Location: Salamanca, Central Spain
I was in Spain when Francisco Franco died. This is not an admission of guilt, I did not kill him. ‘El Caudillo’ died of natural causes 20 November 1975, aged eighty-two. I was on holidays with my parents and being aged three the significance of the event escaped me. For Spain, however, the despot of thirty-five years was dead and his successor Juan Carlos de Borbón y Borbónwas about to bring democracy to the country. At last, the magic of Spain was to be unlocked.
Last year Spain attracted fifty-one million visitors. It is well known for its beaches, sun, sangria and its eclectic nightlife, all of which are amazing, but there is much, much more. Spain is one of the most ancient countries in Europe. In fact some of the oldest human remains in Europe have been found here. Modern day Spaniards are descendants of multiple invaders from ancient Europe, Africa and the Middle East. These ancient visitors left behind some of their architecture and art, and a little of their cultures and traditions became absorbed and assimilated by the local inhabitants.
When I came to Spain in February I based myself in Salamanca in the autonomy of Castilla y León in the centre-west of Spain. Salamanca became my home through the spring, summer and autumn last year and this is where I met some of the most generous, intelligent, funny and good-hearted people I have ever known. My love of Spain began here. This is also where I noticed a few of the Spanish idiosyncrasies.
It is true, the Spanish converse in volumes that in other countries are reserved for the hard of hearing. Running in the street is the height of bad manners (unless celebrating the fiesta ofSt.Fermin in Pamploma and are being chased by several 500kg bulls). In Salamanca, ‘ladies of the night’ work daylight hours and garbage collectors and street cleaners come out in force after two in the morning. There are over three thousand tapas bars in Salamanca – how do you spot a good one? By the number of crumpled paper napkins and cigarette butts on the floor, of course. The better the food, the more people, the more napkins and stubs. Sunday is the day for dressing up, meeting with friends and family and strolling up and down the main street showing off your finery and catching up on the week’s gossip. The Spanish love to chat and gossip.
Waiting in a queue in my local supermarket one day the little old lady behind started chatting. She spoke very fast. I told her I was Irish and that I was having difficulty understanding her. To which she nodded, smiled encouragingly, pointed at her shopping and then at her wallet, spoke faster and louder. I had no idea what she was saying.
Finally with relief I reached the cash register and it dawned on me that she had been saying that she didn’t have any money. Unsure of what to do I looked back and saw her nodding and smiling and pointing at her shopping and then at her wallet and afraid she was going to shout something unintelligible again I blurted out to the shop assistant that I would like to pay for my shopping and the shopping of the lady behind me. Silence descended. The gossiping stopped. The other queuers collectively leant in to hear and see better. The shop assistant, after conferring with the, now, barely audible little old lady, explained to me and to the other ten customers that there was no need for me to pay for the senora’s shopping. The senora had just been wondering if I would help her carry her shopping home and had jokingly offered to pay me. Humiliated I whispered an apology, paid and left but not before I heard the little old lady say in her loud voice ‘Los Irelandes están todos locos – es el Guinness!’ (The Irish are all lunatics – it’s the Guinness!)
Sara Woods studies at don Quijote in Salamanca. For more information about don Quijote, visitDon Quijote
Text © Sara Woods, all rights reserved
Read Sara’s Spanish diary Part 1
Read Sara’s Spanish diary Part 2
Read Sara’s Spanish diary Part 3