptable trade off. In fact, if you make plans with friends to meet at 10:00pm, and you show up at 10:30pm, you are right about on time. You may even be the first to show.

3-Speaking of siesta, living here means that between 2 and 4:30 there’s no point in trying to get anything done.

This is generally lunchtime and everything but the restaurants and cafes close until 4, 4:30 or 5pm. The reopening hour depends on the shop. Usually the hours are posted, but like I said, those hours tend to be flexible. This might seem to be a pain in the ass at first, but because these places are closed for a few hours during the day, it means everything stays open late. When you get off work at 6 or 8 or whenever, shops, the post office and even some banks are open until at least 9, with some open until 10pm and the streets are full of people, sidewalk cafes and bars busy serving drinks and tapas (but certainly not dinner, anything before 9:30 is far too early) and the day continues until dinner, and then the night begins which is generally not for sleeping but for socializing.

4-Willingness to take risks for the sake of tradition – and a good time.

There might be some festivities here considered dangerous by American standards, but people take responsibility for their actions should they decide to participate. For example, the Catalan tradition of people climbing onto each others shoulders to heights up to 7-9 people stacked atop each other, then sending a 5 year old to scale the tower and slide down the other side (called Casteller teams). Or the Falles in Valencia, where millions of firecrackers are set off in the streets during a weekend, and after parading through the town, giant wooden statues are then torched in public while people stand very, very close. Or the Catalan tradition of Correfoc, where people dressed as devils shoot fireworks into the crowds while drummers lead a local float, usually a dragon or demon, or sometimes just a donkey (the symbol of Catalunya) that also spits fire while people, children included, run through the sparks. I think the Spanish like the feeling that they are alive. I can appreciate that.

la merce barcelona correfoc

5-Honesty in public places.

People generally don’t form lines here, except maybe in the supermarket where you need a chance to stack all your stuff. Otherwise, when you enter a bank or bakery, it’s standard practice to ask the people standing or sitting around “Quien es la ultima?” (Who is the last). Whomever indicates they are servidor, meaning “I am” but literally translating to “your faithful servant”. Then you know who you are behind, and you become the servidor or servidora. Another display the honesty system is in bars and cafes. When you order, you don’t give your credit card to keep a tab open and don’t pay as you are served. You order, enjoy your food and drinks, then when you decide to leave, you tell the bartender or cashier exactly what you ordered and they ring you up. The cashier won’t keep track of what you consumed, he is likely busy serving up drinks or delivering food. He expects you to remind him what you had. And remarkably there is very little exploitation of this.

6-Bargaining for rent prices.

Just because an ad specifies one price, it doesn’t always mean the owner or agency expect to get it. It’s like car sales, you can bargain for extras or bargain down the price. If you want a different contract term, a different rent price, utilities thrown in, or to furnish an unfurnished place, you can request it. Most agencies and owners are more than willing to work with you to get the place rented.

7-Public displays of affection.

People kiss each other on both cheeks in greeting, touch each other when speaking, hug each other, slap shoulders, touch each others dogs and children without fear of offending, and kiss and hold hands in public. This goes for straight, gay and platonic couples. Although a Catholic country, there is no stigma or scorn towards gay couples and gay marriage is legal. I see gay couples walking hand in hand daily here, everywhere. No one tuts disapprovingly, and that is refreshing.

8-Cheap booze.

A good bottle of wine can be found for around 3€, and in smaller pueblos that sell local wines, you can find totally acceptable, in fact quite often delicious, wines for under 1€. But there are thousands of places in every city to grab a beer or a glass of wine- you can go to a bar, a café, a bodega or a cevercería- there is one on every corner, and if the cost for a glass of beer or wine is over 2.50€ that is considered expensive. And while very there are plenty of British taking advantage of the cheap drink prices, very few of the Spanish exploit this to a negative effect. Though you will see the Spanish regularly drinking a beer at lunchtime then going back to work. And it is not unusual to see the waitress adding some brandy to morning coffees, especially at cafes frequented by blue collar workers. Because, as we all know, there’s nothing like a drink or two before work to help with your productivity.

Comments (1)