Posts Tagged ‘spain


Machismo: Lost In Translation

Given its history and reputation as a fiery, imperial, and “Inquisitive” culture, I’ve been struck recently by Spain’s seeming disavowal of a word their language coined: Machismo. While used as a euphemism in many parts of the States for men who yearn to be toe-kickin’ John Wayne-a-bees, Spain translates it literally as “chauvinism,” and treats it as such.

I was first struck by this notion at the Gay Pride Parade I went to here in Madrid, at which there were many signs reading, “Homophobia = Machismo.” The idea seemed to be that machismo is something so looked down upon as antiquated, cruel, and ill-informed (to say the least) that it is mostly now used as a warning, as something so awful and ignorant that you would not want any association with it. The further fact that those signs constituted the first time I had seen/heard/read the word “machismo” in 2 and a half years living here also struck me as odd. After all, the image of the “Macho Man”–as literal Marlboro-man-type, or as ironically flamboyant Village Person–seems to me to be omnipresent across the pond. On the contrary, after being on the lookout, the only other context in which I’ve seen the word used is equating macho men to chronically abusive spouses.

But it doesn’t just end there. A couple of weeks ago, I saw a man at the store wearing a translated version of the biker t-shirt that reads “If You Can Read This…The BITCH Fell Off.” And, while the shirt was definitely recognizable in its design and basic verbiage, the actual message on the back (translated directly back from Spanish) is “If You Can Read This…My FIANCEE/GIRLFRIEND Has Fallen From The Motorcycle.” Comically extraneous prepositional phrases aside, the shirt’s translation to Spanish meant that it necessarily had to lose all of its anger and nonchalance about a violent act occurring to someone about whom the wearer is supposed to care. I can just imagine the first Spaniard reading the American version of the shirt: “Oh ho HO, that poor guy! He’s going to be so worried when he finds out she’s not there! What a useful shirt to let us know to alert him!”

I was just reminded of this whole thing while looking for a movie to watch. I clicked on the “Men Who Hate Women” link, only to find out it’s the movie based on Stieg Larsson’s ubiquitous novel of the same name. At least, its English name is Men Who Hate Women. Its Spanish title (again, translated back) is The Men Who Did Not Love Women. The difference is not only that hate is never mentioned, but that the verb used for the “not love” part of the title is “amar,” the deeper form of the traditional verb “querer,” which also means “to love.” The implication is that the men described in the book did not romantically, truly, deeply love women, as opposed to the English title, which implies that the men in the book harbor darkly violent distaste for women.

And so it occurs to me that there might be something to what I always called, in my younger days, “politically correct horsewallop.” What I see here is something I also remember thinking in the South: Language is power. Specifically, the type of language viewed as community-approved or acceptable sets the tone for the society, and the implications can indeed be palpable. Pulling back on said language, reserving it only for extreme cases, or just outright banning it, then, might not be such a bad thing.

To cite an example from my time below the Mason-Dixon, one day I was driving with one of my neighbors (a female microbiologist) and her niece, returning her niece back to Lafayette (the biggest little city in Cajun Country, for those not in the know). We both started teasing the 16-year-old girl about having a secret crush on one of her school’s football players, a boy who happened to be black. She slumped in her seat and grumbled, “Please. I ain’t gonna have no niglets running ’round my house.” My neighbor saw me blanch and catch my breath, and virtually ran her truck off the road so she could grab her niece and say to her what all Southerners sometimes need said to them:

“If you ever want to get out of a shithole town and be around smart, good people, you can’t talk like that. Any educated people you’re going to meet won’t like it, and they won’t like you.”

That is to say, while your average Connecticut housewife may indeed clutch her purse more closely when she sees any young minority in baggy pants walking by her, betraying some unspoken bigotry in her soul, she won’t admit that she does so; the mere fact that she knows that society frowns on it makes her disapprove of her own thoughts. It is less a case of using sunshine as a disinfectant, and more a case of constructing a polite society. Like not starting food fights in fancy restaurants (even though it’s secretly kind of fun), we don’t do it because we’re not fucking animals.

Why the sudden harsh tone? Taking the argument about machismo, for example, and its lack of perceived hilarity in Spain, let’s look at some statistics. The first 100 days in 2007, 15 women died in Spain as a result of domestic violence. The public outcry was enormous, even though the number dropped (by 6) from the previous year. Protest rallies were organized and held, and the anti-machismo posters abounded. For comparison’s sake, citing a 2005 study, at least 3 women die every day in the United States at the hand of a current or ex-partner. So, in that same period of time in 2007, barring some sudden precipitous drop in cases, 300 women died in the United States. To be fair, let’s adjust the number to show the disparity in population (Spain’s population is roughly 13% that of the United States), and the number come out to 40, over double Spain’s “unacceptable” number.

Maybe it’s all just smoke and mirrors, or maybe it’s just because Spanish men are more preoccupied with Real Madrid vs. Real Betis to save up any violent passions for their spouses, but it seems to me to be worth noting that Machismo may need to stop being funny. Cause maybe it’s already not.


Five Big Concerns About Public Health Care (And Why They Shouldn’t Be)

Three things are inspiring me to write this. First of all, I was asked about it. Secondly, health care is kinda sorta in the news nowadays. And thirdly, my upcoming jaunt back to mi patria is bringing back memories…and anger. Why anger, you ask? OK, I’ll start with the last part then…

When I discovered I was pregnant in the States, I was just finishing my degree and didn’t have health insurance or money. I was, however, shocked and delighted to find out that I was eligible for LAMoms, a program of public health care that focused on low-income Louisiana mothers-to-be and their small children. Hurray! And this brings me to my first point.

1. Picking doctors
Under LAMoms, I was allowed to pick my own doctor. Huzzah! And so I did, carefully researching the best OB/Gyns in the area. Turns out, none of them would take my poor ass. Finally, after cold-calling every doctor within a 100-mile radius (no kidding), I found someone who would be willing to take my gubmint insurance. 70 miles away. In three months. Which is a bit late for a first trimester checkup.

Here in Spain, I was not allowed to pick my doctor or my midwife (midwives do the delivering here). I have to say, though, it didn’t bother me for a few reasons. Most notably, I’m not really picky when it comes to doctors, and the very distinct impression given here is that every doctor is equally qualified. Plus, if you really can’t stand a doctor (which happened to me later when visiting a pediatric specialist), you can bitch and moan and change doctors. So, yes, your doctor is determined by your zip code here in Spain, whereas, in the States, my doctor was determined by my insurance coverage. Which reminds me…

2. Public insurance

What exactly is public health insurance? This is a question that should be asked more often, since I think it’s unclear in the States. I say this because I was just researching whether or not our daughter would be covered under the much-ballyhooed CHIP (children’s health insurance) program while we’re visiting. Turns out that, in the state where we’ll be visiting, there does exist a CHIP program to cover all minors. For $147 a month, per kid (capping out at around $400 a month for three or more little buggers). In short, this makes us buying travel insurance for all three of us more cost-effective for the weeks we’ll be there.

That’s not public health insurance, silly!

Spanish public health insurance is a given. It’s a right for all citizens and legal residents, rather than a privilege. And, when I say it’s a given, I mean that: it’s given. Free. Sin pagar. Punto.

As for illegal immigrants, they can go to the doctor too in the ER, for a fee. Just like all us po’ folks in the United States. Oh, and, speaking of ERs…

3. Quality of public health care

This has been a matter of substantial debate, and rightfully so. A lot of people have heard horror stories about huge lines in Canada, and lackluster treatment availability everywhere but the Good Ol’ U S of A, right? While I won’t deny that public health care = waiting, I will describe what I mean. All appointment times for doctor’s visits are what they call “orientative,” and they are granted in blocks. The doctor comes out periodically, tells everyone the order in which they’ll be called, and then the patients police themselves (I still find the Spanish queue system fascinating, but that’s a topic for another day). Given that, I have never spent more than 25 minutes waiting to be seen. Going to the ER, I’ve never spent more than 40, and that was for a routine checkup when I first landed here, was still undocumented, and was not an emergency by any stretch of the imagination (I got a bill for that visit later for 200 euros. However, the health office contacted me, since they had been notified that I was a legal resident, and rescinded that charge, all without me saying anything).

As far as the quality goes, I’ve been pretty impressed, for the most part. My prenatal care was fine, if a bit impersonal (I’ll get to why in a moment), the delivery was expert, and the recovery was brilliant (you stay for three days minimum in a private room). My daughter’s care has been wonderful, and I couldn’t ask for more to be done for her. If I did, it would get done (really, they ask all the time if I’d like to test to verify/negate my various and sundry concerns). Which reminds me…

4. Bureaucracy

This is a bit of a pain here in Spain, in that every single doctor has his/her own specialty. Your GP, OB, pediatrician, and various specialists are all different people (of course), but a lot of times they’ll be in different places around the city. I found it to be the worst with the prenatal care, since my OB was different from my ultrasounder from my blood analyzer, etc…However, I was still undocumented when they assigned me all these people, so I didn’t have a set doctor to refer me. Still, you will never give blood or urine to your doctor in the next room; it will usually be a separate appointment on a different day. Since there’s no such thing as “sick days” here, it doesn’t so much matter to the Spaniards, but it is something that would have to be modified if the U.S. were to adopt a similar system.

Another thing that is always brought up as a terrifying phrase when impending “France-ification” is feared upon us is “strikes.” Yes, the unions in Europe LOVE to strike, and doctors are no different. However, since health care is a right, and not a privilege, the doctors inform their patients of their strikes ahead of time, they only last for one day, there are always subs available, and the ER never ever closes. For example, I know that, if I want to see my daughter’s pediatrician, I can’t go on August 11, since she’ll be on strike. No joke. Which is why…

5. Driving private sector out of business?

Could never happen here in Spain. Native Spaniards, who are accustomed to the luxury of free health care, don’t like the waits or the impersonal nature of the visits. So, they virtually all currently have, or have had, private health insurance. And they can, since it’s quite cheap and doesn’t turn away anyone who may have sneezed once in 1974. So, yes, the private sector is huge here, but it’s inexpensive and inclusive. God forbid that should happen to us.

So, there it is, in a big, fat bloated nutshell. That can go get its arteries unclogged gratis at the local hospital.


“The Other” Side Of The Coin

I came to the conclusion last year that Spanish culture only makes sense in the summer. The idea of championing room-temperature egg dishes (tortilla), massive amounts of salty ham, cold soup that can be easily chugged (gazpacho), mid-day naps, late dinners, hand-held fans…they can all be explained away by the oppressive heat that beats down on the majority of Spain. The slow pace of the culture in general (a “mañana” mentality, if you will) can also be explained away by the need to laze a bit in the 100+ degree months of July and August.

But then I realized that my judgment was flawed, in that a good bit of proud Spanish heritage is based on the cooler months as well (heavy stews, paella, and good red wines, to name a few). So why did I just assume the culture was defined by the hot months? Because my view, and, I’ll venture to say many Americans’ view, is shaped by when I’d visited here before moving. And I, again like many Americans, visited in the summer months.

This started me thinking about the way cultures think about one another, and how heavily influenced that thinking is by an inherent human desire to look for “the other.” It seems to run rampant in everyone I know. The entire reason, it seems, to travel for so many has virtually always been in order to experience something different, strange, truly foreign. Be it through the spice trade, the search for new worlds, or a quick jaunt to Paris for Spring Break, the human experience seems to demand the discovery of differences between people in different places, as though we seek subconsciously to authenticate the seemingly arbitrary borders dividing the cultures. In other words, rather than search for commonalities between cultures, it seems we seek to divide ourselves.

God help me, I have to cut this short and get back to the dick jokes before I break out into Imagine.


Poppies Vs. “Pom”-ies

So I know I just waxed philosophic (idiotic?) about my distaste for consumerism and how I think the rampant coveting-of-thy-neighbor’s-proverbial-iPod is ruining our culture and blah blah blah, and another anti-consumerist-type rant seems too much, right? Tough noogies. My blog.

This story may have flown well under the radar this weekend, but I think it may be the most interesting one of the bunch.* Turns out Afghan farmers can make more money ($2000 an acre more, to be exact) growing pomegranates than poppies. In other words, Pom and its ilk have outpaced heroin as the most marked-up overblown new-thing-ya-gotta-have on the street. By a lot. Really a lot.

From an expert on such matters:

At 26 cents per fluid ounce, POM is 3 to 4 times more expensive than national orange juice brands…POM’s tagline, DRINK TO YOUR HEART’S CONTENT, works on two levels: It reinforces the health benefits of the juice and plays off of an emotional idiom.

In short, it’s good for you, AND more lucrative than heroin. What a cash cow!

*I must admit that I’m also interested in this because of my locale. Pomegranates are in no small supply here in Spain (they named an enormous area after them–“granada” = “pomegranate” in Spanish). I just constantly marvel at how oppositely-motivated the Spaniards are to the Americans. As much as they talk about needing to market and branding and what not, there is just more emphasis here on being happy in your life than being happy in your work. Like it or not, that’s why trends like these always pass them by. My husband teaches a lot of these branding specialists at a big company, and I can’t wait till he tells them about this. Oh, the forehead slapping that will ensue! And then they’ll go laugh about it over a 3-hour lunch.


Little Pink Houses Are For Suckers

(I promise to return to more general–read interesting–news soon, but, first, here’s a slice of life from this side of the pond):

I awoke yesterday morning to the sight of our fridge door open, having been so all night. It turns out, if we put a 2-liter of soda AND a package of chicken in the same tiny icebox, the spatial lode becomes too much to bear, and the poor thing just bursts its seams. It tends to do this often, and almost exclusively leading up to Sunday mornings, when there will be no markets open. After happily settling on the idea of us heading down memory/beans-and-rice lane (ah, grad school), I thought the worst was behind us.

What ho, you say? What’s that sound? Why, it’s the sound of our bathroom door being slammed shut. By a petulant tween, you ask? No no no, it’s only our darling little washer, which, during an especially “gigantic” load of socks, has lurched forward and wedged itself between the tub and said now-shut door. Ah, the hilarity!

While I eyed our wee stove, trying to figure out if I could shimmy out the window adjacent thereto and around into the bathroom in order for us to regain access (What’s more dangerous? Sidling along a tiny ledge 4 stories above a cement patio, or finishing my cup of black coffee with no bathroom access in the foreseeable future?), my cooler-headed (and simply awesome) husband finally found a solution. If we broke the door off the frame on the far side, we could gain entry. Turns out this can be done by punching it strongly a couple of times. The bonus is that it can also be replaced by a couple of sharp raps. Go Go, Gadget DOOR FRAME!!!

We are still giggling about this as we walk out the door to work this morning at 7:30, nearly running over the pleather-clad South American prostitute who is our neighbor.

Why do I mention this? Because I’ve been wondering what it says about me that I lovelovelove this apartment, quirks and all, and don’t really want to leave.

“Christ Almighty, woman, have you lost it?” you ask. I object to this for two reasons. First of all, I reject the notion I ever had said it. Secondly, I feel now as if I’ve regained myself, or at least, have regained the notion of myself I like best.

Allow me to explain (I’ll keep it short, I promise):

I feel I lost myself while living in Louisiana. Specifically, living in what’s considered a “normal” place and doing “normal” things left me in many ways the kind of typical American I’ve never wanted to be. My DVR became a good friend, I wanted more than anything to have the kind of gorgeous lawn my neighbor did, and I completely bought into the idea that a nice car, a big house, and a grudgingly-happy husband was not such a bad thing. And those things aren’t necessarily such bad things, if that’s what you really want. But it’s just not me. And, I suspect, it’s not anyone who chooses this boho/hobo expat life.

It’s taken living in our home-sweet-flophouse to come to the realization that all of the things I have loved the most dearly over the course of my life have had “character.” My favorite car of all time is still my old hoopty (an ’88 Crown Vic with 150k+ miles, no working a.c./heat/defroster/windows/locks, and a stereo that amounted to a tape deck that would either play the tapes or melt-and-eat them), my favorite piece of clothing ever is a worn-and-torn-to-shreds thermal I snagged off a gutter punk when I was 16, and my favorite apartment ever (till now) was the one with the never-ending supply of roaches (emanating, it turned out, from behind our gigantic poster of R. Crumb…he’d be so proud, I think). Who cares? Well, no one. But, I think it speaks to the expat mentality. And, since I’ve been asked about returning to the States and why I’m not angling to, I’ll tell whoever cares why.

I think that, in order to enjoy living on any continent other than the one where you were born, you have to embrace a certain amount of chaos in your life. No matter what, living in a place where you don’t speak the language or nascently understand the culture is going to be tougher than staying by home. And, if you don’t have the stomach for a certain amount of crazy, it’ll drive you to the brink. More specifically, though, if you’re going to leave the U.S. for Europe, I think you have to have a certain amount of love for all things “character-ridden” (read “old”). Europe just isn’t built for people who like a lot of space, new construction, or tons of privacy.

It’s no wonder to me that so many American writers have chosen the life of an expat over here. I mean, sheezus, how much more interesting is it (to yourself, at least, if no one else) to relate, say, my story of a lazy Sunday than simply to say, “We ate pizza and watched football”? Living abroad does the work for you. The story’s already going to be exotic, even if you did just eat pizza and watch football (since neither of those words mean the same thing here in Spain that they do Stateside), and the potential for quirky hilarity is always high.

Then again, maybe I just love all those crappy old things because I’m part Scottish and said things are cheap. Either way. *shrug*


A Children’s Treasury of Random Curios About Spain

And so it begins…random things I’ve noticed as an ex-pat. Might they be useful to people thinking of visiting Madrid? Possibly. Is this idea just the sort of self-indulgent idiocy for which blogs were originally purposed? Certainly! So, here we go:

1. The Spanish have an obsession with brushing their teeth around each meal. Really, the line at lunchtime around the sinks here on campus is amazing. And we’re not just talking a cursory brushing here; the tongue gets scrubbed, as well as each individual tooth. Sometimes floss is involved.

2. If you only learn one word to arm you on your travels through Spain, make it “Vale.” It means “cool/OK” and is constantly interspersed in conversation. Think of it like the Spanish “aloha”.Cause you're dying to know, yes?

3. People get irate when they have to pay €2 for a 2-liter bottle of beatifully green extra-virgin olive oil. As my coworker put it, “But the trees are right there!”

4. Haircut = mullet.

5. The idea that Spain is sunny is rubbish. As my director put it, the weather in Madrid is “Nueve meses de invierno y tres meses de infierno” (“9 months of winter and 3 months of hell”).

6. Commas are seemingly non-existent in written Spanish.

7. For a country that spawned the term “machismo” they very seldom evince it, at least the way we’ve come to know it in the States. More often than not, it connotes opening a door for someone.

8. While oranges are prevalent, you will not find the trademark Valencia or Seville varieties, since they’re all exported.

9. There is a totally different concept of age-appropriate dress here. The youngsters tend to sport the schlumpy jeans and HIGHLY unflattering denim-micro-minis-over-mid-calf-leggings, which is similar to the States. Older women, though, are almost universally in fishtail skirts, brightly-colored heels, patterned/fishnet tights, and tiny t-shirts. Put it this way: They dress like I do, but only when they’re 70+.

10. For the home of the Inquisition, there’s very little religious nonsense evident. There’s no obligatory blessing people when they sneeze (now a running joke in my office), and the Church has let most of its rules here go lax. Some examples: You don’t need to be a confirmed Catholic to get married in a church by a priest; first communion happens at 9, and confirmation (voluntary only) happens at 18; cursing is inherent to the language as it’s spoken here (really, my officemate beat our Mexican cohorts in a curseoff, hands down). Strangely enough, though, the rules they maintain are seriously old-school (baptized children get their name in a directory, and are tithed on all future earnings).


A Dish Best Served Cured

So let’s talk ham.

If you’ve never been to Spain, you may be unaware of this, but pork is omnipresent here. Cured, dried, ground, stuffed, you name it. And, while I think it’s amazingly good, the manic national pride in cured meats was bordering on the bizarre from my point of view. Sure, they’re proud of paellas, olives and tortillas (a thick omelette, NOT the Mexican type), but ask any Spaniard what defines their culture culinarily-speaking and they will invariably name off types of ham.

The prices and quality range from free (as tapas that come when you sit down at a cafe) to caviar-esque (for the almost mythic version that comes from pigs in one region who are exclusively fed acorns…if you’ve ever noticed the expression on a cat’s face while they’re kneading and purring and allllmost asleep, then you know what the Spaniards look like when they’re describing this one).

In every grocery store–even their version of Super WalMart–there will be an aisle devoted to it. The giant net-covered legs abound at all social functions, and it is well known that 90% of New Year’s Eve emergency room visits will be ham-related (they’re slippery suckers to carve up). Reading the doctor-prescribed guidelines for feeding my daughter for the first year, I just noticed the line:

After the first year, the child can begin to eat more than the basic meats (chicken, beef, serrano ham).

Why, you ask?  So did I.   I mean, yeah, it’s very good. But how did it become the national ethos? A grad student finally, and rather sheepishly, answered me: vengeance.

To put it lightly, Spain has had a long histoy of troubles with the Moors. When they finally reclaimed their land for good, they stopped all the cattle farming that had dominated and replaced the animals with pigs, making pork their national meat. It was a statement against the Moorish invaders, a way to tell the peoples of both lands where the line was.

To sum up, then: Spain is obsessive about pork because their rivals from 600 years ago can’t eat it. In other words, ham is Spain’s version of a teenage girl slamming the door to her room after a fight with her parents. Will it keep them from coming in? No. Does it feel good, though, like you’re really making a statement? Sure.