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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Listening

Listening

I used to measure my time in Spain by my haircuts. I still remember my first one, it seemed like such an event, a milestone. Now there have been enough that I have stopped counting. I have been getting the best haircuts of my life since I started going to my new guy here in my neighborhood of Ruzafa. My barber here seems to have that innate sense of all the people who have cut my hair in my life of knowing when I feel like talking and when I just need to get a trim and head out. I suppose this is a talent you learn along with getting a feel for how a person's hair lies on their head.

During my last haircut we got on to the subject of the corrida. With everyone I talk to I usually get around to asking them how they feel about this aspect of Spanish culture. I have met only one person so far who claims to be an aficionado, or fan, of bullfighting (I will say this again, “bullfighting” is a terrible translation for “corrida” which literally means “running”). Even this guy isn't a huge fan but he does go on occasion. Most young kids are opposed to the corida for one reason or another. My barber started off by saying that he didn't really care for it. Enrique looks to be about 60 years old or so. When he learned that I wasn't really a fan myself he sort of loosened up and told me what he really thought about it.

Most of the Spaniards I have questioned about the corrida have told me that they aren't interested in it. I have had quite a few people tell me that they find it objectionable on grounds of cruelty. Enrique was opposed to the spectacle because he felt it held Spain back. He compared it to Spain's monarchy in that both are relics of Spain's medieval past. This was one of the more eloquent arguments against bullfighting that I have heard thus far. As I suspected from his opinions, Enrique is a committed socialist, a dirty word for most Americans. However, I find that socialism here in Spain is a more democratic institution than what we have going on in any American political party. I think there is a lesson in this somewhere, or a metaphor, something.

I was looking for an egg timer at the little mini-Wal-Mart place across the street from where I live. This is one of the few that isn't owned by a Chinese family. I was pulling the timer out of the little plastic box it was in to test the loudness of the alarm. I often put something on the fire and then completely forget about it, only to reenter the kitchen much later to find some sort of disaster where there once was a pot boiling on the stove. As I was taking it out of the box the Spanish woman behind the counter said something to me and walked over. I immediately assumed that she was going to tell me that you aren't allowed to remove items from boxes, et cetera, etc. I stopped going to one of the Chinese-owned stores because I was sick of the impervious old woman who sits in a chair in the middle of the store like some sort of scarecrow scolding the customers for squeezing the Charmin®, if that old reference makes sense to anyone else besides me.

The timer was only 2€ so I sort of snapped at the woman and said I was going to buy it. She basically told me not to be a dick and that she was merely trying to tell me how the timer worked which she did. I apologized and told her that I stopped going to the other Chinese-owned store because I was sick of being barked at every time I examined a piece of the merchandise. She sensed that I was being a little bigoted and told me that people have the right to act any way they want, even if we don't happen to agree with it or like it. Now I felt bad for snapping at her and being a bigot.

I do think that there is a considerable cultural divide between what I feel is an acceptable level of customer service and what I usually find in the Chinese businesses here in Spain, but I think this is mostly due to the fact that I am an American. Our ideas about service are considerably different that those of the Spanish. In both the conversation with my barber and my incident in the variety store, I am thankful that my level of Spanish is such that I can enter into these kind of off-hand discussions. It's something you take completely for granted when you living inside you native language. Until not very long ago, I always felt like I was missing out on a lot of what was going on around me because of the language barrier, or whatever you want to call it. That barrier still exists for my, especially when I am the lone ex-pat in a group of Spanish people. One-on-one I usually understand everything but all bets are off in a group of people who are using a lot of slang, talking extremely fast, and using all sorts of linguistic shortcuts. All that I can do is keep studying and keep listening.

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