Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

Eugeni Rodríguez at the FAGC offices in Barcelona. Photo by Elisa Centurion Arriola

Spain marked 10 years of gay marriage this week, while last weekend the LGBT community took over many of the country’s city centers with Pride celebrations. The march in Barcelona — attended by the city’s mayor for the first time ever — was heaving with tourists. The city is among the top destinations for the LGBT community in Europe, while Madrid is among the continent’s unofficial gay capitals.

Outside of guaranteed sunshine and beaches, a contributor to this phenomenon is Spain’s reputation as a frontrunner for progressive LGBT legislation. After the Netherlands and Belgium, the country was the third on Earth to make gay marriage legal back in 2005, and Spain recently took first place in a poll that studied acceptance of homosexuals in 39 countries.

Modern Spain would be unrecognizable to a young Eugeni Rodríguez. Now spokesperson for Catalonia’s oldest gay rights group FAGC and President of L'Observatori Contra l'Homofòbia (OCH), Rodríguez was born in 1965 in the Franco years when homosexuality was illegal. Raised in L’Hospitalet by an impoverished family with a “very anti-gay component,” Rodríguez suffered beatings and discrimination on the streets of his working class neighborhood. He left the “entirely hostile environment” of that city at the age of 18.

While reading Foucault on an intercity train and struggling to come to terms with a traumatic adolescence, Rodríguez began formulating a personal philosophy that would lay the groundwork for a lifetime of activism.

“I promised myself I would not let anyone else be discriminated against and assaulted, I promised to defend the issue to the death,” Rodríguez tells me from FAGC’s modest offices in Gràcia, Barcelona.

Rodríguez and fellow activists were moved to set up what would later become the OCH following the murder of Sònia Rescalvo Zafra, a transgender woman who was beaten to death by neo-Nazis in Barcelona 1991. The OCH began as a FAGC initiative and later became an independent entity in 2008, chaired by Rodríguez. The organization is recognized as the driving force behind the controversial and pioneering anti-homophobia law — which enforces large fines and places the burden of proof on the defendant — that passed the Catalan Parliament last year.

Despite such efforts, LGBT related attacks are on the rise in Catalonia and Spain as a whole,
suggesting a dissonance between legal, administrative and social progress with regard to LGBT rights.

Photo by Elisa Centurion Arriola

Referencing nationwide statistics for 2013, the Interior Ministry says the LGBT community is the minority most targeted by perpetrators of hate crimes. Forty percent of all hate crimes reported in 2013 were motivated by sexual orientation, whereas 37 percent that year were due to racial hatred. Contrast this with figures from England and Wales for 2013, where 84 percent of hate crimes were motivated by race and 10 percent sexual orientation, and numbers from the U.S. that same year where race and sexual orientation were the prime motivators in 49 percent and 20 percent respectively.

To be clear, there are no winners here (how would you like your country, more racist or more homophobic?), and comparisons between these countries must be heeded with a warning, as different criteria and definitions are employed in all three cases. Rodríguez himself has doubts over the official figures, as the OCH does not count certain victims and crimes — including exhibitionism and various sex crimes — used by the Interior Ministry in its own studies of LGBT related hate crimes.

While Rodríguez celebrates the passage of the anti-homophobia law as historic, he stresses that it runs the risk of being all but symbolic if there is not what he calls an “adequate diffusion” of its implementation on several levels. He says that many victims do not know that crimes committed against them fall under the protection of this law. Knowledge of laws, support networks and procedures appear essential to this issue. A survey of the LGBT community in Spain conducted in 2013 found that almost half of respondents had suffered some kind of homophobic abuse at one time, though only 18 percent had felt moved to report the event, with a third saying they thought such a report would prove useless.

A further concern for Rodríguez is that many departments and civil servants are unaware of the responsibilities the law requires of them.

“The law states that any public official in Catalonia has a duty to intervene in any case of discrimination and communicate it to the government,” Rodríguez said. “But what happens is that not everyone is aware of this law so it cannot be fully implemented.”

Rodríguez believes the law must be championed by an independent authority, to handle cases and get the word out there, an idea the government rejected.                              

He references a case in Girona, where a boy was told he ran “like a fag” by his gym teacher. During the ensuing investigation, it became apparent the school had not been informed that Catalonia had passed an anti-homophobia law. Rodríguez is certain this lack of communication between state-run institutions is the norm.

Rodríguez says that changing perspectives in the classroom is not as simple as slotting in a course on diversity into the curriculum.

“On school forms you had to fill out the name of your mother and father, there was no other option,” he explains. “Everything is spoken about in a certain language to reinforce this idea, in maths, science, all subjects — even a plug and socket are called ‘male and female.’”

For Rodríguez, living in a region where the legal framework is increasingly supportive of the LGBT community is a great source of pride. He has no plans to rein in the fight, however, while the standard model of binary gender identity remains deeply ingrained in Spanish society.

Additional reporting and photos by Elisa Centurion Arriola

A Lesson in Manners

Por: | 22 de junio de 2015

Pavements are pretty narrow in Seville, particularly in the cobbled, quaint parts of town. Sometimes I think it’s rather an insult calling them a pavement at all for the lot of good they do. It’s an everyday occurrence to find someone coming at you in the opposite direction, desperately clinging to the same precarious, concrete edge. And it’s at this point I find myself with the dizzying conundrum: step off or be stepped on.


So more often than not it’s me who leaps off into oncoming traffic, waits to let people pass, steps into a doorway or shimmies up a lamp post. It’s my choice obviously and one that’s based on that innate British horror at offending or inconveniencing the other. So here I am looking expectantly into the eyes of the fellow human being I’ve stood aside to let past and 80% of the time it´s a big fat nothing in return. Okay, if I’m honest, it’s not entirely nothing; eye contact is indeed made, but instead of a warm acknowledgement of my efforts, I'm met with a cold, hard stare that enters my hopeful heart like a burning hot arrow.


For the first year or so in Seville, I took it all very badly. Such pavement encounters were met with audible, narked off sighs (on my behalf) and an occasional 'both hands on hip in utter disbelief' stance. But then an English Reading Comprehension exercise entitled ‘Watching the English’ changed my perspective. Taken from the book of the same name by anthropologist Kate Fox, she studies the quirks and foibles of the English character, where fair play or the lack of it gets us extremely riled and sorry is every other word. After the first few paragraphs I soon began to realise that my expectations and concept of politeness were purely cultural and far from definitive.

So with a new ‘I know it’s not personal’ bravado I thought I’d use my observations of Seville etiquette and see what would entail. Which was, by the way, a complete disaster. A late night encounter on my bike with a street cleaner who very politely stopped to let me through, went completely unacknowledged by my new 'Sevillanoed' self, much should I say to his palpable disdain. Here was a perfectly nice man just being kind to a passing 'guiri' and all he got as thanks was a Paddington Bear stare and a gust of wind as I cycled past at break neck speed. I felt like throwing down my bike and pleading for his forgiveness, but instead I just kept on cycling cursing all the while at the utter failure of my attempt to fit in.

I would like to point out at this point that this is not a personal slight on people from Seville, Andalusia or Spain in general. But I just want to know what to do. Please someone tell me. All I’ve ever wanted to do is fit in, as much as I can being a 5ft 9 blond with freckles and pale skin, but at least if I know when to say please and thank you that will be a start. So, this is a kind of shout out to any Spanish or Andalusian social etiquette experts: Please teach me some manners.

Photo from GETTY

Spain’s first confirmed case of diphtheria in almost 30 years has rekindled a national discussion on vaccines — and the country should look to the U.S., U.K. and Chile for insight into how not to hold this debate.

Cases in these nations show us that the sciolistic, erroneous and sensationalist work of members of the mainstream media can affect the decision-making of thousands of people who might otherwise be sceptical of the anti-vaccine movement.

This subculture holds vaccines responsible for a number of health problems, in contradiction with scientific consensus. The movement also views side effects disproportionately in comparison with the graveness and historical frequency of serious illnesses.

While in the current debate, Spanish media has yet to adopt the hack health reporting that is the scourge of the British tabloid press, a downward trend in vaccination coverage in Spain suggests those with the ear of the public must be more rational and vigilant than ever.

Earlier this month, a six-year-old boy from Olot fell ill with diphtheria, and remains in hospital in a serious condition. So unexpected was the eventual diagnosis, to arrive at it the boy’s physician Dr. Stephan Schneider says he rounded up his colleagues for a brainstorm “like in the TV show House.”

The child’s parents had not inoculated him as they subscribed to the anti-vaccine movement, something they have now expressed regret over.

So far, eight children and an adult who were in contact with the child have tested positive to exposure, though all are asymptomatic and were previously vaccinated against the disease that kills 5-10 percent of victims.

On national television last week Teresa Forcades — a Benedictine nun, high-profile political activist and big pharma critic — publicly backed parents who opt-out of vaccine use, while content from the anti-vaccine movement has been promoted from the blogosphere to mainstream media.

While such groups have failed to generate hysteria in Spain, vaccine coverage is 3 percent lower than it was in 2002. This is concerning, as a continued downward trend would lead to a lack of herd immunity. Such immunity prevents outbreaks and protects many people who cannot be vaccinated, including newborns and those with immunodeficiencies.

Spain’s current vaccination coverage of 95 percent remains above the herd immunity threshold for measles, but only by a few percentage points. Lack of herd immunity among individuals aged under 35 is thought to have been a factor in the 2006-7 measles outbreak in Catalonia.

Those who refuse to vaccinate undermine herd immunity, and vaccination coverage plummets past thresholds when the media mismanages its role as moderator in the debate on jabs.

In 2002, the MMR vaccine was the most frequently reported on subject in Britain. That year, Tony and Cherie Blair declined to reveal whether or not they had inoculated their son — the MMR vaccine was under scrutiny in the media at the time due to a minor and fraudulent 1998 study that linked it to autism.

Inexpert journalists exploited layman’s level knowledge in their readership with stories that fed off health-related paranoia and political and celebrity intrigue.

Soon after the furore, MMR vaccination coverage in the U.K. hit a nadir of 80 percent, below the herd immunity threshold for measles, mumps or rubella. In 1998 there were 56 confirmed cases of measles in England and Wales. In 2008 there were 1,348. Out of all the news articles on MMR in 2002, less than a third pointed out that the safety of the jab was supported by overwhelming evidence.

A similar downturn in vaccination rates and subsequent disease outbreaks occurred in the 2000s in the U.S., where actress Jenny McCarthy and the medical research community were afforded equal footing by the media in the vaccine debate.

Irresponsible reporting triggered an incredible series of events in Chile between 2009 and 2014. Last year, Chile came close to being the only nation to ban by law vaccines containing the preservative thimerosal. Several parents of autistic children unsuccessfully sued the state over accusations the disorder was brought on by the mercury found in these shots, at odds with the scientific consensus. Riding the tide of sensationalist media coverage, two members of congress championed the families’ cause and drafted a bill aimed at outlawing the use of the vaccines.

The bill cited the effect of the toxicant methylmercury on humans. The catch is, thimerosal metabolizes in the body to ethylmercury, not methylmercury. The latter is toxic in low doses, the former isn’t. Interestingly, this detail was not widely reported on — what did catch the media’s attention was a portion of the bill that was copy and pasted from Yahoo Answers, presumably because this was seen as more embarrassing for the parliamentarians than basing the premise of their legislation on the effects of an irrelevant substance.

The “thimerosal bill” passed through both chambers of government, and only a presidential veto prevented it from becoming law.

The media in general is far from even-handed when it comes to the vaccine debate. Deaths that occur some time after a vaccine is administered are widely covered — medical examiners’ official cause of death reports are not. Profile pieces on the families of victims of rare and serious vaccine side effects are common — similar portrayals of parents watching their children succumb to, for example, measles encephalitis, are hard to come by.

There is no doubt that we need to monitor side effects and their frequency, as well as promote debate on vaccination policy and the conduct of pharmaceutical companies.

There is already a discussion underway in Spain on the merits of mandatory vaccination. Over the past week, a petition calling for the obligatory vaccination of children has gathered 111,000 signatures. Health Minister Alfonso Alonso came out against such a move on Thursday, saying vaccination should be promoted through medical recommendation rather than government mandate.

Such healthy discourse should be encouraged. We must remain aware, however, that this debate has on some occasions opened the door for the systematic exploitation of our greatest fears.


Should you ever kiss a nun?

This is not a question I ever expected to be asking myself. And yet, as I edge towards my fifth year in Barcelona, it is a question that has moved to the forefront of my mind, bringing together two of the key themes of my stay in the Catalan capital.

The first is kissing. In Spain, as you probably know, it is traditional to greet women with a kiss on each check. That sounds simple enough - certainly compared the the bewildering variety of cheek kissing combinations that different French regions offer - but has nevertheless raised a number of questions in my head.

The idea that I had formed over many years of visiting Spain is that you kiss all women on greeting. This seemed admirably simple when compared to the uncertainty around British greetings, where you never quite know if a handshake, air kiss, cheek kiss or even hug may be in order.

But the reality of the greeting kiss in Spain, as I have painfully discovered through years of misadventure, is a far more shaded experience, with ifs and buts and escape clauses littered liberally throughout.

Should I, for example, kiss my daughter’s playgroup teacher who I see every morning and night, I wondered? Yes, you might think: I know her well enough and we get along. But no, according to my Spanish girlfriend, who explained that there is an “if-you-see-them-every-day” sub clause to the kissing contract which dictates that it is a bit too much to kiss someone you see on a daily basis.

I thought I had grasped this. But it turns out there is actually an exception to this exception and you SHOULD, then, kiss someone you see everyday if you’re then not going to see them for a while (if, say, your child’s playgroup is about to go on Easter holidays).

OK: but what about for people in authority, for want of a better word? Should I, for example, kiss Ada Colau, the mayor-elect of Barcelona if introduced to her.

No. And - possibly you saw this coming - yes. 

It all depends on the context, apparently. If I were introduced to Ada Colau by a mutual friend in a casual context then a kiss would be the right option. But if we were to be introduced in a more formal setting then a handshake would be better. And if, I asked my girlfriend, I were to be introduced to Ada Colau by a mutual friend in a formal context, would I kiss her? 

No, she said, after a moment’s thought.

“How do you know this stuff?” I asked.

“I just do,” she replied. “It’s like British people knowing when to buy other people a drink.”

But how about a nun? Should you, I asked my girlfriend as we made our way to a social do at the local nunnery, kiss a nun when first introduced?

Maybe I should explain. In Britain I don’t think I met a nun in my whole 33 years there. Nor do you tend to see them around: nuns are less widespread in Protestant countries - a legacy of the first Protestant reformers - and only 45 women became nuns in England and Wales in 2014, up from just 15 in 2009. 

By contrast, in Spain some 400 young people became monks or nuns in 2013, some 76% of these women, joining one of more than 6,000 religious communities country wide.

It is little surprise, then, that nuns are far more prevalent on the streets of Barcelona than in London and I quickly became accustomed to seeing them pass by, friendly smiles on their faces, as they went around their daily business.

Even then, I was still slightly surprised when my girlfriend suggested we had check out a local nursery that was run by nuns as we looked for a place for our young son to spend his days. I didn’t have anything against nuns, of course. But I had little notion of what they do in their day-to-day business and the idea that they looked after children was unexpected.

In the end, we decided to go for the nun nursery and it proved an excellent decision. The nuns there - who work alongside “standard” (in the sense that they aren’t nuns) nursery teachers - are always brilliantly friendly, a serene look of calm on their faces that is hugely welcome to any parent that has spent half of the night wiping child’s vomit off their pyjamas. I’ve come to look forward greatly to my brief chats with them when I go to pick up my son.

But how on earth do you greet them? Is a kiss too overly friendly? A handshake too cold? These people spend seven hours a day with my baby son, after all, so I didn't want to mess this up.

In the end I went for a handshake. There’s no guidebook on etiquette in Spain to govern how you should greet a nun. But if my ever-informed girlfriend is in the right, then men should shake nuns’ hands in greeting while women who know them well can give them a kiss on each cheek. And in the end, that felt about right.

So there is one conundrum of Spanish life conquered. Give me another five years and I’ll get onto the rest.

(NB should I be wrong on my kissing etiquette, then please do let me know in the comments.)

"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 


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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