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"I don't want them to feel alone"

Por: | 27 de mayo de 2015



When the earthquake (with a "moment magnitude" of 7.8 ) shook in Nepal on the 25th of April, things started to move in Majorca as well. Saskia Griffiths, a yoga teacher who lives here, felt that she needed to do something to help the Nepalese people, little did she know that her action was about to set off a chain reaction.

Saskia Griffiths: I've done modest fundraisers for organisations that have touched me before, I did one for "Tu Importas Mallorca" at Christmas time for example. So when the first earthquake happened in Nepal I knew I wanted to do something. I decided to organise an outdoor public yoga session with my colleague David Lurey. We had just nine people attend. We did gentle yoga, partner yoga, meditation, kirtan (chanting and singing) and prayers for Nepal. By the end of the session passersby and the class participants had put 400€ in a hat for Nepal.

How it all started
"That was on the Saturday and I thought that was that. But by Monday I had been given a total of 750€! I knew that I would have to find the way to get the money to Nepal. Originally I had intended to send it through a charitable foundation. But when I investigated more thoroughly I realised that I wasn't happy with how the money was going to be channelled to Nepal and I was concerned that it would not get to the people who needed it. So I spoke to a friend of mine, Reena, who is originally from Nepal to ask her for advice. Reena told me that I should speak to her nephew Vivek who lived close to where the earthquake had hit, so I did. As it turned out before I had made contact with him he'd already started to help, he'd been out clearing boulders to get help and relief to remote villages around Kathmandu.

Vicki: Have you ever been to Nepal?
Saskia: Nope, never!

Vicki: What's Larpark like? Do you know?
Saskia: The village of Larpark is 2100m above sea level and is very typically Nepalese (Gurung). It was at the epicentre of the first earthquake and has been completely devastated: all 611 wooden-roofed households, gone. The villagers have moved upwards to safer grounds and dispersed into five new locations although most of the elderly have refused to move to other places. While Larpak is at an altitude of 2100m, the currently highest migration settlement is up to 2700 metres at Mamchi. It is remote, and treacherous to get to with a 1,5 trek and no roads, but it's vital that emergency supplies and support reach these vulnerable people. Some of the sons of the village, who now work as trekking guides, have returned to help their families: Suman Gurung, a professional mountain guide who was born in Larpak village, had been on a trek in the Tsum Valley and was also trapped in the mountains as the earthquake struck, but immediately teamed up with five other friends from Larpak who also work in the trekking sector to head out to their birthplace and lend a helping hand to their fellow villagers, and family members.  Due to the sheer remoteness of the village and lack of vehicle access, official government relief or international community has still not reached this village. He along with his team were the first to provide relief materials to his suffering villagers with limited funds provided by friends and family, in Nepal and abroad. 

Saskia keeping track of donations
Have you found it easy to raise the money?
Saskia: People have been calling me all the time telling me they want to give money to Nepal. By the end of the first week I had another 1210€, then another 1885€! Now I have just had another big donation of money and it's in constant growth! It's amazing how much people want to help Nepal! I've been keeping track of every donation in my notebook, and sending photos to the people who have donated of the things that their money has bought.

Vivek unloading supplies
How have you been communicating with Nepal?
Saskia: Incredibly 3G and 4G is still working so it has been really easy to stay in contact with Vivek. He sends me photos and updates every day of where the money is being sent, he even sends me photos of the receipts. It's been amazing to be able to show a photo to someone who has donated money: "Look this is where your money has been spent". It's been an incredible experience for me as well. Vivek's wife is pregnant, very, very pregnant, she's due any minute. They live in Katmandu and originally he was supposed to be opening a restaurant as a new business. But all of this has taken a backseat now as all he wants to do is get the supplies to the people in need. The other day we were speaking about how to physically get it up the mountain to where they have moved to, I suggested a helicopter, and off I went to find a way to raise the money for a helicopter, then when we spoke again Vivek had conferred with the other people he's working with and they had decided rather to spend the money on a tractor, and had decided that a helicopter was too expensive. But I can't make those decisions you see? It has to be down to the people whose lives are being affected. They are getting themselves organised now which is good because the official aid agencies are still not moving in as they said they would. Vivek sent me a photo of a big consignment of Red Cross goods just sat at the airport embargoed! Nepal does not have a good reputation for honest politicians unfortunately.

Vicki: What kind of things do the people need?
Saskia: Vivek has been buying tents, medication, soap, sanitary pads, food packs, essential things to keep the people healthy and fed. When the second earthquake (7.3 on the scale) came on the 12th of May he went quiet for a couple of days, he said he needed to stay at home in his sturdy little house in Katmandu and be with his family. But now he's out again every day working to help the villagers. But soon a much bigger challenge is coming, there will be, as there is every year, a monsoon. This will bring with it infection. We need to get clothing, blankets, housing materials, chimneys, wood, sanitary arrangements, safe drinking water, medical care, food supplies. It seems like a terrible dream, but we also need to be thinking about schooling for the children as well, they have nothing up there now.

The camp
It must be a terrible situation, they are so isolated.
Saskia: The earth has been shaking for three weeks. They are still experiencing three or four aftershocks every day, can you imagine how frightening that must be? Vivek is very worried that the money will dry up before he's finished helping these villagers, "What will happen when they forget?" I told him that I wouldn't forget. If you get inspired then you can really do amazing things. The thing I want everyone to get out of this is that you really can do something to make a difference, if you want to help then you really can. I asked myself, what is the one thing that I would personally want if the earth had been shaking where I was for the last three weeks, the answer is ´stability´. So I am going to keep going, sending whatever money I can, whether it is 5€ or 5000€,  given to me by a cleaner or a millionaire, every single cent I am being given is going to help these people whose lives were changed in an instant.

Vicki: Why do you think people have responded to the call for funds so readily?
Saskia: I think the Nepalese people appeal to us Westerners. Nepal is a Buddhist country. They are not materialistic, they are very simple, pure, honest. They are a really compassionate people. They have minimal needs. They don't see the point in having lots of stuff, they see the point in having friends, praying, of family, of caring for each other. They are not like us. I just don't want them to feel alone.

More than 8,000 people have been killed, more than 19,000 injured and countless more made homeless in Nepal. They are living in the open air in tents. The monsoons and winter season are coming. If you feel the call to help then please get in touch with Saskia on 



It all started with the toes. Or the lack of them.

One day I casually asked my Sitges girlfriend what the Spanish for ‘toes’ was. My Spanish has been improving steadily since moving to Barcelona in 2011. But the odd word still obstinately fails to arrive.

“‘Dedos de los pies’,” she responded, raising an exasperated eyebrow. Or ‘fingers of the feet’, if you’re taking a literal view on things, which is turned out I was that morning.

“Fingers of the feet?” I asked, infuriated. “That’s not a real word. They’re useful things, toes. So why doesn’t Spanish have a word for them?” 

We could, of course, have left it there. Probably we should have done. But, no, the rubicon was crossed.

“Spanish does have a word for ‘toes’,” my girlfriend responded. “It’s ‘dedos de los pies’. Now let me get back to studying.”

Maybe it was the heat outside, or the two young children who wouldn’t let us sleep. But I wasn’t having that. “That’s not a word for ‘toes’,” I argued. “It means ‘fingers of the feet’, which is a different thing entirely. Why doesn’t Spanish have a word for ‘toes’?”

My girlfriend sighed and went back to her work. But if you thought that was the end of it then you don’t know the half of our relationship. A week later, when I was at my most vulnerable, my girlfriend attacked. “What’s the English for ‘madrugar’,” she asked, her face a picture of innocence.

“To get up early in the morning,” I said, not giving it a second thought.

“You see!” my girlfriend said excitedly. This is the most dangerous of all her tones. “There’s no English word for ‘madrugar’. You loser.” And she walked off triumphantly.

I was stumped. There is no English word for ‘madrugar’. And yet - if stereotypes are to be believed - aren’t we British fond of getting up early? Why the linguistic hole?

Despite this, I thought I was on pretty safe ground generally with the argument. English, I had always believed (and, I suppose, must have heard somewhere) has more words than most world languages thanks to a rapacious appetite for foreign imports. 

We’ve taken ‘bungalow’ from Hindi and ‘amok’ from Malay. We go to a café for a coffee and take our children to British kindergarten. Surely English is bulging with words? As for Spanish - it doesn’t even hard a word for ‘become’! (Come on - not really…)

Such rampant word incorporation is, of course, partly a result of Britain’s colonial past. But it helps that the UK has no real equivalent of the Real Academia Española in Madrid, no institution ultimately responsible for deciding which words are English and which aren’t. 

The Oxford English Dictionary is about the closest British analogue - and every year there is a great hoohah when it announces its “Word of the Year”, giving new linguistic respectability to the likes of ‘selfie’ (2013), ‘credit crunch’ (2008) and ‘chav’ (2004). But the OED - while hugely respected - is not a government organisation like the RAE and has no legal power.

Besides, the British have a great history of making up words: Shakespeare did it, coining some 1,700 words including ‘eyeball’ (A Midsummer Night's Dream), ‘skim milk’ (King Henry IV, Part I) and ‘grovel’ (King Henry VI, Part II), giving hope to inventive linguists ever since.

Surely, then, English must have shed-loads of words with no Spanish equivalent? 

I threw myself into research with a very useful Guardian article providing some ammunition. Alejandro Pareja, a translator from Madrid, claimed that after translating some 203 books from English into Spanish he could find no easy translation of ‘insight’; Lucy from Marbella said that she had spent six years trying and failing to translate ‘to have a crush on someone’ into Spanish. I was, at least temporarily, winning.

It couldn’t last though and in the end, no matter how much I tweaked the search terms, Google kept on throwing up articles that outlined brilliant Spanish words that have no English equivalent. 

There was ‘anteayer’ (the day before yesterday), ‘entrecejo’ (the space between the eyebrows) and ‘empalagar’ (to disgust with too much sweetness) from; the Huffington Post weighed in with ‘desvelado’ (unable to sleep or to be sleep deprived), ‘friolero’ (someone who is very sensitive to cold) and ‘sobremesa’ (the moment after eating a meal when the food has finished but the conversation is still flowing at the table). My own girlfriend weighed in with ‘quinquenio’ (a period of five years).

English, it is true, has given us many technical terms that are now deployed in other languages. But faced with Hispanic terms as poetic as these it seemed the argument was lost: I was the loser my girlfriend had always believed.

Except, of course, I wasn’t (or not in this case anyway): language isn’t - or shouldn’t be - a competition and the more I learned of the richness of Spanish, the more the language delighted me and the more I could revel in the work of Cervantes, Gabriel García Márquez et al.

Besides, as Shakespeare himself once put it: “What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Well said William.


Around 8 million people are expected to visit Barcelona in 2015.

As the summer sun starts to come out in force and the high-season crowds descend on Barcelona, the city famous for a remarkable tourism-led rejuvenation is in the midst of an unprecedented crisis over how to manage the millions of people visiting it each year. Nowhere better illustrates this than the Barceloneta, a former fisherman’s quarter now at the center of a lucrative tourist trade that continues to boom amid an otherwise sluggish economy.

The Barceloneta flags that seem to hang off every other flat, and the somewhat less-ambiguous “Cap pis touristic (no more tourist flats”) signs, may go unnoticed by the casual visitor, but it’s hard to spend long in the neighborhood, or any other central part of Barcelona for that matter, without realizing that something is afoot in Spain’s most-visited city.

Last year Barceloneta erupted in spontaneous protests as thousands of furious residents organized protests against the “drunken tourism” they claimed was making life in the once-peaceful neighborhood impossible. Crowds berated tourists for bad behavior and demanded an end to Airbnb-style short-stay rental flats that they said were turning residential buildings into “youth hostels.”

Since then the city council has responded with a string of measures – community police patrols, a direct line to report disturbances in tourist flats, greater regulation of tourist flats – but the discontent continues, and the anti-tourist flat signs are only increasing.

According to Sergio Arnás, a lifelong resident of the neighborhood and spokesman for La Barceloneta Diu Prou (Barceloneta Says Enough!) campaign group that organized last summer’s protests, little has changed and further protests are almost inevitable.

He said short-stay tourist flats remain widespread and many people are forced to share buildings with noisy temporary neighbors. The result, he said, is plenty of sleepless nights and a simmering frustration in a once-tranquil neighborhood.

“But we’re not campaigning simply against anti-social behavior. Tourist flats bring insecurity and property speculation to the neighborhood,” he told me.



"No more tourist flats," reads a sign in the popular beachside Barceloneta neighborhood.

Arnás echoed what many other resident have told me in recent weeks: tourist flats and drunken behavior are only symptoms of a deeper problem – the unsustainable numbers of tourists visiting the city each year.

Across Barcelona there is unease at the influence of so many visitors. In each neighborhood the specific complaints vary, but the cause, everyone seems to agree, is the mass-tourism model adopted by local authorities more than two decades previously.

In the Gràcia neighborhood residents have occupied a building that was set to become the latest in a string of hotels to open in the area, claiming that the recent surge in tourists was pushing up prices and forcing locals out. In its place they have opened a housing office to assist people facing eviction — Catalonia suffered more than 22 percent of the 68,000 evictions carried out across Spain in 2014. Outside the office a large banner reads: “One more tourist equals one fewer neighbor.”

Similar protests have taken place throughout Ciutat Vella which holds the most hotels, while the areas surrounding top attractions Park Güell and Sagrada Familia have also witnessed protests by neighbors who feel inconvenienced by the city’s runaway tourism success. The famous La Boqueria market is another point of conflict. Following complaints from stallholders, authorities have banned large tour groups at peak times in an effort to lure local shoppers back to the market.

But while tourism is being blamed for an increasing laundry list of problems, the sector remains essential to the city’s economy – representing between 12 and 14 percent of the municipality’s GDP.

The challenge facing Barcelona’s leaders is to find a way to harness the industry without alienating residents and allowing the city to become a jaded tourist trap, or, the “new Venice.”

Barcelona’s tourism sector has been one of the principal topics in the run-up to municipal elections on May 24.

Recent surveys suggest no candidate will win enough votes for an outright majority, but the two leading candidates – incumbent Xavier Trias (CiU) and Ada Colau of the Barcelona en Comu coalition – could hardly be more opposed in their plans for the future of the city’s tourism industry.

Trias has presided over years of sustained growth for the industry and record-breaking numbers of visitors – 7.5 million in 2013 – and shown support for the hotel lobby’s aim of reaching 10 million. Aside from a few minor issues, Trias insists, the city’s tourism model is a success.

Colau, in contrast, has warned of a “tourism bubble” and described the current tourism model as “out of control.” She has also waded into the heated debate over so-called tourist flats, suggesting owners should be encouraged to convert the properties into social housing, a move likely to find stiff resistance from the vocal supporters of the model who claim Airbnb rentals offer an important means to pay the bills.

A conference organized by the Asociación Catalana de Profesionales de Turísticos (Catalan Association of Tourism Professionals) last week highlighted the complexity of the problem as politicians from all the major parties attacked varying aspects of the current tourism model.

“The protests in Barceloneta last year are a symptom that something is not working,” Sara Jaurrieta of the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) told the conference.

Many others shared her analysis, but there was no consensus on a solution.

Whatever the result of the upcoming elections, it is clear the new administration has a challenge on its hands if it’s to preserve the city’s golden goose of tourism while avoiding a repeat of last year’s protests.

Seville’s a funny old place riddled with confusing contradictions. One minute it’s die hard religious tradition, all suits, black veils and pointy hoods. But the next, the very same followers of god are propping up a bar, knocking back cervezas before moving onto a very large whisky and coke. It’s kind of dizzying in its inconsistency, permissive yet conservative, rigid and yet anarchic. I’ve lived here for over 4 years and I am still none the wiser.

2015-03-15 17.26.48
Members of a Seville Hermandad (religious brotherhood) drinking outside

These perplexing dichotomies particularly come into play in the current battleground of noise control in the city’s historic centre. Seville is a social city, social in the sense that almost without exception people spend a large slice of their free time hanging outside bars with their friends and family. Back in 2012 it was reported that there was a bar for every 180 of the population, that’s roughly 4000 bars in total. Throw into the mix the Andalucian capital’s weather, which bar five months of the year, is flaming hot. And on a pleasant, balmy night there’s no place anyone would rather be than you’ve guessed it, drinking outside. Someone could open a bar with some ultra cool, stylish interiors and yet it would remain utterly empty as everyone squeezes themselves onto the pavement, doing what ‘Sevillanos’ do best, drink beer ‘en la calle´.

2015-03-15 17.24.20
Socialising the Sevillano way, standing up outside

And then there are the ‘veladores’ or outdoor tables. Even I if given the choice on a warm evening, will choose an outside table over sitting inside a bar or restaurant. It’s a no brainer and so most bar owners will squeeze as many tables and chairs outside their tiny bar to capture the trade from their tableless competitors. The trouble is in order to have outside tables, bar owners are supposed to obtain a special license which dictates the number of tables and the time until which they can be in operation, which apart from special occasions such as Semana Santa, is until 1am. As a result, many bars risk putting out tables license free, therefore avoiding restrictions due to their unofficial status and serve their rather loud customers until the early hours.

Veladores in summer

Emilia de la Serna, spokesperson for neighbours against noise action group ‘Plataforma Por El Descanso en Sevilla’ estimates that about 80% of the cities outside tables are unlicensed. ‘The situation is illegal but it is protected by the council who have stopped inspectors from going out after 2am or at weekends. For them noise that isn’t measured doesn’t exist’. Emilia who has spent a small fortune on turning her smart family apartment into what she calls ‘a bunker’ to spare herself and her family from the relentless noise emanating from the street below says, ‘you are abused in your own house. Someone else, in order to make money, has taken the control of your own life and is telling you when you are allowed to sleep, Someone else has taken the control of your children’s rights too. You have done nothing, you were happily at home and suddenly a new business started serving drinks outside, or organizing concerts under your bedroom’.

Last summer, the local council under the leadership of Juan Ignacio Zoido, announced a series of new regulations designed to crack down on the level of noise and appease the groups of neighbours campaigning for their right to rest in their own home. Numbering amongst the new rules were the headline-grabbing prohibition of playing dominoes outside bars, plus further restriction on public drinking and music in bars, but Emilia de la Serna remains unconvinced saying that the council ‘mocks their organisation’. She goes on, ‘they use us, they say "let´s sit down and discuss" and then throw any recommendations in the bin saying that any regulations have been born out of consensus’. It’s fair to surmise that Ms Serna is not happy with the state of affairs.

What then of the recent crack down by Señor Zoido on the activity of bars in noise hotspots the Arenal, Alfalfa and Alameda? On one of the most profitable weekends of the year, the last weekend before Christmas, the local police backed by the council, temporarily closed down twelve bars, eleven of which for permitting drinking alcohol outside their premises on the public street and one for exceeding its fire limit inside. The operation was, according to the police, as a result of a series of complaints made by local residents in all three areas, who were at their wits’ end following night after night of unbearable noise.

One of the temporarily closed down bars on a typically busy summer´s evening

But the bar owners affected don’t quite see things in the same light. Francisco Algaba, owner of Eureka in the Alameda, shut down for ten days over Christmas and fined 3000 Euros, has been left perplexed by the police’s actions. ‘The Police came at 9pm to the Alameda with a list of bars they had already decided to close. They said there were too many people outside and it was dangerous. It was Christmas for god’s sake, of course there were people outside. And why come at 9pm, what danger could be happening at that time? On any one weekend, according to these ridiculous unenforceable laws, you could shut down any bar in this city. So why did they choose us? I just don’t get it’. Algaba estimates that he has lost almost 30,000 due the closure, not to mention the 12 workers who found themselves jobless over the festive period.

The majority of the bars were reopened within two weeks after the police operation, but one in the Arenal ‘El Gallo Negro’ remained closed for two months and was given a fine of 6000. But in the last few days, a judge has overturned the action saying it was an ‘unreasonable case of making an example’, as normally in such cases if a fine is issued, it is not necessary to close down the business as well. So Zoido’s administration will have to cough up and cover all the bar’s costs accrued in the whole process; an expensive night’s work for both the bar owners and the local government.

Since Christmas then, there’s been a palpable air of tension emanating around areas such as the city’s main nightlife district the Alameda, with bars displaying signs urging their customers to consume their beverages sitting down and within the bars’ official designated areas. Something that is rather an impossible task due to your average Sevillano’s innate tendency to drink while standing up, where and when they please. So it was no surprise then that a few weekends ago, one of the Alameda’s most frequented and oldest bars ‘Café Central’ was shut down by the police in a similar operation to that carried out before Christmas.

2015-03-15 17.18.12
A very closed Cafe Central in the Alameda

On an average Saturday night at just after 1am it wasn’t unusual to see people still standing outside of Café Central drinking with friends. On such nights drinking after hours (the bar can serve until 1am) would have been greeted by gentle encouragement by the police to drink up and get on your way, but not this time. On arrival the police allegedly smashed the glasses of anyone in the vicinity of Café Central to the ground and forced them to enter the bar with the threat of a 100 fine for public drinking (regardless of whether they were customers or not). The bar itself has a license for up to 83 people, and following the actions of the police the numbers inside swelled from approximately 40 people to 144, thus exceeding their legal limit and giving the police the perfect excuse to close down the bar from immediate effect. CCTV images have been presented to the local government department involved in issuing licenses, with the hope that the actions can be revoked.  But for the moment, Café Central remains closed and its 12 staff without jobs.


Central empty
CCTV image of Cafe Central at 1.26
Central full
at 1.36 the bar is full after the alleged actions by the police

With just two months to go until the Municipal elections, it’s possible that these high profile bar closures form part of a campaign to curry favour with swing voters, who might just vote PP if the noise problem is seen to be tackled in some way. And according to the political party ‘La Izquierda Unida’ (The United Left),  there is indeed ‘more than a hint of electioneering,’ adding that ‘repression isn’t the solution’ and asking for ‘an agreement between all parties involved in the disputes’.

But I suppose my question is as an outside observer, can there ever be an agreement between parties whose interests are so diametrically opposed? It would seem it depends on who you are and where you live. Both neighbourhood groups and bar owners bemoan an utter lack of consistency on behalf of the council, so if they’re not defending the residents, the bar owners, or the revellers, then the question that begs to be asked, whose rights are they defending?

As an aside here, it’s interesting to note that strong religious traditions such as Semana Santa (Easter) and general religious processions and holidays, receive a ‘get out of jail free pass’ when it comes to noise restrictions. Even though between the marching bands, the rockets going off in the street, the general throng of the crowds and the packed bars, you’d be hard pressed to find anything noisier. Something that to many makes an utter mockery of the poe-faced noise abatement rules introduced in 2014.

Bar owner Francisco Algaba, a young man during the Franco era, sees the tough stance taken by the conservative local government in conjunction with the police as having more sinister tones. ‘This is a persecution, it’s worse than the inquisition, worse than Franco. It’s anti-constitutional’.

It remains to be seen how events will play out between now and the municipal elections in May, but for many it all forms part of a greater fabric of repressive policies being implemented by the Partido Popular at large, encroaching on the civil liberties of those that might stand in their way of their re-election later on in the year.  

The 10 enduring mysteries of Spain to a foreigner

Por: | 09 de marzo de 2015

Cash machine 2 - carlos rosillo
Credit: Carlos Rosillo

I recently celebrated my 40th month as a resident in Barcelona, making me officially over the Spanish hill. To celebrate, I decided to reflect on the 10 continuing mysteries of Spanish life, the kind of puzzles that keep me up at night and make me forget the milk on a trip to the supermarket. 

Here’s to the next 40 months then - and here’s hoping we can finally crack these enigmas.

1) The irregular advertising quandary 

Televisions programmes, as a rule, have regularly scheduled breaks in action during which the network can go to adverts. These, typically, are to be found half way through the programme or at a comforting, regular division like thirds.

Might it make sense, then, when showing imported TV programmes to schedule your adverts to coincide with these friendly breaks?

Yes, of course: the vast majority of the world.

Why on earth would you want to do that? Spanish television argues (and Antena 3 I’m particularly looking at you.) 

In fact, the scheduling of advertising breaks is one of the most troubling puzzles of Spanish life. A two episode block of The Simpsons on Antena 3 at 2pm should be the perfect accompaniment to a lazy lunch and resulting digestion. Except Antena 3 inserts ad breaks at such brain-changingly odd times it makes the whole thing into some kind of weird endurance test.

A typical Simpsons episode double bill on Antena 3 will go: opening credits; six minutes of adverts; first episode scene one; seven minutes of adverts; the rest of the two episodes crammed together with no room to even make a cup of tea.

It’s baffling. Maybe Antena 3 thinks this is the best way of getting us to watch as many ads as possible. But if this was the case, then wouldn’t The Simpsons US creators have already thought of this? Wouldn’t other TV networks around the world have copied this innovation? Wouldn’t TV as a whole look entirely different, in fact?

2) The newspaper knife enigma

What is it about newspapers that makes people want to buy knives? Is the news so bad it makes us yearn to slice our own throats? Are the recipes within so delicious that they positively demand the fresh slicing edge of new metallic fury?

I don’t know. But one thing is certain: in Spain, publishers definitely think newspapers and knives go together. In fact, barely a month goes by without some newspaper announcing that this Saturday in the kiosks they will be offering eager readers the opportunity to buy a complete set of steak knives alongside their morning paper for “only” €12. 

Who buys them? Why is it always knives? What kind of crossover is there here? Reader, I’m as baffled as you are…

3) The Barça knife baffler

… and talking of knives, why on earth would even the most ardent of Barcelona FC fans want to buy a set of knives emblazoned with the Barça logo? A T-shirt? I can see that. A duvet set? I suppose so. For a child.

But knives? Who wants to think about football when slicing a lettuce? Who wants to get all upset about dodgy penalties when chopping a tomato? But such dodgy logic certainly doesn’t stop papers like Sport perennially offering up Barça knife selections up to its readers, usually for “only” seven tokens and €10. 

I would imagine these knives, like much football merchandise, are designed to show off your love of the club. But who ever sees your knife collection? Seriously. Your intimate family, maybe. And they already know you like Barça. You can hardly take your knives out to the bar in the vague hope someone will see them and cut through the blackened silence of solitude by talking about Alves’ red card.

The same, incidentally, applies for Madrid melon peelers, Valencia vacuums, Espanyol espadrilles etc.

4) The cash machine conundrum

The Spanish economy may have picked up slightly of late, but I can’t help thinking it would look a lot better if banks and businesses were only able to break the eternal cycle of cash-based frustration that is engendered by cash machines not giving out low denomination notes and shops never having change for €50. 

It just doesn’t work. And many is the time I’ve decided I could probably go without that little snack / newspaper / cup of coffee rather than enrage the poor shop keeper with my €50 note.

I, like most people, don’t necessarily enjoy going to the cash machine. It’s not one of those little treats, like a small pack of peanuts or a nice sit down in the park. I see it, in fact, as a task to be endured, albeit a small, eminently manageable one.

As a result, when I do go to the cash machine, I try to get out funds that will last me for at least the week. And that would be fine, were said cash machine not trained to spit out as fewer notes as possible, preferably in the kind of high denominations that get infuriated local shops gobbing in your morning baguette.

It’s become some kind of game: €90 is good because you’re guaranteed some 20s. €130 is loads of 20s - unless the cash machine also does 10s. €100, however, is the big bust, coming inevitably in two €50 notes. Go straight to shop keeper shame. Do no pass Go.

Maybe some people would see this kind of mental wrangling as fun. I am not one of those people.

5) The indoor football inquiry

Football I get. 22 people on a pitch for 90 minutes of skilful bloodlust. Pick a team. Support them. Go wild. 

But what kind of football-depraved sociopath would you have to be to follow indoor football, a kind of life-size Subbuteo which appeals to the same kind of instinct as writing really small on a piece of paper just to see how many words you can fit?

A Spanish football depraved sociopath is the answer to that one. And don’t get me started on beach football.

6) The August obscurity

“Gone on holiday,” the sign read on my local launderette. “Back in September.”

I checked the date. I checked it again. But yes, it was August 1 and the launderette was taking the month off. As I would soon find out, far from being the kind of once-in-a-lifetime month-long blowout, this is in fact the norm in Spain.

Yes, people in Spain - possibly even most people in Spain - take August off. And that’s all of August. Not three weeks in August. August.

You almost want to applaud. Who wouldn’t want August off? Not me. I’d love August off. But there’s something in me that’s far too British to do it. 25 days holiday a year is what you get. And you have to take that in week-long blocks for fear of your boss getting angry.

Pathetic, I know. So let us salute this troubling yet wonderful dedication to taking August off that the Spanish enjoy so much. Even if it does make getting your clothes washed something of a summer headache.

7) The Portugal paradox

Before I lived in Spain, I always assumed it was pretty close to Portugal. I mean, of course it is physically close; they’re both on the Iberian peninsula. But I assumed this translated into an enduring kinship and cultural closeness between the two countries.

I couldn't have been more wrong. It’s not like the Spanish dislike Portugal. They just sort of ignore it. Portugal’s never on the news, there are few Portuguese cafes and shops (at least in Barcelona) and you rarely hear Spanish people talking about their love / affinity / vague respect for Portugal.

I once asked my girlfriend about this. She just shrugged. 

This, I think, pretty much sums up Spain’s attitude to Portugal.

8) The strawberry anomaly

Strawberries are a summer fruit, right? They go with long summer nights, ice cream straight from the fridge and Wimbledon on the telly.

Not in Spain. No, in Spain, the strawberry - that eternal harbinger of warm summer fun - is considered a winter fruit. They allegedly grow in winter. And don’t even try to argue the toss over this one. I’ve tried and it simply does work.

In fact, I suspect that this may be simply Spain’s rather sophisticated method of reminding us how much hotter the weather is over here than in freezing Britain. Hey - Spain appears to be saying - our weather’s so damn hot we have strawberries in winter. Still missing your English breakfast?

9) The bakery brain breaker

People in Spain like bread. They like it a lot. A meal, my grandmother in law thinks, is not a meal without bread. And you will typically find a nice crusty baguette perched on the table when meal times come around.

Even so, the amount of bakeries in Barcelona is truly staggering. Within five minutes’ casual stroll from my house there are at least seven, with most supermarkets and corner shops also selling bread. How is that even possible? How much bread can one barrio cope with? And why do none of them ever have change for €50?

10) The pig fat puzzler

Seriously? You’re going to eat that? A slice of pig fat that looks like the bits you normally get rid of from bacon? When you’ve got all that other wonderful Spanish food you could be enjoying?

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I give you panceta de cerdo, the main reason that vegetarians can keep on the straight and narrow in Spain, a disgrace to the concept of bacon and the most disgusting thing ever to put put in between two bits of bread and considered a sandwich since the invention of corned beef.

Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Jessica Jones. Hailing from the north east of England, Stockton-on-Tees native Jessica has had a passion for all things Hispanic from an early age. She has lived in and written about France, Chile, Spain and Germany and has been contributing to the Trans-Iberian blog since 2012, when she moved to Madrid after graduating from Durham University. @jessicajones590

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

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