Having married into a Spanish family (or more specifically Catalan) over ten years ago, I have long been aware of the multitude of cultural traditions here, as numerous as the towns and villages themselves. I have experienced many first hand, which has helped to compensate for the inevitable sacrifice of the ‘family holiday’ in favour of a trip to see the Spanish family.
Now I am living here my feelings of cultural starvation back in England are brought into sharp focus. On a daily basis, not just on festival days (many, it has to be said!), there is a real sense of cultural identity and a pride therein, which back home has been beaten into submission by political correctness. I am the last one to try to subdue minorities and that is precisely why I think so highly of these small local traditions. But it seems that we British cannot even use that term without being labelled ‘racist’ by a small but vociferous minority who seem to think it is derogatory to the many other cultures living on the islands of the United Kingdom. Since I am now myself a (very small) minority where I live, I think I am entitled to speak out in this way, just as I feel it is my duty – and rewarding – to adapt to my host culture…but that’s a whole other story for another post!
Such has this persecution of Britishness, and more particular Englishness, that apart from village fetes and Morris Dancing, themselves a moribund tradition, there is precious little we can celebrate with local pride and joy. Somehow it is more acceptable to be a proud Scot than to be a proud Englishman. Far from resenting the Scottish pride (except perhaps when it errs into England-bashing!), I see it in the main as a wonderful sign of the preservation of those traditions which in the South East of England, at least, we have all but lost.
Ok, so the abandonment of those traditions has a lot to do with a general move away from the local to the global and the pursuit of wealth – or at least survival, especially recently. And the absorption of a large number of people from other cultures has widened our cultural spectrum.
But somehow other cultures, like Spain, manage to combine cosmopolitanism and modern consumerism (with its excesses as anywhere else) with at least a large dose of cultural traditions. Take Barcelona: no-one could argue that the city be a bland photocopy of any other major Western city, thanks to its fierce Catalan identity, modernist architecture and rich cultural heritage in all the arts; yet it is precisely the openness to other cultures and ideas that has made the city what it is – and different from any other.
Despite the inevitable commercialisation of many of the fiestas and celebrations here in Spain, you can still find, especially at the local/village, family level, genuine and earthy traditions inextricably linked to the land and its people – the very definition of culture.
I look forward to exploring this cultural cuisine in more detail over the coming months and years.