Monday, 27 July 2009
Story number One: I was sharing a dining table with a well-spoken and seemingly intelligent English lady and two Spanish students. In the course of the conversation I discovered that the English lady, like me, lived in Spain. She lived in Torrevieja, down in the south coast near Murcia, famous for its clusters of ex-patriot communities. She was what I have given the name of “Costa Brit”, although there are “ghettos” of several other nationalities also. The word “ghetto”, to me, has a somewhat negative connotation, but that was how a Spaniard who also lives in that region described it to me.
She was telling us of her life and that she had come to Spain on her retirement. We soon found out that she had lived there for thirteen years.
“Your Spanish must be quite good by now”, I suggested.
Now remember, we are sharing a table with two students who are reasonably fluent in English.
With a disparaging flap of her hand she declared, “Oh, where I live we don’t have to bother with all that gobbledygook”.
The Oxford dictionary defines “Gobbledygook” as “Language that is meaningless, unintelligible or nonsense. Taken from the sound a turkey makes.”
I am sure, thankfully, the two students did not have that particular word in their English vocabulary, but sharing a table with them, I was embarrassed that one of my compatriots could be so derogatory about the language of the country where she and I now live. Stunned, and in an attempt to have our fellow diners not think I was of the same opinion I remarked that that was a shame. That the Spanish culture was so interesting and varied that she was surely missing out by not being able to read the language or take a full part in any local event.
Her reply was a statement that, “Where I live we don’t have any need of that nonsense”.
Story number two: Again, we were a mixed group of Spanish and English speakers. Among our number was a couple from California. He played the guitar and she sang very prettily. One evening they were entertaining us and after a number of songs in English they sang that beautiful Spanish song, “Gracias a la vida”. As soon as they began a young American girl who had been enjoying and joining in with the songs so far observed, rather loudly, “What’s the point of this? It’s all yada yada yada”, and proceeded to try to engage another girl in conversation, drowning out the music in our part of the room. I am pleased to relate that another American told her to “shut up and listen to the music”.
You can too. It's a beautiful song! The You Tube clip below is sung by Mercedes Sosa.
My gut reaction to these two events is that the two people concerned were both rude and insulting. However, neither the Spaniards at my table, or those standing near to the young American woman seemed concerned. Rather it was a case that I was insulted on their behalf. I enjoy living in Spain and revel in all the new things in my life. I am quite angry at myself for not finding Spain years before. (Although in self-defence, I did travel to many other countries in the meantime.) So am I over-reacting?
I am blessed, or cursed, with a curious mind. I like to discover new things. If I am honest, I would say I am almost obsessed with finding things out – as you might be able to tell from the contents of this blog. Just four years ago Spain was an unknown country to me, which probably says something about British education in the fifties and sixties. The only thing that we were taught back then was that England defeated the Spanish Armada. And that, in the light of research, was really a case of the victors, or rather the undefeated, putting their own simple spin on a much more complicated history. If the Spanish plans for invasion had worked, if the organisation had not been quite so awful, if the weather had been different, then I might have been brought up catholic and speaking Spanish and not have to wrestle with the conjugations and syntax of this strange tongue. And Spanish genes would have given the British female a mix of English rose with Spanish thorns. What a rare beauty that would be. Those same genes might also have given me the ability to sound the Spanish rr sound.
But I digress. I was talking about being curious. I cannot understand why someone should come to live in a country and then ignore everything around them. Are they not the slightest bit inquisitive about why the locals do what they do, what those strange sounds coming from their mouths mean? I couldn’t live like that.
But obviously some can.
The woman in story number one had chosen the Spanish coast as her home after retirement and under EU law she had the right to do that. But, it seemed to me, she had not chosen Spain. For her, her new home was just England with a cheaper and sunnier lifestyle. The young lady in the other tale was here on holiday and had a perfect right to enjoy what she wanted. But did either of them have the right to derogate the culture of their host country?
And do I, with my obsessive curiosity and love of so much about my new country (although the rose coloured spectacles fell away a long time ago – Spain is far from perfect), have the right to defend it; to be annoyed with those who denigrate it? I have been accused of being, at times, more Spanish than the Spanish.
I certainly defend English food that the Spanish claim is unfit for human consumption. I also defend Spanish food against the comments of visiting Brits, although I will never defend Spanish Tea!
Or should I just keep my opinions to myself?
Someone once said that if you can’t say something good, then shut up. And it was either Mark Twain or Abraham Lincoln who remarked it was better to remain silent and be thought a fool than open your mouth and prove it! (Perhaps I should heed that advice! But then you would have nothing to read!!)
What's your opinion? Were they rude or just ignorant - in the true sense of the word? Please comment below.
Posted by A View Of Madrid at 12:08