Saturday, February 12, 2011

How do the Spanish know I'm not Spanish (without me speaking a word)?

There are some cultural things which are fantastically wonderful to observe when you move to a new country. Some are distinct and easy to spot and others are more subtle and make me wonder whether it’s a cultural distinction or just a peculiarity that I have as an individual or that I have inherited from a sometimes eccentric mother...
How do the Spanish know I’m not Spanish (without me speaking a word?)
1. There are lots more zebra crossings here in Spain than in the U.K. possibly because people walk a lot more in the warmer climate so there is a lot more pedestrian traffic here. Anyway, they’re everywhere, street corners, any place you may possibly want to cross the street in fact and it is obligatory, when you’re driving, to stop for pedestrians who are waiting to cross. When I am a pedestrian myself and a driver has stopped for me, I always like to give them a little cheerful wave and smile, or if I’m busy just a quick flick of the hand as an acknowledgement that they have stopped for me. When I’m driving and I stop, the Spanish just seem to walk across without even glancing up at me in the car, waiting for a little smile or nod.
So the question is, is my acknowledging little wave a very British thing or is it just old style gratitude and manners as taught by mother?
2. I like to eat my lunch at mid day and my dinner between 5 and 7. This is terrifically early by Spanish standards and they are probably eating their dinner while I am warmly snuggled up in bed...which leads to the next point...
3. I like to be in bed by 10.30 at the VERY latest and that’s when the night life here is at its very early stages, many Spanish people are eating their main meal of the day at this time and will be socialising or partying through the night.
4. My Spanish is adequate now and I can understand most things for day to day existence. However, occasionally I will encounter a Spanish person with a strong accent (think Spanish equivalent of strong Liverpool or Middlesborough or Scottish accent) and my face when they say a simple thing must be a real picture of absolute incomprehension...then they know I’m not Spanish
5. As above when some Spanish people become animated or excited or angry and they seem to speak at the most terrific speed and I cannot possibly follow the rapid stream of face says it all
6. At the moment it’s quite chilly in the mornings, so when I wake up I layer up, t shirt, thick jumper, thicker jumper...then by 11am, when it’s warmed up a bit, I am absolutely boiling, especially in the car with the sun streaming in through the windows. I need to adapt the way I dress for this climate with one thin layer and then a very warm coat or jumper on top
7. I don’t normally double kiss acquaintances when I see them, friends yes, but not parents at a birthday the Spanish know I’m not ‘one of them’ by the hearty ‘British’ handshake
8. At British birthday parties, at a certain age, parents are delighted to be able to drop off the children for two hours of child free shopping or football watching before returning to collect the kid(s). In Spain, the parents stay with the children, have a drink, maybe a beer, a few snacks and’s kind of nice but at the same time it can be like a three hour Spanish lesson for me and by the end of the party I am eager to escape from brain drain of thinking in Spanish for three hours and shouting children, so I often leave as soon as is reasonably polite (in my mind) whilst the Spanish parents seem happy to stay and socialise forever...bear in mind here that some Spanish kids’ parties are in the evening, after work, from 5.30 until 8 o clock at night I’m sure my face just says weariness to the Spanish parents as I beat my hasty, tired retreat.
How do I know I’m not Spanish?
1. I marvel at the beautiful weather every day
2. I am constantly surprised at how kind the people neighbours have already helped me to register at a medical centre, change the water bill to my name, buy fabrics from a haberdashery, harvest our olives and prune the trees. A colleague at school took kilos of olives to be pressed because he knew where the press place was. The plumber has been to sort a number of teething problems with the plumbing in the house and not charged us once. The man who built our house, when asked if he could put in another door at the back, said yes. When told that we couldn’t afford to do the work yet, he offered to pay for the door and we could pay him back when we could afford it...
3. I find it very funny that the Spanish have particular words for a snack at mid morning and an afternoon snack
4. I find the noise levels and the chatter volume at parties, the school dining room and restaurants surprisingly loud
5. I love it when my children are complimented and patted and generally adored by Spanish people, just because they are children
6. I still smile when I am welcomed at the fish shop or the dry cleaners with an ‘ Ola Guapa’ or ‘Hello beautiful’ from the old lady in the shop
7. I marvel at the beautiful weather every day (Yes, I know that was number one on this list, but I want to say it again)


  1. Sian, I can relate to quite a bit of what you write here. I also do the polite wave thing at zebra crossings and locals look at you a little funny here too! Luckily I don't have to worry about language, although sometimes we use different words and that can get a little amusing. Love reading about your life in Spain - fascinating. x

  2. Sounds wonderful! Nice friendly, kind people? Not so much here in China I'm afraid! I am on a personal mission to be nice and smiley to everyone, including the man who almost pushed me under a train yesterday as although the train was very full, he thought if he pushed hard enough, enough space would magically appear for him and me. The weather sounds idyllic, although I'm technically in the tropics, it's bloody freezing!

    Keep up the blogs, they make me smile. xx


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