I recently traveled halfway across the world to Spain and do you know what I found out? They’re a lot like us, those Spaniards. Except they work half as hard and smoke twice as much as we do. You can tell it’s the crack of noon when they rise from their beds and the sound of a thousand smokers’ coughs echoes up and down the streets, heralding another day filled with delicious meals fried in rich Spanish oil.
For the most part I really enjoyed my time in Spain. It’s a beautiful country with fantastic food and a rich heritage. We don’t really have that same kind of heritage here in the U.S. because we’re a relatively young country and we’re a diverse melting pot of a thousand cultures. We celebrate our individual roots but we lack them as an entire country.
I’d have to say that my one complaint (aside from the sometimes appallingly bad wine) was that the Spanish by and large do not possess a strong work ethic. It seemed to me that a majority of them do the absolute minimum they can do to get by and keep their jobs. They live life for the fun times, going out with friends and relaxing and not in pursuit of the almighty Euro. They’re sort of like U.S. teenagers in that way.
But the Spanish and all Europeans share a great deal in common with us economically. Currently they are also in a financial crisis of epic proportions due to the near failure of the Great Euro Experiment and our own U.S. bank mess. That’s right, Goldman Sachs is so big that it’s destroying the lives of our middle class brothers across the pond too.
Another similarity I found between the Spanish and We, the American people, is the tendency to look down on those who don’t speak the native language. How ironic that I come from a country that thinks Spanish speakers are somehow inferior and should learn English to find myself in a country that speaks Spanish and looks down on me for not being fluent in it.
For even more similarity to home we went to southern France where they refuse to speak Spanish even if they know it. They would sooner butcher our language than attempt to communicate with us in their neighbor’s tongue. Under the Franco regime many a Spaniard sought refuge in France and like us, the French have great disdain for the Spanish speaking interlopers who crossed their borders seeking a better life. And to think we’ve mocked the French, calling them Frogs all the while drinking their wine with wild abandon. Apparently they are more like us than not.
Shortly before we left Spain to return home the country went on strike one day to protest the austerity conditions. These are the policies across the European Union wherein workers are being asked to take pay cuts and to retire later than they currently do. Across Europe people stayed home from work on September 29 to protest the changes that they think are unfair. I marvel at this for two reasons:
1. This is a massive organizational undertaking. I am so impressed that this was put together and executed with such precision. I wish we could do that here. It seems as though since Martin Luther King Jr. was killed we have lost the ability as a people to stand up for what we believe beyond complaining about what we don’t like in our status updates on facebook.
2. Their ‘austerity’ conditions in general do not even come close to matching our regular working life. We stayed with a friend of ours, a Spanish native, who works on average 20 hours a week giving drum lessons to kids in school. He’s a drummer teaching what he loves. Dream job, right? And did you notice the 20 hour work week? On top of that schedule he has 3 months paid time off during the summer when school is out. He has complete health coverage, provided by the country and paid for by his taxes. In addition to the three months a year he has off (paid) he also gets a two week paid vacation. And his salary? He makes the same amount of money that I make working in a reality TV story department a minimum of 40 hours a week, but usually closer to at least 50 hours. I get no benefits because I am a ‘temporary’ employee who works show to show. I pay about the same amount of money as he does in taxes but I receive no health care in return. I do not get any paid vacation. Ever. (Unless you count unemployment between jobs, and that’s not close to matching my regular salary.) And he’s going on strike because he makes what I make after a pay cut and doesn’t think that paltry sum is fair. If only I were in the same boat that he’s in…
One thing I think the Spanish are doing right that we need to get back to doing is taxing people according to income on an ascending scale, rather than taxing those who earn the least the most money. Our friend in Spain, who makes what I make, is a member of the middle class. His father, who makes considerably more money, is taxed at a much higher rate than his son. And that’s how it used to be in the U.S., back when we had great public schools and plentiful public services. You can’t fill your city coffers taxing the poor because nothing adds up to nothing. But the wealthy people, paying their share of the money they made through the labor of the middle class and poor, make things better for all of us. Unfortunately, due to tax cuts they’ve lobbied for over the years, the wealthy have shortchanged us all and now we’re all paying the price with regular-as-clockwork budget cuts.
My only question is, why aren’t we striking to protest this? I think we need a bit more of the Spanish work ethic.