Volume Control

25 May 2006

The Cheat's tirade about the omnipresent volume control problem in Spain. You'll know exactly what he's talking about.

Most of my adult life people have accused me of being a loud talker.  As far back as high school, teachers told me that projecting my speech benefited my presentation skills, however I needn’t shout when asking them a question or addressing the class.  I never understood these comments because I thought I spoke with a normal volume.  No one had ever mentioned it prior to this, and I didn’t feel the need to use my voice to compensate for any personality shortcomings.  In any case, I don’t have a great voice, so there is nothing for me to brag about. 

I had a hearing test done at some point in my late teens and was shocked to discover that I suffer from hardness of hearing, and as a result automatically raise my voice so that I can hear myself more clearly when speaking.  How vulgar!  Outraged and disgusted at the realization that I was indeed a loud boor I made a concerted effort to speak more softly and match the “normal” speaking volumes of others.  I don’t know if this worked, but the comments have stopped.  Then again, I live in Spain.

Without a doubt the loudest European country, I have reached several startling conclusions about Spain and noise, based on some pretty simple experiments and more than two years’ worth of observations.  Firstly, the Spanish clearly all suffer from hardness of hearing brought on by their grandmothers.  Have you ever stood in a market in the middle of the afternoon?  Who do you hear above the din of the fish mongers and delivery trucks?  That’s right, all the old ladies haggling and arguing and gossiping.  The seniors of this country simply have no rival when it comes to voice projection.  Three old Catalan women in a powwow about the inappropriate behaviour of the cousin’s wife last Sunday can drown out any teenage scooter with a “performance” exhaust.  This elderly schism has a trickle down effect, which, I theorize begins on Sundays across the nation as the old folks sit with the family and scream at them across the table.

Young people are of course the hardest hit, being as they are the darling favourites of grandmothers everywhere and subject to the greatest exposure. Subsequently their hearing is systematically destroyed.  In order to know if their scooter is working at all, they fit tuned carbon fibre mufflers to amplify the death rattle of the struggling 50cc engines, which means that mobile phones need to be set to maximum volume as well, lest the synthesized tune of the latest Shakira ringtone be lost amid the clamour.

Fancy a quiet drink?  I hope you like football, or South American soaps or the seemingly endless newscasts on television, because it’s on in every local bar, and on loud.  Its very clever actually, because nothing will make you forget your crappy day faster than three shots of Osborne drowned to the melody of some lady selling an improbable diet device on the home shopping channel.  Or that guy at the end of the bar shouting at the guy on the stool next to him.  Now he must have had an awful day.

But he hasn’t.  They’re enjoying a quiet drink together, a conversation, and unwinding with some idle chit chat.  Sure it sounds like they’re about to break into battle cry, but it’s the way they talk here.  So stop trying to get the waiter’s attention with mere eye contact and just shout your order out across the room.  There’s no volume control here.

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