Keep calm dear, you’re in Spain

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KEEP COOL: Santiago Carrillo.

THE books I read and the movies I saw as a kid gave me the impression that Spaniards, indeed all Latinos, were hot-headed and fiery-tempered.

Frequent visits to Spain later convinced me that nothing could be further from reality.

I got into a conversation about the Spanish temperament when a visitor to Benidorm questioned me about my decision to settle here eight years ago.

He wanted to know how I managed to adapt to life among ‘foreigners’.

“Most of them are OK,” I replied, “but I prefer living alongside the Spanish.”

I was parroting something I’d said to others who asked the same question. Usually, the penny drops immediately, but at other times I’ve had to explain that “YOU will be the foreigner (extranjero), and it’s your choice whether you integrate or live in an expatriate bubble of ignorance as far too many choose to do.”

His next question was “so, what do you like about the Spanish?”

I replied it was their calmness, and pointed out that since moving here I have only seen only one street fight.

It was between two old geezers in their 80s and it was sparked by dog poo.

When one failed to bag up his dog’s excrement on a seafront walkway, the other, strolling behind, scooped it up with a paper napkin, seized the pooch’s owner, and ground the mess into one of his hands. All hell broke loose.

The poodle looked on with mild amusement. I can cite numerous instances of Spanish tranquillity that would profoundly irritate Brits or Americans, but my favourite was the example set by Santiago Carrillo, leader of Spain’s Communist Party, almost 40 years ago.

On February 23, 1981, around 200 Guardia Civil, in a failed plot to overthrow the government, burst into the Spanish parliament brandishing sub-machine guns.

They fired bullets into the ceiling and ordered MPs to lie on the ground.

Carrillo refused; he remained seated and calmly lit a cigarette. Carrillo died in 2012 aged 97, suggesting that seven decades of chain-smoking, combined with a determination to always keep cool, might well be the answer to a long and productive life.

He attributed his iron constitution to the advice given him in Moscow in 1936 to take an aspirin every day.

The Englishman grilling me then asked whether there was anything in the Spanish make up that ever got up my nose.

“Sure, several things but mainly the fact that sometimes their tranquillity is enough to make me hurl a brick through a stained-glass window.”

Case in question: on a hot July day last year, sweating like a sinner in church, I boarded a crowded bus. I was in a desperate hurry to get to my bank before it shut. As I was the last passenger to board, I assumed that we would set off immediately. No. One other person at the bus stop shouted to the driver to wait until he’d finished the cigarette he’d just lit.

The driver said “vale, tranquillo”, turned on a football broadcast and waited ‘til the fellow had finished his fag.

In any other country, passengers in a sauna on wheels would have gone ballistic and pelted the driver with anything that came to hand, but no one batted an eyelid.

That said, I was hugely thankful a few weeks later for this ‘tranquillidad.’

I spotted a bus a few hundred yards up the road and sprinted to try and board it before it made off (it was the last one of the evening and I was anxious to get home to walk the dogs.)

To my relief, the driver, with the longest dreadlocks I’d ever seen outside of Brixton, was standing in the street, nonchalantly dragging on a spliff.

“Tranquillo,” he said, flashing me a brilliantly white smile, then, when we boarded, he asked what music I would like him to play.

All I could think of was the Stereophonic’s 2009 number ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’.

He’d never heard of it, so instead I was treated to 15 minutes of Bob Marley.

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