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Spanish Secrets: That's Life

…Children are not restrictively managed but left to express themselves amongst their peers. Parental supervision is liberal and discreet. In the five years since our move from England I have never seen a child reprimanded with a slap. Physical abuse against children is as repulsive to the Spanish as the public slaughter of a bull is to many in England…

Craig Briggs commends the close family ties which exist in Spain.

For more of Craig’s evocative columns about life in his adopted country please click on Spanish Secrets in the menu on this page.

Brits living in Spain often comment on the country’s laid-back approach to life, the lack of urgency and willingness to wait forever. Many of these observations are one-dimensional. They are viewpoints based on contrasting values. For me, the Spanish approach to life can be summed up in three words - passion, devotion and obsession.

The Spanish have a passion for life. Central to this is their family. From the cradle to the grave, Latino blood bubbles through their veins. Children are adored. They are integrated into family life, not as an addition but as part of it. They sleep when adults, sleep and rise when they rise. The family dine together and eat the same food.

Children are not restrictively managed but left to express themselves amongst their peers. Parental supervision is liberal and discreet. In the five years since our move from England I have never seen a child reprimanded with a slap. Physical abuse against children is as repulsive to the Spanish as the public slaughter of a bull is to many in England.

This freedom of expression stays with them throughout life. They have no stiff-upper-lip or conservative reservations. There’s no outstretched arm with hand shakes at arms-length. Friends and strangers alike are greeted with a close embrace and a kiss to both cheeks.

When the band begins to play at a local fiesta, people don’t limber-up with ten pints of beer before hitting the dance floor. Whether you’re six or sixty-six it’s the rhythm that intoxicates both body and mind. Respect for age and experience goes hand-in-hand with reciprocal affection, and from this, evolves devotion.

Spain is a Catholic nation but devotion to the church comes second to that of the family. Extended families are, by English standards, enormous. It’s common for family members of all ages to live together under one roof; grandparents, parents and children in a harmonious environment.

Of course, from time to time passions flare but love and respect soon readdress the balance. Nowhere is this devotion more evident than in the care and comfort of the sick and disabled. Families unite in their commitment to each other and help in any way possible.

For such passionate and devoted people, the burden of bereavement is surprisingly born alone. Interment is swift, usually within 24 hours. For the following twelve months widows and mothers dress in black. They visit the grave regularly and openly mourn the loss of their loved one. Their behaviour goes beyond devotion and surpasses respect; this is obsession, a national obsession.

Living close to the village cemetery, I see first hand the obsessive rituals associated with death. Both women and men regularly visit their family tombs with fresh flowers and thoughtful prayers. On All Saints Day, every tomb in the cemetery is cleaned and dressed with beautiful flower arrangements. Come rain or shine, the local priest conducts an open-air Mass to a large congregation.

Here in Spain, it can take forever for a plumber to call or an electrician to arrive. But how many grandparents and parents would sacrifice instant service to have contented children and grandchildren close to home.

email address
craigandmel@msn.com

Copyright © 2007 Craig Briggs


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