So if Spain is so hot and noisy, why didn’t I just stay home? I know that’s what you’re thinking, so I’ll make a few distinctions; noticing something is not the same as complaining about it, and complaining is not the same as wanting things to be different.
Spain’s fabulously beautiful southern coast, on the Mediterranean side, where Phoenicians and Romans built fishing towns and trading posts, where the sea is as blue as the seas in fairy tales, is known officially as the Costa del Sol. Unofficially, it is sometimes called the Costa del Fish ‘n’ Chips. The English community of expat retirees and vacationers so dominates parts of the littoral that you might as well be in Brighton or Wapping-on-Trent. You can wash your pub grub down with English ale in a Tudor-themed pub while you grumble through an article, in an English-language newspaper, about how this bloody country will never get it right until ‘Paco’ gets serious about enforcing traffic regulations or whatever. And after lunch you can be sure of getting in your round of golf, because the appeal of the Costa del Fish ‘n’ Chips is that you can do everything you did back in Albion with the one key difference that you can do it with a warm sun shining down.
It’s always rewarding to watch how national character reveals itself in foreign climes. National character is a conversational staple in Europe. Get representatives of any two or more nations together, and before you can say ‘Jack Tar’ they will be competing with each other for the ugly foreigner award. Except for the French, of course. On my way back to the states this last time I got into a confab with the security bloke who patted me down at Gatwick Airport. The English, he declared, were the absolute worst at refusing to learn foreign languages.
This came up because he’d asked me what I’d been doing in Spain. When I told him I’d been at language school, he told me about his son. Married to a Spanish girl who speaks five languages, living in Spain, and the only thing he speaks is fluent gibberish.
The proud father was one of those big, cheerful, ruddy-faced Brits, an ex-serviceman and ready at a moment’s notice to fight for the honour of Britannia. I tried to tell him about Americans and foreign languages, but he waved me off. Do you know what an Englishman does when the natives don’t understand what he wants? he asked me. No, I replied. He shouts louder! said my doughty friend, with gusto. It was a highly diverting confab we had there, and I was sorry when he felt he had to look like he was working again, and picked out someone else to frisk.
Don’t know how they compare with the English, but the latest numbers say that in the EU, Spaniards are the least likely to speak a second language. This may be part of Spain’s appeal. When you travel to Spain (except for parts of the Costa), you are in a foreign country and no mistake. Like England, Spain has always been somewhat cut off from the rest of the continent. Things are different there. The inefficiency and inconvenience can drive you mad. On the other hand, Spaniards are exceptionally gracious hosts, and the other adjective that leaps to mind is ‘proud.’ They may need the tourist trade, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to turn their home into Disneyland.