I've updated the layout for Spanish Shilling, my venerable blog that goes back as far as 2006. Here's a story from 2010 (updated slightly):
Forget learning a few words of Spanish and introducing a morning brandy
into your café-life, there’s more to becoming a Spaniard than not
turning green each time they put a bull-fight on the telly.
all, you have to look Spanish. Many people from foreign parts manage
this easily enough, and the whole thing is, I agree, down to fate, but,
if you look like a Swede, it doesn’t matter how fluent you might be in
the language and culture, you will still be on the outside, looking in.
In short, Mother Nature is cruel about our appearance: take the case of two
Nordic looking Spanish friends of mine. I once went out to some local
dives in Marbella with these two work-colleagues, Alfonso and Juan.
Alfonso is blond and has a beard. He comes from Motril. Juan is a
redhead and is from Estepona. Me, I look like a Swede. After Alfonso was
complimented on his Spanish for the third time (‘not bad – how long
have you been in Spain…?'), and Juan was advised to try a glass of ‘we
call this vee-no’, we decided to either split up – or to stick to the
My dad was once drinking in a bar in Murcia with some
fellow who, as my father recalled later, ‘looked like a syphilitic
Turkish tax-inspector’. ‘Where do you suppose I am from?’ asked the
swarthy gentleman as he bought another round of drinks. ‘Denmark?’
suggested my father to his delighted companion, who triumphantly
admitted that he was, in fact, a tax-inspector from Istanbul.
is not a language (it’s called ‘Castilian’ anyway), but a cultural
identity. There is no point speaking it if you have nothing of value to
say. You need context. Please don’t go on about Teresa May because no
one in Spain has heard of her. Just say the same stuff but switch to Rajoy. In fact, try watching Spanish TV which not only helps you with
the language, it also helps you with the culture, informs you about
what’s going on around the corner and increases your enjoyment and
understanding of this country. You can’t carry on living like an exile
like a child pressing his nose to the glass of an English toyshop,
missing 95% of what’s happening here (and who’s doing it), just for the
To assimilate here – and I don’t mean just being able to buy
a drink for the old shepherd who lives in the frightful dive across the
hill and whose vocabulary is probably around a hundred words (say two
weeks of study with a Donald Duck comic in Spanish) – you need to adopt a
few new mannerisms. Three things spring to mind. The proper use of
swear-words, never using a winker and the correct disposal of rubbish.
are the Spanish equivalents of those naughty words that Spellcheck
doesn’t like. All those three, four and six letter words that we learnt
at a tender and impressionable age. Here, they don’t use asterisks. In
Spanish – a wonderful language for swearing in – what might be
considered as the harsher words to our way of thinking are here used to
great and often gentle effect. You will find the most remarkable terms
used towards friends and family, and I will, since the subject is
considered disturbing in English, limit myself to just one example.
(a vile old boozer who lives across the way) was telling me about his
lunatic and alarmingly cross-eyed son, who had, just that very morning,
enjoyed a short conversation with his father about the colours of the
sunrise as they briefly melted and blurred into the sides of the hill. ‘Si, hijo mio. Tienes razón coño’,
his dad assured him. ‘Bloody right yes, you silly bastard’ would be an
understatement as a direct translation, but, in effect, the old boy was
really being quite understanding.
use your winker while driving. No one ever does. On roundabouts a
winking car usually means a foreigner is driving, or else the winker has
been on for months. Don’t trust it and expect anything. The only time
it’s used is probably when the motorist says to himself ‘bugger me, I
wonder what this knob does..?’ Actually, in the old days, when driving
was a more neighbourly and enjoyable activity than it is today, when we
had roads instead of sterile motorways with speed cameras hidden in
bushes, when driving half-crocked was considered socially acceptable and
people asked for a ride by standing in the middle of the highway, the
winker was used by truck-drivers to allow you to overtake. The
left-winker meant: ‘the road is empty ahead, please feel free to pass at
your convenience’ – or perhaps it meant ‘I’m turning left and there’s a
huge pantechnicon bearing down on you’ – or, as I’ve said, ‘help, my
winker is stuck’. But that was then. Now, no one uses them. The horn,
now there’s a useful button. Very handy for zebra crossings.
A Spreading Waste
third vital thing to know, if you want to pass yourself off as a
Spaniard, particularly one from the south, is the proper disposal of
What you do is you throw it out of the nearest window.
This is the hardest of all to get right. Really. And you thought windows were for the view!
Bung it out the window or chuck it on the floor or dump it in the corner-
It’s starting to sound like a song, like the recipe for sangria (‘one of white and one of red…'). Everything must go.
ditches are full of rubbish, with plastic bags gamboling playfully in
the wind and empty beer cans rolling noisily across the highways of the
province. Dead cats stare reproachfully at the traffic as empty
disposable lighters bounce off their crushed skulls. Of course, it’s not
just the Great Outside that’s brimming with junk that, all too rarely,
receives a cursory scrape by order of the local government.
we are beginning to see some small political will towards cleaning up,
putting things in containers and bottle banks and generally looking like
‘somebody is doing something’.
I remember being given a gamba when I
first came to Mojácar. I stripped it down, ate it and chooped the
brains (as instructed), but then, feeling uncertain, I put the shattered
remains, sticky legs and surviving goo discretely back onto the
tapa-dish. No, no! On the floor! I learnt. With the rest of the junk. I
had noticed that I was standing up to my ankles in paper, tooth-picks,
stoppers, used lottery tickets, fines and pictures of Franco. But, soon
enough, a drudge scuttled under me with her broom and plastic
scoopy-thing leaving the scene fresh for further onslaught. Nowadays,
they either don’t give you a tapa, or else there’s some little baskets
invitingly scattered around below the bar, which appears to be a
At least, to a fellow who looks like a Swede.