Friday, June 3, 2011

North of Africa

If you want to be rude and disparaging about Southern Spain, you can refer to its geographical location as being north of Africa, as opposed to south of Europe. It’s a strange expression with colonial undertones of disrespect about the standards of life in the African continent as well as numerous cultural assumptions about superiority of standard of life there and here. North of Africa not south of Europe sets two opposing parts in contrast to one another; the sense of two competing elements with a winner and a loser. The loser in this case clearly being the minority party, Africa’s inferiority claiming a right to the negative things about living in Southern Spain.
Ironically enough I heard this expression for the first time from a man who has lived in Alicante for more than twenty years. He is Northern European by birth yet intends to spend the remainder of his life here, tied by bonds of an ex wife, a new wife and three children and also drawn to the chaotic beauty of southern Spain. Why did he use the expression? We had been discussing water quality (it’s very poor here, lots of calcium deposits in the water) and that fact that you can go to the pharmacy with a sample of your tap water and they can tell you whether it’s safe to drink or not!
We have a water deposito here (a massive underground water tank) and we buy our water because we’re not connected to the mains yet. My friend Karen, who lives up the street, gets water from the local dam, which is very calcified, when she washes her pots and pans she has to wipe them clean immediately, none of that letting the dishes dry on the draining board, otherwise she gets filmy white calcified water marks everywhere. The water'spretty horrible. We don’t drink it, we buy bottles of stuff. When we are connected to the mains (the process has started...they’ve dug the road and put in pipes but not connected to the house yet!) we’ve been advised to get a water filter, which will make the water drinkable and kinder to our clothes and skin.
North of Africa is also used as a negative descriptor when you encounter seemingly mad paper work, when things take a long time to complete and when it’s extremely hot. All of those things in stark contrast with the supposed efficiency, aloof competence and cold associated with the rest of Europe. Personally, I’d rather have sun, unreliable water and inefficiency than drinkable tap water and the mythical efficient social services...anyone who has filled in a form for the Inland revenue (and God help you if you want to apply for child tax credit) knows that paper work is not necessarily easy in Northern Europe. As for the weather....give me sun and blue skies any time....I love many things about Britain, but the weather is not necessarily on top of my best things about Britain list! At the moment I'm happy to be living right here, whether we call it South of Europe or North of Africa, I don't really care.

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