Not all of the same ilk
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Not all of the same ilk

Generalisations are wonderfully useful when we need them to fuel debate or illustrate a point, but tremendously annoying when we are caught up in them

Rachel Haynes


Friday, 10 May 2024, 14:34


In the last two editions of SUR in English, the Brits - or at least a stereotypical version of them - have taken a beating in this column. First hit were residents, on 26 April, for treating their Spanish hosts as though they were the different, uncooperative ones and not the other way round; and then last week it was the turn of the tourists, for the usual criticism of the country that they can't resist coming back to year after year. Generalisations are wonderfully useful when we need them to fuel debate or illustrate a point, but tremendously annoying when we are caught up in them.

If one British resident refuses to say even 'Hola' in a shop and appears unfriendly for whatever reason, that disgruntled shop assistant will go home and talk about how rude the British are. Similarly, if that same shopkeeper doesn't say 'Hello' and smile, perhaps the annoyed Brit will tell his friends how unhelpful he finds the Spanish. If that same customer happens to see the shop assistant smile and chat with the (Spanish) person next in the queue, then that's all the proof he needs: the Spanish treat the British worse than other customers - discrimination in any language. And the snowball starts rolling from Malaga to London, until it reaches the tabloid press on a day in need of a headline.

It's such a shame that one episode that fuels a generalisation seems to overshadow the many, many more stories of cheerful customers, polite, helpful shop assistants and exchanges of smiles, even when words are missing.

Unfortunately, it seems that if someone makes us feel upset or annoyed, that feeling stays with us for longer and we're more inclined to tell someone about it. On the other hand, a polite exchange and a smile is much more common, therefore less worth mentioning over the dinner table. And all this assuming that everyone goes around with maximum confidence, instead of taking into account insecurities or just off-days. Perhaps the Brit in the shop was so absorbed in his problems that he forgot his manners; and perhaps the shop assistant was so nervous about not being able to speak the customer's language that they came across as being rude.

It's interesting that the vast majority of comments following the article Parallel Universes by David Andrews on 26 April agreed that foreigners in Spain should attempt to communicate in the language of their host country and show respect for their hosts. So we just need all these people to make their presence felt and trample the stereotype. And then the smiling, hospitable, generous Spaniards we all know will flourish in response.

Generalisations are awkward in this eclectic world and more so in a community where so many different nationalities live together. We might not all be happy and smiling 365 days a year, but that's nothing to do with where we're from.

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