It wasn’t until a recent visit to the UK that I realised just how Spanish I have become. No, I haven’t started wearing red trousers or grown my hair into a mullet (a crime worthy of instant execution). I mean in my everyday behaviour - I now act in a completely different way and didn’t even realise it until I suddenly couldn’t do it anymore.
First, I had to remember to apologise if I accidentally bumped into someone in the street. In Spain, nobody bothers because they’d be doing it all the time. Walking along the narrow pavements of Madrid is like a duel: they’re coming towards you, taking up all the room; you’re heading in their direction, your bags hanging at your side like a gunslinger’s holster; the pavement is only wide enough for one person to walk on and you’re both deter mined - who will win the Gunfight at the Calle Mayor? OK, it’s always me that loses, sliding to the side to allow the other person space and then scowling to myself as I’m invariable nudged by a bag (or a large Latin bum). I’m British; we deem this behaviour to be polite and even apologise to the offending bag (or her bum). Just don’t expect the Spanish to return the sentiment. You have to have been forcibly manhandled out of the way and thrown into the path of an oncoming bus before you’ll get an apology out of them.
Then I had to relearn not to say: “Hello, good morning” whenever I entered a shop. It wasn’t so bad in my mum’s corner shop, but the security guard in John Lewis looked a bit disturbed and watched me during my entire visit (somethings never change). I won’t even mention the faces of the people in the lift when I left them with a cheery: “See you later”. You see, in Spain we have to do that when we see a shop assistant, and we always have to say goodbye when we leave a lift. Not to do so is considered maleducado (uneducated). I have to admit that the lift one got us at first. It just didn’t seem right that these strangers were saying “hasta luego (see you later)” when we’d never even been introduced, but now we do it all the time - we’d be the talk of our apartments if we didn’t.
Finally there was the bus - and the bus queue. There are very few words with the letter “q” in them in Spanish and now I know why - queueing is an alien concept. At the supermarket tickets force them into orderly lines to get their fruit, fish or jamon, but in the bus queue there is no such numerical dictatorship. Anarchy rules and it’s survival of the pushiest. Long gone are the days of standing idly by as I watched the entire population of Ciudad Lineal barge past me and into the best seats. Now I’m there elbowing my way in with the best of them, usually pulling Ged behind me. (It’s not his fault he’s always behind. I get over my inhibitions by imagining there’s a cut-price pair of Manolo Blahniks on the bus waiting for me. Somehow Ged just can’t share this image.)
Not that it ends there. Once on the bus nobody moves from their seat. If they are sitting by the aisle and the window seat becomes empty, they stay put and you have to squeeze past to get to the only empty place left (because, of course, you weren’t quick enough in the - ahem - queue). It’s the same when you then have to leave that seat. “Move? You’re joking? Can’t you limbo dance your way out without disturbing me?” Even after all these months I’m still glad I live near the end of the line and the seat next to me is always empty. There are some formalities a Briton can never abandon.
This is not to say the Spanish are not polite. After all, this is a country with two ways of saying “you”, depending on how formal you wish to be. As I learnt on my journey back from Barajas airport. The lady in the bus seat next to me was very indignant at the young air steward on her flight addressing her as “tu” (the more familiar form) when she should have been “usted”. In fact, she was so indignant about it that she discussed this “maleducación” for the entire journey. And then she got off - pushing her Latin bum in my face as she clambered out of the seat next to me before I had time to move.
It was good to be home.