Taxi Noir: Y Viva Espana
Many of us enjoyed a week or two away this summer. As ties with our European neighbours have become a bit strange with Brexit looming I was sensitive to both the differences and similarities when I set off for a holiday to Spain in September.
Brexit is a political arrangement, not a cultural one. We’re still Europeans. We’re still friends; nothing has changed on that score. Even if we need to get a visa to visit the EU we’ll still be able to eat cheese strained through an old man’s sock in France; drink industrial strength beer in Belgium; cook ourselves on a Spanish beach until we look like a chorizo; and continue to do whatever we normally do in Holland.
Culturally I think we’re closer than ever. We’re interested in the same things, and we have more awareness of what’s going on in each other’s countries. Communication has improved immeasurably over the years. Europe has got closer. We can watch TV broadcasts from various European countries, and the internet has opened up things further than we could have ever imagined.
Going to holiday in the 70s and 80s no-one would have attempted to phone home: no-one had a mobile phone. It would have been an expensive luxury to use a hotel landline, or to feed in a barrow-load of pesetas into a payphone. You were basically incommunicado for a week or two. If you wanted the English football results you’d have to buy a day-old British newspaper for about a million drachma. All over Europe, folk are glued to their smart phones communicating across the seas and looking things up (personally, I’d prefer people to read books like I do, but reading is becoming a bit of a niche market).
I think some nations are more sociable than other though. I stayed at the wonderful Cap Negret Hotel in Altea. After the buffet dinner I noticed that the British tended to sit in the bar area and the Spanish sat in the entertainment area. I wondered if the Brits and Spanish didn´t want to mix, or that the Brits habitually congregate near the bar in case they suddenly close it. Perhaps it comes from the time when pubs had strict hours and Last Orders could surprise you.
Perhaps the language barrier doesn´t help? We´re fine with Americans and Australians, so perhaps we´re a bit ashamed at our language skills? It could be that we´re ill at ease with anyone who isn´t like us? It could even indicate shame over Brexit. I don´t know the political make-up of the British contingent at my hotel; for all I know they might be Brexit shocktroopers ready to fight for Boris when the balloon goes up, and to hold the locals responsible for Spanish trawlers operating in British waters.
We English are a bit ill at ease with strangers, as well as with each other. Our fellow Northern European friends are not touchy-feely, but they don´t seem threatened by each other. I think other nations are more socially mature. We need a few drinks inside us to get us going and make us sociable, and that’s always at the risk of overdoing it. If you want to see this in action I suggest you have a look at Benidorm just up the coast a bit.
The singer came on and sang in Spanish & English to backing tapes. The Spanish waltzed around the stage and clapped along. The entertainment wallah made himself busy dragging folk up to dance. Proper dancing too; not the modern British version where you take your top off and wave your arms around like an idiot. While the Spaniards enjoyed themselves immensely dancing to Y Viva Espana, and dancing a conga, the Brits sat and drank in the bar area or played with their phones.
It’s easy to mock people enjoying themselves, but at 57 I`m painfully aware that my own middle aged culture might be ridiculed in a different setting. Had they put on some Black Sabbath tonight I´d be down there head banging with the blokes from Birmingham. I might even go and get my leather trousers.
Actually, I don´t think we were being unsociable; I just think that by the time the singing and dancing started most of us avoided the area in case we were encouraged to make fools of us. I was once seen to be involved with belly dancing in Turkey in my 20s; but people in their 50s need a lot of persuasion to start moving to music. The Spanish started early in my hotel too; they were clapping and singing along to Spanish pop music at 10.30 one morning, and it went on until lunchtime.
Ultimately, the penny dropped and I realised that the Spanish were less inhibited than the British, and it was this that made them the more admirable. By being un-cool, they were being cool. Y Viva Espana.