Category Archives: Spanish Culture and News

Cantajuegos and Stealing Kids Songs

There are aspects of Spanish ‘Culture’ that you would never dream of until you have children in Spain.

One thing I was protected from for all those years before I became a parent in Spain, was the world of the ‘Cantajuegos’.

The Cantajuegos are kids songs, performed by a very jolly group of people in blue dungarees (see if you can last til the 15 second mark, to see said people):

Now, every single 0 to 6 year old in Spain knows just about every one of the 50+ Cantajuego songs (and usually the moves that go with them), off by heart! Every parent of this age group possesses a copy of the Cantajuegos songs, though as far as I can tell, not many have paid for any of them!

The most common phrase overheard amongst the 30-something parents of this generation when talking about the Cantajuegos music is, “Ah si, yo lo baje del emule”, ‘Oh yes, I downloaded that via emule’, leaving the Blue-Dungaree crew to make money, I imagine, off their live tours for totts.

Many Spanish people don’t feel any moral remorse about downloading films, music etc, as the government taxes us on every single kind of recording and reproduction media, passing the money back to the SGAE (General Association of Authors and Publishers), to redistribute amongst poor, royalty-denied writers, muscians etc.

For example, every time we buy a blank CD, we pay an extra 17 centimos that goes straight to the SGAE, because obviously we are bound to use it to do something illegal with!

You can see a full list of just what gets taxed here, but I was amazed that I was even SGAE-taxed on a new internal hard drive for my Macbook recently! The logic goes with many Spanish media-consumers then, that if we are taxed as thieves before the act, we might as well steal, or in this case, download, guilt-free.

The tax, know here as the hated “Canon por copia privada”, has far-reaching consequences – apparently Catalan hairdressers are up in arms this week, refusing to pay another SGAE-tax to play radio in their salons, asking clients to bring in their own iPods instead!

Back to the Cantajuegos… as much as it drove me mad to begin with, after 7 million repetitions on our living room stereo, I’m now rather fond of the Blue-Dungaree crew’s tunes, I’ll leave you with my favourite:

New old best restaurant in Spain – Casa Mingo

Casa Mingo, Madrid

Casa Mingo, Madrid - click to enlarge

If only all restaurants in Spain were like this! It is classic (hasn’t changed in decades – neither have the waiters, who, by the way, are friendly!), opens at 11 am, and is non-smoking!

What this means it that we can go there with our baby and eat with him before 1pm! Seeing as he has a siesta at 2pm, there is practically no other restaurant in Spain we can eat lunch at these days – oh, and all the others are mostly smoky too, so 100 more points to Asturian Cider House Extraordinaire Casa Mingo for keeping the nicotine out as well.

(Meanwhile, here’s an amusing article in El Mundo where bar and restaurant owners weep for their certain future of economic ruin if the Health Minister continues with her evil plans to remove smoking from every bar and restaurant in Spain: ‘Nos arruinan a todos’. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think every bar and restaurant in the UK, France, Italy etc went to the wall when smoking was banned there!)

Anyway, this isn’t meant to be another anti-smoking post, just a message from a parent thankful to have a clean atmosphere to take his son out to an early lunch in – “Ole por Casa Mingo!”

(How to get there etc: links)

P.S. Oh, and this photo of the best Asturian Chorizo in Madrid is for Jose/Valenciason – I think Gary would like it too:

Casa Mingo, Madrid

Are the Spanish less screwed up than us? OCD in Spain

Marina, my Madrileña wife, has a theory: that there is less OCD in Spain than the UK.

She bases this idea on the fact that she knows quite a lot of people connected to my circle in the UK who complain openly about having OCD, or knowing people that have had OCD, and, in all honesty, her husband (me) has been through some slightly more obsessive-compulsive periods of life than is strictly useful, helpful or necessary.

But she really can’t think of more than about one of our circle of acquaintances in Spain that falls into the OCD typology. Same socio-economic group, over a similar range of ages (teens to old age), yet only one OCD case here compared to, well, muchos in the UK.

My theory is that this just isn’t true, that it’s just a) more fashionable to admit to having OCD in the UK (as insane as that might sound, and as insulting as it might seem to anyone that has been through the hell of it… like me), and b) that the Brits are just less bothered about admitting such things when they do happen.

(And when I say fashionable, clearly I don’t mean it’s cool, but it’s like ADD – no-one every really mentioned either of these afflictions until a few years ago, and now everyone is happy enough to be labeled with them – in Spain I don’t think OCD has entered the lingual currency enough to be had by enough people yet… am I making any sense?!)

Certainly there are enough people with mental problems in Spain, our psychiatrist friend who works for the social services here and deals with a huge number of schizophrenics, chronic depresessives and drug psychosis cases constantly contests to that.

But is it possible that Marina is right, that the Spanish are less obsessive? That they are just more… well… chilled out in general, and as such less prone to obsessive compulsive tendencies? Or am I right in thinking that OCD, like ADD, just isn’t a recognised part of the mental health landscape here, yet bubbles away under the surface to the same degree that it does out in the open in the UK

Thoughts welcome, about Spain, the UK, or where you come from too…

How bad will things get in Spain?

I recently received an email with an article that you may find interesting. From investorsinsight.com comes this, “Spain: The Hole In Europe’s Balance Sheet “. It makes for a depressing read, but much of it makes very good sense:

“We believe that Spain is a disaster waiting to happen [and] is set for a long, painful deflation that will manifest itself via a very high unemployment level for an industrialized economy, a real estate collapse and general banking insolvencies… Spain had the mother of all housing bubbles. To put things in perspective, Spain now has as many unsold homes as the US, even though the US is about six times bigger. Spain is roughly 10% of the EU GDP, yet it accounted for 30% of all new homes built since 2000 in the EU. Most of the new homes were financed with capital from abroad, so Spain’s housing crisis is closely tied in with a financing crisis… Spanish banks, in our view, are now facing a very bleak outlook. Spain’s unemployment rate reached over 17%; there are now four million unemployed Spaniards and over one million families with not a single person employed in the family. “

Read the full article here, and let me know what you think…

Back in spain….

I’m back in Spain after a month away, a 3,000 km odyssey via France (where I managed to get totally offline for 2 weeks for the first time in … years), two wonderful family weeks in the UK, and finally the ferry home from Portsmouth to Santander (Thanks Colin for putting us on to the joy of Brittany Ferries!)

A note on the ferry: we dreaded spending 24 hours on a boat, but enjoyed it immensely. Yes, the normally rough Bay of Biscay was calm as a lake, but the boat was huge, our cabin was big enough, and a nice lady from whale charity ORCA gave us a talk on the evening we departed about wildlife we might see, and the following day helped us spot dolphins and whales from the heliport deck.

Apart from common and bottlenose dolphins, we saw two fin whales, the second largest animal on the planet (after the blue whale). Others spotted sperm whales and pilot whales. Either we are very lucky, or the Bay of Biscay is teeming with life!

Here are some of my first impressions of Spain (from the drive home from the Santander ferry to Madrid):

1. There are a ridiculous amount of brothels along the highway around Valladolid – part of the route we took home. These are known as ‘clubs’ and are identified by the garish coloured neon strip lights around the edge of the buildings. Libido must be wild in Castilla y Leon, these things are everywhere!

Sadly they are full of girls from Eastern European countries and beyond who have been conned, abused, and forced into working there.

2. People walk into bars here to smoke, instead of walking out to smoke. Much as I hate smoking in bars and restaurants, there is something great about seeing the Spanish casually do something much of the rest of Europe has renounced so fiercely. No one tells Spain how to behave!

3. Highway driving here = appalling. You’re in the fast, overtaking lane, about to pass a lorry, when an SUV undertakes you at crazy speeds, and squeezes into the tiny gap between you and the lorry, just so he can get past it before you do. Scary. Unnecessary. Seen less in the UK.

4. It’s still bloody hot (compared to the UK!)

5. More soon. Suffice is to say that it’s great to be back. But it was wonderful to be away.

Why Spain Is Great #3: Fun Not Banned Yet (Mostly)

You know what this is all about. There is a country not far from here, where I come from, where things have gone a little bit mad.

Children in my good old UK are not allowed to have much fun anymore, lest they should hurt themselves while someone else is looking after them and courts of law get involved… they are often not allowed to run in playgrounds, and should they wish to use Blu Tack at school, they may be required to wear goggles.

In the good old days, I was allowed to take a penknife to school (the teachers only took it away from me once, to engrave my initials on it for me so I wouldn’t lose it, then they gave it back).

We played conkers (without safety glasses!), and in winter the sloping playground was sprayed with water at night to make an impromtu ice-run for the purpose of doing fun, long skidding slides down.

All banned now. No one ever got hurt when I was at school, but you know, just in case…

Adults have less fun these days where I come from too, as far as I can tell. They aren’t allowed to indulge wildly in public in many of the great pagan festivities that used to make life, well, more fun…

They have to STAND WELL BACK at exciting things like fireworks displays, once again, JUST IN CASE. They used to be allowed to get really close to the action, but now they mostly stand at A SAFE DISTANCE behind big barriers erected for their own good.

In fact the entire country where I come from is pretty much a ‘don’t do that, just in case’ culture these days as far as most of the old fun things are concerned, and much of this ‘just in case-ness’ has been enforced by silly but very strict laws.

(It seems the only thing that people are allowed to do with wild abandon and without restriction is to drink lots of alcohol… often until they are very very ill, and often while moaning a lot about all the things they can’t do anymore… This is also very very dangerous, to life, limb, and morale, but ironically it IS allowed and often encouraged as a way to RELAX… But is isn’t very relaxing when someone else that has been doing a lot of wild-abandon-drinking decides he doesn’t like the look of you and wants to kill you, and you don’t have time to retreat to A SAFE DISTANCE. This happens a lot on Friday and Saturday nights, even in nice towns, like Oxford.)

Spain isn’t like this… whereas people from the UK are advised to stand well back all the time, Spanish people like to stand very, very close to the action. Without barriers or hard hats, or security cordons, or silly laws banning fun things they’ve been doing for ever anyway.

For example, if they want to burn down very very flammable wooden statues in very tight streets, while standing very close, despite the risk that the whole city might catch fire and be destroyed forever, then that’s just fine. It happens in Valencia and is called Las Fallas.

If Spanish people (OK, OK, in this case Catalan people who are often unjustly lumped into the geographical notion of Spain for the sake of articles like this, but anyway…) want to stand on top of each other making improbably tall human pyramids, and send small children scrambling to the top of these pyramids at the risk of life and limb, then that’s fine too. They do that in Tarragona alot.

And I can’t say I approve of it anymore, but if Spanish people want to run around in front of half-tonne bulls which could easily trample them to death, then go for it! You can literally grab the poor bloody bull by the horns if you want.

Why is all the above allowed in Spain when you wouldn’t have a chance in hell of getting any of those fun plans past a UK town council these days?

Because people in Spain still believe in letting each other decide how to get their kicks. They still believe in doing crazy things that have been going on for generations, just because, well, that’s what’s been going on for generations, and history is more interesting than health and safety.

Mostly though, I think they just like to feel alive, and their government is often OK with that.

But let’s face it, all this irresponsible free-will-to-act-as-they-please may not last forever.

Far more speed traps on the roads in Spain these days. British people have been moaning about that for years, and I’m sure they are right… it’s a sign, one of those nanny-state things…

Few years back the citizens of a small town in Aragon were told that they couldn’t drop a live goat out of their church tower once a year anymore. Great news for goats, I’m delighted, but again, it could be a sign… Things might start getting BANNED a lot…

But for now, Spanish people seem to have quite a bit more freedom when it comes down to doing mad-crazy-dangerous things just for the fun of it, and that is to be commended (as good ideas go, that one’s dying out). It is just one more of the things that Makes Spain Great.

Discuss…

Why Spain is Great #1 – Honesty in Spanish Bars

Tapas, Pintxos, San Sebastian, Basque Country

I was recently asked just what was so great about Spain, so I’ve decided to dedicate a mini-series this summer to answering just that question. First up, the honesty system…

It never ceases to amaze your average Brit that you can walk into most bars in Spain, order as much as you like to eat and drink, and pay nothing until you are about to leave when, quite often, the barman will ask you to remind him what you had!

Clearly there is massive room for abuse here. Had 5 cañas one night but only want to admit to 4? The worn out guy in the sweat-stained shirt who’s been working since 7 am isn’t going to notice… but as far as I know, this system is rarely exploited.

The most amazing example I’ve seen of the honesty system in practice was in San Sebastian.

You walk into a bar there and find the bar top covered in plate after plate of incredible tapas, or pintxos as they are known up there (see photo above), help yourself to as many as you like, and then casually inform the barman (who hasn’t been taking a blind bit of notice of your eating habits) just how much you’ve had. You then pay him and leave.

Can you imagine how much that system would be abused in other parts of the world if suddenly introduced over night? Yet in Spain this has been going for years. The bar owners trust the customers, and the customers basically act honestly in return…

…Except for those that feast outrageously then ‘do a runner’, or a simpa as it’s known in Spanish, but that’s a tale for another time… All in all, the honesty system is without doubt one of those things that puts the ‘great’ into Spain. Would you dare to abuse it?

Twitterando…

Twitter in Spain

Here’s a screenshot from my iPhone (my sister claims having an iPhone makes me a yuppie, I think she’s right) of all the people twittering within 25 km of me, here in Madrid, right now…

It’s a cool feature of an iPhone app called Tweetie, and just one more way to get addicted to Twitter. I can spend minutes scrolling through all this digisura

I mean, in the above tweets we have not only information about a random stranger’s sex life, but a poem about the Rio Duero… it’s an art form, I swear… and I can’t actually tell if I’m trying to be cynical anymore. I love it, am fascinated by it, and at the same time find it absurd (in the philosophical sense… if you know what I mean).

In any case, it seems Twitter, like Facebook, has had a swift integration into Spanish online life …and whenever things are a bit quiet here on the blog, you can always find and follow me on Twitter 🙂 I promise to reveal to you … well, stuff of great interest!

Spain to 5 Million Unemployed?

For once, when surveyed on a nationwide scale, the Spanish population’s biggest worry is no longer local, separatist terrorism. The biggest worry for the average Spaniard is now the country’s financial situation. As one newspaper puts it, “El paro ‘quita el sueño’ al 75,2% de los españoles” – The fear of unemployment keeps 75% of Spaniards awake at night.

And well they might worry. As the unemployment figures creep towards 4 million, some say things will get as bad as 5 million unemployed by the end of the year, accounting for an unprecedented 20% of the working population.

Madrid keeps it’s head held high, it’s economics based largely on wealthy service industries, but the situation on the Mediterranean coasts must be going downhill quickly. Where once there were always new houses to be built, equipped and furnished, now there are no more eager buyers, and nothing to be built.

The question is, for a country that has experienced and enjoyed exceptional growth and prosperity over the last 10 years, what might a Spain with 5 million unemployed workers soon look like? And can anything be done?

Spain’s Most Respected Newspaper El Pais in Free DVD Shocker

How as a ‘healthy’ 17-year-old I longed to be allowed to stay up late enough to watch those Spanish films on channel Four with the red triangle displayed prominently in the top right-hand corner of the screen, when anything that came out of Spain or France, had subtitles, and ended up on British TV late at night, was bound to have a decent bit of flesh in it.

At last, my dreams are to be fulfilled! El Pais, Spain’s most respected of newspapers, is giving away soft porn every weekend for the foreseeable future, starting next Sunday with ‘El Portero de la Noche’ – “The Night Watchman” ( … the “naughty” night watchman, I imagine…)

Under the banner “Vuelve el Erotismo” (Erotic is Back), this latest get-something-free-with-your-paper campaign is likely to send sales through the roof. As I said to the wife, better get down to the kiosko early next Sunday for a chance of getting the first instalment, especially at 1 Euro a pop!

But hang on a minute (says the old British person still hiding inside me), free ‘dirty videos’ with El Pais? Can you imagine The Times of London, or the venerable Sunday Observer giving away this sort of ‘filth’? It’s a disgrace!

For more details, be very careful about checking out the special promotional webstie, www.quevuelvaelerotismo.com – just don’t look behind the third door for the good stuff… a blooming disgrace, that’s what this is…