Cultural Viewpoints

Living in Spain, one of the first words you are likely to learn (one they don’t teach on any Spanish course in the UK) is guiri. This slang word for ‘foreigner’ (but only those foreigners who come from affluent countries) is the one normally used to refer to those of us who live in Spain as well as to turistas. It’s not really meant to be derogatory. Less flattering epithets like moro are reserved for the inmigrantes from Morocco and sub-Saharan Africa, while those from Ecuador and South America may be referred to as sudacos. Because these extranjeros are seen as poorer, they are not generally regarded with the same tolerant amusement as the guiris. I don’t mind being recognised as a guiri, though I do object to being taken for a tourist.

In Granada, where Secrets of the Pomegranate is set, most of us resident guiris are, like Deborah, well integrated. I think this is inevitable in a city, whereas on the coast or in some urbanisations, such as those based around golf courses, the foreign community is more isolated. They may consider themselves ‘ex-pats’ – a word that makes me cringe.

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Living in a foreign country is very different from being there as a tourist. After a few years you forget certain things about your birth country and take for granted the ways things are done in your adopted country. Often you only notice when you have visitors from abroad or you go back to your country of origin. The divergence in how a resident and a visitor view Spanish ways is very apparent in the novel. Deborah has lived in Granada for nearly twenty years while Alice has only holidayed there from time to time as her sister’s guest and doesn’t speak Spanish. Surface appearances can be deceptive and without speaking the language, it is difficult to penetrate the subtleties and complexities of another culture. Both sisters feel irritated at times by the other’s failure to understand her viewpoint.

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Although it is often visitors to Granada who are more wholehearted in their enthusiasm while residents tend towards a more balanced view, in the timeframe of the novel, with Alice’s anxiety about her sister dominating, it is she who takes a negative view while Deborah (through her diary) is seen to react in a far more positive way, especially in her early days in Granada. The sisters’ character differences are, of course, also a factor. Deborah is more adventurous, unafraid to embrace challenge and take risks. She is fiery and rather unpredictable. Alice is steadier and more cautious; often fearful of the unknown. But many of their differences in perception are due to their positions inside or outside the culture.

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Between guiris a kind of mixed English/Spanish is common currency. Even when you’re communicating in English, certain Spanish words seem to creep in and are universally used. To give a few examples that appear in the book:  fijo rather than ‘landline’ – a word I struggle to remember – or salón rather than ‘living room’, horario rather than ‘timetable’. Talking of horarios, the difference between Spain and northern Europe is one that visitors take time to understand but that once you live here you very quickly adjust to. Getting up later, going to bed later, eating later, having your main meal at mediodía, which is not midday as in 12 o’clock but between 2 and 4pm (workers do get a breakfast break to keep them going) and eating very lightly at night. It’s quite normal for music gigs to start at 11 or 12 at night; for the streets to be more populated at 4am than 4pm, siesta time.

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Attitudes to privacy and personal space, to showing affection by touching and kissing (not just family but friends, strangers, your doctor, your hairdresser, your children’s teacher…); punctuality, spontaneity, the level of tolerance to noise… All these are aspects of the lifestyle that differentiate Spain and Britain and can make them seem a world apart. Deborah has long ceased to notice but for Alice, beset by fears and insecurities in addition to her grief over her sister, these differences along with the language barrier contribute to her sense of alienation.

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