Journalist and broadcaster Jack Troughton plays ‘Johnny Foreigner’ and casts an eye over Spain and focuses on stories that serve as a gentle reminder he remains an Englishman abroad.
Those of us lucky enough to have embarked on a new life in this part of the world generally rub along fairly well with our Spanish hosts and we even dare to dip a toe into the warm friendly waters of a lake called integration.
Britain and Spain are both proud nations and share many common values. It is easy to slip into a Mediterranean lifestyle and on the whole a peaceful coexistence exists; there’s even room for a bit of friendly banter.
However, an insult – even a throwaway line – can set temperatures rising; it is in fact, like waving a red rag at a bull.
Jamie Oliver and his unusual recipe for ‘paella with chorizo’ triggered a certain level of mirth and raised eyebrows when the Spanish press seized on the chef’s list of ingredients – he was probably sent scores of more authentic ways of making the dish and all the regional variations; possibly invited to tour in his VW camper to find out for himself.
Spare a thought for Chris Haslam, a travel writer for The Times, and a recent article published in said newspaper under the headline: ‘How to be Spanish’. It went viral on social media and was about as welcome as an epidemic of bird ‘flu in national newspapers in this part of the world.
Haslam was obviously trying to be light-hearted and tongue in cheek, and has since apologised. He shared advice such as to “always be late – unless a bull’s charging at you”, to “kiss and hug complete strangers”, to “shout at waiters”, and to “forget Anglo-Saxon politeness, discretion and decorum”, and a dig at siestas.
The journalist was forced to protect his Twitter account in the fallout. Irate Spaniards made sure he was in no doubt of what they thought of him – backed up with YouTube videos of British men and women behaving badly in some of the country’s more notorious holiday hotspots.
Spanish daily ABC led a blistering attack in its own guide ‘How to be British’ and what it called a few “diplomatic recommendations”. Naturally, the paper’s essential guide prompted more tit-for-tat articles back in Blighty.
And to be fair the Spanish story did target visitors to these shores. There were references to wearing white socks and sandals and the propensity for getting burnt in the sun – Mad Dogs and all that.
There were also swipes about the notorious intake of alcohol by holidaymakers – “20 hours a day” – before suggesting a couple of street fights before a burst of ‘balconing’ from a hotel room.
The British also took a couple of hits for a general lack of interest in culture and the modern scourge of making fake claims for gastric illness after an all-inclusive hotel stay. “When you get home, go to an office that focuses on giving you some advice about reporting Spanish hotels for food poisoning ...it is not necessary to have suffered harm, they arrange all the papers.”
The editor of El Pais’ English edition, Simon Hunter – a veteran of 20 years ‘in country’ – penned a much more conciliatory article and believes Haslam simply committed the British ‘sin’ of trying to be too funny. He believes the attempt to be humorous and ironic failed to score with Spanish people who were merely offended.
Simon – married to a Spaniard and with a large extended family here – also set out some pointers of his own. His laid back guide includes: enjoying life in the street and in the sunshine; spend a lot of time with friends and family, over coffee, a drink, lunch or dinner; and to be confident and polite – and always tip, even if only leaving a few coins. It was sensible stuff.
Having lived in Spain for a number of years, both sides in this series of ‘how to be’ actually made me giggle; rather a lot actually. The original article and the various indignant responses, coupled with the polarised and cartoon images of the people of two different nations.
The Spanish are a welcoming, friendly and helpful bunch; they care for families are respectful of older folk. Embrace the differences - come the summer siestas are quite the thing.