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.