Saturday, April 28, 2012

Real Culture

I paraphrase, with the excuse of failing memory, a story that Spike Milligan told about the late night mercy dash he was making across town in his Standard 10. His wife was in the passenger seat just about to give birth. He was pulled over by a traffic policeman on a motorbike. "What's the big hurry then Stirling?" asked the traffic cop. Spike explained. "Follow me!" shouted the policeman, who had been waiting for this opportunity all his life. He adjusted his goggles, gunned the Norton into life and headed off at a sickening 50mph for the nearest maternity ward with the underpowered 1950s car doing the best it could to keep up.

Are you with me so far? You know who or what Spike Milligan is and Stirling Moss and 50mph and a maternity ward and even the Norton. My guess is you do, even if you're quite young, because the chances are you're British. We know stuff like that. We know Nelson's Column and Lime Street Station and The Kinks and Yorkshire pudding. We learn them by some sort of osmosis.

Here in Spain it's not the same of course. In mid September 2010 a chap called Jose Antonio Labordeta died and it was a big news story. He was a loved and respected singer songwriter cum politician cum amateur roving reporter. I had to look him up on Wikipedia to find out who he was. Spaniards just knew.

It's not only people we don't know. I don't think anyone ever specifically told me that I needed road tax for my first car, or insurance or an MOT but I knew, somehow I just knew. Look! I just did it again - I called it road tax and you knew what I meant. I bet that's not what it's called officially.

How many more things that are just common knowledge to your everyday Spaniard are tricky for us? What's that tree called over there and is the cricket like beast that sings at night a cigarra or a grillo? Which Spanish shop do you go to if you want to buy sewing needles and what are the local equivalents to the battle of Waterloo or Goose Green?

One of my pet moans, after a couple of brandies, is about how isolated we older Britons are by our lack of conversational Spanish but in some ways this culture thing is nearly as big. Not the culture of art galleries and orchestras but the everyday, common, things. It's why, when you do get to chatting with a Spaniard they ask you ridiculously banal things like whether you've ever eaten paella or migas. Of course I have. That's not really the point though. They know I'm different, I eat fish and chips and don't know who Butragueño is. The sad thing is that although I live here and want to share in those things it will take more than the lifetime I have left to catch up.

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