Jordi Wednesday, September 01, 2004, 18:48 GMT
Although hundreds of thousands of Brits are migrating to Spain in the past few years, most of them expecting to make of the English language a living even if they don't have the qualifications to do so, they all arrive here with extremely poor command of Spanish, Catalan, Galician or Basque (depending on where they want to settle). The fact is that, most of them, and after many years, have hardly improved at all and are quite difficult to understand.
Furthermore, millions of them come on holidays without knowing a single word of Spanish and are flabbergasted when the poor locals, not the ones in the trade, don't speak correct English.
Could you please tell me what's wrong with the UK Education system? If they are to send us their English Armada Invencible, they could at least make an effort to communicate with the natives.
What about the thousands of foreigners who live in the UK or come here on holiday who can't speak English? We have thousands of people who are British citizens yet refuse to speak the language.
And don't give me all that romantic nonsense about the Scots and Welsh and Irish who will "die for their countries" therefore you don't see as many of them in Spain as you see English. The English are equally as proud. The reason why most of the Brits who live in Spain are English is because 80% of British people are English.
Assimilation into a new society is a long, HARD, and embarassing process when the natives are unforgiving. Patience, everyone! After 10-12 years, most immigrants will have a good command of their new language.
According to the latest figures that have appeared in the Spanish press last week 900.000 Brits are permanent residents in Spain and can, therefore, vote in council elections since they are EU residents. They are obviously welcome since we are as much of a welcoming country as Great Britain is.
We are beginning to have quite a few British councilmen in villages where they are a big minority. The fact is the British who are leaving Britain are not foreigners or first generation Brits. They are middle or upper class Brits who have decided to move to sunnier lands with quite a good public health system (which could be improved, as all but most Brits are quite surprised at "how civilised" we are after a period here and wouldn't dream on going back permanently). They are all welcome although some of these councilmen in places like the region around Valencia and Benidorm are being elected, by their countrymen, without speaking hardly any Spanish. There should be a law, both in GB and Spain, saying that one cannot be elected to public service unless he speaks the country's official languages at a fluent "level". Do you imagine a foreign origin Councilman in GB who doesn't speak English or with basic English? It might happen with new arrivals but not with local politicians. That is happening in some parts of Spain and that is a fact. A councilman in Xàbia (Alicante province) complained because some of the local life-long councilmen spoke their native Catalan in the council's meeting. He expected them to speak either slow Spanish or fast English. You just can't imagine the local reaction since we also happen to be quite proud!
Regarding tourists, at the rates of London hotels and restaurants, you hardly expect them to speak English and you welcome them all because they are, after all, the main source of revenues not only in Spain but in London as well. I'm sure the Great Britain Tourist Board will tell you this as well. You could, of course, start an international tourist campagn saying "IF YOU DON'T SPEAK ENGLISH, DON'T COME TO GREAT BRITAIN". I'm sure Paris, Barcelona, Madrid or Rome would highly appreciate such a campaign since rivalry in City Short Break Destinations is very high.
We do see lots of Scots, Welsh and Irish around Spain. They come for vacations and usually play Golf. Quite a distinguished lot the Celts we see around here! They usually decide to go back to their countries after a few days or a fortnight.
That’s preposterous. Fat chance that happening in the UK, letting Spanish nationals migrate and take council positions without speaking the local dialect.
Interesting post. When I came in from work the other day I tuned into BBC Radio Five Live to catch up on sports news and was a wee bit early and caught part of a phone-in discussion on Brits living permanently in Spain. It was so interesting I wished I'd tuned in earlier, but what I want to say really, is that the general impression of life in Spain is indeed one of a very civilised, laid-back society with a very noticeably strong family orientation. They said that people are much friendlier and social interaction is much better than it is in England. I say ENGLAND, because all the callers I heard were from England, except one guy who called from the West of Scotland. One lady said that the Spanish keep eye contact with you when talking with you and that where she came from, in the south of England, that is not the case. Stress levels and a fast pace of life in the UK, especially in England anyway and definitely in London and the south of England, have destroyed the social interaction they still have in Spain. The guy from the west of Scotland said.... quite correctly!...that such social breakdown does not exists in Scotland in the same way as it does in England. It's true. If you say "hi" or "hello" to a stranger in London or the south they will think you are some sort of weirdo. Social isolation exists in England in a way which I think would be impossible in Spain and it must be cultural. People keep themselves very much to themselves. Maybe that's why the English use alcohol to freak out so much, as I'm sure you know.
On TV the other morning they reported the case of a smartly dressed lady who collapsed in the street in South East London, half on the pavement and half on the roadway. Cars swerved to avoid her and pedestrians passed by with nobody stopping to investigate and it was all shown on CCTV. Finally a bus passed and it stopped and the driver got out to see to her and called the paramedics and she was taken to hospital as she was quite ill. Maybe people thought she was a drunk or a druggie, or that it could have been some sort of pre-robbery ruse (these things DO happen) but even so, if that had happened in Madrid, I bet she would have been seen to pronto. That is London 2004...nobody wants to get involved.
If you come to a medium size Spanish town and ask for a street you'll be surprised at how often people will tell you "You're going my way, please come with me." Very big cities are different all over the world but I know Madrid, Barcelona and London very well and there are differences. I don't imagine anyone ill forgotten and avoided in the streets of Barcelona and I would have imagined a crowd of 50 around that Barcelona lady and half a dozen of them chatting away in Catalan or Spanish, complaining because the ambulance has been called more than 10 minutes ago and it hasn't arrived yet. A few of them, those who are in no hurry, will wait to check how long the ambulance has taken and to see the lady safely "on board".
I'd never thought about that "keeping eye contact" thing since I feel it's awfully rude to speak to somebody withoug looking straight in his eyes. I thought that was a human thing and not a cultural thing. You've really impressed me and it is true that I have met quite a few English people who lower their eyes when you speak to them. Isn't it because they're shy? I'd always thought that could be an explanation. I find English people are quite polite and that has got nothing to do with the fact that some of them still dream of a English Empire. If I'm wrong please inform me.
I think what you described is not restricted to London or England in general. My own experience is the same with Budapest (where I spent six years during my studies and I am sort of happy that I don't live there any more). What I have realised is that generally speaking people living in the countryside in smaller towns are the most eager to help you in case of trouble (while those living in very tiny villages are often a little suspicious or indifferent about foreigners). This general suspicion and fear of "being involved" really pervades much of the modern world, and according to my own experience the situation has become a lot worse in the last ten years alone. One indication of this is the decreasing number of people smiling or offering help in the street, at least in Hungary. Once I was in a town where I have never been before, and a young lady I asked for the direction offered to go with me part of the way I had to walk to reach my destination. I doubt anybody would do that nowadays. Most people can really open up with ones they know, if at all. And I do think the Mediterranean countries are much better off in this respect, as I can judge from my scarce experience (this is to include France as well, which is geographically a mostly West European country). The French in particular seem to handle stressful situations with much more humour and ease as we do in Hungary- we keep worrying all the time and visualise the worst scenarios even if there is no real reason for that.
Portugal and Spain are the most WESTERN EUROPEAN countries in Europe. Is there anything else that is more west before the West Indies? Well, perhaps Ireland. I'd have to check that one.
I did not mean that France was the WESTERNMOST country in Europe, but only that it was MOSTLY West European (as far as climate and vegetation is concerned), since its southern strip (Languedoc and Provence) belongs to the Mediterranean area (South Europe) geographically. But this does not change the fact that MOST of the time the French are MORE cheerful and LESS tense than an average Hungarian. :-)
Thanks for your comments, guys.....interesting as ever. Maybe modern life and its stresses and trying to get things done by yesterday at the earliest (or sooner if possible) makes people stressed out and this makes them selfish and self absorbed. What I meant to convey (all language issues aside) is that people from the UK who move to the lovely sunny Mediterranean countries all seem to find a distinct difference in culture and a laid back attitude to life. This manifests itself in more respect for each other and I suppose this results in actually caring for each other more. In London you can live in a house and have little or no idea who lives next door to you or the apartment upstairs...you just pass on the stairs maybe. I'd hate that as I like people I guess.
I can truthfully say that Edinburgh is far and away a more friendly city than London. Whenever I have been down in London I find so many people are rude for no obvious reason. Here people will help you as best they can if you are in any kind of trouble, that's for sure. I found the same when I was in Leeds (which is in the north of England) which was nice. Maybe it's a London and southern thing here in UK.
I'm not sure about the English Empire thing, Jordi except from what I know of the English moving to both Scotland and Wales and then making adverse comments about local culture and customs. In Wales particularly I have been told about the language issue there and how the local Welsh speaking people are criticised for speaking it in their own homeland. I've said that before in here and it sucks as far as I'm concerned.
I know the Isle of Lewis (in the Hebrides, a remote island group in extreme NW of Scotland) because we used to go there every year when I was a boy in school. It still maintains a strict Presbyterian Sabbatarian lifestyle there, which means strict observance of Sundays and nothing, but nothing, is open or working (except for emergency services) and the sale of alcohol is forbidden. Not even ferries or air services used to operate to the islands on Sundays but they do now because of English pressure. It would drive me nuts if I lived there but that's the way it is and they are entitled to their way of life, the only part of the UK where that happens. English people who go there complain and say it should be changed, like the travel services have been. In the rest of Scotland and the UK Sundays are little different from any other day of the week. I like clubbing on Sunday nights, which I couldn't do if I lived in Stornoway, which is why I'd go bonkers if I lived there.
By the way, Gaelic is spoken by the majority of locals in the Isle of Lewis and the other Western Isles.
I have always found the English to be friendly. They used to be extremely friendly even in London in the 1960s. Declining friendliness is a phenomenon common to cities everywhere, including Vancouver where I live, altho it is still not too bad.
I have visited Spain many times. The people are not nearly as friendly now as they were when I first visited in the 1960s. Surly service is no longer a rare ocurrence. In the 1960s it did not exist. Everyone was your friend. You could leave your wallet on the street and it would be there when you got back. Today you have to hang on to it.
Damian, your petty Scottish chauvinism wears thin after a while.
I live in Madrid and I am sorry to break partly that dreamy vision you have about Spain. I am sure that Spaniards nowadays are, probably, more polite and less rude than in other countries, but in big cities events like that Damian have related about the unconscious woman happen from time to time. For example, some years ago two security guards were found guilty because they didn't helped a young boy who had fainted while waiting for a train in the Underground. He was anorexic but those guards thought he was a drug addict as he was so thin. Also in the Underground, it is usual to find people who behave "strangely", and nobody pays attention to them, because the rest of the passengers thinks that they are drug addicts or alcoholics or they are mad. They think that either there is not use in helping them (the effects of the drugs will finish sooner or later) or that they can be dangerous (you never know how a person like in that state can react). It is also very usual to find people "sleeping" in benches in the street.
I think that the problem takes place when you get used to living with certain things. In the Madrid's Underground it is easy to find drug addicts and, then, most of times it is probably the best idea not to pay attention to people who seem to have problems. However, sometimes they really need others' help and nobody takes care.
<<Damian, your petty Scottish chauvinism wears thin after a while>>
Ooops...sorry Steve! ...I will be less SNP-ish from now on - I'll put my kilt back in the bottom drawer and behave myself. I've said before in this forum that I love ALL my English friends..check it out, sir! ;-)
WHat happen with Clark, Wingyellow, and the guy who use to say he was an English Teacher ...I can't remember his nick...
Are they history now?