Touch Me

09 March 2006

Is Spain a touchy-feely place? The Cheat thinks so. Here's his guide for non-Europeans, how to handle body-checking and your personal bubble as an expat in Spain.

I was walking home from the cinema recently, and on the way must have been body slammed by half a dozen people.  Now I do come from Canada, the home of Hockey (without a doubt the finest blood sport in the world) so I am not averse to a little body checking once and while, but in the frozen Great White North we keep it on the ice.  What I am talking about here is the difference in spatial awareness between cultures, or private space as it is occasionally called.

Europeans are generally a lot more touchy-feely than Brits and their colonial offspring, a vestige I suppose of Victorian thinking.  Of course that doesn’t explain Americans, who were in no way connected to British thinking during Victorian times, yet also remain pretty physically reserved.  There are a number of religious and sociological factors that explain this, and I’m sure someone can write in a windy essay to that end, but its not important to expats living in Spain.  We know we like more personal space than our hosts, so the following is a short guide to keeping it.

The Latin peoples of Europe are a physical bunch.  They hug and kiss and shake hands even with perfect strangers, which is a wonderfully human quality.  I like the dos besos greeting (who doesn’t like kissing members of the opposite sex?) and the various rituals that men use to acknowledge each other like slaps and shakes and shouting.  It’s all so full of bonnehommie and guardless presentation.  On a recent trip home to Toronto after a yearlong hiatus, I was personally taken aback by how cold people seemed to be.  Shaking hands with a girl suddenly feels so formal, so detached…  Am I becoming European?  Or am I just a man who likes to kiss girls on the cheeks? 

Moving right along, it comes as no surprise that many expats feel a little invaded when waiting in lines at the supermarket or walking through the crowds.  Even in the most people-ridden streets of London or Amsterdam or Copenhagen, others will not walk into you, at least not without turning around to apologize.  I have heard many an expat say that they considered Spaniards rude in this regard, and themselves as kind of human asteroids when they walked the sidewalks of this country; flotsam to be brushed aside in the wake of fast travelling bodies.

I don’t share this view.  It really doesn’t bother me when folks barge past me here.  Look, we are guests in this country, and so expecting the Spanish to suddenly adopt Anglo-Saxon courtesies is pointless.  I recommend sidewalk surfing.  To surf well, one needs a sharp eye, quick reflexes, and a ballerina’s sense of balance. 

Step 1 . Look far into the distance.  Objects may be closer than they appear, so look and identify the target (for instance, grannies are unlikely to move out of the way; teenagers with sagging pants are unlikely to steer a straight course)

Step 2.  Set Your Course and Hold.  Commitment is vital to communicating intent with fellow surfers.  Blink, and you’re as good as “checked”

Step 3.  Go – No Go. At the last possible moment, an obstacle such as a wayward scooter, taxi, or tourist taking a picture can suddenly pounce in front of you, be prepared to take emergency evasive action

Step 4.  Drink More.  This technique promotes a laissez-faire attitude that will work wonders for your reaction time and level of irritation.  It may also help grease the wheels for any intimate “accident” with a pretty young thing you come across.

Step 5.  Take a taxi, buy a scooter or a car, and avoid “them”.  You might as well avoid us too, you’re way to uptight for Spain.

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