Summer in the city

August in Barcelona feels like it’s three months long: muggy, still days with the sun burning into the evening hours, until it finally relents and turns into the most gorgeous evening light you have ever seen. A glimmering soft pink that is a photographers dream, hanging in the air for far longer than should possible, making you check your watch over and over to see if time has actually slowed.

Laundry takes ages to dry in the humidity, unless you are lucky enough to live high enough that your clothes hanging off your balcony get a few hours of direct sunlight. Each day is much like the next, hot and as slow as the street cleaners shuffling off to a bit of shade for a siesta. I work in the mornings, then later take dips in the buoyant Mediterranean, too salty to hold in your mouth but far more easy to float on than the Pacific Ocean, to periodically cool off while slowly broiling on the beach. Or I find some shade in the park and swat at the bugs while I read. It’s far too hot to bike ride, other than to get somewhere to cool off, until the sun is close to setting, which seemingly takes hours for it to do.

I feel like the fact that I even go to work makes me strange. My friends have weeks and weeks of time off. Half the businesses are closed for nearly the whole month, and shorter work hours are in place for those businesses that remain open, if it wasn’t for the hoards of tourists week to week, the city would feel empty.  This is when all the Spaniards leave the city and go spend the month at their small cabins on the Costa Brava and the expats residents, like me, go home for a  visit.  Which is what I want to do, should be doing – but work prevents me from taking enough time off to make the expensive and extremely long flight worthwhile.

So this summer I walked through the streets, studying the “closed for August” signs and wondering where these people might spend each August, and where I might spend mine next year.

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Open letter to squatters who took over the building in the plaza near where I live

Dear squatters who took over the building in the plaza near where I live,

I have a few bones to pick with you.

First, I know you think you are making a statement by breaking into and occupying private property. I know this because I actually dated a few boys who squatted when I went to University in England oh so very long ago. I thought they were cool and edgy and sometimes I even stayed in them with said boyfriends and the rest of the punk rockers or otherwise who lived in such establishments. I can forgive the old me for these beliefs and actions because I was 17 and liberal and, it goes without saying, ignorant. Sure, many of you may be in your early or mid twenties, but more than a handful of you appear to be well beyond that.

I understand the feelings of camaraderie and maybe even power of a group that believes it is “beating the system”. But you guys, you are too old for this. You don’t even have any system here to beat. The state gives you money every month even though you have never had a job in your life (at least not that you told the government about) and your healthcare (albeit at standards far too low for my taste) is free. You will also get retirement money, having never paid taxes in your life. It won’t be much but enough to buy that nasty beer I always see you drinking and the occasional baguette.

You can steal electricity and water and even hang your laundry out so that we see you actually DO laundry, but the entire neighborhood still thinks that you are dirty and an eyesore and are pissed that you just lowered their property value by hanging your ridiculous signs off your balconies. Like any of us in the neighborhood give a shit what you think you stand for. We see all the booze bottles and trash piled outside your doors every day.

Second. A word about your adopted hair-dos. I know you believe you are being edgy with the business in the front, party in the back hair-dos, but I hate to break it to you (OK that’s a lie, I’ve been dying to tell every single one of you this) but mullets are not progressive. You did not invent this hair do. The Germans have embraced this contemptible look for nearly 30 years. Mullets are, in fact, passe. They have had their heyday, and just because you were little kids during it’s near decade in the spotlight, you can’t lay claim.

Oh sure, you fancy them up by making them more disgusting than a straightforward, brushable shag by adding dreadlocks to the party in the back. Sometimes, you only have a clump growing out of the middle of the back of your head. I have to tell you that either way, the dirty clumps of hair sprouting out the back of your cranium resemble sprouting long, uncoiled poops. Hiding beads and metal bits in the them does not distinguish from plain old poop coming out of the back of your head, it just adds to the effect.

And that is really all the time I have for you.

Sincerely, Me.

Edit: here is a shining example of the hair style in this post…

And here is a spy shot I took while waiting in line at the market of one the squatters nasty feet:

The current rage in “lifestyle design” blogs

Is anyone else sick of the hundreds of blogs out there that are about “How I made six figures by quitting my job and doing what I love”?(Variations of this theme include: living simply, remote working, be your own boss, etc.)?  The dude who over enthusiastically proclaims his office is the beach in Brazil/Mexico/Asia/Indonesia and how YOU TOO can quit your job and build a blog and hit the road just like him and, oh yeah, make a hundred grand a year writing about nothing.

I am not talking about running an actual virtual business or remote worker – last year I worked remotely and as long as I had an internet connection, I could (and did) work from anywhere, which allowed me to live where I wanted and travel when I wanted and blah blah like all these guys blather on about. These blogs don’t actually have any business behind them-they are just selling themselves!

For example, the writers who create “Live your dream” blogs where their dream is to work for themselves, living where they like and traveling when they want, with no other aim. So essentially, they write about how to quit your job and make six figures, going on and on about how free they are and where they travel… by blogging about quitting their job and writing about it online.  It’s way too circular, and the community of people writing them, all of whom must be commenting and guest posting on each others sites to get the kind of traffic they do, won’t be able to support itself with the circular argument that most of the location independent lifestyle are spouting.

In fact, I think it might be getting harder already, as some of these blogs are resorting to annoying hard sell tactics to sign up for their newsletters about nothing, download their buzz word filled ebooks, sign up for their online or email courses, with headlines like “How to Live Anywhere & experience Ridiculously Extraordinary Freedom”, pop ups, long and detailed posts about dollars made each day/week/month through passive income they allegedly make…by describing what you are experiencing yourself on their site and how to set that up for yourself and generate the traffic to generate the “six figures” they are pulling in…

Certainly the next generation in the US, and even the current generation in the workforce over the next decade, will not be able to support themselves in this manner, because everyone will know about SEO and Adsense and link building to their blog. The workplace is changing, and while it may be a brave new world for some of us, it won’t be for those growing up in the internet age. And then this strange phenomenon of self reflected blogging about basically nothing to get ad traffic and trackback links will settling itself into the history of the beginning of this century, for us to remember fondly as a short lived way to make easy money.

This phenomenon has not yet hit Spain, and I doubt it ever will. Americans are fiercely independent and working for yourself is held in very high esteem. The culture here does not regard “working for the man” as necessarily a bad thing, especially not when you get a full month of vacation (which employers are required by law to give you), plus 14 paid holidays a year, the average working day like I talked about in this post, which changes in the summer to an abridged work schedule called horario intensivo, where employees work non-stop from around 8:00 or 9:00 until 15:00, not to mention something like a year’s full pay if you get laid off. Plus, if you work for yourself, you have to pay far more into the social security system than someone paid by an employer. AND – if you have two business entities, you have to pay the SS tax twice each month! It is kind of ridiculous actually, and also why there are not so many entrepreneurs here…and not a lot of people clamoring for ways to break free from the clutches of working for someone else.

So I kind of digressed into left field from my original rant-like post. Just for giggles, google location independent lifestyle and have a look at some of preposterous headlines and shameless self promotion that seem ever more like those of pyramid schemes.In fact, you might agree that the tactics are designed to appeal to just the kind of people who will enviously compare their cubicle life to the blog-dudes beach fren, most likely, never achieve the lifestyle dream these sites are selling.

Pet peeve or despicable rudeness?

So called pet peeves are annoyances that are particularly bothersome to an individual, but that seem acceptable to others. But is it still considered a pet peeve if it involves disrespect, poor manners or poor personal hygiene? I mean how can you call your stomach churning when a coworker or teacher leans over your shoulder and breathes their nasty, rotten smokers mouth into your nostrils a pet peeve? (You know the kind-that 3 pack a day, rotting gum smokers breath). Or that fact that you find people cutting you off mid sentence incredibly rude? Or when someone asks you a question that you thoughtfully and carefully answer to discover the person had no interest in an actual answer and didn’t listen to a word you said? Are those pet peeves – or can you be justifiably annoyed with what is actually rude behavior?

I am going to argue against my own feelings that these are examples of rude behavior and say that these are pet peeves – because while many North Americans might find these things incredibly disrespectful, they are are totally acceptable elsewhere.

For example, personal space. We North Americans (and others out of Anglo Saxon origins) hold our personal space sacred. Mediterranean Europeans are much more physical.  They stand closer, speak closer and touch each other more, hug and kiss and shake hands with perfect strangers, and God forbid you expect an Anglo Saxon to adjust to personal space norms in a place like Brazil, which is even closer than southern Europe. The touching and closeness is a very human way to be and can be looked at as group inclusiveness, which we all have a strong need for.  But the downside is that outside of greeting and chatting and having the closeness directed kindly at you, it is taken for granted that involuntary touching, bumping and even pushing is nothing that needs to be avoided.

People barge right past you here without so much as an “excuse me” or “may I pass?” or even “sorry!” In fact most people refuse to move aside from your trajectory, either forcing you off the sidewalk, into an oncoming group of people or, if you hold your line and do what they do, which is not move out of the way, bump right into you and brush/elbow their way through the crowd without so much as an acknowledgement. When I first moved here, I thought this was because Spaniards were horribly rude. The ricocheting off other people, couple with not smiling at strangers (a blank stare or look up and down is normal – which I have adopted, but that is another story) made me feel like I was in a sea of angry, bitter people who just didn’t give a crap who they mowed over to get where they wanted to go.

But… while the people who walk three or four wide on a sidewalk, essentially taking up the whole damn thing – this is super common with the older ladies here who even link arms to fully block any passage from behind- still makes me want to scream, shoving my way through a crowd can be liberating when I get in the right frame of mind. You see,  no one cares here if you whack them with your bag, elbow them aside, or shove them ever so gently so you can pass while they stand in the path of traffic. It is expected. So when you do let out a little aggression on one of the seven burly dudes coming at you, maybe leaning into one of them a little too firmly with the shoulder, well, they don’t care. No one ever turns around and says “hey buddy, watch who you are shoving”. They just keep chatting and lean into it along with you.

OK, I realize that may not be the best example – it’s  a cultural thing that may be considered rude or normal, depending on from whence you hail, though it is unlikely to be considered a pet peeve by anyone. But I included it here because 1) it’s entertaining 2) it goes along with the theme of  “one man’s inconsiderateness is another man’s normal behavior”. I’ll put myself in the spotlight next.

I know that I drive some people crazy because I speak so softly. I know this because people frequently say ‘what?’ to me after I say something. Or they more rudely might ask “are you talking to yourself?” or even “what are you mumbling?” which leads me to believe that they might be a tad annoyed. One would logically assume that I would just talk louder, but I really do have a quiet-ish voice and to project it takes a lot of effort. After a couple of hours of speaking at a level that, to me, is loud, I am exhausted. It’s like singing to an audience for hours. Add to it that my hearing is really sensitive –  a lot of times it seems to me like people are yelling when they are speaking – and you have got yourself someone who isn’t going to change her quiet world for the sake of everybody else, especially not for the assholes who ask me what I am mumbling instead of just saying they didn’t hear me. Ironically, I have met other people who speak really low or, yes, mumble, and guess what? I find it annoying, though not enough to maintain pet peeve status.

Outside of the misuse of their, they’re and there, my biggest peeve has to be when someone talks over me. You know like when you are talking or finishing a sentence and someone just starts talking? So you either stop or speak louder to drown them out? Turns out either way you lose, because then you are so annoyed you’re no longer thinking about the subject but how the person just cut you off mid sentence. Well guess what? Talking over someone is totally acceptable in certain places too. Anglo Saxons wait for each other to finish before speaking, and take turns holding the floor. Mediterraneans generally just talk as the thoughts occur and speaking at the same time is totally acceptable. Man, the reality TV here is incomprehensible, with 5 to 10 people frequently talking (or yelling,I am not sure which since a lot of talking sounds like yelling to me) over each other for up to three minute stretches. I personally don’t think this makes for good TV, but I don’t think anyone cares because TV here sucks.

So my point with all of this is – you can’t take things at face value when you are in a place you are unaccustomed to. This seems obvious, but until you understand why you consider something unacceptable, you might just write off a place or a people before you really know it.