MORAIRA LIFE – SPANISH IDIOSYNCRASIES

Oh dear me! A xenophobe has been asked to commit in writing his impressions of his host nation and, more specifically the inhabitants of dear ol’ Moraira town. Here goes……

MANNERS:  The Spaniards are closer to the French than the English in this respect. Entering a shop, office or waiting room they will greet everyone present, and expect a few responses. If you are known to them, expect a hearty handshake or a kiss on each cheek (depending on gender). However, should you beckon a Spanish driver out of a side road in front of you, or stop to allow pedestrians to use a crossing, don’t expect a thank you. One theory relates back to the Moorish occupation of Spain and the belief that only Allah has the authority to reward a humble earthling with a ‘thank you’.

CONDUCT:
  In thirty years of visiting and living in Moraira, I have never witnessed anyone in a drunken state (maybe I should get out more!). Vandalism and binge drinking are alien concepts in Moraira, and the only example of street crime is the occasional, carelessly discarded cigarette packet.  Our UK clients marvel at an annual rates bill of around 500€ for a 500,000€ villa, but we have to pay no ‘crime premium’.   When our local council landscape garden areas, plant palm or orange trees, or install outdoor gym equipment, there it all stays – unmolested. No replacements and repairs, no large policing bills. Part of those saved funds is spent sweeping our streets twice a day, and pressure washing our pavements monthly. Traditional family values and control continue to reign supreme.

DRIVING:
Back in the UK, in a previous life, I taught (on a voluntary basis) both advanced/defensive driving on public roads, and circuit driving on various race tracks in the UK and Europe; you may think I am fully prepared for the Spanish mode of driving – alas no! Roundabouts only came to this area about a decade ago (there are no traffic lights in Moraira), and the locals – also some Brits and other Euros – adopt this curious habit of sweeping round the outside lane of the roundabout and sit there till the final exit; not only does this practice unsettle the car and its passengers, but it also traps any driver in the inner lane. It is not uncommon for locals (including the police) to park on the outer lane of roundabouts or on areas of white hatching! I swear that so often an approaching Spanish driver in a narrow country lane will close their eyes and not even lift their throttle foot as they pass you. At least once every week a local driver will drive the wrong way up the one-way road outside our office windows – and they get away with it every time. I have never witnessed a Spanish driver with ‘road rage’; they may generate a lot of it, but seem immune to it themselves!

NOISE:
 Ah! The national pastime of Spain; whether it’s  fiesta fireworks, the slamming of car doors, silencer free mopeds, Carlos Fandango’s thumping car stereo, or just animated conversations, any Spaniard can improvise a lot of noise, at any time of the day or night! Indeed, part of Moraira’s annual Moors & Christians fiesta involves the regular firing of blunderbusses around the village, from the most un-godliest hour on a Sunday morning, too. Totally free of the British reserve and inhibitions, if you happen to be sitting on a local beach with acre’s of empty space around you, you can bet your last centimos that the newly arrived Spanish family will pitch up within a metre or so of you and enjoy lengthy, animated and loud conversations.

MAÑANA:
  This concept could only have been invented by the Spanish. In fairness, you have recently been reminded of the limited joys of functioning in daily temperatures of 35 ºC, sometimes it’s a temptation to put off to mañana what could be done today! It is a tyro’s mistake to ask a plumber (or any trades person or supplier) if they can attend to your needs tomorrow; they will always tell you yes, not by way of deception, but out of politeness, on the basis that this is what you want to hear from them. Better to ask the open question: ‘when can you ………?’

SIESTAS & FIESTAS:
  A major and important element of local life. Loads of hullabaloo, pomp, parades, music, food, drink and, of course, noise and disruption. Moraira has two separate summer weeks of fiesta, and its partner town – Teulada – also has it’s week of attention. Giant public paellas, fireworks and bull-running are a feature of every local town and village, at this time. Spectacular, choreographed, late evening firework displays, along with utterly pointless, wasteful and annoying  firecrackers at lunchtime! During Christmas, the Three Kings and Easter are fabulous processions, re-enactments and parades through the village streets. The laid back, festive locals see no problem with closing off roads and virtually blockading  villages and towns, as they have done for centuries, at the expense and inconvenience of motorists and twenty first century life, in general. Fiesta days also pop up rather randomly as additional holidays  throughout the year, and the Spanish have a habit of ‘bridging’ the weekend if the fiesta day is a Tuesday or Thursday, which they are often contrived to be. Maybe I am a party pooper, but this habit, together with extended siestas throughout the summer months, I still find is an irritating disruption to our own business, as we deal mainly with British and other European and worldwide clients, and work almost all fiesta days and don’t even close the office for lunch, let alone a siesta; we often find ourselves having to work around other collaborating agents and colleagues who shut down for summer weeks and exploit the siesta concept to the full!

HEALTH:
  As I am a particularly sickly creature, I can speak on this subject with great authority! Linda and I were obliged to take out private health insurance in order to qualify for Spanish residency, ten years ago.  Whilst we are not comfortable to cast ourselves adrift of this comfort, especially as we have gained a few major ailments and maladies which continue to be covered. However, my experiences of recent years have convinced us both to lean more towards the Spanish NHS. By way of example, I was advised during a cardio check-up at the local new (Denia) NHS hospital that I needed my pacemaker changed. This was carried out within two days, I checked in at 14:00hrs, and was back at my Moraira office by 18:00hrs. Fantastic service!

BLAME CULTURE: 
Spain seems to be free of the ‘blame and claim’ culture on a commercial basis, which seems to have gripped the US & UK. However, there does tend to be a denial of personal responsibility; popular blame targets are: Franco, Moroccans, Extranjeros (foreigners in general), (any current Spanish) government and, of course, ‘la crisis’!

FOOD & DRINK:
  It took me a while to come to terms with the concept of paying good money
for a glass of water in a café. Now I understand, it is not a good plan to slake one’s thirst by downing pints of chilled lager or Sangria etc. Spaniards are seldom seen without either a mineral water or a cup of the world’s best (and probably cheapest) coffee. Often water or Coke accompanies food in restaurants, with wine, brandy or beer drunk separately in a café or bar (the latter group being popular builder’s breakfast beverages)! As with most Med. cultures, sticky buns and olive oil are consumed in copious quantities. A very high proportion of food in Spanish supermarkets is grown, caught or produced within Spain or its islands, if not within each respective region, which indicates freshness and quality.

LA CRISIS:
  The continuing local lifestyle is totally at odds with the persistent reports of doom emanating from the UK media, a fact that is often remarked on by visiting viewers/buyers. A quick check of the local Ferrari/Porsche/Aston/Bentley count will confirm business as usual. A certain number of local families have grown very rich, converting and selling (or developing) their original farmland as residential plots. The continuing cascade process of wealth distribution ensures that the subordinate layers of the local populace (us!) acquire a share, too! Maybe we are just so fortunate to be living in a micro-economic enclave, in a state of ‘splendid isolation’. My own personal experience would indicate that Moraira is not alone in this respect. We travel regularly between Alicante and Valencia where commerce continues to flourish – all the marinas are full, and the Valencia Opera House fills to capacity! Maybe the Spaniards’ blindness or denial of any crisis will ultimately, and ironically, save the economy, as they continue to show the capacity to purchase and consume their way out of any recession.

SERVICE:
Not a Spanish strong point! I have experienced better attention buying a can of Pepsi in Canada than I have enjoyed in the average car showroom! Having a large queue in front of the clerk in a bank or post office is seen as a measure of the clerks’ personal popularity, and no reflection on their lethargy. If there happens to be a mum with her baby or young child ahead of you in a queue, then you need to write off another fifteen minutes! Many sales staff and business proprietors seem to regard it as a privilege for you to purchase something from them, as they trouser your hard earned cash. Maybe that is why Select Villas’ level of customer service is so conspicuous and appreciated by our clientele.

POLICING:
 The swaggering, well-booted and armed police are not to be messed with but, whilst they do not seem so approachable as the kindly ‘Bobby Anglais’ , particularly if he has cause to approach you rather than vice versa. However, when called upon for directions or other assistance they appear to be very user-friendly. Maybe it’s due to boredom and a lack of routine action locally, but they do occupy themselves enthusiastically with setting up traffic spot checks, and stopping drivers on ‘suspicion of being Moroccan’. Both the papers of the vehicle and its occupants are checked and, if given cause to check further, and irregularities regarding identity and credit card names are discovered, immediate action will be taken. Basically, we are very happy with this level of diligence, and it is a superfluous comfort to see police cars routinely patrolling residential areas.

INTEGRATION:
  As previously mentioned, the Spanish are very family minded, across all generations and, whilst they are usually warm, open and friendly towards us Extranjeros, this rarely develops into inclusion into their own family or social circle. Dinner parties remain curiously British phenomena and, as with the French, the Spanish prefer to take the restaurant option of entertaining. The most effective way of infiltrating Spanish society, is to bring up young children through the state education system and to bond with other parents of both Spanish & other nationalities. A drastic measure from my perspective!

PAROCHIALITY:
  Sometimes a strength, sometimes a weakness, but this can be an acute affliction. As mentioned earlier, much produce is sourced and consumed locally, whether purchased in a supermarket or in each village’s weekly open market. Local ‘co-operativos’ produce wine, olive oil, honey, raisins, fresh fruit and nuts etc. However, a surprisingly high percentage of locals of all ages rarely roam beyond a very restricted horizon – I’m talking of maybe 15 to 20 kms! Even the seasoned travellers generally restrict themselves to other Spanish speaking destinations: the Canary Islands, Argentina and Cuba etc.

CLASS:
  Thank goodness, snobbery and an overdeveloped class system which I consider a pathetic, distasteful anachronism is a part of a society I am glad to have left behind in England. Being a guest in a foreign land, I may not be aware of any presence of such a phenomenon here. As with most of non-UK Europe, the success of others is generally respected, not resented, whether you are a sportsman, business man or celebrity, and status seems to be based more on wealth and personal achievement, rather than family heritage or educational background. However, sophistication is not seen as a state of mind or attitude here, but more based on one’s designer clothes and the type of car one drives – an unsophisticated view of sophistication! Suspected corruption by officials in privileged positions (as opposed to that of the proletariat and middle class tax evaders), is scorned but accepted as inevitable by the masses.

POLITICAL CORRECTNESS:
  Only in Spain can we see the Moorish/Muslim occupation and subsequent Spanish re-conquest re-enacted and celebrated with such candour and passion! As indicated above, the Spaniards do seem to have a rather passé and unsophisticated view on prejudice and discrimination regarding some races, though this is usually limited to a mental consciousness, rather than any form of open hostility. I think it is the very openness of their celebration of the historic Moors versus Christian conflicts, which makes it so acceptable to both sides. Another example is the parading of giant satirical models during the more major fiestas, which are often based on, and designed to openly mock unpopular or out of favour politicians and other public figures in a very merciless fashion.

All said and done, it is ultimately the Mediterranean climate and the underlying contented and easy going life style that prevails. A Latin shrug of the shoulders and a little tolerance expends less effort than opposition, so let’s find that shady spot and siesta till we fiesta!

Author:  Chris Garwood – Partner, Estate Agency Moraira, August 2013
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