In this true story, I will leave out the name of a certain Spaniard to protect her (and me). Although, I’m pretty sure she’s not one of the 8 people who read this blog.
The other day I had a conversation that went something like this:
Me: Hey! How was your birthday?
Anonymous Spaniard: It was pretty good, except I got kind of sad when I was eating dinner at my parents’ house.
Me: Why’s that?
AS: Because the neighbors downstairs were fighting, and we could hear the father hitting the wife and his kids.
Me, shocked: What did you do?!?
AS: Well, we didn’t know what to do because this happens a lot. And we didn’t want to go down there to say something because he could have started hitting us, too!
Me: Did you call the police?
AS: No. We talked to our other neighbor and she went down there and said something.
Me: Oh. And then you called the police?
AS: No. Then the dad left (he was drunk.) And the mom and the girls went to go stay at the mom’s sister’s house.
Me: But how long will they be able to stay there?! You really should have called the police.
AS: Nah. Calling the police just turns it into a hassle.
Me: …… (mouth gaping)
AS: It was horrible, though! You should have heard the nasty things the daughter was calling her dad. Very unpleasant. I mean, he was HITTING her and her mom, but still. Then, when they left, they left the dog in the entryway of the building! She was so scared and whining and I felt really sorry for it, I didn’t know what to do.
Me: Um..yeah. Poor dog?
This conversation left me absolutely baffled. It’s funny how you can know someone really well, think that you’re not all that different, and then discover that there are some major, internal cultural differences between the two of you.
It’s not anonymous Spaniard’s fault that she and her family didn’t want to get the police involved in the domestic dispute. Spain’s culture is much different than ours. For example, when Franco was in power (until about 1975) domestic violence was not even illegal.
In fact, women weren’t allowed to have a passport, sign a contract, or open a bank account without their husband or father’s permission. The place for women was in the home to raise the children. In fact, Franco’s rule relied on three pillars: Country, Family, and Religion. Therefore, divorce was also illegal in Spain until 1981.
Spain is working hard to change these things, now, though. The current president, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has been quoted as saying that he is not just against macho-ism, but he is actually a feminist. He also said, “The most unfair domination is that of one half of humanity over the other. The more equality women will have, the more civilized and tolerant society will be.”
And he has taken action to make equality a reality in Spain. Today, the Spanish cabinet has nine women alongside eight men, and women make up one-fifth of the army. Laws have been passed in order to help women even further: There is the “40% rule” which prohibits any political party from having men or women make up more than 60% of the candidates, and demands that any company negotiating for public funding has women make up 40% of its board of directors.
He also has tried to start a hotline for men who feel like they might want to hit their wives (yes, Spaniards think that’s stupid too) and has tried to impose a law that forces all couples to share 50% of household duties (impossible, but a nice idea.)
Even so, on average one woman a week dies as a result of domestic violence in Spain. A big difference now, though, is that the deaths get tons of negative media attention in hopes of changing this part of the culture.
The other night, I was out at a karaoke bar with some of my American friends. Let me say this: Spain really should think about making music classes mandatory in schools, because most Spaniards are HORRIBLE singers. AND they ignore the cardinal karaoke rules:
1. Sing a song that you can sing well. OR
2. Sing a song that is fun for everyone to sing along with (so it doesn’t matter if you sing it poorly).
At any rate, there we are listening to some horrible singing, when I begin talking to a group of three Spanish guys. We were keeping the conversation light, things like “Karaoke is so fun!” and “What song do you think I should sing?” When suddenly, they turned to me and said:
“Hey. What do you think about Franco? Good or bad?”
I thought for a minute because, honestly, I have very neutral feelings for him. I know that might seem weird from an American perspective–neutral feelings for a dictator. But I just don’t have the energy to dislike someone whose time has passed. But, since they were asking for my solid opinion in my drunken karaoke haze, I decidedly said:
And they smiled evil little smiles and asked me why I thought that.
I calmly explained the lack of women’s rights that occurred under Franco’s rule. To which they said everything I had learned was all a lie. But then they backtracked and said, “Look. That was a long time ago! Women in other countries were still trying to earn the right to vote at that time. And, it wasn’t that long ago that black people couldn’t vote in the U.S.!”
“True.” I said. “But before Franco, in the 1930s under the first republic, women had the right to vote in Spain.”
They told me that was a lie. Then the taller one said, “When Franco was in power, we didn’t have a problem with the birthrate. There was less crime, and a better family life. And there were no [insert gay expletive here.]”
So, now I was really impressed. Nothing turns me on more than men that use gay expletives. I had no interest in fighting with these guys. All I know about Franco are the things I’ve been taught, and I was in no mood to defend the legitimacy of the information I had been given. Fortunately, everyone I was with had decided to leave the karaoke bar at that very moment.
To close off the conversation I finally said, “One other reason I think Franco was bad is because I’m not that into religion. I think it can have bad effects on people.” They looked shocked and said to each other, “She doesn’t like religion!?” And I think that’s when they realized we had absolutely nothing in common; except our love for karaoke.
And then I left.
Spain is a country that has made big changes in a small amount of time, and it shows in the culture and day-to-day life. Spain is still a new democracy, finding its footing and doing its best. It’s fascinating to experience.