Tuesday, January 19, 2010

More Observations

It's been so dreary the last couple of days so we haven't been outside as much as we would all like. This kind of weather has always made me blue, lethargic and mopey - I'm a ton of fun right now. All it takes, though, is one sunny day and I'm back to normal. The other night we met up with my old friend Nick who lives in Barcelona and was in town on business. We had dinner at a little cafe that specializes in Galician food, which as far as I could tell wasn't all that different from what would be served in any Madrid cafe. We shared tapas and ate pan-fried pulpo, calamari, a meat dish, patatas bravas, a dessert plate and washed it all down with a delicious white wine that was served in porcelain little bowls - evidently that's traditional of Galicia. Nick is English and his friend is a Spanish national raised in London. During after dinner drinks we got onto the tricky subject of class. I'm completely unqualified to make any kind of sweeping assessments regarding a perceived Spanish class system, but I have made some observations that I'll note here. Most notably, individual immigrant groups seem relegated to work specific jobs. For instance, I only ever see Chinese people working in their own all-purpose market, at Chinese restaurants or at night as street vendors selling wares (beer, snacks) from their market. In fact, these Chinese-owned markets are so pervasive and so typically owned by the Chinese that the Spanish call them simlpy "los Chinos". There are two types of markets owned by Chinese families, the little food market type and the bazaar, everything-under-the-sun type. There are at least 10 of these within a 5-minute walking radius of our house. The first time someone directed me to go to "los chinos" I was shocked and immediately made a judgement and even though it still makes me cringe, I realize that in the mind of a Spaniard it's an accurate description and not even perpetuating a stereotype since almost 100 percent of these types of markets are actually Chinese-owned. South American women seem to be relegated to childcare. At the park during the day, they all gather and chat and let the babies roam around. They're called "chicas" - the girls. I realize that when I'm with my blue-eyed Brodie I must look like a "chica" - until I yell at her like only a mother would. ;-) Nick's friend said that there's a prestige in having a Spanish chica over a South American. O-kaaay. Then there are the African immigrant men. These guys are typically selling pirate cds, dvds and fake designer bags. Finally, I've noticed that most porters are Spanish. Porters generally maintain and clean the building and in the case of ours, Paco, serve as a point of complaint about all your mean neighbors. I've noticed that all the porters on our street look like they could be sitting behind a desk at any bank or office doing white-collar work. They're always dressed nicely and just seem to take a general pride in their work. When I pointed this out to a Spaniard, he again said that it's a point of pride to a building's tenants to have a Spanish person in this job. I'm not drawing any conclusions, I'm just saying....Anyway, I point these groups out not because I don't think they work in other types of jobs, I know they must. But in these SPECIFIC jobs you will never see (at least I haven't) a person of another immigrant group doing that job. For instance, I've never, ever seen one of the alimentacion markets run by anything but a Chinese person. I've never, ever seen a Chinese person or a person of any other nationality or ethnic group selling pirate cds, etc. So there it is. And, no joke, the sun just came out - must go chase it.


  1. This sunset photo was taken by Kyle on Sunday at a park about 15 minutes from our house.

  2. Some of this sounds most familiar to me - in Costa Rica, it's Nicaraguans who have "certain types" of jobs, usually those that Ticos won't do. And referring to people by race/ethnicity/physical characteristics is common and not offensive/any big deal. People call JP's mom la chinita all the time.
    - L