Struggling with Spain

Pritpal S Tamber

July 10, 2017

I can't quite put my finger on it but there something - something! - that I struggle with in the country

I’ve always struggled with Spain.

I can’t quite put my finger on it but there’s something about the country that I’ve always struggled to connect with. Friends constantly urge me to try harder, try again, enter the relationship with a more open mind, but somehow Spain sits outside me.

It’s me, perhaps. Growing up, Spain was where the wealthy kids went during school holidays. It was a place always out of reach, a place from which the girls returned golden and the boys full of stories (those kinds of stories). My summer holidays were spent in my father’s factory, free labour helping to reduce the cost of production, enabling us a deeper foothold out of economic precariousness. Perhaps I bred some resentment from those days. Perhaps Spain represents what I felt I could never have.

There’s more, though. I’ve come to Spain a few times now (and it’s where I’m writing from), mainly for work. We Londoners are an impatient lot, and Spain tries one’s work patience with expertise. It’s their way or no way, that’s how I’d characterise it. Perhaps they’re right. It’s their country, after all. But London does not demand an English way, it enables an international one (most people who think London too English have never seen England beyond London). In Spain, there is only one way – theirs. No compromise. Even when it makes no sense.

Even as I write this I know that it’s wrong. But there’s something, something that makes this country harder for me than it needs to be. I can’t quite put my finger on it but it’s not something I’ve sensed in Italy, Germany, Serbia, Slovenia, Latvia or the many other European countries I’ve enjoyed. Perhaps I’ve sensed it a little in Portugal. Perhaps. Maybe there’s an Iberian vibe that I struggle with.

I’m aware there’s a lot of racism in this country. When the national football coach can casually racially abuse black footballer, Thierry Henry, as a way to motivate his players, you know there is something engrained in the national psyche that’s yet to be worked through. That may have been 12 years ago, but tell that to footballer, Pape Diop, who endured monkey chants only three years ago. Monkey chants. During an actual game. Televised and everything.

So, is this a race thing? Not entirely, but the race thing is definitely part of it. It’s similar to how I feel about the French and the way they still talk about their colonies as part of France. I guess I’ve come to accept the British way of referring to colonies – separate but part of something greater (if only by description). There’s something baffling – that’s the only word I can think of – about hearing a French person call Algeria ‘France’ – and without any hint of irony.

Anyway, let’s not get started on the French.

Suffice to say that something gnaws at me here in Spain. Whether it’s resentment from my school days, the inflexibility, the racism, or some cocktail of all three, something keeps the country outside of me. I love being a European (whether in the EU or otherwise) but Spain and I are unlikely to ever become friends. I doubt any Spaniard is going to lose any sleep over that statement but it seems a sad thing to say ‘out loud’.

Pritpal S Tamber

I'm an independent writer, researcher and consultant focussing on community health and medical information. I'm a former physician, medical editor and medical publisher, and also the former Physician Editor of TEDMED. I began my career at The BMJ. For more information, see the About page.

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