Thursday, May 10, 2007

la familia en España

I feel a little presumptuous writing on this topic, which Giles Tremlett covers so much better in his book than I could ever hope to here. But I will try to jot down a few impressions, nonetheless. In the (to me slightly less intimidating) bulleted list item format. Please don't expect this to be tied neatly with a bow.

  • Los niños: The Germans have a word called "kinderfeindlich", meaning, literally, "unfriendly to children", or "children-hostile". In my experience, it aptly sums up the attitude of a fairly broad swath of the German population to kids. They are tolerated, but perhaps not entirely welcome, and there is a broad variety of places where you won't see that many children, such as bars, and many restaurants. The idea seems to be that if you want to frequent certain locales, best to get a babysitter, and leave the kids at home. In Spain, the converse is true. Sometimes it seems that children are everywhere, in places where you wouldn't necessarily expect them (bars, for example, and most restaurants, even very fancy ones, crawling happily across tables, around the floor, getting under the waiters' feet). At all hours of the day and night. In Seville, during Semana Santa, whole families were still out walking the streets, complete with two-children strollers, well beyond midnight. After the initial shock, it's a refreshing change of pace, to experience a society where children are not only welcome, but indulged. To a degree that would be considered spoiling them in most other countries I've lived in. True, there is a downside, and sometimes their behavior borders on that of little monsters, but overall, it seems an entirely healthy view of the world. In fact, this is one of the things I like best about Spain - if you go into a bar or restaurant, you won't just encounter people from a very narrow age demographic (obviously, there are exceptions) - in many cases, there will be at least three generations of a family hanging out, eating, drinking, chatting. (The second-hand smoke is a definite downside to this, but clearly doesn't bother the Spaniards - this issue has been raised several times in the classes I've attended, in Seville, Granada, and Madrid - and in all cases, the reaction of the teachers has been one of genuine puzzlement. Leaving the kids at home is just not considered a realistic option, so the second-hand smoke thing is just part of the way things are). But ask yourself - when was the last time you went out to a bar with both your parents and your kids (assuming you have both)? Here in Spain, it's the norm, and I have to think it's a healthy one. Family ties are definitely stronger here than in any other country I'm familiar with, including Ireland.

  • Los adolescentes: As Tremlett points out, one of the central mysteries of Spanish life is, given the level of attention and spoiling that is given to small children, the riddle is why they do not grow into adolescents that are monsters. But the fact is, they don't. Not that kids don't go through a rebellious phase - clearly they do here, just as in other societies. It's just that they are so well-behaved and polite, even at their most rebellious. That said, a few aspects of adolescent culture stand out as being worthy of comment. The first is the rampant abuse of hair gel by males between the ages of about 14 and 20. Even the Gotti boys would find it excessive. The result is that they prowl the streets (politely), looking like nothing so much as so many pimps-in-training. This impression is accentuated by the tendency of their female counterparts to adopt a style of dress which would be right at home on the Calle de la Montera. When I've mentioned this to non-Spanish acquaintances here, the response has been "have you seen how American teenaged girls dress these days?". Well, the answer is that I have, and - in my view - it's nowhere near as extreme as the Spanish tarts-in-training. The overall result is a little disconcerting, because at certains times of the evening, the streets are thronged with these kids who look like streetwalkers accompanied by their pimps, yet who are disarmingly and unfailingly polite. A mystery.

  • The 20-year olds: In general, the sartorial and tonsorial excesses of the teenage years are modulated among this group. Perhaps because they are still living at home with their parents - who knows? Because, chances are that a 27-year old man will still be living at home with his parents. The percentage of 27-year old women doing so is (only slightly) lower, and is still phenomenally high, by American standards. So the great mystery for this group is where they are having sex (because you know that they are), a question to which I certainly don't have an answer. Marriage seems to happen quite a bit later than in other countries, often not until couples are pretty close to 30. The accepted explanation for all of this is the expense of renting or buying an apartment in the larger cities of Spain, but a part of me thinks that that isn't all that's behind it. Certainly, for men in their late twenties, holding down a job, the convenience of being waited on hand and foot by their mothers, and any sisters still living at home, seems likely to be part of the explanation as well.

  • The old: The unquestioned importance attached to family relationships means that the old are far less marginalized here than in other societies, which can only be considered a good thing. I have grumbled elsewhere about their pedestrian behavior, but - joking aside - I have nothing but the greatest respect for these folks. Many of them have been through a lot, yet the way they maintain their zest for life seems entirely admirable to me. At a certain age, a great percentage of Spanish women seem destined to end up looking like Dr Ruth:

My personal theory is that this goes a long way in explaining some of the earlier excesses which one sees in younger women, be it the streetwalking attire of the adolescents, or the undue attention to cosmetics and cosmetic surgery by women in their fifties.

That's it for now. As I said, not tied up with a bow, today.

The plain people of Ireland: Isn't she the sex lady?

The management: Silence, wretches! But yes - you are correct - she is indeed the "sex lady".

No comments: