Last month, the nation’s favourite cultural magazine, Vice, published an article called Immigrants explain what shocked them most about the Spanish culture [in Spanish].
It inspired me to do a similar version about Valencia even though, as you’ll see, the majority of things on this list may as well be geared towards Spain in general. Here’s our take on some of the things that shocked us most about life in España.
Before anyone gets uppity and starts commenting profound thoughts like “Go home and don’t come back then if that’s how you feel, you dick”, please note that this post is by no means an attack on Spain/Valencia/YOU. It’s just a collection of some of the things that shocked us about our new-found casa….
Despite now showing signs of becoming less common, the thing that probably shocked me the most when I first moved to Spain was the frivolous use of Blackface; a bizarre “phenomenon” that’s apparently still alive and kicking in Spain that involves painting a white person’s face brown in order to portray a person of a different ethnicity. As well as other instances such as “talent shows” like Tu Cara Me Suena, this questionable act regularly comes out to play for the 3 Wise Men parade in early January when a white man is often cast as the black wise man, Balthazar. As well as being totally insensitive, it seems like the individuals who do this have never seen a black person in their lives. These grotesque creations often sport exaggerated, red lips the colour of a UK pillarbox or the reddest lipstick in Kate Moss’ iconic Rimmel make-up line. It makes me cringe everytime I see it – and I wonder why the majority of Spanish people can’t see why it’s wrong. Something that was even more embarrassing earlier this year was when people complained that the 3 Wise Men, in some towns in Spain, were replaced by 3 Wise Women. It’s much better to cover a white man in shoe shine in order to have an “accurate representation” of Balthazar than -Christ on a bike!- a woman, right?
The other day at work I tried to explain why this whole charade is very wrong to a trio of blank, Valencian faces. There are, obviously, many reasons why it shouldn’t be done, from the history of Minstrels dressing up as black people specifically to take the piss, to the oppresion that some people still face today due to the colour of their skin. Let’s just hope that this practice fizzles out soon.
Fallas in yo face
I’ve lived in Valencia for 5 years and, even though I’m more or less used to the week of hell (for better or for worse) that is Fallas, there’s still at least one instance in which I fear for my life. And it’s not because I drunkenly stumble too close to a burning statue, no, it’s nearly always down to a group of rogue children and their little boxes of fireworks. I have a theory that, just like a pack of lions, they target the weakest member of the group (me) in order to use them as firework target practice while their parents calmly drink beers in a bar round the corner. In this day and age of heightened health and safety, things like this (and the whole festival, for the most part) would never be allowed to take place in England. I’d hate to be a party pooper -I want these savage kids to continue having dangerous fun- but this is one of the things that still shocks me (and makes me nigh on poo myself) year after year.
Speaking of Fallas, my pal Alex said:
It’s hot here, people drink wine at breakfast, and everyone is in denial about regularly seeing roaches and how disgusting they are. It’s like a lot of Spain in this sense, but nothing can prepare you for the unbridled, inescapable mayhem of Fallas.
Children slinging mid-size fireworks into the street, parents egging them on to ‘throw it at that scowling foreigner’, grown adults letting off fucking massive fireworks at 4am outside my house… It’s an unrelenting, deafening attack on your senses. The Fallas themselves are pretty, and the parties are fun, but it’s barely worth the terror of walking through town to get to them more than once. But what really confuses me is that most people over the age 10 don’t seem very excited to be dropping dynamite in the streets. They don’t even watch the thing explode, they just light it and shuffle away to light another. It’s the same with the street parties, which blast out lairy beats into the small hours all week, but are often only attended by a handful of people until the last night. It seems like making tons of noise is Valencia’s sacred cow, a regional pastime people take part in for no discernible reason.
People lose their shit for paella too. I actually saw people cheering and applauding a paella being carried past them last Sunday, and it’s always fun to see your imagined stereotypes come to life.
As we all well and truly know (ahem), there are only 3 things in Spain: flamenco dancers, bulls and paella. Maybe we need to point out that people who genuinely think like this probably haven’t ever actually stepped foot on Spanish soil or, if they have, it’ll only have been for a couple of weeks on the Costa del Sol or the Costa Blanca. But that’s OK, it’s not their fault. Let them enjoy the sunshine and cheap beer. This type of ignorance only becomes a problem when people become more permanent fixtures; like when they move to Spain, don’t speak a word of the lingo, and still think that Calpe is pronounced “Calpy” and that paellas have chorizo in them.
It didn’t take long after moving to Valencia to realise that paella is no joking matter. Round these parts it is taken very seriously. As a general rule, Valencians LOVE rice. It’s been a component of their local cuisine for centuries and they can get very emotional about it if you get it wrong. There are many different types of paella but the main one you’ll get round here is the paella valenciana -the Valencian version- that contains green beans, butter beans, chicken and rabbit. There are, of course, some slight variants and the recipe may change in order to include seasonal vegeatables, like artichoke, and it’s not uncommon to see a paella valenciana made with duck. But chicken and rabbit are the typical ingredients – NEVER chorizo, like the Morrison’s version above.
However, there’ll always be some clever dick foreigner who thinks they know best. Take this cocky gobshite on Facebook. They’re obviously accustomed to some sort of bastardised paella eaten at God-knows-where. They’ll have a job on trying to find a chicken and chorizo paella in Valencia, that’s for sure. I’ll spare you the rest of the argument that ensued.
But to end this section on a high note, I must say that one important thing I’ve learned is that a banging paella valenciana has the power to cure even the worse hangovers. So thank you, valencianos, thank you. Let’s continue the plight for paella education – and next time I’ll try not to get my knickers in a twist over an idiot on Facebook. I’ll leave that up to you, you’ve got more clout.
Cheap food, drink and rent
One friend nearly choked on her patata brava when I told her how much I paid for a nice little attic with a terrace in Valencia city centre. Of course, she was living in London at the time and paying nearly £2000 a month for a one bedroomed flat in Shoreditch. That wasn’t the only time the economic situation shocked her – prices in supermarkets and restaurants are also pretty cheap for us. Salaries in Valencia are lower than those in London and eating out and groceries are obviously more expensive in Madrid and Barcelona than in VLC. It’s just that, for now, I’m certainly not complaining about the low cost of living.
A close friend who also lives in Valencia mentioned how it took a while to get used to the fact that the birthday boy or girl nearly always pays for their friends’ meals and/or round of drinks on their birthday – the exact opposite of what we do in the UK and Ireland. If you’re expected to be showered with shots or regaled with gifts on your birthday in Spain, think again. Get your wallet out. On his birthday, a Spanish workmate is more likely to turn up to the office with a platter of biscuits for everyone than expect you to fork out for a birthday pint down the pub after work. “Whose are these biscuits?” “They’re from Jose, he turned 43 today” “Sound”
She also remembers the first time that she was served a shot after a meal out with some Valencian friends. As an Irish girl, the usual thing she does when faced with a shot is to bloody well neck it, but this all but confused the Valencians who calmy sipped theirs and put her behaviour down to being “typically Irish”. I wrote more on this topic in another post –UK vs. Spain: a boozy comparison– where I point out just how loutish we can all be on a night out.
Bloody “lo lo lo”
I’m not sure which verb to use here… Sing? Wail? Whatever it is, it needs to stop. I’m talking about that annoying thing all Spaniards do whenever there’s cause for celebration – you all collectively sing, or “lo lo lo”, Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes. You win the football, “loo lo lo lo lo lo, lo”. You burn a falla, “loo lo lo lo lo lo, lo”. You win the lottery, “LOO LO LO LO LO LO, LO!”. You have a nice time at a gig, “LOOO LOO LOO LOO LOO LOO, LOOOO!”. For the love of God desist!
Dogs and doo-doo
My mate John said,
“You’d think a country with such an engrained tradition of animal cruelty wouldn’t really go in for pets, but fuck me if there isn’t something of a dog infestation in Valencia. And they’re not cool bear-like dogs either like the ones that take up half the strasse in Germany, they’re little rat-sized yapping shit machines laying cable all over the city’s pavements. Also, it’s not strictly an infestation either because people are willingly purchasing these creatures and keeping them in their homes and FEEDING THEM FOOD TO KEEP THEM ALIVE AND SHITTING! In the summer it must be unbearable, putrid little piles of toxic sludge baked into a pungent funk by the Mediterranean sun — they don’t put that in the tourist brochures: “Come and see Valencia’s famous orange trees, nourished by the faeces of a hundred be-coated rat-dogs.” Right now as I type there’s a turd about five yards away from my front door, smeared into a modernist streak by some Russafa hipster’s New Balances. I have to dance a little jig around and over it every time I leave the house. Kids play on my street all the time. They lie on the paving slabs and draw in chalk. They lie there and I look out my window and I think “there was a dog shit on that spot last week.”
And the piss — the piss is a whole other thing, bright neon rivulets of the stuff. These dogs must be dehydrated to fuck because this piss is as yellow as orange Fanta. Within the city limits there are no gradients, so this radioactive dog piss just sits in the indentations in the ornately designed paving slabs until the next rain storm arrives in five months or so. Big dogs — and they do exist here — don’t have anything to prove, so they keep quiet and relaxed, content in their inherent dignity. Most of the dogs here though are small rodent type assholes that need to make themselves heard as often and as loudly as possible, like those short-ass chavs you get back in the UK. Hence the unbroken cacophony of yelping, yapping and squeaking that ricochets off every wall in every street, every minute of every day. They see each other coming from opposite ends of the street and they both start fucking screaming at each other for no other reason than co-spiciest recognition, bellowing in a steady half-time staccato like that “Dan!” bit in Alan Partridge. It’s annoying and I don’t like it. Other than that everything’s fine.”
But, anyway, dear Valencia, we love you – paella, dog poo and all. But just not together. Or maybe that’s the key to finding a paella that the angry paella bloke from Facebook would actually like. JUST LEAVE CHORIZO OUT OF IT, YEAH?
Read this post in Spanish here: Cosas de España que les parece raro a los guiris.
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