Sunday, May 22, 2005

a la mano derecha....



Beautiful country, wonderful sea, air, sunlight, fish, oranges and Quink-ink haired, olive skinned women, but the execrable driving! On the one hand (a la derercha? a la izquierda?) pass through pueblas bonitas and you will find the inhabitants raising arms as to why you are trying to drive through their little streets, shouting imprecations; on the other: the coastal highway - quite another kettle of fish.

Those of you who have visited Spain more than a few times for any length of time, from more northern countries such as the UK, where driving style and manners can also leave a little to be desired, will have been, or ought to have been, shocked, if paying attention to the way the Spaniard - should we extrapolate to a whole nation from half a dozen nasty experiences? - who might have unintentionally shortened your life by his bad driving, raises his expressive arm in a jerky, dismissive fashion - as if throwing (an orange?) into the back seat without looking - accusing you, by the gesture, of having engaged in some driving practice which might have endangered him. That is to say you dared toot your horn at him...

There is one thing that might explain this: the siesta. Apparently they tank up after leaving the office, then drive the five mile (8 k., rather) home along the admittedly fine three lane motorways. Presmably, also, they tipple on the late home run at 7-8 pm. They go at incredible speeds, seemingly fearlessly, either slipping off a junction in front of you at too slow a speed, or, in swerving across you right to left into the fast lane without a single glance in any direction. This, of course, can lead to a series of scenarios you begin to imagine in a fatalitist frame of mind as your life-history flashes before you :
(a) guy in fast lane suddenly swerves in front of you in the middle lane to avoid the slower vehicle in his front, then back at high speed in front of the slower car in the lane he started in, or (b) the classic, which has a geometric, if not balletic, beauty: the 'double swerve'. This is quite simply overtaking you in the slow lane, swerving across you into the fast lane without looking for oncoming traffic, then swerving without looking, again, across the face of the vehicle in front of you back into the slow lane, all in the space of a hundred yards, or should we say metres.

British drivers are aggressive, no doubt, and some of them are dilatory to a degree that makes one feel the effect of sleeping tablets taken the night before have not worn off, but in general an overtake is undertaken in the traditional manner: with little deviation from generally accepted trajectories. Of course we too have the lorry-sandwich and the Mercedes shuffle in the fast lane, but it is the strange, apparently different psychology of the Spanish (and maybe the French or Italians, who knows?) who, having committed a cardinal offence straight from the Advanced driving Manual, remonstrate with you for.... for what? Is it anger at being caught or saying you were in the wrong not them?

Let us go a bit futher back. It is traditionally accepted that the West is a guilt culture, while the East is exemplified by Japan. How far west this east actually is I have no idea, except that it is sort of SW rather than due West) a shame one. We've seen the TV documentaries. We know the subservience of Japanese is directly related to being steeped in a culture of shame. In fact because of our war experience (or rather that of our parents and granparents) we know rather a lot more about them than they care to find out about us (possibly). We know about their social, military and religious rituals. We can understand why the salaryman is who and how he is. We understand, in this context, the power of the Japanese corporation. We are in possession of the shorthands of both cultures. What has this to do with Spanish driving? Simple: a question.

Where do the Spanish fit in to this Guilt-Shame paradigm? If it is merely a continuum from feeling guilty as hell to ashamed to leave the house, then we might try to position the bad Spanish driver in this continuum, perhaps coming up with a mixture of shame and guilt. Certainly, if we examine Spanish culture, we who read and watch TV documentaries and listen to radio programmes could cite examples which would back up such a conclusion. But if you were asked to place in the Spanish in one or other camp, which would you chose without too much thought? Guilt, shame, shame, guilt: which is it to be? Quick: no furtive cogitations. I go for shame.

We might at this stage turn to our literature. In the case of the Spaniard we might think of machismo, all the while trying not to think of that pretend-macho man Ernesto (no, not Guevara, though he probably actually falls into the same category, now I think of it. Erensto, according to recent books - in contrast to Ernest who only shot or hooked helpless animals - revelled in personally bumping off his enemies in reasonable bulk, so perhaps he does fall into the machismo definition) the short word, short sentance writing Hemingway.

What is it with the Spanish and their sangre, or, rather the sangre de Torres they have killed for them? Picasso can undoubtedly give you an answer as quickly as anyone else. Without resorting to Google or any of my shelf-books, for learned treatises on Spaniards and sangre de torres (an exceptional good everyday red, as you know). My answer lies (we have to use shortcuts for brevity) in guilt not shame. If they felt any shame they wouldn't have bullfighting!

Modern Spain is socialist in mentality and tone despite the new wealth created by the distributionism of the EC: a democratic socialism with a bit of the anarcho-syndicalism the French exemplify. What you see of religion in Spain is more religiousity. The ritual observances seem to hanker back to some past where presumably everyone knew their place: under the thumb of Senhor and priest. Break out the books on the Mexican revolution... Now, the signs of religion, the great catedrals and thousands of beautiful churches with their mixed Islamo-Christian architecture ( proving some sort of point about adaption, if nothing else) are often little more than tour stops for pious old Spaniards.

But how do we link the mad driving to all this? A simplistic argument might be: despite the 'modernity' and mass credit that has plagued Spain like other countries - resulting in every Concepcion and Manuel as well as Tracy and Jason owning a car - has not caught up, there being some sort of psychological lag-phase with driving practice and the older, slower life-style that we all go to Spain to see and experience. Without resporting to derogation, indeed said with affection: when a Spanish man or woman drives a car, he or she behaves as the the hombre who stands in the market square with his mates - the back of his van dripping with the produce that he grows and sells to make a living - seemingly without a care in the world. Why we ask is he not selling his peaches. What is he doing standing there, mardling, when he could be arranging the velvety orbs in his retail outlet or delivering them to the predatory supermarket?

I do not go for the idea that it is the weather, the sunshine, the healthy diet with its fresh food and lashings of olive oil. It is because the car journey is an integral part of living, rather than A to B-ism that is in the mind, if not heart, of the Northern European. When a Spaniard gets into a car he does not notice, or would not distinguish, if asked, between what he was doing in his house, or in the street greeting his family and friends. So he does not concentrate fully on his driving and is consequently a greater danger to other road users than his more phlegmatic eqivalent in northern Europe .

I have not checked the comparative road death statistics. No doubt we will be informed the very relaxed way of driving which gets the Englishman, and no doubt the Swede and German, frothing at the mouth, when he experiences it, is the cause of fewer accidents!



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