Sunday, August 26, 2007

Thin Skin Confessions

The recent posting at Notes From Spain on the topic, ”Can the Spanish take criticism?”, got a lot of interest over there, inspired by my rant here, "Are the Spanish Thin-Skinned?"

But to tell you the truth I have a confession to make, I’m the one who is thin-skinned. You may have noticed that I am a little bit sensitive to topics relating to Americans in Spain, how we are perceived, opinions about us in the print and other media, and of course, in “real-life”. My thin skin has developed over the years - basically due to hearing the same stereotypes over and over, ad nauseum, and by having the same tired discussions in bars, living rooms, and …. where ever.

For the first 15 - 20 years of coming to Spain, and/or living in Spain on and off, I would just do what I always did. Patiently try to convince one person at a time that No, we are not all morons, and No, we are not all fat, and Yes, there actually are political liberals in the U.S., and I actually did not vote for Bush or Reagan, but I will try to explain why many people did, and why I do respect our political system - even flawed as it is, etc…. (Example list of current topics here).

But now I’m tired and it's hard to be nice. I keep hearing and seeing the same misconceptions offered up with glee. Spanish people will argue with ME about how life is in America (when they have never been there) or about our history – while conveniently forgetting their own - and I don't even know them! This I can’t take.

There was this one time when I had to get my air conditioning in Madrid fixed and the guy selling me his services came over to my house (with a stuffy nose). He didn’t know me from Adam but, as usual, he asked me where I was from, and then proceeded to tell me that he had a cold due to, “All the bad things that the Americans bring.” He was a big fat guy and seemed to be living pretty well to me – the Americans weren’t hurting him too much it appeared. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the presence of mind to tell him on the spot that his job exists because an American invented air conditioning!

What got me on all this .... John at Iberian Notes was posting some reader’s comments from a favorite newspaper that he loves to hate – La Vanguardia based in Barcelona. Now, comments on the internet can be pretty nasty and very hateful to Americans, etc. They usually blame the U.S. for pretty much everything under the sun – in outrageous ways. These particular ones weren't as bad as some I've seen on John was asked if he thought that many Spanish people think like the La Vanguardia readers. So he answered that Yes, he thinks that many people DO think this way in Spain. This set off a round of comments – some very angry, on this topic (the angry ones disagreed – and were shocked that he would come to this conclusion!). I tried to put my meager two cents in (very poorly, I’m afraid).

What I was trying to say in my lousy comment on Iberian Notes, is that if you are not American, you are not going to experience the kind of interactions that we (Americans) experience in Madrid/Spain. If you are British, the air conditioning repair-man is not going to start giving you crap about the rotten Americans. If you are meeting Spanish friends of friends, and there is that guy with the group who wants to give you shit about Bush and anything else he can think of, he would not be doing that if you were from Bangladesh. Also, as Americans, our ears prick up when we hear nonsense about the U.S., and yes, my own personal thin-skin comes into play due to hearing knock after knock about Americans over the last 24 years.

O.K., I really have to work on this. Hey! That’s what the blog is all about.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Where the Boys Are

You know, it seems like there are a lot of gay men in Madrid, and maybe even Spain, in general. I wonder … are there more gays per capita here than in other countries of Europe? The way things are going, Madrid might turn into Spain’s San Francisco.

Through the years, it has always perplexed me to see the gay population grow. I had a Spanish roommate and friend who came out while I was visiting Madrid one year (of course I already knew he was gay - not because of how he acted, only because he never had a girlfriend). He was a tall, educated, good-looking guy that had a bunch of way-hot girls basically throwing themselves at him all the time. I would ask him, “Are you sure you don’t want to just try out Marisol, or Eva, or (fill-in the blank), before really deciding on this?

My own very scientific theory on why there are so many gay men in Madrid is the simple fact that they just have too much of a good thing. There are great looking woman all over the place! It almost seems like the men are bored with the beautiful chicks and want to try something different. Or maybe they want to become some kind of “Anti Macho-Iberico”, in order to rebel against a Spanish stereotype of a woman-chasing player.

Whatever it is, and in typical post-Franco Spain style, they sure seem to be going overboard in sharing their new found “freedoms". Gay people are really expressing themselves all over the place and everyone else is bending over backwards to show how "normal" they think this is. It has to be frustrating for the women looking for guys - but they wouldn't admit it..

I know that when the guiris / Americanos come to Madrid, we are always impressed with the quality (and quantity) of Spanish women, and confused as to why there are so many gay men …. but then again kind of thankful too … just being straight means you're way ahead of half the room in the girls' eyes - no matter what you look like.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Big Surprise! Another "Dumb Yankee" Article

I was just wondering - again.... Does anybody ever spend time and money to find out what other people in the world don't know? Or is El Pais just interested in what Americans don't know?

I am sure that the average Fulan@ in Spain is a foreign affairs expert. If you started calling Espanoles at home, found a housewife in Fuenlabrada, tore her away from the latest corazon babble, and then proceeded to ask her about the evil doers in Darfur, she would know all about it, right? Or maybe she knows about the latest developments in the political situation in Turkey? Doubt it.... But that is not interesting (or gratifying) to El Pais. They couldn't care less about what Spanish people don't know. That's no fun.

I searched around for who wanted to find out what we don't know. "Zogby International "is just a company that will harass people by phone and ask what they are told to ask - for money. The "Inter-American Dialogue" is some kind of political / business group from South America. I wonder what their agenda is?

I will tell you one thing. I have never answered a poll, I’m busy ... at work, or whatever. And if they ever did manage to get me on the phone somehow, I would fake a heart attack to get off. There is no way I would spend my time to put a dime in a pollster's pocket. So who are they talking to? Answer: Morons with nothing better to do. Of course the pollsters don't care - as long as they can write something down for their clients.

Another thing about polls … your agenda, whatever it is, can easily be fulfilled. Tailor the questions, call only the people you want to reach, etc. You can always get the results you are looking for.

I'll start holding my breath now until a survey comes out in El Pais on what the Spanish public doesn't know.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Are the Spanish Thin-Skinned?

Ben over at Notes From Spain has a post expounding on something he brought up earlier in several versions, “Are the Spanish Rude”? This kind of post never ceases to elicit tons of responses. Am I alone in noticing that posts that are even remotely critical of the Spanish – just drives them crazy?

Ben is the most diplomatic dude writing about Spanish stuff in blog-land. He is running a site that is trying to make a buck – so he HAS to be nice. Couple that with the fact that he is married to a Spanish gal (got to keep her happy), and that he clearly loves his adopted country, and yet Spanish people still get nuts, offended, pissed off, etc.

I have noticed this phenomenon many times reading around the web. I remember when The New York Times featured some travel article that stated something like, “ Madrid is no longer the provincial sleepy town, blah, blahh”. How innocuous can you get! It was a throw away line in some stupid travel piece – and people (Spanish) were pissed! There were comentarios galore on about how dare those Sons of Bitches talk shit about us! And there was this other filler NPR radio piece on the Madrid Barajas parking lot bombings. The poor NPR reporter got reamed for saying something negative about the fact that he couldn’t get his car out of the lot or something .... nothing really important. Or the time Notes From Spain linked to a pretty funny piece on “A Day in the Life of a Spaniard” that humorously skewered a fictitious daily routine of a typical Spaniard. Man, were some pissed off!

Why is this? I know that when I am in Madrid or some region of Spain, the people there want to hear that their food is the best, their women the best looking, and that it is much better than in my sorry-ass country. I am happy to oblige. I have been trained to respond along the “anti-Ugly American” line. I say that they are great and we are clearly lacking in many respects… Just to keep them happy.

I wonder if the Spanish have any clue what it is like being an American in Spain. How would they like to hear constantly that your food sucks, you really have no culture (as they head off to an American Movie), that most of you are stupid, etc. etc…. We listen to this, read this, watch TV with this, and yes, even agree to it - so as not to seem like “rude pushy arrogant Americans”.

I’m afraid I don’t think they would last “Twenty Minutos” hearing this stuff like we do - with their thin skins...

Sunday, August 12, 2007

L.A. Earthquake - 1994, Madrid - ?

The last pretty big one in Los Angeles was the Northridge earthquake of January 1994. This is a shot of a parking structure at the local University after that temblor. It looks very bad and if you listened to the news without seeing it for yourself it would have seemed liked the whole city was in ruins. Of course, this was very far from the case. Although the magnitude on the Richter scale was moderately high (about 6.8), damage, and I mean the devastating kind, was only scattered around at best. There were two or three collapses of freeway overpasses, a couple of apartment buildings at the epicenter that had their first floors pancake, and maybe four or five other really bad building partial-collapses. The rest of the damage was a lot of cracks and tossed around furniture and dishes - nothing like the thousands and thousands dead you would see in India or South America.

The reason for this low damage tally is we are continually trying to build better buildings in California because we know earthquakes are going to come. Another reason is most of our houses and buildings are made out of wood - which is very light and strong, or steel. Not much brick and stone, etc.

But, on the other hand we have Madrid. In Madrid, the older buildings are built with a timber framework that are in-filled with brick or stone to make the walls. These walls are virtual ruble walls with very little value in resisting earthquakes. What's more, each brick is a deadly projectile waiting to clock somebody on the head.

The modern apartment buildings basically have the exact same construction method but they use a (too-thin) framework of steel columns and beams, in-filled with bricks to make the walls and floors. They still are not made to resist earthquakes.

The reason that brick is not good in an earthquake is that it is very heavy. And the amount of force an earthquake imparts on a building is in proportion to the weight of the building. More weight, more force. Reinforced brick is another matter, but the walls of Madrid apartment buildings are generally not reinforced with steel.

This shot below is what happens to unreinforced brick buildings in an earthquake:

I will tell you truthfully that I am not crazy to hear about earthquakes in Madrid. The buildings are not built for them. A not-very-big earthquake in Madrid could do A LOT of damage. It is really unfathomable to think how bad a bigger one could be. Fortunately, Madrid is not (supposed to be) earthquake country.

Monday, August 6, 2007

For Once - Glad I'm Not in Madrid

I got nothing ... but this picture of Betty the dog jumping into Lake Pend Oreille in Northern Idaho. Looks nice huh? The water is amazing, clear and cool. I am spending a week here doing the summer thing.

I hear it's pretty hot in Madrid. I think I'll wait until fall / winter to go back. Of course, Spain is known and loved for it's summers (or at least for the warm weather) but I really prefer winter in Madrid. There is nothing like coming from a place where the weather is temperate (L.A.) and being able to wear some winter clothes for a change.