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Category Archives: Spain

Nocturnal nations: Argentina and Spain

The Argentines must be the most nocturnal people on the face of the earth. Although this tradition clearly derives from Spain, the Argentines have taken it to a new level. Whereas on the continent, the nocturnal Spaniards will eat around 10 or 11 and begin filling the bars and clubs around 12 or 1, the Argentines eat around midnight and don’t make it to the bars and clubs around 3 AM. You can go out at 8 or 9 and see empty bars. You can pass by around midnight and see them with still just a few loafing foreigners. It’s not until 4 or 5 in the morning do you see them full and bustling with activity both inside and out. The whole city is suddenly alive and scampering with people who came out of the high multi-leveled flats, feeling at last the call of life. As in Spain, you do not really feel the extreme density of the cities until you have experienced the night life. But the night life occurs at such odd hours in Argentina, that you’re better off adapting to it by holding a completely different sleep schedule.

I actually did live with one fellow who was nocturnal. He was a student and I was living in a kind of student boarding house, a noisy, dirty place full of young Argentines and other South Americans. He slept upwards of 18 hours a day and did not stir until dinnertime. The guy was a large, strong, bearlike, bearded type from the south of the country. He’d roll into bed late in the morning, usually when I was getting up after a difficult night of sleep (the constant noise was really taking its toll on my sanity).  And he would stay there, snoring quietly, rolling over now and then, until around 10 or 11 at night, just in time to catch a shower before going to eat.

I remember overhearing him at dinner saying that he felt so tired. He rubbed his eyes and brushed his hair back. His eyes were red. His sleeping habit was wreaking havoc on his system. He was becoming more and more tired and lethargic the more he slept. Yet he continued for as long as I lived there. A 20-year old man living like this. He didn’t work or show any real ambition, but he was an excellent classical guitarist. He studied something or other at the university but I never saw him crack a book my whole time there. I don’t even think he went to class. As for partying, I didn’t see him as one to go out very much either. He was mostly sleeping and eating. And when he ate, after just having awoken, he would be yawning the whole time, and in some cases would go straight back to bed after.

Needless to say, he’s not representative of the Argentine nation, just another case in an otherwise nocturnal-leaning country. I remember going out to extravagant meals with my coworkers around 10 or 11 and seeing whole families–mom, pop, grandma and grandpa, the kids, the relatives, etc.–eating together as if it were the most normal thing in the world. Sunday morning around 11 AM, Buenos Aires appears like a city following an Neutron Bomb explosion, in which all the people have died and all the lights are out, but the buildings remain intact. It’s probably the best time to go sight seeing because of this, but can be a bit lonely for the wayfaring tourist.

In Spain, however, people don’t really adjust their lives to the weekend rite of going out late; they just bear out the long Friday and Saturday nights and still remain throughout the week on normal European hours. This is of course because they are part of Europe and the EU and must maintain those standard hours of the common market. Since they also want to enjoy their drawn-out  Spanish evenings, you see something similar to what happens on Friday and Saturday night, though less pronounced—the streets are mostly empty for a long time, then the restaurants fill up around 10, and the bars shortly afterward. Then the Metro suddenly swarms alive with people, bedecked in their most alluring and provocative clothing. The whole thing sometimes feels like a pagan rite, an ancient tradition stemming all the way back to the Roman era when circenses were partaken with a deep gusto and guiltless pleasure-seeking. I do not know if it this has recurred due to Spain’s sudden lapse in  Catholicism and the end of Franco, or if this was something that always was there in Spanish culture, a deep love of the nocturnal pleasures. Whatever the case, it all happens like clockwork and doesn’t seem to depend on the weather, the economy, or the weekend. Whenever and wherever, the cities will fill to the brim with life on Friday and Saturday night, but only after 10 o’clock.

Although I say this is indeed pleasure seeking behavior as if that were a bad thing, I have to add that in many respects it’s more civilized than what you see in the Anglo or northern European countries. In Spain and Argentina, the night is long and slow. People do not drink until their head hangs over the toilet bowl, starting at 8 and passing out by 2. They start sipping a light beer or glass of wine, and spend most of their meal time chatting loudly. Then they enjoy a few more drinks sprinkled with more food and then go out dancing. Conversation rarely turns frank and philosophical, as it does among Anglos and other Europeans, and things rarely take a dark turn into drugs or fighting. The conversation and flow remains light at all times; there is a surprising lack of conflict and restraint, although the conversational style often comes off as argumentative. (The way to talk in Spain is for everyone to yell at once and the loudest person to be heard. If you want to order something you have to go up and be the loudest person to talk and ask in the most direct way imaginable. Otherwise, you’ll never get any service. I think this is a Mediterranean trait and can come off as crass to outsiders, but you have to understand that it’s normal to them and they don’t think they’re coming off as harsh.)

Also, there aren’t as many different subgroupings in Spain and Argentina: fewer Goth clubs, or hip-hop clubs, or rock-only pubs, etc. There’s a homogeneity to the culture, which leads to a generic bar and club style: the bars are for eating over beer and chatting while listening to pop and the clubs are more for drinking harder alcohol and mixed drinks while listening to techno and some more trendy American pop. So people tend to follow the same trends and there is less of a sense that people only go to one type of pub, club, or other venue and only listen to one type of music. Less variety, to be sure, but less isolation as well.

Lastly, I’ll add that in all this night life, random coupling “hooking up” doesn’t occur–believe it or not–as often as you’d suspect. Women and men do show off and dress up, but they are out to have fun, not to find a one-night stand. Your chances are much better with the women of northern Europe if that’s what you seek. There are a few reasons for this. Usually Spaniards and Argentines go out in self-contained groups that do not associated with other people. They may encounter friends and join with them, but they do not usually venture to meet strangers. And the groups can be rather large, so it although may look like autonomous people, but they are usually there together. Because of this, all the old social pressures apply (which are greater in these less individualistic countries) and especially since people aren’t plastering themselves with booze, random coupling remains rare. Of course, there’s a lot of flirtatiousness and showing off but in general going out is just a way to pass the time and socialize. The social circle is an impediment and hurdle that must be circumvented or encountered if you’re to have any luck. Generally speaking, you need to get to know people and their groups of friends to be accepted and then go on a date with someone. This may be changing, of course, but that was my experience and observation.

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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

 

Language of the Hand Fan

If you’re uninformed, you might just think this is a boring portrait of a lady fanning herself.

But she’s actually a subtle coquette whispering to you in fan language. There is a long history of a silent hand fan language that women use to attract lovers when out in public. Spanish women used to have pretty confined circumstances and in homosocial (restricted to one’s sex) high society they rarely had time alone to themselves to consort with other men.

So, they had to talk via the fan when they were out at events, like the bullring or the opera.

Of course, the men knew this too, as did the servants, so it was not very easy to get away with. But in those times in the Latin world, affairs were quite the norm, though monogamy was not openly flouted.

These little fans are called “abanicos” in Spanish. Here’s an article in Spanish which has some more information on the way one spoke with the hand fan.

 
 

No logical reason to bring cash abroad

This post is mostly targeted toward future auxiliares de conversacion trying to figure out how to get their money to Europe safely and effectively. But it also has some general rules for dealing with money and living abroad.

When you decide to travel or move abroad, you have to deal with annoying currency exchanges a lot. Also, you have to worry about transporting your cash, credit cards or traveler checks and finding ways to get money without racking up large fees.

So what’s the best way to go about this?

Simple. Use your debit card and Capital One credit card. If you don’t have a Capital One card, get one before you go abroad. To my knowledge, apart from fancy cards which require excellent credit and involve yearly fees, the Capital One card is the only one which does not charge you each time you use it outside of the country. A good credit card is a must for emergencies, especially when you move abroad.

As for day to day cash, if you are moving abroad, I see little logic in bringing more than 300 dollars cash with you in hand. Currency changes are notoriously bad, almost everywhere you go. People nowadays like to deal in digital money. There is no labor in making computer transactions, as opposed to cash shuffling. So, generally speaking, apart from a small ATM fee, you get the best exchange rates through withdrawing money directly in the foreign currency of your choice. With your debit card you can take out enough money to open a bank account and start depositing it. It’s also easier for you to keep on eye on the exchange rates because they usually follow a day behind what’s going on on the market. The day your currency is up, the following day go and take out a lot of money and bring it to your new bank account, or to spend.

Cash is bad. I made the mistake of moving to Europe with most my money in hand. First of all, forget the scam of cash exchange rates. It’s just dangerous. People can rip you off at your hotel or on the street. In Spain, where I moved, pickpocketing is common, as are hotel maids who will steal your money without so much as a flinch.

Banks are pretty bad in Europe, not because of charges or anything, which aren’t very bad, but because of their lack of working hours. This will be a continuous problem, so make sure that when you get an account you get an ATM card with it or else you’ll often be out of luck.

 

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.

 

The “cuckold sign” in Latin politics

I knew that Berlusconi had made the cuckold sign behind a Spanish minister in 2002, so I was surprised to find another incident in Portugal, where a politician lost his job for giving the cuckold sign to the leader of the Communist parliamentary group.

For those of you who don’t know what a cuckold is, it’s a man who’s wife is cheating on him (there’s a vast amount of literature on the subject). It’s also implied that he doesn’t have the gall to confront her about it and that the situation is obvious to everyone in the community. To use common parlance, the man is whipped. And, surprise, surprise, it can be a pretty big insult—or just a joke. So the very symbol itself has heavy connotations.

In America, you only really see the “real cuckold” sign at metal concerts. We have our less serious form, known as “bunny ears” or the “v-sign” which might be a simplified, somewhat less serious cuckold sign. This prank is common, but people in the Latin world seem to prefer using the full cuckold sign, and it still carries with it the medieval meaning.

Cuckoldry is really a cross-cultural phenomenon, but there is an interesting explanation of what it meant to the Greeks, who took it a bit more seriously than some other cultures.

… the act of disobedience by which she damages her husband most severely is adultery. In adultery she makes her husband a cuckold (κερατ□ς), one who wears a horn. ‘She puts horns on him’ (το□ βάζει κέρατα), it is said. The implication that the cuckold wears a horn may be an ironical allusion to the sexual potency which his wife’s action suggests he does not possess (Campbell, 1964, p. 152)

As such, flashing the sign in a serious setting is essentially calling into question a man’s masculinity. I’m sure, in another era, duels were fought over it. Now you just lose your job.

 

Never pay to work

I just wasted some time looking into journalism internships in the US and Spain and had a hard time finding unpaid internships. And in this day and age, you’re often lucky to get an unpaid internship if you’re career is not in accounting or engineering. What they did have, in plenty, were internships for which you pay to be a fact-checking, coffee-getting peon, along with a slew of internships for which you pay to be able to volunteer your time, teaching English to children.

Ridiculous. You pay, sometimes 3k for a month or so, to be able to take a flight to a foreign country (another thou) and live in camp-style lodgings, pay for your own food and drink, and spend your days dealing with bratty, obnoxious, snotty-nosed kids. While I’m at the point where I’d take an unpaid internships for some sort of in to a job which I might immensely like, I’m not about to volunteer my services, especially for something I don’t enjoy (aka, work), and on top of that, pay bank to be able to do so.

Whoever set up this system is brilliant. I should probably open a school in Spain and do the same thing. Think about it. You can charge the kids’ parents a ton for summer camps, you can charge your foreign teachers to come and “volunteer” from abroad, while you just sit back with a rake and bag for the dough falling into your lap. Hell, why not put $50 application fees, so that way you can get something from all the people you reject.

Really, people. Make it your policy never to pay to work. Do a little research. You can have my job, working 16 hours a week, and make a livable (albeit, far from lavish) wage, or you can, at the very least, volunteer on a farm (wwoofing) and get free food and board, or find some kind of volunteer work that doesn’t send you to the poorhouse. And then, there’s always South Korea, where English teaching is an actual career.

But I’m sure I’ll continue to run into people, as I did the other night, squandering fortunes on these silly programs (scams) which should probably not even be legal. Some probably go by the exalted pseudonym of non-profit, but generally speaking there’s some dude at the top taking in a good 100k a year for all the effort he puts into his philanthropic work.