Tongue in cheek
A few years ago, the Spanish National Tourist Board proudly proclaimed in its worldwide ad campaign:"Spain is different" .
Keep that in mind while you´re here, and remember that phrases corollary: "everything you know is wrong!"
Smoking and drinking are widely practiced and are highly recommended, for young and old alike. Moves are afoot, it seems, to make smoking compulsory in public places. After all, despite their heavy smoking and hard drinking, Iberians enjoy Europe's highest longevity rates. A healthy Mediterranean diet (of wine and weed, it seems) will protect you from what kills northerners. Again, remember: Spain is the only country where, upon entering a chic restaurant, the maitre d’hôtel will ask: "would you like smoking section, or chain-smoking section".
Most Spaniards agree that a good place to do their drinking and smoking is at a neighborhood bar. To get an idea of the average Spaniard´s ideal bar, imagine you´re walking into one now. The first thing that hits you is the noise: the TV is full blast, as are the radio, the pinball machine and the slot machine in the corner. Customers and waiters are all shouting over the background racket.
Sick transit, gloria mundi
You´ll then notice the level of cleanliness. If it is a good place, the floor should be shin-deep with discarded paper napkins, fried fish heads, cigarette butts, and other refuse. Why don´t they clean up?, you wonder. Elementary my dear...: the quantity of discarded refuse on the floor is in direct proportion to the quality of the tapas. A really good place is really busy so really filthy.
As you look around you´ll begin to understand that decoration and even comfort are negligible esthetic considerations. Nobody wants a bar owner's ideal of interior decoration shoved down their hoarse throats. The walls should be empty, except for the accumulated grease and the buxom calender girl reminding you that tempus fugit et edax rerum. You are there to enjoy food and drink and company in a neutral setting. Want to be comfy? Stay home. But no one here does!
Perhaps the best moments are to be had on evenings when there are football matches on T.V. People are especially boisterous and rude. The atmosphere is contagious, let yourself go; shout "hijo de puta" to the referee with your mouth full of spicey tripe...
Oh, and two important words of advice: first, this ain´t the Ritz, so don´t expect to find toilet paper in the WC. The little napkins on the bar and those little table containers do double duty, so don't be bashful and grab a handfull on your way to the can; and should you have difficulties with the barman, again, remember: in Spain the client is always wrong !
After a couple of hours in the bar, there´s the animated drive home. Like Rosinante, the old SEAT sedan practically knows the way home, so a hand on the steering-wheel is optional, as is stopping at red-lights, pedestrian cross walks, or the scene of your own fender-bender. Its rush hour and the rush is on! Should traffic impede progress, use the horn - that’s what it’s there for. If the traffic warden holds up the four confluent lanes, trapping a wailing ambulance smack in the middle of the mêlée, then don´t cede an inch. Once again, disapproval is articulated through the dulcet tones of supersonic car horns, preferably melodic car horns playing a charming ditty like "La Cucarracha".
Blarring horns make the rush-hour merrier, as drivers look around and nod their approval to the other members of the choir, each enjoying the togetherness they share in adversity (except for the many who are too busy picking their noses to care).
Words of warning: take special care if you´re crossing a street wearing flowing red garments. All Spaniards are a bit "torero", and might be dreaming of being awarded both of your ears and the tail.
In Spain, there´s a different use of what we uptight northerners call personal space. In fact, I don´t think they have any understanding of that concept whatsoever. People chat while standing a hair´s-width from one another, and everyone is touchy-feely all the time. Wizened senior citizens and voluptuous youths alike will naturally gravitate towards you, sidling-up to you even in an half-empty metro wagon. As you check to see if your wallet is still there, you´ll notice all eyes are unswervingly upon you. What´s going on? Well, it´s not what you think. Its just that... when they´re not touching they´re staring. And if they stare at you, they also gape at each other when you´re not there.
Human road blocks are another favorite that foment human contact. Whether on a narrow sidewalk, the top of a flight of stairs, or the exit of a crowded theater on fire, friends will meet and greet each other where they are sure to best obstruct the exit.
more cheekiness soon... and feel free to send in your comments!
This sign indicates that the Catalan Tourism Authorities regularly inspect and license the property. We have also visited and recommend all the properties we have selected for our listings.