Monthly Archives: May 2014

10 Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About Spain and the Spanish


10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Spain and the Spanish

My wife is Spanish. What I thought would be a splendid union of two noble cultures has been far more prosaic than I hoped. Here’s some of the things I’ve learnt over the last few years about Spain and the Spanish that you probably didn’t know.

1. Say It With Grapes

At New Year, Spaniards all around the world gather in the town square and wait for the main clock to chime twelve. Nothing odd about that. But instead of dropping the ball, as in New York, or smashing nearby cars up and passing out in their own vomit, as in England, they eat grapes. One per dong. More difficult than it sounds: one grape per second, no spills allowed. Even more trying given that the Spanish hadn’t even discovered the seedless grape till circa 1999.

Have you got a hold of your grapes yet?

2. Plugs

Spanish Socket

You’re probably aware that Spain uses the continental two-pin plug. What you might not be aware of is that in Spain, the plug sockets have no on/off switch. In the beginning, I thought my girlfriend (as she was then) was drunk or stupid when she would stare at an obviously turned off (UK) plug socket and complain that the phone/computer/house must be faulty. Even now I forget and try to turn Spanish plugs on/off. Even now my wife forgets to turn British plugs on.

3. Manners (Part 1)

They don’t say “please” and “thanks”. Simple as. If you say them in Spanish as often as I hope you do in English, you will sound completely servile and probably mad. Just learn to gesticulate like a foreigner. And if your English friends complain that you are affecting a Frenchy air of late, tell them that it’s Spanish, actually, and that’s how they speak.

4. Manners (Part 2)

So, many years ago now, I went to a shop on my holidays in Spain. I bought my stuff, said “por favor” and “gracias” – although the shop assistant didn’t join in, the rude cow (see above). And when it was over, I held out my cupped hand, ready for the weighty clunk of change – at which point she looked at my hand, sniffed, and slapped the money down on the counter. So rude.

It kept happening though. Did my blotchy, sun-inflamed skin give me away as a filthy Englishman/German (see next point)? Or did I just have that sort of face?

Eventually, I met my gem of a girl. One day we went to a shop (in England). She paid. The cashier held out their cupped hand, ready to receive the coins. And my girlfriend looked at the hand, sniffed, and slapped the change down on the counter! Who had I gotten myself involved with? Some etiquette-shunning harpy?! As it turned out, no one in Spain places money in the hand. I’ve asked why, but nobody knows. They just don’t. And the “sniffs”, I presume, were disapproval at my ignorance of local customs Cupped hands! What next? Not slaughtering bulls for fun!?

Fun Fact: the Spanish are doing it wrong. It takes ages to pick the coins up off the counter.

5. Estranjeros (“Foreigners”)

File:Daffy Duck.png
The famous Spanish cartoon: Pato Lucas

The English don’t like speaking “foreign” or doing “foreign” things – as if “foreign” were a homogenous category, several shades of class lower than “English”, and one shade higher than “creature”.

But small-minded, arrogant, no-history Yanks are worse, what with their incessant remaking of non-English language films into (generally inferior) American versions. Even in little England we don’t tend to dub foreign movies. Although we don’t bother going to see them, either.

And the French! They won’t even speak to you in English – even though they understand it, even though you talk loudly!

But the Spanish aren’t immune to a touch of chauvinism.

When it comes to films, the Spanish just dub dub dub. I’ve even met Spaniards who are under the impression that much of their American-dubbed culture is, in fact, Spanish(!) And so the Spanish can only speak Spanish. And so the Spanish never visit non-Spanish-speaking lands.

And worse still, they can’t tell the difference between us and the Germans(!) I keep trying to tell my Spanish friends: we don’t wear sandals with socks! That’s those insane Germans, again! The response? You’re the same thing, aren’t you?

6. Manners (3)

You may know that the Spanish greet with two kisses, one on each cheek. What you may not know is that, even if you or the other person has a raging cold, it is seriously bad form to refuse the kiss. Protestations of being ill will not cut it. Pucker up.

I barely kiss my own mother, but I'm obligated to kiss sick people I don't know... if they're Spanish.
I barely kiss my own mother, but I’m obligated to kiss sick people I don’t know… if they’re Spanish.

7. Plugs (Part 2)

Plugs again. The hottest of all searingly hot topics.

Me and the wife in a hotel. wife goes into bathroom.

Wife: Brrryan, where’s the plug socket?

Me: What, darling?

Wife: The plug. I need to drrrrry my hairrrrr.

Me: Um, sweetums. There aren’t any plug sockets in the bathroom. Anywhere. Ever.

Wife: Gwot!?!?

Me: Err, it’s… not safe, sugar lump… because water could go… in there (blank looks from the wife) … and… KILL you…

Wife: (pause) But I need to drrrry my hairrrr.

The problem here, you see, is that cowboy builders designed all the electrics in Spain. All bathrooms have plug sockets (which don’t turn off, remember). And all plugs are two-pin, so plugs end up hanging halfway out. And in the bathroom they end up all dewy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been mildly electroshocked.

A funny thing to get twangs of patriotism about, really, plugs. But there you are. God save our Great British three-pin plugs and plugless bathrooms.

8. All Beaches Are Nudist

All men, and women, whip out their bits and march up and down the beaches nude. And yet there still is a separate category of “nudist” beech; presumably on these, they take their skin off.

9. Joie de Vivre (Wrong Language, I know)

The land of fiestas and flamenco. The British love the Spanish and Spain. When Brits hear my wife’s accent they excitedly ask her, “Are you… Spanish? You’re so lucky”. The food, the wine, the sunkissed beaches. We admire their culture. We are overawed by how loving, open, happy and unBritish they are. The Spanish believe life is for living, whereas the British treat it as a chore to be begrudgingly undertaken. But the land of love has a dark side.

Simply put: they’re incredibly racist. They don’t don white sheets and wield flaming crosses on horseback. No. But they do have a rather low view of non-whites. I’m tired of hearing Spanish people talk about the “smell” of black people, or how foreigners are all weird or stupid.

2008 Olympics Spanish basketball team doing the hilarious "slitty eyes" joke; some "fans" of Lewis Hamilton giving him some Spanish-style love.
2008 Olympics Spanish basketball team doing the hilarious “slitty eyes” joke; some “fans” of Lewis Hamilton giving him some Spanish-style love.

10. They’re Insane. Fact.

Whether they’re tossing donkeys from balconies. Whether they’re releasing 2000lb bulls in an alleyway and screaming after they hurl themselves on its horns. Whether they’re strapping fireworks to their back, lighting them, and careening down packed streets. Whether they’re pelting each other with tomatoes and in so doing destroying the Spanish fruit and veg export industry. One fact remains.

They’re insane.

Favourite Spanish passtimes: goat tossing, using a bull's horns as a dildo, strapping live explosives to your back in a crowded place, assault and battery with fruit.
Favourite Spanish passtimes: goat tossing, using a bull’s horns as a dildo, strapping live explosives to your back in a crowded place, assault and battery with fruit.

© 2013 – 2014 Bryan A J Parry

Football 2114AD Foretold


The Future Death of Sport?

In the Star Trek universe, baseball and other sports as we know them have died out. No more World Series, no more Super Bowl, no more World Cup. These games still exist, kinda, but are played with all the professionalism or seriousness of rounders or “had“. This may seem like futuristic sci-fi nonsense, but I genuinely believe this will happen. And I’m sad for it.

The Money Men Are Killing Football

I love football. The speed, the strength, the skill, the free-flowing nature of it. It truly is the “beautiful game”. However, the money men are in charge nowadays. Well, they’ve always been in charge, of course, but the ruining of the European Championship — 24 teams in the finals, no host nation — after what was arguably the most exciting Championship ever (2012), the transparent greed and corruption involved in the awarding of the beyond-risible Qatar 2022 World Cup, and now the nonsense that is this new UEFA Nations League, have confirmed it: the money-lenders are no longer merely squatting in the temple of football; they’ve bought the freehold and have erected a fence to keep the plebs out, permanently.

Bloated tournaments to fatten the pockets of bloated men, the fans paying through the nose, and the purity of the game slaughtered, its blood smeared on the smoking altar of our twenty-first century Golden Bull: Avarice. 1863, meet 2014. It’s not just football, of course; the commercialisation of sport proceeds apace in all areas: from franchises in cricket, to ridiculous branding on billboards or team shirts (A few years ago, when branding on football shirts was less common in Spanish football, my brother-in-law asked me, in all seriousness, if my team was “Hertings First For Fixings FC“), the idiotic stadium naming (KP Stadium, Reebok, Emirates, Sports Direct Stadium), or the joke that is a 60 minute game turning into a three hour one because of excessive adverts (American football). The list goes on and on.

The Commercialisation of Sport is a Double-Edged Sword

The funny thing is, the continuing commercialisation in sport is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it has raised the level of competition, quality, and yes, beauty of the game, by giving sportsmen the ability to earn a decent living off their game, and this has allowed them to practise and out-compete each other to a high level. But the downsides are obvious and numerous. In the long run, I see the strengths inherent in the commercialisation of sport ultimately bringing its downfall.

Some Predicitons

So, dear Internet, I put my gloomy foretelling into writing for posterity; if I’m right, please pay homage to my grave and pay for Chinese lessons for my great-grand children in honour of their forebear’s prescience.

In the year of our Lord (Sepp Blatter) 2114:

1. The World Cup and European Championships will both run every season, like international analogues respectively of the Champions’ League and the Europa League.

2. A combination of the drive for money and a withering away of the nation state will result in the national teams effectively being replaced by national league teams; anyone who plays in the Premier League that season is eligible to represent England, aka The Starbucks Premier League, in both tournaments.

3. The nation state-based tournament, a descendent of this new UEFA Nations League, will exist, but:

(i) it will have all the dignity, worth, and support of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy;

(ii) Clubs and National League Teams (see point 2) will routinely refuse to make their players available to play in this nations’ cup — or they would refuse, that is, if the players wanted to play in the nations’ cup, which they won’t!;

(iii) the national teams will be watered-down nationality-wise due to the death of the nation state and lax sporting restrictions;

(iv) nobody will care about the International tournaments with nation states taking part as these tournaments will be less sexy and less glitzy than the over-hyped national leagues teams football (see point two).

No, I’m serious

Think I’m crazy or joking? It’s already happening.

The European Championships are already starting to look like the Champions and Europa Leagues: too many games, too many teams, no one host nation.

Foreign players regularly turn out for a national side in other sports (Pietersen in cricket, Tuilagi in Rugby, and so on). It’ll soon become prevalent in football, too: remember a few seasons ago, before the rise of Joe Hart, everyone suggesting Manuel Almunia should play for England based on the five year residency rule? That might have been crazy talk, but the substance of it will be increasingly borne out in the future just as it is in other sports.

Clubs regularly refuse, if only in the guise of mystery illnesses, to let their players attend to international duties. Clubs regularly complain that there are too many international fixtures (bear in mind, the international fixtures haven’t increased in recent years, but club fixtures have dramatically jumped up).

And it’s kind of our fault…

And ask yourself: which would be the more exciting game — England vs. Spain, or Premier League XI vs. La Liga? Wouldn’t “England” have a much better chance if we could “buy” foreign players? After all, you don’t have to be born in a town to play for its club (how many of, e.g., Manchester City’s players were born in England, let alone Manchester??): and the one club that does do this — Athletic Bilbao — seems to be a relic from the pleistocene (albeit it, a much-admired one), a relic which is struggling to keep up.

Would you rather watch, literally, amateurs kick a ball around (if so, go to your nearest park)? Or would you rather watch the finely honed beast that commercialisation has crafted?

Let me introduce to the world the paradox of sporting commercialisation. Let’s call it “Bryan’s Law” (I always wanted a law named after me, and short of committing an atrocious yet ground-breaking crime, this is the best I’m likely to do): the beautiful game is beautiful because its practitioneers can dedicate sufficient hours to make it beautiful — because of commercialisation. But commercialisation is destroying the beauty of sport.

Yay, hearken unto my foretelling, and be downcast.

© 2014 Bryan A J Parry


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