The Pain in Spain, Vol. 1: Big ol’ churches, bull-ring malls and tipping etiquette
I like Spain. It moves at the same pace I do.
Spaniards agree with me that the siesta is the best idea since the invention of shade, because it’s too hot that time of day to do anything besides sit in the shade and sip something cold.
Traveling in Spain is also an excuse to use the only Spanish phrase that I’m good at, “Por favor, no me pegue, Senor Policia.” More or less it means, “Please don’t hit me, Mister Policeman.”
It turned out to be more useful than I thought.
The police probably won’t hit you, but someone else might, usually your wife, and usually for being what you are — a God-blessed American.
As far as I can tell, America has been a positive influence on Spain. You can walk into Burger King in Madrid and buy a breakfast burger that’s topped with eggs, bacon and cheese.
Limit your BOC intake
A word of advice: Limit yourself to two or three BOCs, Big Ol’ Churches. Yes, they’re incredible, and yes, we understand the metaphysical wonderfulness of spending your life working on something that outlasts you. But they’re everywhere! Like American presidential candidates, only not as stiff.
The Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona is spectacular. Construction started in 1882. To the untrained eye, the massive construction cranes would indicate they’re renovating. They’re not. It’s scheduled for completion in 2026, but we’ll see.
Bunch of bull?
Speaking of shrines, Barcelona has the Bull Ring Mall. That’s not its actual name, but that’s what it is. They had this bull-fighting arena that had fallen into disrepair and disrepute because, unlike soccer, things get skewered during bull fights with more than rapier wit. Shopping malls are the repositories of all things evil in Western civilization. Despite this unassailable fact, Barcelona’s Powers That Be converted a perfectly good bull ring into a shopping mall — perhaps not the best influence America has ever had.
Bull rings have all kinds of places men can sit and pass the time while women do something completely foreign to men, like shopping. The Bull Ring Mall has no benches, forcing men to wander around behind their women as they ask questions that, if you answer incorrectly, can have you staring death in its unflinching eyes. But then, you’re in a bull ring, so you won’t be the first man to experience that.
You won’t see this sort of benchlessness duplicated in Minnesota’s Mall of America.
American men also get a little cranky when they’re forced to sit in a cafe in the Bull Ring Mall, where they are told that croissants are only for breakfast. You must have your bread shaped some other way the rest of the day. Why? I have no idea, but they’ll sell you an insanely expensive tiny cup of coffee while you sit inside and consider this.
You should also consider why Europeans think sitting outside sipping tiny cups of coffee is better than sitting inside and sipping large glasses of beer. If you figure it out, let me know.
So, Spanish men come to the mall because their women want them to, the same reason men learned to shower, shave and walk upright.
Malls around the globe communicate in a universally visual Mall Language, and the Bull Ring Mall is fluent. Mall Language features huge pictures of emaciated girls selling you designer crap made in third world sweatshops.
Take a tip from me
Speaking of great stuff Americans do, do you tip your waiters or not?
Americans do, and we feel guilty if we don’t. Spaniards don’t and feel guilty if they do, asking questions like, “Didn’t I do a good job?” However, your Spanish server quickly gets over any emotional upheaval and pockets the money.
I was driving along Spain’s Sun Coast, which is very sunny, when my long hair whipped around and smacked me in the eye, which caused me to whip my head around and swerve the car. A police officer asked, in Spanish, what on the Son of God’s Sun Coast I thought I was doing.
I said, “Por favor, no me pegue, Senor Policia.” That pretty much exhausted our conversation. He seemed amused enough to wave me on my way.
When your hair smacks you in the eye and summons the police, it’s time to get it cut. I wandered into a salon (European for barber shop) and asked a woman I’ll call The African Queen to give me a haircut — actually to sell me a haircut, because I’m an American tourist and tend to tip, which I did.
I speak two languages, English and profanity. She couldn’t speak English, and I don’t understand Spanish profanity.
My daughter, who’s fluent in Spanish, wrote me a note and made me practice reading it, describing what was supposed to happen to me. It could have offered to trade my cow for magic beans, for all I knew. But The African Queen took a look at my passport photo, grinned at the note and started washing and cutting my hair in ways that the Pope says will require some time in Purgatory. It was worth it.
She and I had a delightful conversation that neither of us could understand. If she had any idea what I was saying, I might have gotten my ears boxed, either by my wife or The African Queen, or both, but not by the Senor Policia.
Next week: Why do people whisper in art museums? It’s not like you’ll wake up the marble statues.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.