Having spent 10 days in Spain now (I got back to Berlin yesterday evening only) I believe I can consider myself an expert on the Spanish mentality per se and thought I should share my insight on this. Yeah, ... right. Well, I wanted to get a few things of my chest in any case.
I had never been to Spain before (geographically and culturally that is, I had spent some time in secluded German areas of Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife as a teen), did have some preformed opinions (mostly negative) based on the overwhelmingly (and lame) positive perception of everything Spanish (party, sun, beach, party (including 'exotic' music and latino dansers/lovers/whatever, nothing else really) by my compatriotes. So, I went to Madrid and Barcelona staying with friends in both places (Spanish in the former, American in the latter, my experiences logically having been tainted by these different circumstances).
In comparing these two cities I like to invoke the similar distinction between New York and Chicago. One is better known, more popular, on first sight more attractive maybe, and more touristy, the other more low-key, less well-known, more quiet and less beautiful on first sight. In the end then I cannot really pass judgements on two cities as different, Madrid was fun (thanks to my knowledgable tour guide (Q: Who is Alonso XIII? A: The Son of Alonso XII!), I liked its tranquility while being alive at the same time. Barcelona is a completely different story, overrun by tourists (French and German mainly it seems), strikingly beautiful with a historic center right at the beach and with its streets (in that part of town anyway) crowded at all times (I personally feel like one could call it Kreuzberg with older houses, a beach, and a massive amount of tourists (profound comparison, I know)). Honestly, as much as I liked being in Barcelona, the touristy aspect is painful at times, also because my lack of any (active as opposed to passive) Spanish knowledge made me feel this even more so. I also feel that Madrid's beauty is undervalued, in its central district it showcases an impressive array of beautiful apartment and governmental buildings. Thus, go to both, not just one of them, if you can and get yourself some Spanish friends before you do.
The latter mainly because the Spanish (in general, there are no exceptions, no, really) for some reason that I couldn't quite discern are enviably proud of not speaking any other language. Asking someone in Spanish whether they spoke any of my three languages just produced a proud: 'No! Espanol!' The fact that I was aware of a) us being in Spain and b) of him/her being Spanish and included both aspects in my decision to start asking in Spanish in the first place seemed to make no difference here.
What else? Spanish women wear no tops at the beach (and are accordingly and continously assailed by men twice their age when sun-bathing). People don't go swimming in the ocean (and I always felt kind of dumb for actually doing so when everyone else obviously was only working on their respective tans). Spain is a lot cleaner than I had though, less Italian so to speak. Starting conversations with 50 year old men who speak no foreign languages is surprisingly fun and easy. Stereotypes about Southern European effectiveness are true (I missed my plane back home because the trains didn't run (a fire in some station), there were no buses (well, like one every 20 minutes with a queue of maybe 300 metres) and the cab drivers were striking). No one thought an anouncement on any of this (even in Spanish) would be necessary of course. There is bad-ass, super comfortable and fast train connection between Madrid and Barcelona, just a tad too expensive though. For some inexplicable reason Spanish males think that mullets constitute an attractive hair cut.
Yeah, Spain. Good fun I have to admit, just don't give me those dumb stereotypes as a reason please.
On a last note (and this is nothing new, I know), I hate not being able to speak a country's language. I abhor it in fact. No possibility of properly conversing with locals, always staying at this sad tourist level. It makes me feel really uncomfortable honestly. Think I am made to live in other countries, even to visit friends there, to learn languages (I need to finally start a fourth one), but not to be a tourist only.
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