A nation’s culture resides in the heart and soul of its people remarked a very learned man from my country – Mahatma Gandhi.
The people of Spain are quite friendly, warm, passionate and generally do not indulge in racism unlike their other European counterparts who are notoriously famous for being racist. Of the 72 days I’ve been here, there was just one instance where we catcalled for being brown and Asian. Right from the receptionist and the janitor in the hotel where I stay, to random strangers on lifts, colleagues from work, people in super markets and restaurants, are quite friendly. They always greet you with polite hello (¡Hola! or ¡Bueno!) or the wishes appropriate for the time of the day (¡Buenos días! – Good Morning, ¡Buenas noches! – Good night). Immaterial of the gender, the age, the color or the creed, they go on wishing with a smile. This is one thing I wished my hometown learnt. Yet again, people are different and cities are different.
Physically, it is near to impossible to stereotype a Spaniard. The features are all mix – Tall, short, bearded, blondes, blue eyed, black haired and what not. This can be attributed to a fact that Spain has a very rich history in terms of the DNA make up. This is bound to happen as the country was conquered, invaded, influenced and ruled by various kinds of people including the Vikings, the Arabs, the Jews and the Catholics. Every town I visited at least had a mix of two cultures as a part of their history.
One thing that scares me a bit is the intensity and passion of these people – again attributed to their genetic make up. It is a bit unnerving to watch a very jovial person turn all red and intense when they are conversing on certain topics which mean a lot to them. There was this one instance where a Spaniard I work with disagreed with me on a technical topic we were discussing. The discussion quickly went south and I decided not to indulge in an argument. It took that person quite a while to come back to the normal and talk to me like before. Witnessed “Intensity” first hand. There were several instances with several other different people who went from being laid-back to serious in fraction of seconds when touched upon certain subjects including that of Catalonia – a topic I have very limited knowledge and literally no opinion.
Madrid however, seems to be a melting pot of cultures. There are a lot South Americans from Cuba, Argentina, Venezuela to name. Though they share same language with the Spanish people, they seem to have a slightly different accent – evident even to a person who doesn’t know Spanish. Immaterial of the accent and dialect, they also seem to be as intense as Spaniards.
One thing I truly love about the Spanish people in general is their sense of equality. Men and Women are equal. It is apparently characteristic of the people to not bat an eye to the vagaries of women folks. Being from a country where public displays of affection (of any kind) is quite frowned upon, this culture was mildly shocking – in a good way though. Initially I was quite jumpy when my male colleagues touched me to call me. That never does happen back home. You simply don’t touch a woman who is not your wife or daughter or sister. Much to my utter shock (initially again), it is customary here to kiss people to wish them or greet them. I always thought it was only the French who believed in kissing. Turns out, the Spanish are no different. I was just a bundle of nerves all during the Christmas and New Year season. Yet again, I strongly believe in adapting. Different country, different culture – different customs. It was one learning experience. I concluded strongly that this kind of a gender indifference is probably what paved way to equality. It is also not surprising to note that the culture has embraced all sexual orientations quite well.
One aspect of the culture that I would not wish to comment upon is the sense of commitment. Yet again, my Indian upbringing refuses to really let me adapt to notion that a man and woman can live together, have kids without being married. To me, that kind of a relationship cannot be dissected and debated until one has first hand experience.
At the end, it all boils down to one simple golden rule – When in Rome, be a Roman. Adapting is the key. It is important to respect the culture and way of life of other humans. When you are being treated with respect, I don’t think it is difficult to reciprocate.
Note : I’ve steered clear of talking about the food. The Spanish cuisine deserves a post of its own.
The other topic I have not touched upon is Literature and books in general. That’s a work in progress because literally everything is in Spanish and I need to obverse and converse with people to understand about that.