Thursday, April 5, 2007

Spain: danger, sidewalks!

In spite of my previous “kind elderly lady story,” Angela and I did not received immense amounts of hospitality in Spain. Rather, to the contrary; I have never encountered such poor customer service in my life—across the board. Every soingle place we went, the cashier seemed even more irritated at our interrupting his or her dayto make a purchase than the last. Maybe it was our initial inability to speak perfect Spanish, but I swear that the waiters and waitresses we had acted annoyed with us before we even opened our mouths. Americans are condemned for our capitalistic ways (seen as greedy and money-hungry, I have discovered), but at least we treat customers nicely for giving us their money. The idea is to make customers feel good so that they will return and give your store/restaurant/etc. more money. I wouldn’t go back to a single one of these places, I was treated with such disrespect!

Perhaps a lack of personal courtesy is the way of life in Spain, though, because sidewalks in that country are more dangerous than those in New York City. People make no bones about bumping into you or pushing you out of their way, whether or not they are in a hurry. Meanwhile, they have no concern for getting out of your way, no matter if you try saying excuse me or make it very apparent that you are trying to get around them. Walking three, four, even five abreast, the concept of forming a single-file line when approaching oncoming pedestrians must be foreign to Spaniards, because no one follows that unwritten law. I brace myself every time I approach a crowd, now. It’s like constantly playing the childhood game Red Rover: crash through the opponent’s line or you lose!

I found the most dangerous sidewalks to be located in Madrid and Barcelona. However, this was not due to the most obvious, logical the reason one might assume: the fact that because they are the two major cities that we visited, they were the most crowded. Instead, two other factors made these cities’ sidewalks particularly dangerous: cobblestones and rain, respectively.

In Madrid, all of the sidewalks were made of what one might call cobblestones or cement tiles. This in itself would not have been problematic, had the streets appeared distinctly differentiated, the way I am accustomed to streets appearing: made of black asphalt, with one or two yellow stripes running down the center. Rather, the streets in Madrid were simply continuations of the sidewalks, made of exactly the same materials. What’s more, there were no curbs to separate the cars’ territory from that of the pedestrians; usually, a few widely-spaced knee-high black poles stuck in ground hinted at that invisible border. In effect, Angela and I often wandered into harm’s way while reading maps, looking for streets signs, and gazing into shop windows and now owe each other our lives several times over.

Walking among Spanish pedestrians is dangerous to begin with, as I noted earlier in their refusal to yield to fellow sidewalk-ers. Walking among Spanish pedestrians in the rain is even more dangerous. For all the sun we enjoyed in Madrid, we received equal measures of rain in Valencia and Barcelona. When weaving in and out among stubborn Spaniards who refused to give up their positions on the pavement in these cities, I encountered another hazard by this refusal to yield: because the Spanish population seems to be, on average, about two to three inches shorter than the American population and because I am at the higher end of the American height spectrum, all of the unyielding Spaniards’ umbrella spokes jutted out at just the most perilous altitude: right at eye level. Fortunately, I have had a great deal of experience avoiding precisely this hazard ever since grade school, when I towered above that population, so I ducked a dodged my way through and have returned to Brighton unscathed, determined that on my next trip out of the UK, I will remember to pack my own umbrella.

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