Friday, January 26, 2007

Dealing with cultures in a Blasé sort of way

AOG, Madrid

It is a difficult thing to live in a different country, something I have done all my life. So much so that I, in fact, belong to many places all at once, and to nowhere in particular.

I think that as my personality developed, it picked up pieces from here and there and fused them with whatever was there before. And this must have gone on always. In many ways it still goes on.

I am acutely aware of how different my sense of humor is becoming in Spain. My friends refer to it as being very "British". This is because I am the epitome of sarcasm, mockery and understated irony. And yet, I am aware that this sense of humor was already quite latent in high school back in Texas. If not sooner.

I find myself these days trying to learn the Spanish work etiquette. I find it hard to know when to make a joke, when to be serious. When to relax and when to worry about something. If there is a Spanish word for Blasé, I have not found it yet. And flippancy is sometimes frowned upon. And very often welcomed. I just never know.

And it is driving me mad. I find myself being either very serious, which is interpreted as being in a bad mood, angry, or something to do with my general well being oroutright irreverent (unfortunately I do this only too well!) and out of synch with everyone else. I think the people at the office are still trying to figure me out, although I believe that most think they have me figured out already- a very common Spanish thing to do, in my view.

When I arrived at the radio, I met with some of my ex-classmates on the elevator. As soon as they saw me they said "we were just talking about you, we were discussing how you should have been sent to the culture section at El País". I was flattered and amazed they thought this. I think I am better suited for an international newsdesk. And yet, this is how I am perceived.

I spent today updating the radio's website, as I have been doing since last week, with mostly international news. I think that they know it is what I like doing most, and so they oblige me. But of course, I do all sorts of news.

Today I wrote about sectarian mobs in Lebanon killing 4 people; about the arrest of a Spanish brigadier for talking to the press last year and criticising the Defense Ministry- big no no in this country it would appear. At least from within because it appears that everyone in Spain and their dog criticises the government whatever the reason.

I also wrote about the US Secretary of State's forthcoming visit to Spain next March.

And then I discover that "no mention was made [between Spain's Foreign Affairs Minister, M.A. Moratinos, and Ms. Rice] concerning president Zapatero's recent declarations concerning his willingness to follow the desires of the people of Spain and not meet up with President Bush ever". I was amazed to read this.

Amazed at how insular this country can be at times. I think Señor Zapatero must be the ONLY president or Prime Minister on earth who would say such a thing publicly.

And I don't think that this is either pragmatic nor helpful for Spain's foreign policy.

What country wants to deal with a state whose president may or may not meet with you depending on whether he likes you or not? I fully understand Señor Zapatero's principles in wishing not to meet with Mr. Bush. But when you are in politics, it is time to put your personal beliefs aside for the pursuit of a greater cause. In this case, Spain's foreign policy goals.

True, Mr. Bush is out of the White House in no time, but I think Mr. Zapatero fails to realise that by snubbing the American Head of State, he snubs an entire country. And if Mr. Zapatero is not aware of how much Spain's wellbeing depends on Americas's good will, he, or indeed Spain, may experience a rude awakening one day. This is, after all, the man who is pressing at the UN for his plan of an "Alliance of civilisations". Am I missing something here?

Unfortunately many in Spain (and the rest of Europe for that matter) prefer to live in the fiction that they are in the right, and America in the wrong. Not just today. Always.

Many people here are very anti-American. Not anti 'Americans' mind you, Americans they deal with well enough, and Spain is certainly very americanified these days, just like any other Western country. Two days ago they broadcasted Mr. Bush's State of the Union speech. Live!!! If that is not Americanified, I don't know what is!

Still, many here profess a deep dislike of American foreign policy. Old imperial rivalries? Perhaps. I have to say that I find the British behaving towards the US in much the same way. But whereas in Spain, as I stated before, Americans are mostly liked well enough, in Britain I would not be so sure. But of course, these are just generalisations. And I still have of lot of cultural catching up to do.

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