Parallel universes
The Bottom Line opinion

Parallel universes

Columnist David Andrews, at a recent event on the Costa de Sol, found the general supposition that everybody has to speak English (in Spain) disconcerting

David Andrews


Friday, 26 April 2024, 13:08


The other week I was at a "soirée" attended mainly by the foreign community on the Costa del Sol. These kinds of events always fascinate me as they give me an opportunity to people watch and delve into a parallel reality.

At the top of the food chain were the Swedish, the majority, next came the Dutch, further down the pecking order, and then the assorted other English-speakers; an assorted menagerie of races who, depending on where they were from, considered themselves to be superior to other nationalities. And then finally the Spanish.... ostracised in a corner where they were either expected to talk amongst themselves or occasionally forced to speak in English and bring the colourful, local element to the party.

I knew I was in Spain because I had used Google Maps to find the venue, but apart from that there was no further reference to the country. Spain's influence was lacking from the opening time, the food, the drink, the clothes and the people there. In the conversation, Spain was alluded to as some kind of unreachable mythical deity; however its people, the Spanish, when mentioned, were definitely not considered part of the crowd and relegated to a stereotype, a caricature or a gross generalisation.

The general supposition that everybody has to speak English (in Spain) is also disconcerting and the belief (prejudice) that a person's IQ is based on how well they speak that language is patronising. At least the Swedish and the Dutch were speaking another language, why were the native English-speakers, who usually didn't speak a word of any other language, so smug? Finally, I also found it tremendously rude that nobody actually made any attempt to speak in Spanish or enquired whether any of the Spanish could or wanted to speak English in their own country.

When you ask the Spanish about the "foreigners" and the way they behave, you usually get a roll of eyes, a smirk and an Obelix-style "están locos, estos guiris". Thankfully, they usually take the whole lack of speaking Spanish and integrating into the local lifestyle light-heartedly.

A neighbour recently had a visit at her home from a clerk from the local law court, trying to get her to sign some documents. The story was recounted as a "strange" Spanish man who appeared at her door. According to her, his English was quite good, however he wasn't able to explain to her satisfaction the intricacies of the paperwork and, of course, she refused to sign the documents because they were all in Spanish. This story was told to me without an iota of irony or realisation that legal documents are in Spanish in Spain and that the "strange" Spanish man, who came to her door, was under no obligation to speak to her in English.

We really are so fortunate to be living in such a welcoming and accepting county as Spain. I doubt if a group of immigrants, who moved to a small town in Sweden, the Netherlands or the UK would be treated with the same level of care, consideration and humour as Spain treats its "guests", especially if they refused to have anything to do with the locals, their customs or their language.

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