Smith vs García
For a few days, I had been dithering around the subject of how to write about the cultural differences between Spaniards and Englishmen and women without falling into stereotypes. The punctuality of the English, tea, their expertise in drunkenness, the Queen, education, a fondness for queuing, carpets, cucumber sandwiches, and so on – things that inevitably come to mind when we’re talking about English culture. But I wanted to go deeper, to go beyond. And so when I saw the reflection of my boyfriend reading BBC news on his phone in the blank Word document that lay in front of me, a light bulb flashed in my mind. Here was the answer. Sometimes the solutions to our problems are right in front of our eyes.
So, I got to work preparing an interview for us both. The same questions to see our how our answers compare. It would be like one of those tests you find in Cosmo, Cruzcampo or Ale, Gravy or Brava, a Smith vs. a García. Something that, although it comes initially from a personal standpoint, could become a real, though not insurmountable, representation of the cultural differences between a thoroughly English Englishman, Jake, and me, a Sevillian girl through and through.
1 Family relations and the home
This, for me, is a radical difference, and the origin of the distinguishing features of the English and Spanish character. Spaniards are a familiar people. Our relationship with our parents, siblings and grandparents is a very close one. We talk to them on a regular basis and even live with them until quite late on in life. It doesn’t matter how far we may be living now, or for how long we’ve been away, for us home will always be where the heart is.
This is quite the opposite to how the English see things. Many of them go weeks on end without speaking to their mothers, they become independent at a much younger age and from then on go and live in many shared houses and flats where they create short-term homes.
I asked Jake how often he speaks with his mother, and his answer was as little or as often as he likes. They try to talk once a week and they see each other roughly once a month, which is more often than not on a Sunday for Sunday roast. Unfortunately, I don’t see my mother as much as I would like to these days, given that I’m living in Bristol at the moment, but having said that, rarely do I go without my daily ‘buenos días’ via Whatsapp, and I normally Skype my family about twice a week.
And when it came to ‘home’, Jake didn’t really know how to answer. He waited, thought about it, and in the end said that he didn’t really regard anywhere as his ‘home’ at the moment, but if he had to choose he’d probably say his parent’s house, as well as his grandparents’ house.
2 Food, patriotism and national pride
I discuss these two concepts together in this second section because that’s what happened in real life, i.e. in the conversation I had with Jake for this post. Because there’s nothing more Spanish than pride for your country’s cuisine. And so, as we talked about jamón, scones, Sunday roasts, and cocidos, we ended up talking about patriotism and national pride too.
Although there are many things that a Spaniard should be proud of, we’re not really big on patriotism. The relationship that many Spaniards have with Spain is that of a love-hate relationship. I myself confess to being quite a non-patriotic person. Jake, however, is a devout lover of his country, England. Jake doesn’t see himself as British, but English. And don’t even mention Scotland! So, the stereotype of rivalry between those two can be confirmed here. Jake clarifies, however, that in this sense he is a bit different to the norm, because English people are rarely patriotic towards England.
As we discussed national prides, Jake went off on one about his nation’s famous sport stars; people like David Beckham (“for his unconditional love towards England and his perseverance as a sportsman”), Jonny Wilkinson (a rugby player who won the World Cup for England), and Clive Woodward (another rugby player whose story I can’t remember). He was proud of his country for being “one of the first to be civilized, one of the first to give women the vote, the home of the industrial revolution, and one of the world’s largest engineering powerhouses”. He also showed off the SAS (Special Air Service) who he said trained other big international military corpses, like the American and Australian armies. He spoke of the country’s culture, its theatre, its indie music, and of course its language, which he argued was the world’s universal tongue.
And now Spain’s turn. I myself am proud of Goya, Picasso, Bécquer, Cervantes, Rosalía de Castro, every single nook and cranny, including the beautiful beaches, and our often-underestimated hospitality and generosity. Also, flamenco, because although it’s a cliché, the flamenco is ours and no one else’s. Our ancient universities, our cuisine, and our language, which is the third most-widely spoken in the world, and which Jake promises to learn. I could go on and on, but this isn’t the only topic being discussed here, but anyway, these are the first things that came to mind when we had this conversation.
3 Tea, carpets and customs
The stereotype to end all stereotypes is of course that English people drink tea. Obviously, it takes all sorts, however, and so there are English people who like coffee as much as they like tea, or enjoy both rugby and football to the same level. Although Jake isn’t a huge fan of tea, he does drink it occasionally. But it is true that in England you will not pass the threshold of a stranger’s house without being offered a cuppa. Tea is a basic part of personal relations and a huge amount of people drink it around the clock.
Carpets are a basic too. No house is complete without one. Whether you’re rich or your poor, from the country or the city. Carpets are everywhere, in offices, banks and even pubs. I personally find them revolting. For Jake, it is a common essential that preserves warmth and “makes your house nice and cosy”. This difference cannot be denied. For me, carpets are a big fat no!
And speaking of undeniable differences I’d like to Segway into a custom that actually unites us: after-work leisure. We all enjoy a little beer after work. Be it a pint or a caña, cider or tinto de verano. Where you are and what you’re drinking is not important. What counts is the company and the chance to relax after a day’s work. This topic is next up then in this strange couple’s therapy.
4 Leisure and night life
It seems that this is something that also differentiates us. After much debate, Jake and I arrived at the conclusion that what distinguishes us is pace. For example, we both agree that English and Spanish people probably drink about the same amount of alcohol when we go out. The radical difference is how we drink. Spaniards like to have a few calm drinks, and this calmness increases with age. We consume with bigger gaps between each drink, with no rush, and often accompanied by something to eat. Of course, things like the botellón don’t fit this image. But nevertheless, the difference is enormous: Englishmen and women (well, a lot of them) drink to get drunk as soon as possible. Take ‘dirty pints’, for example. A traditional drinking game where a pint is concocted of whichever alcoholic beverages are available at the time, and the unlucky player has to down it all in one while their friends (who are already be pretty drunk by this point) chant and shout like lunatics around them. You can imagine the effects: the Englishman in question would fall and fumble in a hilarious way.
When I go out with English people (and I’m speaking in the first person here because I don’t know if this is something that happens everyone) I always end up feeling like I’m in a hurry. You get to the club/pub, you wait to get served, and you then drink whatever you ordered as fast as you can, and before you know it, your friends want to move on to the next place before you’ve even had the chance to ask where the toilet is.
By the way, on the topic of drinks, an Englishman or woman will always, always finish his or her pint. It’s almost a sin to leave it half-drunk, or with a few drops left. Furthermore, here in England, it’s not so common to see girls drinking beer. They drink wine, cocktails and sometimes cider (almost always a half pint). Hence why Jake and my other English friends and acquaintances have found it odd when they get to know my love for lager.
England and Spain contain a huge number of football fans. Fact. However, beyond football, in England, other sports often take the limelight too; sports which aren’t really popular at all in Spain. Rugby is one of the many religions followed here in the crazy world of English sport. Jake, along with his father and grandfather, is a huge fan and a great player (you’ll come to see that my boyfriend is sinfully modest). Rugby is a fairly aggressive sport, although Jake describes it as an ‘honest’ one. He absolutely hates the act a lot of football players put on just in order to get a free-kick. Likewise, he says that although rugby is a violent sport on the pitch, there isn’t much rivalry off the pitch, and phenomena like the hooliganism of football rarely occurs in this sport.
Another very popular sport in England (and across the Commonwealth in general) is cricket, which, according to Wikipedia, is a “is a bat-and-ball game played between two teams of eleven players”. According to Jake, this is an outdoor sport that would be ideal in Spain where (pay attention to the stereotype) it’s always sunny (I promise you one day I’ll take him to Vigo in Autumn).
And here ends the face-to-face encounter. More than a confrontation, this experience actually ended up being a conversation between two friends where we discussed enough to fill a book. This post is written from a very personal perspective but I hope that it serves as some sort of guide, an orientation, or a compass that will help you start to learn about the Smiths of the world.
Because at the end of the day, life is an accumulation of your own decisions. You can love or hate whatever you’re doing. You can try and understand them or try and ignore them. You may be deceived or surprised because your expectations have been surpassed. What’s important is not to settle for a miserable life. Having lived abroad for three years now, I’ve seen a lot of coming and going, farewells, and welcomes, happy people and people who aren’t so happy. If you’re thinking of trying your luck abroad, or if you’ve already taken that leap, think of it as an adventure. Don’t see your experience as a sentence or a punishment. Don’t curl up in yourself and your own culture, nor in your way of seeing things. Open your eyes, prick up your ears and hold up your arms to receive and perceive all new things.
This post is also available in: Spanish