Category Archives: Politics

Spanish social commentary

Last year I posted on the plight of the young Spanish mileuristas, the generation forced to live on a 1000 Euro a month salary. Now, I recently came across a cartoon:

The translation of this would be, starting on the left: “A few years ago.” “I am a mileurista.” “Oh, poor thing.” “Exploited. ” “What a pity.” “This salary is miserable.”

And on the right, “Today.” “I am a mileurista.” “So lucky!” “Good connections.” “I’m jealous.” “I wish I had a salary like that.”

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Posted by on February 27, 2012 in Economics, EU, Spain


El mundo pijo

Pijo is an interesting Spanish word, which translates to mean something like “posh” but with its own Spanish connotations. It’s both an adjective and a noun, so a person or thing can be pijo or pija and people can be pijos (male) or pijas (female). It can unfortunately be confused with another word in the feminine form.

We don’t really have a landed aristocracy or strict class system in the United States so the closest thing I can thing to translate posh or pijo to is prep or preppy, although it’s actually a lot simpler than that. In Europe, things are much simpler; the rules of society are laid out from a young age. Rich people are born rich and in the right class. They’re usually conformist twats who know their place and fill it well. Same with the middle class, working class and poor.

The main reason there isn’t a lot of tension is because the differences aren’t all that large in income, compared to the US, and because they’re so separated. And most people don’t care for social climbing in Europe, which reduces tension and kills the rat race desire. If you’re posh you’re totally okay with it, just like if you’re working class you like to show it off in the way you dress and talk. In the US, on the other hand, there is the weirdness of dressing up and down between classes, and the use of subtle indicators that only people of your class can notice.

Also, in Europe, opinions, work and schooling are of secondary importance (as opposed to primary in the states), which makes the whole thing quite innocent and easy to fathom, since how you dress and talk who you’re parents are is pretty much everything. In the US, good luck being upper middle without having gone to an Ivy league school or close to it or holding the “right opinions.”

So, what is a pijo? Well, here are some pictures.

The pijos tend to inhabit the major cities, mainly Madrid and Barcelona, and only in the central or northern barrios of Madrid as far as I can tell, ranging from Chamberi to Salmanca to Opera/Sol. The pijo is decidedly non-Bohemian, which is oh-so bourgeoisie these days. The pijo is posh, which means that they do not wear t-shirts, but rather artfully layer their clothing. The more articles the better. I won’t go too much into the clothing, but to put it simply, it’s usually of the prep brand name, simple, classy stuff, like Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren and co.

Usually they have a lot of mom & pa’s money, sometimes a car, they prefer to take the metro, they play golf and tennis, they use a lot of anglicisms in their speech, have super straight hair (females) or the clean-messy gel look (males). As for politics, they’re supposedly more for the PP (center-right) but are very pro-Europe and free-market and hope to see Spain become more like the northern Europe.

But probably more important than than all that is their mode of speech, which uses a lot of foreign words and sort of has its own accent and ways of expression.


Careful what you say

The other day I asked for a pan tumaca for breakfast and was met with an insolent stare by the short, half-bald elderly Spanish barista.

“Pan tumaca is catalan, here in Madrid we have pan con tomate (bread with tomato).”

“Pan con tomate, then.”

A quick lesson it was to me on the regionalism of Spain.

Though, of course, the guy wasn’t bad-natured, and as I went on to explain to my friend what he was saying to me he smiled and laughed and said that it wasn’t a big deal, just a common error that for some reason had spread far around the world.


Posted by on May 17, 2011 in Food, Madrid, Politics, Spain


Spain’s transition from Franco to Ellis Island

After the 700 year reconquista of the Iberian peninsula from the Moors, modern Spain became a more or less homogenous nation state. In 1492 Ferdinand defeated the last Muslim rulers of Granada and demanded the conversion or departure of all Jewish and Muslim Iberian settlers to Christianity. Those who did not convert were forcibly removed to North Africa, Italy and the then Ottoman Empire. Spain went on to conquer much of the new world and would, up until the 1970s, remain a nation of emigration, with a relatively high fertility rate—about 3.0 per woman in the 60’s and 70’s—that kept its population growing and spreading abroad.

In 1975 Franco, Spain’s dictator of 40 years, died, and in 1977 Spain underwent a transition to democracy. Spanish society and economy were liberalized and the fertility rate of Spaniards began to take a steep dive that would not bottom out until 1997 when it hit 1.15 per woman, the second lowest world-wide at the time and almost half the necessary rate for population stability (2.1). In 1975, foreigners had made up less than one half a percent of the population and still, by 1997, there were only about 600,000 of a total population of 40 million, or 1.5% of the population. At the same time, Spain was undergoing an economic boom and would soon face a shortage of workers and population decline. Spain then began abruptly to pursue an open borders policy begun under the People’s Party, then headed by President Aznar who invited thousands of Ecuadorian workers to work in construction and Moroccans to work in farming. By the year 2000 foreigners grew to 2.28% of the population and numbered less just under 1 million—a significant increase but still much lower than European countries such as France, Germany and Britain. Illegal immigration also began to increase.

The open borders policy would continue, accelerating, along with the property boom, when president Zapatero of the Socialist Worker’s Party was elected in 2004. By the year 2005, the number of foreigners living in Spain had surged to 3.7 million, or 8.5% of the total population. The number of foreigners then leaped to a further 5.7 million in 2010, or 12.2% of the total population, a 500% increase over 10 years. The total population of Spain nearly reached 47 million in 2011, but the number of foreigners showed no significant increase from the following year due to the deepening economic crisis. Without immigration, Spain’s population would have likely gone into decline in the mid 2000s.

Although 12.2% of the population is now made of foreign residents, the total number of non-ethnic Spaniards is estimated to be much higher. Children born in Spain are naturalized as Spanish citizens and non-Spaniards tend to have higher fertility rates; additionally a large number of residents have been naturalized. It’s probable that approximately 8 million Spaniards are foreign resident or foreign-descended, making up 17% of the total population. The largest groups are Romanians, Moroccans, British and Ecuadorians. The majority of the others come from a diverse medley of South American, European and African countries.

Lately, some South Americans and Eastern Europeans have understandably returned home, given that the estimated unemployment rate of foreign residents is now 30%. Spain also embarked on a program of paying some foreigners to leave and not return for three years to help ameliorate their chronic unemployment. And some Spaniards, especially the young, educated and unemployed, are beginning to move abroad in search of opportunity.

Despite the fact that Spain’s immigrant population has leaped from being one of the smallest in Europe to one of the largest, ethnic tensions and xenophobia remain low compared to other European countries and, though they certainly exist, most Spaniards are relaxed and positive about immigration. In a recent poll, 91% of Spaniards under 30 had an overall positive view of immigration and 69% said they had one close friend who was an immigrant. Crime, however, has increased, but less so than in other European countries of mass migration.

Since the beginnings of mass immigration to Spain, the fertility rate has risen from the dismal 1.15 per woman of 1997 to 1.47 in 2011 and the population has continued to grow steadily. At the same time Spain has transformed quite rapidly, especially in the last 10 years, from a strongly Catholic, mostly homogeneous nation to a secular, largely non-religious, multicultural nation. As of yet, there has been no rising anti-immigrant backlash or nativist political parties like those which are growing fast in Northern Europe.


Changing my mind

I wrote a couple weeks ago that after Juan Carlos, King of Spain, dies, there might possibly be a referendum to transform Spain into a republic, like the United States, France and Germany.

I’m changing my mind. The royal wedding just took place in England and the Spaniards were glued to their TVs the whole time. Every news channel ran a long segment on the wedding and went on to talk about the Spanish royalty. The Spanish, especially the women, love the idea of royalty at home and abroad. This tradition is not going to change; there’s no real any need for it to change anyway.

Conclusion. Unless there’s some huge upheaval in Spain, i.e. a war, which isn’t likely, the monarchy is going to be around for at least a couple of generations.

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Posted by on April 30, 2011 in Culture, Politics, Royalty, Spain


NY Times is catching up

As I stated in my penultimate post, Euro-skepticism is increasing with startling quickness. The NY Times finally got around to an article on the True Finns, making some important statements about what is happening in Europe.

The two issues — the European Union and immigration — are increasingly being linked across Europe. “The overwhelming draw of parties like the True Finns is the feeling among some Europeans that they are losing control of their destiny and that their nations are losing their identity,” said Magali Balent, an expert on European politics . . .

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Posted by on April 23, 2011 in EU, Europe, Politics


Rise of Euro-skepticism

I recently predicted that Euro-skepticism is going to rise very quickly following the Portugal bail out. I didn’t expect it would happen so soon. In Finland, the True Finns just took in 19% of the vote, compared to the ruling coalition party, which took in 20% of the vote.

If Finland doesn’t agree to bail out Portugal, what happens next?

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Posted by on April 18, 2011 in Economics, EU, Politics