Saturday, December 17, 2011
From My Freetime Above the Atlantic Ocean, The Non-Redemptive Story Ar
I'm here on the flight that is taking me back to the United States. My time in Spain has concluded, and I'm walking away having enjoyed the experience of it. It's a beautiful place with beautiful people and a culture that I should have liked to been further immersed into. But, as life goes, I am taking my leave.
I've mentioned in previous posts this idea of the "non-redemptive story arc" that to some degree effects a lot of aspects of Spanish culture. It's been a journey to formulate it, but here goes. What I mean by that phrase is that we in the United States have a very redemptive story arc, as a nation. Since the Industrial Resolution, (save for the hiccup of the Great Depression) we've always understood ourselves in a positive light. World Wars I and II saw us going in and fighting apparent evil, liberating nations. Vietnam, while ultimately unsuccessful, and Desert Storm were the effort to free the world from tyrants and dictatorship and communism. We've always been the good guys in our own eyes (until recently.) American production and research have far bypassed all other nations historically. We were the first to put men on the moon for goodness' sake. Our Civil Rights movement, women's suffrage, emancipation of slaves, all have taken place before other nations. We've lead. Because of that, I was raised to respect America, to fight for American principles and to see myself as "American." My upbringing wasn't an indoctrination or totalitarian in this regard, but the United States of America has been something to respect and admire and we were taught to be proud to be a part of it. I still hold to that. I believe that we're headed in some dangerous directions in the way of our economic, consumptive, and military thinking. But, I still believe it to be a real blessing to be American, as I think it's the greatest nation from which to hail.
Now, I say all of this as a precursor to the following explanation of the climate of Spain as a nation. I had a wonderful conversation with my (Spanish) friend Miriam, which helped me to understand their background a bit more. Spain, as a nation, has a non-redemptive story arc. Inquisitions, crusades, invasions, bad kings, totalitarian dictators, fascist regimes, civil war, etc., have given Spaniards a very plausible reason to not trust their government, to not proudly participate in the Spanish nationalism (it's faux pax to wear Spanish flag clothing or to say "Viva España" or anything of the sort.) It's understandable. And, historically, it holds true that Spaniards don't primarily identify themselves as Spaniards. They identify themselves first with their family. The family you come from is the most important characteristic by which one is identified. It is why Spanish women don't change their names when they get married so as to preserve their own family name. In addition to their family is their friends, their boyfriends/girlfriends, and their community as a whole. Basically, they identify themselves by their relationships. Second is by Comunidad Autonomo, which is the equivalent of our States; all of which are very distinct, some of which having their own language, and were originally their own autonomous kingdoms. Thirdly is as citizens of the nation of Spain. It comes very far down the list. The argument can be made that Americans still identify with their family over their nation, but no one would call themselves a "Missourian" or a "Virginian" before they called themselves an "American."
This point might not be too surprising, but it is the implications of which that i am primarily concerned. The one thing that is inevitably noticed after time living in Spain is the lower productivity. I do not at all mean that in a negative way, it's just to say that we in the United States are entirely more productive. Too productive, I'd say. Our lives are committed to work; not to relationships, not to the advancement of society, but to work. Take the siesta for example. First off, it is no untrue stereotype, this "siesta." Spaniards take at least two hours in the middle of their day for lunch, coffee, meet-ups with friends, etc. The city shuts down from 2:00 pm to 4:30 pm, give or take. That would never happen in the United States, simply because of the lack of productivity of it. But, as my friend Miriam put it, no where in the States will a barista at a cafe know the entire family history of all of their clients. That is the emphasis; conversation and relationship. There is not a strong sense of obligation for contribution to the overall wealth and productivity of Spanish industry. Spaniards don't look at work as an opportunity to be a part of a big, successful national production system. And it's felt by the lack of customer conveniences. It's reflected in standard business hours. It's reflected in how long it takes to buy something at the corner stores. For example, there this beautiful Cloister near the San Martin Catholic Church in Salamanca. The nuns there are famous for their baking of traditional Spanish cookies. I went in to the storefront that they run during the very specific hours of 10:30am to 12:30 pm and from 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm to buy some Mazapan to bring back with me. I was there for fifteen minutes, talking to an older Nun about my studies, about my Spanish, about my experience in Salamanca. She looked about in her 70's and used the "usted" form and was infinitely interested in the details of my life. It was pleasant. Usually, that interaction in the States is to walk in to the store, grab what you want, pay, and walk out, all the while hoping there's no lull in the business transaction where you have to make boring conversation about the weather or Tim Tebow or something.
But, it's a alternatively placed identity that makes Spain stand out. And, no. It's not productive. Spain will never be a major industrial leader in the world. But, when compared to the stifling loneliness of a entirely productive, yet relationally devoid and individualistic lifestyle, why should they be? There are certainly economic problems that come from the system in place, especially when competing with nations like Germany or China or the U.S. So, Spain has not found the answer by any means. This national non-redemptive story arc weaves its way through different aspects of Spanish life, we shall see where it takes them. I, for one, am rooting for Spain.