Sunday, June 24, 2012

Why Can't We Be More Like the Spanish?

There's nothing but bad news coming out of Spain these days, except in football. The economy is a disaster, and it's only a matter of time before Spanish weakness pulls down the Euro, if the Greeks don't do it first.

The Catholic Church doesn't seem to be doing any better. Churches are closed everywhere you look. Marian and I were stymied in Ávila this morning because the cathedral didn't open for its regular 9:30 Sunday mass. The cathedral. Now in Madrid, we're trusting that the church that says it has a 7:30 tonight has a 7:30 tonight. My Santiago friend Angel said there are few young Spanish priests these days. What does the future hold for the the Church in the land that gave us Teresa de Jesús and Iganatius de Loyola?

It would be easy for an American, especially a Catholic, to feel complacent. Compared with Spain's, our Church is vibrant thanks to immigration. Economically? We're getting over a stumble while Spain may not have hit bottom.

So my question is, how do the Spanish get so much right? After six weeks in the country, I can't escape several impressions: Spanish families are more cohesive than American ones. Spanish culture is more civilized than ours. And the pace of Spanish life is much more human-friendly.

Let's start with the paseo. There's nothing like it in America. In every city in Spain, or town of any size, imagine that the whole community goes for a walk together, family by family. The paseo happens before the evening meal, and it takes place on the main street, which is closed to cars. America has no main streets, and cars own the land. (Which raises another question: Why does Europe so get public transportation and keep its trains running on time?)

Old couples who in the United States would be sitting down to bad meals in retirement homes are out walking together, hand in hand, during the paseo. Younger families walk together as one: mom, dad, and any number of children, with strollers and soccer balls bouncing errantly as the case may be. Last night I saw a family of four walking side by side by side by side. Teenage sister walked on the right beside her mother. Ten-year-old son sat on his skateboard and was pulled along by his father, who held him by the hand.

Where would you see this in America? At the mall? Sure, maybe, but only with very young children and only when Dad didn't have to rush off to Best Buy for a deal on a new widescreen TV, or Sis didn't have to meet her friends at the movies.

Let's talk about those old couples holding hands. The old people in Spain are awesome. Marian is in love with old Spanish people and talks about it constantly. In the villages, you see them working at their garden plots under a boiling sun, digging patiently at individual plants with crude tools they've used all their lives. Or you see them walking slowly on a cane but with amazing dignity to the panaderia (bakery) for their fresh daily loaf of bread.

Let's talk about why this is even possible. Did I mention Walmart? Barnes & Noble? Starbucks? Home Depot? No, I didn't. That's because you don't find them in Spanish towns, and only a select few of our "category killers," like Best Buy, have been allowed into Spain at all. OK, I admit that we did see a Burger King facing the statue of St. Teresa in the square named for her in Ávila. That was embarrassing. But it didn't stop the paseo.

This morning Marian and I walked into that square again, on our way to the mass that wasn't. With two exceptions, we were the only ones there. (See next paragraph.) A street cleaning machine was at work, as was a man with a broom and dustpan and garbage cart. On Sunday morning the city had its cleaing crew out in force so that any debris from last night's paseo would not affect tonight's paseo.

The reason we were the only ones there in the square at 8:45 this morning is that the Spanish have the most humane, civilized sense of time you can imagine. They don't seem to get out of bed before 8:00 a.m. Maybe later. Breakfast is a spartan repast of coffee and bread. Lunch happens after 2:00 p.m., and it's not big either. Supper is never served under any circumstances, at least not in restaurants, before 8:30 p.m. In other words, after everyone has had time for their paseo.

As I wrote previously, we had our supper last night in an open-air café, where the quarterfinal between Spain and France was on television. Children were eating with their parents and grandparents in a setting that, in the USA, would be considered a bar. (See next paragraph.) When the children had eaten enough, they ran off into the square, some of them as young as two or three, to kick a ball or can with their fellows. Mothers and fathers cast glances over their shoulders occasionally to make sure they were OK, but the presumption was that these kids were safe in a public place within their community. It was as if they were playing in their backyards.

About bars in Spain: every café is a bar. You go in for your morning café con leche with tostada and a whole bunch of top-shelf booze is staring you in the face from behind the counter. Imagine if every Dunkin' Donuts in the USA had a liquor license. Spain is like that, but the effect is probably not what it would be in the good old USA. You don't see a lot of public drunkenness in Spain. It probably exists, and I'm sure Spain has its dive bars just like ours. But the attitude toward alcohol and its visible effects seem so much healthier than ours.

OK, I've ranted enough. These are just a few reasons why the Spanish—though they may not have jobs, or go to Mass—seem happier than Americans. How do you explain it?


  1. Enjoyed your post. I am in Barcelona now and miss la Comunidad de Madrid and just how people friendly it is. I miss the food, the museums, the parks. I miss the churches and the Catedral de la Almudena. I'm happy I stumbled on to your blog (through YIM Catholic). Enjoy your stay in Spain.

  2. Your own words say it all I'm afraid. The Spanish only "seem happier." Life without Faith, without God, is merely a shadow of all it could (and should) be.

  3. Perhaps the problem with the decline of the Church in Spain is the same problem we have in Canada.

    Because of the pernicious influence of modernism, the supernatural has been eclipsed - the supernatural being the soul of authentic Catholicism. There exists a malaise in Catholic education in general now in Canada, in that the Catholic Faith is reduced to a mere humanitarian enterprise.

    The supernatural is a mode of existence that transcends the natural categories of goodness that we are naturally familiar with - the supernatural is proper to God's essence and He gives that as a pure gift to those open to receiving that. Our whole life must be lived in a supernatural way as heaven is a supernatural mode of existence. The supernatural in channeled mainly through the sacraments and is kept alive through prayer.

    The supernatural is presented not only in proper theology, but in sacred art, music, and architecture that reflects that. The dumbing down of that in the modern Church has powerfully eclipsed the supernatural in many minds. That explains the lack of Mass attendance and the lack of vocations. When the supernatural is properly presented, Churches are full, and convents, monastaries, and seminaries are full.

    Catholic education is terrible here in Ontario, Canada. One text book approved by the bishops said that at Mass we share bread and wine [sic!]. That helps to explain why in the Archdiocese of Toronto with 1.7 million people there were only two ordinations this year and there will only be one next year.

    If the supernatural functions of the priest were made clear in our Catholic schools and from the pulpit, we would have no shortage of vocations and Mass attendance would be way up. We would be opening rather than closing churches.

    1. Excellent insight, Jim. It's strange the bishops don't understand.

  4. I just had a friend come back from there after doing a semester. He said that they do not work hard and everyone there knows that Germany is propping up the whole EU with their hard work.

    All of the items that you commented on I have seen in NYC. It just depends on the neighborhood.

    Spain is a wonderful country it seems but when the bombs blew up the trains. They buckled and gave in to the Arabs. Sorry but I don't think they got that one right!

  5. They are the true 'flock', and as such are eternally happy. As with all members of the flock, however, they end up on someone's dinner table.

  6. Do they need God with so much worldly happiness? They have everything they want here, for them there is nothing to look forward to in Heaven.

  7. February 2012, after WYD statistics of religiosity in Spain (by State official CSIC): 15 percent of Spanish adults go to mass "every week or nearly every week" [2 points more than last year, before the WYD] and an additional 2,7 percent go "more than once every week".

    In 2012 only 72 percent of Spanish adults describe themselves as "Catholic", 14 percent describe as "non believer" and an additional 9 percent as "atheist".

    Data about children from different sources (from 2008): from 6 to 11 years, 80 percent are Catholic and pray; 60 percent go to mass occasionally and 40 percent go every week. From 12 to 14 years [THESE ARE THE WORST NEWS], only a 60 percent believe in God and pray, and only 20 percent at this age go to mass. From 15 to 29 years, only 12 percent describes himself as "church-going Catholic"... these are the hundreds of thousands that you saw in the WYD. [Pol Llaunas, Spanish Catholic journalist]

  8. I think it is the mentality towards time. In the US we are always rushed. I am Puerto Rican, from a family of Spanish stock, and we tend to (in some sectors of society) to preserve Spanish traditions as a way to curb American influence.

    One of the big problems I see in the US is that towns and cities are built around the car. There is very little incentive to walk or be outside. I am from San Juan where we have a lot of outside cafes and plazas. I love sitting outside and walking but living in the US now I see that few people enjoy this like I do. In Central FLorida there are few cities with sidewalks. Orlando is like a big suburb. Also, Americans love chains. It is only the upper-middle class and above that enjoy good food and prefer local. Ironically enough, as much as conservatives praise family values it seems to be the more liberal cities that have family parks and where you see people walk around together. In Red America Wal-Mart is the only town square. Very sad. --Manuel

  9. "Economically? We're getting over a stumble "
    - No, no we're not. It's about to get a LOT worse.

  10. The US is a unique entity. I find it odd that a Catholic would not be able to say even one good thing about our great country. I am a fourth generation American; my great-grands came here for a reason! This is a country that attracts a certain type of person - one who likes to work. Americans take the least amount of vacation of all industrial countries. We like to work BUT we also like to visit our fabulous state and national parks that are so beautiful, I get teary when I visit.

    And shopping is a form of recreation now. I have fun with my kids at the mall. I teach them shopping skills, and we enjoy a good meal together, even if we buy nothing. I observe other families there - all talking, many smiling. Some have shopping bags, some do not.

    Remember the Spanish can take their naps because we Americans are working! If you know anything about economy, national security, or the history of dictatorship, etc., it is we Americans who are still the engine of the world's economies. How do you think those old people are able to hold hands? What makes Spain safe? Does Spain still have Franco?

    Your simplistic, rose-colored-glasses look at Spain is superficial. Please try to see all the good that the US has and has done for others. Compared to Spain, we are much more religious. They suffer spiritual lethargy, and you make them sound lazy, too. There must be something better you can say about the Spanish.

  11. "the Spanish can take their naps because we Americans are working!" ---

    You Americans exist because we discovered the continent that now is yours. Even now the Spanish flag has been more years in Florida than the American one.

    ------ "What makes Spain safe?"

    --- Nothing makes Spain safe: terrorists killed people by hundreds in Spain and the US alike.

    ----- "Compared to Spain, we are much more religious"

    ---- Not true. Not if you compare USA Catholics to Spanish Catholics. Spain prolife and profamily gatherings under Zapatero have been 3 or 4 times bigger than the Washington March. We have 60.000 Catholic missionaries around the world. There are more Spanish bishops in missions than in Spain, and each one of them has created his own overseas charity organization. Only about 20 percent of American Catholic do really go to mass on Sundays and believe in Catholic doctrine... and the same is true in Spain. How many martyrs do American churchs have? A few, from XVII century and from foreign origin most of them. We have 8.000 in the 20th century, including 12 bishops. Opus Dei, Cursillos, the Neocatecumenal Way... three big church realities from Spain in 20th Century. We have 62.000 Caritas volunteers, that have attended 4,5 million people in 2012, double people than 4 years ago!!!!! The Spanish Catholic society has resisted against Zapatero for 8 years without help from any political party, without Catholic newspapers, nearly without Catholic TV nor radio and with closed and blocked partitocratical lists in elections (you choose parties, not names of politics). We have many problems in Spain, as a country and as a Church but I think Spanish Catholics can teach a thing or two to the world. Ah, and WE DO NOT HAVE nearly any pederast priests. We do not have that plague that hit Catholic Church in northern Europe nor USA. [Pol Llaunas]

    1. I agree with you but the blog makes the Spanish sound like they are in la-la land. I hope that it is not so. But tell me why the Spanish voted for abortion? We did not vote for that in the US. It was forced on us by the Supreme Court. How did the Spanish vote for that? Do you also have legalized gay "marriage"? I think so! How did your people just roll over for that?

      You are a very small country, so 62,000 Caritas volunteers is a large number. But it is not enough to turn back the tide of the abortion/gay agenda.

      Your Catholic history is illustrious but history is, well, history. What does your future look like?
      You say you have "nearly" no pederast priests. What does that mean? You have a few? Ten, perhaps? Is that okay with you?

      I was not trying to make the point that the Spanish are lazy but that there was nothing in the blog to say what a great country the US is. To compare the two countries and the two peoples makes no sense because there is very little that we have in common. You missed my point.

  12. I came from Spanish roots.
    Mother was always home and ruled the roost.
    When Dad came home, he was the boss.
    There was an order of continuity that reflected itself in the market place.
    Children felt secure in the family life. Children felt loved.
    This love and devotion extended itself to the grandparents and family loyalty no matter how burdensome a family member was in personality,

    By American standards one could classify it a "boring life"
    But it was not. It was peaceful, orderly and one knew what to expect.
    Stores were closed on Sunday but window shopping was a family trek as was brunch after Mass and sitting around reading the newspaper (funnies for the children) and listening to the radio.
    Just sitting on the porch, watching the rain come down, smelling the wet earth and afterwards a walk down to the nearby arroyo to see the flow of water with one's parents was an uplifting affair.
    Ahhh the good life, the simple life.
    Computers , TV, electronic games has disrupted family life.
    Everyone does their own thing and family disunity has entered in to take up the vacuum where harmony used to reign.

  13. If Spain is/was so wonderful, why do Spanish (and Portuguese) places do so poorly that they produce millions of people they can't possibly feed? Is Mexico a happy place? Is Cuba? Is Colombia? Peru? Argentina? If the the hildren aren't so great, isn't it at least partly because of the parent?


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