When I first moved to Spain, the country was suffering a drought.
I think that lasted for the first eight years that I lived in Madrid, and, understandably, I didn’t really appreciate how bad it was, as I had nothing to compare the weather to. Yes, it was sunny; yes it was hot; but wasn’t that what Spanish weather was meant to be like?
(We all have a tendency to fall back on stereotypes. When I tell people I live in Spain they assume I must live on one of those fictional costas where no one ever does any work but spends all day and all the long, hot night sitting at a terraza on the beach drinking iced beer or cheap vino tinto.)
Even when I realised that the ubiquitous cierre el grifo signs were the Spanish equivalent of the 1976 Save Water campaign in the UK, I had no real idea of the extent of the problem.
On one occasion when it was actually raining in the city and I – unsurprisingly – hadn’t got my umbrella with me, I took a cab. I remember mumbling something negative about the weather to the taxista and being really surprised by his reaction. After all, taxi drivers are always up for a moan about the weather, the cost of living, road works and the government, aren’t they? Well, no. He very eloquently put me right, pointing out the desperate situation in the countryside where crops were failing because of the sequía and where people’s livelihoods were are stake.
It occurred to me then that one thing about Spain is how everyone is still only a generation or so away from the pueblo. Even the people who were born and brought up in the capital have a ‘home’ somewhere in the country where their grandparents or aunts and uncles run the local bar, farm the land and celebrate the matanza in all its bloody glory.
I also noted the fact that I had been politely, but firmly corrected. In the UK, the chances are that no one would contradict you if you complained about the weather. George Mikes noticed this and commented on it in How to be an Alien:
You must always agree with other people when you talk about the weather. If it is raining and snowing and the wind is knocking down trees, and someone says “Nice day, isn’t it?” answer immediately, “Isn’t it wonderful?”
Indeed, in the UK, if you start any kind of general moan as a conversational opening gambit, you can pretty much assume that the person you’re speaking to will follow your lead. Not so in Spain. Indeed, it was a conversation at one of the local shops this morning that put me in mind of this.
Having commented on the fact the prices had gone up, I didn’t want to appear critical, so added, “But then, prices do go up, don’t they? They never go down.”
Although the guy agreed that prices do go up – after all, “the feria used to cost 25 pesetas a ride and now it’s 2.50€” – he assured me some prices go down. “I bought a computer five years ago,” he said. “And I just bought a new one which cost less. And it’s better.”
I pride myself on being positive, so left the shop feeling suitably humbled.
(In case you’re wondering, the photo doesn’t really have any relevance, except it was taken in Madrid. I just happened to come across it yesterday when I was looking for something else entirely.)