Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Horse of a Different Color

I just got back from a Girls’ Week trip to London with my mum and sis. We’ve all been to London a half-dozen or so times so this trip was less about sight-seeing than it was about shopping, eating, and theater-going. In fact it has been almost exactly 10 years since my first trip to London – a girls’ weekend with my mum when I was studying abroad in Madrid in the fall of 1999.

This blog initially sprang out of the need for an outlet for the unceasing comparison-making habit that I picked up upon returning to Madrid to live. But one of the first realizations that I ever made about how different seemingly similar “western” countries can be was when I arrived in London that fall after 2 months in Madrid.

We were strolling into Leicester Square, hoping to score some last-minute tickets for a musical that evening, when I was unexpectedly overwhelmed by the sheer number of non-white people around me. It wasn’t something that I’d ever considered before – the homogeneity of Spain. Although I went to a college which is approximately 1.5 times more “racially diverse” than the nation as a whole, my hometown in suburban St. Louis has nearly 3 times fewer ethnic minorities than the national average. So perhaps after spending my summer back home the makeup of the Spanish population simply wasn’t noteworthy to me. Certainly I had never “noticed” it prior to my arrival in London, where I was abruptly surrounded by people from every walk of life – Africans, Asians, Indians. After 5 days there such a mélange was once again the norm for me and upon my return to Madrid I began to notice what I had not before.

According to Wikipedia, London had an immigrant population of around 29% in 2001. The population of immigrants in Madrid back then? 3%. Yes, that’s right. Three percent. Reading that makes me think that I probably should have noticed something was up regardless of my hometown demographics. Heck, that 3% makes my 9%-non-white hometown look like a true melting pot.

But things have changed drastically for Spain these past 10 years. I was not struck by such a difference this time around. Certainly the cultures represented in the UK and in Spain are different. (My sister in Edinburgh complains about the lack of good Latin American cuisine. I have yet to find really good, cheap Thai food.) But the diversity is there. Or it’s getting there.

Also according to Wikipedia, over the past ten years the immigrant population in Madrid has risen to almost 18% of the total. Six times as many immigrants in just a decade. Unfortunately for me the bulk of those come from 3 major geographical regions – Africa (proximity), Eastern Europe (entry to the EU), and Latin and South America (language) – and southeast Asia is not one of them. For the time being I’ll have to save my Thai-food cravings for the trips to the UK and my sis will save her picante cravings for visits to Madrid.

(On a random side note, perhaps connected to this jumble of information, is the recent discovery by my burrito-craving sister that Taco Bell is running a trial in Europe before expanding into the market. Where did they locate their lone store? Madrid.)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Last week I once again travelled north to visit our construction site in Pais Vasco. I don’t really mind these days out of the office, but I admit that some times I am overly focused on getting there and getting back. This time I decided to enjoy the journey a bit more and stop at one of the sites that I pass each time I venture that way. This is like the sign that beckoned me…

A 10th century necropolis tucked away in the hills. On my previous visit I asked one of the guys at the construction site if he had been up there. He didn’t even know it existed and he’s from a town about 6 miles away! So that piqued my curiosity even more and made my stopping absolutely necessary.

I climbed up into the hills, through a little village full of stone buildings, past a shepherd with his flock until I reached a second sign pointing me along across a field – no real road in sight. But at just 200m I figured I (and my non-4 wheel drive rental car) could handle that. I got about 400m along to the top of a ridge when I stopped.

There was no necropolis in sight.

I climbed out of my car and peaked around the area. Nothing. Could I really not SEE it? Had the ridge I climbed put me on TOP of it? I still don’t know the answer. I searched the internet when I returned to Madrid and the only reference I could find has no pictures of the structure…

Disheartened I made my way back down the hill to the main road. On the way I snapped this shot of my “office” for the day.

I suppose all was not lost.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Bald and funny

Last week one of my coworkers was kind enough to give me a ride home from the office. As we made our way through Madrid’s late afternoon rush hour we somehow started chatting about stereotypes – particularly those stereotypes associated with the people of a different country. You know the kind I’m talking about… everyone from (insert country) carries a gun, goes to bull fights, is a drunk, wishes s/he were American, is rude, etc… But my friend threw me for a loop when he said,

“I know not all Americans are fat, burger-eaters. Just like not all Spaniards are bald joke-tellers.”

Huh? Am I missing something? I’ve lived in Spain off and on for going on 5 years and never once would I have thought to describe the typical Spanish in such a fashion… Am I alone on this? Is this really the image the people outside of Spain have of the Iberian men?