Friday, December 06, 2002

Today is a national holiday in Spain; it's Constitution Day! Absolutely nobody seems to give a, uh, hoot. It's just a day off work. So Remei went over to her mom's house across town this morning; I managed to avoid accompanying her and spent the morning with a cup of coffee and the newspaper down at the bar in the plaza. Now, I'm generally a well-behaved, fairly polite fellow, in public at least. It just seems natural to me to say, "A café con leche, please," when I order, and "Thanks," when I get it. People in Spain don't usually do that. They leave out the "please" and the "thank you". They're not ruder than we are, it's just that saying that kind of thing when it's obviously the guy's job to do it isn't part of their customs. Spaniards do have a reputation as rude in the rest of Europe because they don't say those polite formulae. If you feel like having fun with a Spaniard, point this out to him. He'll probably respond that Spaniards aren't rude, they're just not hypocritical, and they don't say things they don't really mean. It's true; if you do a Spaniard a real favor he'll almost fall down on his knees and thank you. It's not that they have no sense of gratitude, it's just that they only express it when they really feel it. That's the system here in Spain.

This, however, is not the way to act if you're a Spaniard when abroad. I suggest to Spaniards the British formula, in which you say "Please" when you ask for something and "Cheers" on all other possible occasions. It's very easy to remember and pretty soon you get in the habit. As for us Anglo-Americans in Spain, I figure it's better to be too polite than not polite enough, so I use "por favor" and "gracias" whenever I would back in Kansas. Remei says that it seems phony and kind of brownnosing to her, but I maintain that's not my intention, and anyway nobody ever gets mad at you for saying "Thanks."

A nation that has an unfair reputation for being rude is France. I've been to France many times and have met no more rude people there than anywhere else. (The absolute biggest all-around hundred-percent asshole I've ever come across as a service person is one particular Barcelona taxi driver and the second is one particular Barcelona restaurant owner. That and everybody in the city of Girona, where the locals are so unfriendly they even hate Catalans from Barcelona, not to mention you, wherever that's not Girona you're from. The only nice people in Girona are the Spanish-speakers.) The deal is that they have an even higher standard of politeness than we do. If you want something, you say "Pardon, Monsieur, si'l vous plait", when you get it you say "Merci", and if you get completely confused say "Si'l vous plait, je ne parle pas bien le français" and that's the magic English switch. You don't use "tu", you use "vous". If you follow the correct standard of behavior you get treated just like an ordinary French person. In small towns outside tourist areas, where they really may not speak English, high-school French will get you honored guest status. Just be nice to them, follow their rules as you would expect them to follow your rules if they went to your country, and they're like people everywhere else: 85% are pretty reasonable and 15% are unmitigated jerks.

(Note: The above paragraph is not in any way, shape, or form to be considered as an endorsement of French foreign policy.)

Anyway, Remei's mom made a dish of callos especially for her, which she brought home and began eating. I therefore retreated in here, with the bathroom and kitchen between me and her callos. I'm a vegetarian and am rather squeamish, and callos are known in English as tripe. They are immensely gross. I instructed her not to kiss me with tripe on her breath and she replied, "I'm Celtiberian. We're tough. We eat intestines. Take it or leave it."

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