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Parenting in Spain

Posted on 23 December 2014 by American expat!

I’m not a tolerant person when it comes to poorly behaved children. So of course, I live in a country that has the most unruly children I have yet to witness in this lifetime.

Obviously, it is no fault of the children. Children will test parents; it is in human nature to test authority and to test parental love. Children want boundaries and will test them. It makes them feel secure, and it makes them feel loved. So I wonder why Spain hasn’t caught up with this parenting revelation?

My theory is that there is some Spanish parenting book, likely written 50 years ago, that people are still following as if it were law.

This dated text certainly must have told parents to ignore their children if tantrums are thrown, because that is exactly what parents do here. On a daily (and I mean DAILY) basis, some kid will have some unspeakable injustice done to him, like being put into a stroller, and you would swear that the parents were holding his hand directly to a flame. The screaming Does. Not. Stop. And the parents say not a word, despite the glares of the customers around them. Oh, did I not mention? This isn’t outside. Parents do not take their screaming children outside. They do not acknowledge said screaming moppet, they let their little monsters writhe and yell in their strollers, or more often on the restaurant or shop floor, and completely ignore them.

This continues until one of two things happens: Either 15 or 30 minutes or whatever later the parents coddle their exhausted, red faced ilk (still screaming, mind you) and act like they need some comforting, when what they need is some behavioral guidelines, not rewards for fit throwing. Or the parents leave with kiddo still screaming and kicking and then I don’t hear them anymore, so I don’t actually know what happens.

This theoretical book also covers what to do when a child has bonked their head, tripped, been punched by their brother, etc. It has parents assuming that children are brainless little beings that respond to cause and effect: something happens, they cry, so coddling must commence until crying stops. Never is any support given to the kid to let them know that they can handle the situation. Never is any child told to stop when they are clearly milking the attention from a cut on the finger for all it’s worth.

The only alternative to coddling or ignoring that I have ever seen demonstrated here is distracting. though usually this is by other people.

If you ever say anything to these parents, perhaps when you are in a restaurant and 20 minutes has gone with a child howling and twisting in their chair 5 feet away from you, the response is always the same: Shoulders are shrugged as the parent smiles and says “She’s just a child”.

This damn book has parents treating their children like dumb objects that can’t read social cues and are little more than reptiles responding to environmental stimuli. It doesn’t tell them that children understand much more than they realize, that they are extremely adaptive and clever beings who know how to manipulate situations to their benefit from a very young age. It has parents acting as if their children don’t ever look to them for behavioral guidance and security when they are uncomfortable in situations they do not like. No, this stupid book has told parents they are helpless and things just have to ride unruly behavior out.

I wonder if there really is a book. It would explain so much that bewilders so many.

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Rude behavior or North American pet peeves?

Posted on 12 April 2012 by American expat!

So called pet peeves are annoyances that are particularly bothersome to an individual, but that seem acceptable to others.

But is it still considered a pet peeve if it involves disrespect, poor manners or poor personal hygiene? I mean how can you call your stomach churning when a coworker leans over your shoulder and breathes their nasty, rotten smokers mouth into your nostrils a pet peeve? (You know the kind-that 3 pack a day, rotten tooth smoker’s breath). Or that fact that you find people cutting you off mid sentence incredibly rude? Or when you thoughtfully and carefully answer a question only to discover the person had no interest in an actual answer and didn’t listen to a word you said? Are those pet peeves – or can you be justifiably annoyed with what is actually rude behavior?

I am going to argue against my own feelings that these are examples of rude behavior and say that these are pet peeves – because while many North Americans might find these things incredibly disrespectful, they are are totally acceptable elsewhere.

Personal space

We North Americans (and others out of Anglo Saxon origins) hold our personal space sacred. Mediterranean Europeans are much more physical.  They stand closer, speak closer and touch each other more, hug and kiss and shake hands with perfect strangers, and God forbid you expect an Anglo Saxon to adjust to personal space norms in a place like Brazil, which is even closer than southern Europe. The touching and closeness is a very human way to be and can be looked at as group inclusiveness, which we all have a strong need for.  But the downside is that outside of greeting and chatting and having the closeness directed kindly at you, it is taken for granted that involuntary touching, bumping and even pushing is nothing that needs to be avoided.

Courtesy Scott Adams

People barge right past you here without so much as an “excuse me” or “may I pass?” or even “sorry!” In fact most people refuse to move aside from your trajectory, either forcing you off the sidewalk, into an oncoming group of people or, if you hold your line and do what they do-which is not move out of the way–bump right into you as they elbow their way through the crowd without so much as an acknowledgement.

When I first moved here, I thought this was because Spaniards were horribly rude. The ricocheting off other people, coupled with never smiling at strangers (a blank stare or look up and down is normal – which I have adopted, but that is another story) made me feel like I was in a sea of angry, bitter people who just didn’t give a crap who they mowed over to get where they wanted to go.

But… while the people who walk three or four wide on a sidewalk, essentially taking up the whole damn thing –- this is super common with the older ladies here who even link arms to fully block any passage from behind– still makes me want to scream, shoving my way through a crowd can be liberating when I get in the right frame of mind.

You see,  no one cares here if you whack them with your bag, elbow them aside, or shove them ever so gently so you can pass while they stand in the path of traffic. It is expected. So when you do let out a little aggression on one of the seven burly dudes coming at you, maybe leaning into one of them a little too firmly with the shoulder, well, they don’t care. No one ever turns around and says “hey buddy, watch who you are shoving”. They just keep chatting and lean into it along with you.

I realize that may not be the best example – it’s  a cultural thing that may be considered rude or normal, depending on from whence you hail, though it is unlikely to be considered a pet peeve by anyone. But I included it here because 1) it’s entertaining 2) it goes along with the theme of  ”one man’s inconsiderateness is another man’s normal behavior”. I’ll put myself in the spotlight next.

I know that I drive some people crazy because I speak very softly. I know this because people frequently say ‘what?’ to me after I say something. Or they more rudely might ask “are you talking to yourself?” or even “what are you mumbling?” which leads me to believe that they might be a tad annoyed. One would logically assume that I would just talk louder, but I really do have a quiet-ish voice and to project it takes a lot of effort. After a couple of hours of speaking at a level that, to me, is loud, I am exhausted. It’s like singing to an audience for hours. Add to it that my hearing is really sensitive –  a lot of times it seems to me like people are yelling when they are speaking – and you have got yourself someone who isn’t going to change her quiet world for the sake of everybody else, especially not for the assholes who ask me what I am mumbling instead of just saying they didn’t hear me. (Ironically, I have met other people who speak really low or, yes, mumble, and guess what? I find it annoying.)

Interrupting others

Outside of the misuse of their, they’re and there, my biggest peeve has to be when someone talks over me. You know, when you are talking or finishing a sentence and someone just starts talking forcing you to either stop or speak louder to drown them out? Turns out either way you lose, because then you are so annoyed you’re no longer thinking about the subject but how the person just cut you off mid sentence.

Well guess what? Interrupting others is totally acceptable in certain places too. Anglo Saxons wait for each other to finish before speaking, and take turns holding the floor. Mediterraneans generally just talk as the thoughts occur and speaking at the same time is totally acceptable. I am telling you, the reality TV here is incomprehensible, with 5 to 10 people frequently talking (or yelling,I am not sure which since a lot of talking sounds like yelling to me) over each other for up to three minute stretches. I personally don’t think this makes for good TV, but I don’t think anyone here cares because TV here sucks.

So my point with all of this is – you can’t take things at face value when you are in a place you are unaccustomed to. This seems obvious, but until you understand why you consider something unacceptable, you might just write off a place or a people before you really know it.

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Spain’s cities (and their people) in a nutshell

Posted on 08 March 2012 by American expat!

 

Quick profiles of popular cities and their people in Spain

Here is a list of the largest cities in Spain with a generalized–and somewhat stereotypical, I will admit, though I’m just telling it like it is–description of each.

Madrid

Great street life, beautiful monuments in the city although it was a only village just a couple of centuries ago. Many trees and parks, great culture, unprecedented nightlife, great travel infrastructure, tons of immigrants, horrendous traffic, noise and pollution, general quick pace of life. Most of the ancestors of Madrid people (Madridites? Madridians?) are from other parts of Spain, though they act superior for living in Spain’s capital when they visit their places of origin. They are politically polarized to the extreme right and extreme left.

Barcelona

A compact city trapped between the sea, two rivers and mount Tibidabo. Before the Olympic games it was an ugly industrial hub, it is now a modern and beautiful city after renovations and the restoration of it’s modernist architecture in the center. Ancient Roman port city. Is in a rivalry with Madrid to be Spain’s first city. Jaded with tourists. Many international businesses and expats, conventions, marathons, bike races and sports. Extremely liberal, with lots of  anarchists, separatists, okupas (squatters), dirty hippie types (AKA perroflautas) who refuse to speak Spanish. Or work.

Dirty hippie types that beg with a dog and a flute. Actively protest whatever is being protested.

Perroflauta

Bilbao

The wealthiest region of Spain and also the starting place of the Spanish civil war. Weather is cloudy and rainy much of the year. People are friendly and proud of being from Bilbao. Deindustrialized after the mid-1990s and now boasts designs by several of the world’s most renowned architects and artists. Fascinating history.

Valencia

The third largest city in Spain and incidentally one of three cities that has rapidly increasing foreign born population (Barcelone and Madrid being the other two). Another deindusrialized city that now holds Santiago Calatrava architecture, wide avenues with palm trees. A Port city. Conservative, obsessed with fashion and physical appearance. Great parties. Cool graffiti.

Seville

Once the most important city in Spain. Big, fabulous, ancient part of the city in the center. Surrounding the old center are boring housing blocks. One of the most dangerous districts in all of Europe is in Seville. People can be divided into: Pijos – wealthy and deeply religious people, Canis – guidos or chavs who wear tracksuits, gold rings and love flamenco, and Perroflautas. Many aristocrats live here.

Spanish canis

Canis

 

An even quicker rundown of the remaining major cities in Spain:

Zaragoza: Fast-growing city, dynamic, great parties, funny accent.

Pamplona: Mix of blue-collar workers and Opus Dei (probably the only cult in Europe) fellows. Wealthy, high quality of life. Important university.

Málaga: Port city, nice beaches, many retired Europeans.

Granada: The Alhambra, gypsies, hippies, graffiti.

Murcia: Fast-growing, very conservative, lack of water, urban sprawl.

Valladolid: Typical Castilian city. Pijos, conservative politics. Automobile industry.

San Sebastián: Palaces, French architecture, fabulous beaches and high quality of life. Aristocracy and surfers.

Jerez: Not a major city, but I’ve spent a lot of time here. Sherry, horses, motorcycle racing. Rabid Catholicism though seemingly just for show.

 

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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.

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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.

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