Notes on Spain

Bypassing numerous international restrictions, I traveled from America to Spain for a month-long trip in July.  Most of the month was spent in and around Madrid, but I took a brief trip north to Galicia, specifically Vigo and Santiago de Compostela. It’s a beautiful country, great culture, fun people. Here I will compile my notes on Spain and some assorted thoughts about the country and Europe as a whole. For reasons that will soon become relevant, I want to say upfront:

  • I really enjoyed my time in Spain
  • I spent much of my time with young, politically lefty, artsy types
  • I’m going to make a bunch of generalizations about Spaniards and Europeans off of my experience both with this trip and living abroad in Asia for many years. My confidence interval on most of these claims is fairly low.

With that said, here are my notes on things I found interesting during my time in Spain alongside pictures I took on the trip:

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Don Quixote

Spaniards Have Two Last Names

Spaniards have a first name and two last names (or surnames) consisting of the father’s first last name and then the mother’s first last name, with no hyphen between them. And their first names are often compounds of two different first names, leading to elaborate (by American standards) full names, like “Maria Rosa Ramos Guerra.” Also, maybe because their names are busy enough, Spaniards don’t have middle names.

Wikipedia has some fun details about how the legality of naming conventions have evolved over the last twenty years:

Spanish gender equality law has allowed surname transposition since 1999,[4] subject to the condition that every sibling must bear the same surname order recorded in the Registro Civil (civil registry), but there have been legal exceptions.

Since 2013, if the parents of a child were unable to agree on the order of surnames, an official would decide which is to come first,[5][6][7] with the paternal name being the default option. The only requirement is that every son and daughter must have the same order of the surnames, so they cannot change it separately.

Since June 2017, adopting the paternal name first is no longer the standard method, and parents are required to sign an agreement wherein the name order is expressed explicitly.[8][9][10] The law also grants a person the option, upon reaching adulthood, of reversing the order of their surnames. However, this legislation only applies to Spanish citizens; people of other nationalities are issued the surname indicated by the laws of their original country.[10]

I thought America had no regulations on names, but apparently there are restrictions that vary by state, mostly on practical grounds like a limit on the number or variety of characters (ie. using symbols beyond the alphabet). More amusingly, many countries have unique restrictions, like:

  • A lot of countries have lists of approved names. In Denmark, the list has 18,000 female and 15,000 male names. Iceland’s has 1,800 each.
  • In France, Napoleon created a law for a list of approved names, but in 1993, all names were permitted with the exception of names that the state deemed contrary to the interests of the child.
  • In Germany, a name has to indicate gender and can’t be a commercial product.
  • An Israeli can only change his name every seven years.
  • In Azerbaijan, 200 names are banned because of historical traitors. Saudi Arabia has banned 50 names.

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A Lot of Spain Looks Like Arizona

Before going on the trip, I honestly didn’t know what Spain looked like geographically beyond being sort of arid. I don’t think I’ve seen much of Spain in movies or tv shows. (maybe I watched something in Spanish class many years ago?)

It turns out that the area around Madrid looks a lot like Arizona and New Mexico, at least in the summer. Everything is yellow or light brown, and all the grass looks like it’s dying. It’s quite pretty in its own way.

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Except for the Parts of Spain that Look Like Massachusetts

I usually think of Spain as being hot and close to Africa, but of course the north is closer to France and on the Atlantic Ocean. Parts of Galicia look surprisingly like the northeastern United States, particularly Massachusetts. The comparison was especially striking when I went to Cies Island off the coast of Vigo, and found the flora was quite similar to that of Cape Cod, especially the gnarly, crooked trees growing in sandy soil. I suppose that’s a typically Atlantic coastal climate.

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Spanish Summers are Hot and Air Conditioners are Rare

It’s super hot in Spain in the summer (duh), but air conditioning is quite rare. Museums and grocery stores had it, as well as a nicer apartment in Madrid I stayed at, but none of my Airbnb’s had air conditioners, either in Madrid or Galicia. I just had to leave my windows open at night and hope the temperature dropped.

Based on my traveling experience, the prevalence of air conditioning in each country seems pretty random, even after factoring wealth and average temperature. The United States and China have air conditioning everywhere, Japan, Spain, and Italy don’t. I don’t know, maybe it’s a cultural thing? Maybe some people just get used to the heat?

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Spanish People are Hot

I guess this falls under good stereotypes, but Spanish men and women are quite attractive on average. It didn’t hurt that Spanish summers are sweltering and the people dress accordingly (ie. revealingly). Madrid had the best-looking people, but its suburbs and Galicia weren’t far behind.

I’d go as far as to say that Spaniards are more attractive than Americans on average. But I think one big factor here is weight… Americans are fat and Spaniards aren’t. As rough an estimate as BMI might be, Statista says 16.2% of women and 17.5% of men in Spain are obese, compared to 31.8% of women and 31.5% of men. Other estimates put the general average at 24% in Spain and 36% in the US, which seems high based on what I saw. I’m guessing major cities have lower rates.

Either way, it definitely showed. Heavy Spanish people were fairly rare, especially compared to the US. Even more importantly for attractiveness, I noticed lots and lots of physically fit Spaniards (again, for both sexes). I guess social distancing didn’t stop them from going to the gym. But again, I’m sure this was confounded by staying mostly in Madrid.

However, if I may give one point to America over Spain, my observations matched with something I heard a friend say once… Americans are less attractive than Europeans on average, but the hottest Americans are hotter than the hottest Europeans, or at least there are more people at the top end of the attractiveness bell curve in America. That makes intuitive sense to me. America is a land of disparity, of high highs and low lows. The same should apply to physical attractiveness.

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There are naked people in this photo.

All Spanish Beaches are Nude Beaches… Mostly

I took a ferry to Cies Island off the coast of Vigo, put on a gallon of sunscreen, and braved a beautiful Spanish beach on the sparkling blue and surprisingly cold Atlantic Ocean. And suddenly there were naked people all around me. And also families and children.

I got clarification from a Spaniard that I was not on what was considered a “nude beach.” Those exist in Spain, but this was not one of them. This was just a regular beach. And in Spain, it’s fine to get naked on a regular beach.

Mostly.

From my observations and then asking around, there are actually a bunch of unwritten rules regarding beach nudity. As an American, I find this stuff interesting since it’s so alien to my culture. Outside of adult locker rooms and sex, Americans are pretty much never nude in front of each other unless they’re literal nudists. Europeans (or at least Western Europeans) have a vastly more permissive attitude, albeit with its own fairly complex set of rules.

The level of nudity (as Americans would commonly understand the term) that is most permissible is topless females. It’s fine for women to show their breasts anywhere on a beach and nobody cares.

There are two main beaches on the island. One is right next to the dock where ships unload and embark hundreds of people throughout the day, and it tends to have more families and children. The other beach is a little more secluded and has fewer families and children.

After seeing plenty of topless women on the more secluded beach, I made my way back to the main beach and saw a handful of topless women sunbathing within 50 feet of the dock for the hundreds of new arrivals to the islands to see (or rather, to glance at, and then look away from). So, basically topless women on beaches are totally fine and nobody cares.

The caveat to this rule is young but not too young women. It’s fine for children to be nude (often even in the US), but I’m told that early pubescent women are encouraged to cover up, for obvious reasons.

Male bottom nudity is a little less permissive. There were plenty of naked men on the more secluded beach, but they mostly kept to one side where there were relatively few children. But there were still some children, so I guess I saw a bunch of men commit what in America would be considered a felony. Meanwhile, I didn’t see any naked men on the more popular beach near the dock.

I did not notice any bottomless women. I asked a Spanish woman I know if female bottomless nudity at the beach was uncommon because it’s more taboo, or if because… well, sand. She didn’t know.

Another fairly obvious unwritten norm concerning naked people at beaches is to not take pictures. I saw one partially nude group of men and women yell at a guy for pulling out his phone and holding it in a picture-taking manner.

There are many things I love about America, but I think the attitude toward nudity is one thing the Europeans got right. I don’t see the upsides to tabooing the naked body, at least not in a place for relaxation and fun like the beach. To put my money where my mouth was, I even withheld my American sensibilities for a moment and got naked myself… for about ten seconds while I changed into my bathing suit.

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Being on the quasi-nude beach prompted a conversation between myself and a Spaniard – what percentage of people would you find sexually attractive when naked? Yes, I got this idea from Seinfeld.

My answer… if I’m only considering women between the ages of 18 and 40… is 5-10%. The Spaniard put her number at 25%. Seems way too high to me.

Fortunately, the population of Spaniards who go to beaches and get naked tends to self-select for attractiveness. Though of course, looking but not staring is another unwritten norm of quasi-nude beaches.

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Did You Know That Spain has Universal Healthcare? Well, it Does. America Doesn’t have Universal Healthcare. I Don’t Know How You Guys Do It. I Couldn’t Imagine Paying for Medicine. It’s Crazy that People Go Bankrupt Over Accidents. I Can’t Imagine Living In A Society Where…

To reiterate, I spent a lot of time in Spain around young, politically left Spaniards. Also, I’m American. Also, the COVID-19 pandemic is going on.

So it’s probably not too surprising that Spaniards kept telling me how awesome their socialized healthcare is. And then lamenting how terrible American healthcare is.

Seriously, I think this happened on five separate occasions, and never with my prompting.

I had my one moment of counter-smugness when a Spaniard told me she used her Spanish socialized healthcare to get a therapist who she could see for one hour per month. I didn’t comment on what I considered a rather insufficient provision of healthcare, nor did I indulge my repeated urges to correct Spaniards that their healthcare was not “free.” Someone else has to pay for it.

I’m not actually upset or offended, and as a libertarian, I have many, many criticisms of the idiotic American healthcare system. But I do find it interesting that so many Spaniards are so proud of at least one aspect of their government.

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Spanish People Can’t Stop Talking About America

Again, I’m sure the fact that I’m American had a significant impact on this, and that I talked to many young political leftists, but still…

Spaniards can’t stop talking about America. The handful of times I saw the news on tv in Spain, I saw Trump, the Portland riots, and mentions of the coronavirus infection rate in the US. Even beyond basic meet-and-greet small talk, I had many in depth conversations with Spaniards about American culture and especially politics. Favorite topics were healthcare, the coronavirus response, Trump, consumerism, guns, and American accents.

While there was no overt hostility toward me or American people in general, I encountered plenty of anti-American sentiment. A roommate told me about how he had gone to America for a month to see if he wanted to live there, but he decided not to because of the “gun culture” (he was staying in Manhattan). At a dinner party, we got to talking about our least favorite countries, and four people agreed the obvious choices were China, Russia, and the US. One of these four was annoyed that I kept referring to the “United States of America” as “America,” and he informed me that he had “American” friends in Peru and Argentina, which, of course, are in the “Americas,” continentally speaking. I have encountered this same linguistic argument a half dozen times from Europeans in other countries.

Again, I’m not actually bitter or annoyed by any of this. All of these people were very nice and friendly, and I had a blast meeting them. I just find their sentiment interesting.

I know it’s common knowledge that American culture is globally hegemonic, but I don’t think people stop to think about just how bizarre this state of affairs is. Basically everyone on earth follows American politics, listens to American music, and watches American movies. Somewhere between much and most of local cultural output throughout the world is American-tinged (ie. K-pop). Has there ever been a country whose culture has been anywhere close to as globally dominant as America’s?

Consider, what percentage of Spaniards know who the president of the United States is? My guess is about as high or higher than the percentage of those who know who Spain’s prime minister is. At the very least, I’d guess that close to 100% of college-educated Spaniards know Donald Trump.

Now, what percentage of Americans know who the prime minister of Spain is? Or how handsome he is? My guess is… about 0.02%. Because that’s all the Spaniards in the United States.

Hell, I’m an educated, politically aware American, and I don’t think I could name 20 world leaders. I mean, you have Putin, Xi, Boris Johnson, Trudeau, Merkel, Modi, Abe, Raul Castro, some bad guys like Orban and Erdogan and Kim Jong Un and Assad, and then… uhhhh… is Macron still around? Does Akmajinadad (perfect spelling) count?

I just find it strange and fascinating that everyone knows everything about America. There’s a level of international attention and engagement which is hard to comprehend and undoubtedly impacts global culture and development in ways that nobody has yet to truly comprehend.

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Distant shot of a anti-monarchy protest in Madrid

Franco’s Shadow Looms

After seeing a whole lot of anti-fascist graffiti throughout the cities, I dove a bit into modern Spanish history via Wikipedia and asked a bunch of locals to tell me what I needed to know. Here is a bullet point rundown of modern Spanish history:

  • In terms of economic growth and modernism, Spain was maybe 50 years behind its Western European counterparts by 1900. Most people tend to blame this on the local strength of the Catholic church which empowered conservative forces and suppressed progress.
  • But by the early 20th century, Spain had something of a moderate liberal regime, albeit with strong left and right-wing radical forces pushing for reforms.
  • After many, many collapsed and reformed governments, the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936 after a failed coup. The ruling government forces (called “Republicans” or “Reds”) were a wide left-wing coalition which spanned from moderate social democrats to outright communists and anarchists, with a strain of revolutionary fervor underneath. The rebels (called “nationalists”) were an equally wide right-wing coalition spanning from moderate market liberals to outright fascists, with a strain of Christian reaction underneath.
  • The Republicans started out in control of the country, but the Nationalists had more of the army, and with support from Nazi Germany and especially Fascist Italy, the Nationalists steadily drove the Republicans back. The last Republican stronghold to fall was Madrid.
  • In 1939, General Francisco Franco formally took control of Spain and received diplomatic recognition from most countries.
  • Franco ruled as an authoritarian and semi-fascist dictator for more than three decades. The first half of his rule was highly repressive, with the government relying on paramilitary groups to consolidate power and root out the remnants of the Republicans. Death tolls are highly controversial, but 30-50,000 killed by political repression seems to be the consensus.
  • The second half of Franco’s rule was comparatively more open, mostly economically. Foreign investment and tourism kicked off the “Spanish Miracle” which finally gave Spain a big dose of catch-up growth to the rest of Western Europe. Spain’s successful economic policies were crafted by Opus Dei, the bad guys from The Da Vinci Code.
  • In the 1970s, Franco laid the groundwork for the restoration of the Spanish monarchy and a somewhat democratic government. In 1975, Franco died and his regime transitioned to a constitutional monarchy.
  • The new government was shaky at first with many far left and right elements vying for power. In 1981, the military launched a coup in the name of the king. King Juan Carlos got on tv and told the whole country that he had nothing to do with the coup and disavowed it entirely. The coup collapsed and the new Spanish government gained real legitimacy.
  • Incidentally, King Juan Carlos, who abdicated in 2014 to let his son rule, just went into exile a few days ago to give his son more authority… or to escape tax evasion charges. Why the fuck does a king need to evade taxes?

Based on what I saw in Spain, it’s apparent that Franco is still a huge fault line in modern politics and culture.

The view on the left (based on the lefties I talked to), is that Franco and his supporters got away with what they did. Spain was ruled by a dictator for 30 years, tens of thousands of people were killed, and yet when Franco died, there were no tribunals or exiles or even cancellations. Instead, much of the bureaucracy of Franco’s government simply merged with the democratic government. Worse yet, the main Spanish conservative party was built by Francoists and is still run by their children. These people and their at least semi-fascist ideology never paid the price for what they inflicted on Spain.

On the other side, my totally outsider’s perspective is that Franco and the nationalists decisively lost on the cultural battlefield. Just as (almost) nobody in America looks back fondly on the pre-civil rights days, almost nobody in Spain seems to pine for Francoism. As an example, the Reina Sophia Museum, Spain’s second most famous museum behind the Prado, has a very pro-Republican bend in its art exhibition, and IIRC, the museum even flew Republican flags on its exterior when I visited. Such flags were also hung in balconies and windows throughout the cities. In Madrid, I even stumbled upon a Republican rally where people called for the end of the monarchy and the imprisonment of the remnants of Franco’s supporters.

Of course, I saw these things in Madrid, the last Republican hold-out. I’m sure elsewhere in Spain there are people who view Franco as at least the lesser of two evils compared to the part-communist Republicans, or maybe even revere Franco for being a Christian bulwark against godlessness. But Madrid is the political and arguably cultural capital of Spain. It was my sense that if there are still Franco-sympathizers out there, they are culturally marginalized, especially out of the more mainstream and cosmopolitan parts of Spanish society.

IMG_2317America Is Politically Moderate Compared to Spain

At this point it’s practically a meme that in every online discussion of American politics, a European needs to interject to inform everyone that by European standards, all Americans are right-wing. If the election were happening in France, Hillary would be a conservative. Bernie would be a centrist, etc.

I’m not sure if that’s true, but my time in Spain has further reinforced my belief that American politics are more moderate than European politics. All the cities I visited were plastered with graffiti depicting the hammer & sickle and anti-fascist slogans, and there was the aforementioned Republican rally essentially calling for a government purge. On the other side, I wandered through one neighborhood which I was told was a hard-right bastion of Madrid, and I ended up seeing a bunch of old Spanish monarchy flags draped over balconies.

(Granted, I haven’t walked around an American city in the last few months, so maybe the George Floyd riots and Antifa activity have brought a similar level of radical political expression to the US by this point.)

Maybe the best example: in a suburb of Madrid, I passed by an apartment block where I was told there was a Neo-Nazi bar that often gets raided by the cops. Are there any Neo-Nazi bars in the United States? Maybe in rural Washington or Idaho like in the movie, Green Room?

(Out of curiosity, after writing the above paragraph, I Googled “Neo-Nazi bar” and the first result was the Wikipedia page for Green Room).

Currently, the Spanish Communist Party has 6/350 seats in the popular legislature, 1/266 seats in the Senate, and 2/54 seats in Spain’s delegation to the EU parliament. The newer far-right Vox Party has 52/350 seats in the popular legislature, 3/265 seats in the Senate, and 4/59 in the EU delegation, plus a whole bunch of local representation. My understanding is that most European countries have comparable numbers, if not higher.

In contrast, the Communist Party of the US currently has 5-10,000 members, has never held a national political seat, and basically hasn’t done anything at all since the Soviet Union collapsed. And I’m not even sure if there is a far-right political party in America… maybe the microscopic American Party.

Perhaps the US electoral system deserves the credit (or blame) for this? The two party system is designed to absorb and moderate fringe political groups, so maybe if America suddenly adopted a Spanish-style political process tomorrow, the American Antifa Party and America First Party would spring up and win seats? I don’t know.

What I do know is that for all the American political madness, I still consider the American populace to be more centrist and moderate than Spain and most of Europe.

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Wine is Super Cheap

Go into any grocery store in Spain (or Italy from what I can recall), and you can find bottles of good wine for $2-5. I think the only place you can find comparably priced wine in America is Walmart, and I can’t speak to its quality. I honestly don’t know why Spaniards drink any other alcohol

Also, eggs are super cheap for some reason… about $2 for a dozen large, organic eggs. But I found transportation, gasoline, restaurants, and all other forms of alcohol to be relatively expensive compared to America.

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Euro Coins are Annoying

Ughhhhh. So annoying. The bane of my existence for a month.

Paper money is light, foldable, doesn’t jangle or make noise. Even twenty paper notes can easily be folded around each other and tucked into a pocket or a wallet.

Coins are comparatively heavy, can’t be folded, are easily dropped or lost, and when put together in a pocket, they tend to smash together and make an irritating clanging noise.

As a big fan of cryptocurrency, I hate the US dollar, but I officially like it more than the Euro. Not only is there a €1 coin, but a €2 coin too, in addition to 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 cent coins. So if you pay for a €2.65 bottle of wine with a €10 euro note, you had better prepare yourself for the hail of loose change coming your way.

Yes, America has its coins too, but only for 1, 5, 10, and 25 cents (50 cent pieces aren’t made anymore). At those low levels, they’re pretty much irrelevant. It’s fine to dump them in a car cupholder or a change jar and not worry about them until your vessel of choice overflows. But with €1 and €2 coins, we’re talking about substantial amounts of money. We’re talking about cups of coffee, bottles of wine, half a liter of gas, etc. You need to keep that change on hand… but how?

Do all Europeans carry coin purses? Do they learn some way to put it in their pockets so it doesn’t make the irritating noises when they walk? I found myself literally dividing change between four pockets to minimize the noise.

But imagine how I swelled with patriotism when I did some Googling and found out that Americans hate dollar coins. There is currently $1 billion worth of $1 coins in Federal Reserve vaults that no one wants. American logic prevails.

 

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This is what the elites want us to drive

Spanish Drivers are Generally Good

I found this to be fairly surprising. Having seen the horrible drivers in Italy and Greece, I assumed Spain would follow its Mediterranean counterparts, but no, Spanish driving was fine. I didn’t see any speeding, reckless driving, or anything to write home about. If anything, the drivers were a bit too polite at crosswalks.

The one exception to this trend was when I saw a car hit a motorcycle and run over the driver with one tire. But whatever. Shit happens.

 

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Here’s my picture of Guernica

You’re Not Allowed to Take Pictures of Guernica

Pablo Picasso’s masterful portrayal of the horrors faced by civilians in wartime is displayed in the Reina Sophia Museum in its own room. Being a man of culture, I took out my phone and snapped a picture of it, when-

BRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH

This blaring alarm went off. I stuffed the phone back in my pocket and looked around hoping nobody noticed it was me. I assumed some guards would yell at me or force me to delete the picture, but nothing happened. Everyone just looked around in confusion.

I had no idea this technology exists. How does a sensor know when a picture is being taken?

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A Solution to the Fermi Paradox

This is by far the most speculative, reaching bullet point, so take everything below as interested musings based on limited observations and not as a super serious political, economic, or cultural assessment of Europeans.

Anyway, here is how Europe might hold the solution to the Fermi Paradox:

Over the last few years, I’ve been struck by a pattern I’ve noticed among somewhere between many and most young (18-35) Europeans I’ve met, both within Europe and while travelling in Asia. They tend not to have, or want, or ever plan on getting what some older people might call a… “real job.”

Most of these Europeans were some form of student, artist, freelancer, or part-time worker. They either made modest incomes here-and-there, lived off savings, received grants/scholarships, or were supported by their parents. They were all either in school or had already received a college degree. Quite a few planned on getting a grad school degree or PhD (though not in a STEM subject). They enjoyed travelling (often globally), going to cafes, going out for drinks, often some form of artistic hobby, and partying.

Outside of Europe, a lot of people I met who fit this description had left wealthy European countries to work as English teachers in Asia. In Spain, in multiple cities and provinces, I met many more people like this. Again, this is definitely confounded by the young, politically left crowd I associated with, but still. The trend I had previously noticed among Europeans was continued, even in the fairly expensive, relatively professional capital city of Madrid.

To be clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this lifestyle. It’s fine to be a vagabond, or lifestyle traveler, or just-getting-by artist. I think people can have great, fulfilling lives without becoming professionals and buying houses and settling down to a traditional life.

But I wonder if what I noticed is a real thing and how deep it goes. Has a significant portion of European youth decided to drop out of the “rat race” or any standard professional aspirational pathway for a more laid back, easygoing, adventurous lifestyle?

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With this speculated thesis in mind, consider two factors.

First, something I’ve heard from many Europeans (especially Southern Europeans) is that the job market back home sucks. I’ve even heard a few say that want to get on a professional track, but there simply aren’t any opportunities for younger people. And the data bears that out…

Spain’s unemployment rate has been terrible since… basically forever. During the housing boom years in the 2000s, the rate never fell below 8.23% (2007). Since 2008, it hasn’t fallen below 13.96% (2019), but stayed above 20% for five years. The youth unemployment rate is even worse, practically apocalyptic. Since the Great Recession, the rate has hovered between 40-57%, and fell to its lowest point at 30% in late 2019. These are basically American Great Depression numbers.

From eyeballing historic unemployment figures, Greece is just as horrible as Spain, Italy and France are bad-but-not-that-bad, the United Kingdom is better, and Germany is at American levels. The European Union as a whole is about on the level of Italy and France.

So, yeah, it really is damn hard for young Spanish people to get jobs, and it’s only somewhat easier, for most young Europeans to get jobs.

When you also factor in high tax rates and generally anemic economic growth, I imagine a lot of young Europeans simply don’t think it’s worth it to push themselves for a high-earning professional career. The upside isn’t there. (Plus if I really want to wade into contentious territory, I can point out that the average income in even wealthy Western European countries is surprisingly low compared to America.)

The second major factor is… Spain is awesome. It’s a fantastic place to live for so many reasons. It’s chock-full of these gorgeous medieval towns with wondrous architecture, narrow stone streets, charming cafes, and fun bars. The countryside has plenty of equally beautiful nature, from the rolling hills in Galicia to the sands of Granada and the peaks of the Pyrenees. The country’s climate is Mediterranean, practically the global ideal with its warmth, mild humidity, and sunshine. Yeah, it gets super hot in the summer, but that’s why Spain has tons of beaches. Also, Madrid, Barcelona and most of the major cities have thriving art scenes and plenty of travelers to keep things lively. And did I mention that Spain has universal healthcare? And a generous welfare program? And hot people?

Pretty much the same description could be written for Italy and France and parts of Greece, and significant portions of many/most European countries.

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When I combine these two factors (economics and nice-place-to-live), it makes perfect sense that so many Europeans would embrace a traveler/vagabond/artist/chill lifestyle instead of getting a “real job.” Spending a decade working at a café for twenty hours per week while sharing an apartment with two roommates, having minimal savings, and not being able to afford a car doesn’t sound great… unless you’re living in a stunning Italian city under the warm Mediterranean sun, drinking delicious Italian wine (for €2 per bottle), eating delicious Italian food, not worrying about your healthcare, and using your free time to pursue your artistic hobby and go out for drinks with friends.

Many young Europeans have mediocre economic prospects. Many young Europeans were born and live in a place that people all around the world pay boatloads of money to visit for vacation. Combine those two factors together, and many young Europeans are choosing to turn their lives into semi-vacations.

Does this happen in America, too? Probably to some degree. It sounds like the lifestyle pattern of a lot of millennials I know (including sort of me). But I’d still guess it’s more common in the higher taxed, better welfare-stated, more regulated, and generally more livable European countries.

When I floated these ideas to a friend, he suggested that this might be a solution to the Fermi Paradox. Maybe at a certain civilization point, most people have so much wealth and so much comfort (and possibly so much state-provided economic security) that the potential marginal benefits of serious productive efforts falls too low. Then, people stop being as economically productive as they can be. They channel that energy into leisure, art, and other pleasurable experiences. Maybe Spain and Greece are at the forefront of this process, and France/Italy are next in line, then the UK, then Germany/America.

Or maybe I’m spending too much time with young political leftists.

14 thoughts on “Notes on Spain

  1. * Assad is one of the good guys
    * We wouldn’t know the name of the American president or American politics if y’all just stopped bombing other countries
    * There is at least one far-right party in the USA called the Republican party, and depending on the view Democratic party can be another
    * As an European, outside of buying 2nd hand stuff from people, I haven’t used physical money in, like, maybe more than half a year? You could’ve just used your bank card to buy stuff (and without touching, NFC works)
    * I agree about many young Europeans just not having any concept of work. In South European countries like Spain, Greece etc it’s confounded by the fact that there’s a lot of unemployment there. On the other hand, in a country like Netherlands for example with historical unemployment lows, still a lot of young people are like you describe. They don’t show up in unemployment statistics because they work a part time job of 2 half days or something, receive a lot of benefits and live a frugal but global nomad lifestyle. The government can afford it because there’re many companies here with most of the white collar jobs being done by immigrants from South Europe/Middle East/India/South America etc. So immigrants trying to make their life make a lot of money (and pay the related taxes), and the companies they work for also pay some taxes because of all the business created and there’s a generation of youth that do nothing or do stuff like designing fairly sourced vegan hip accessories or whatever. I think growing up with no concept of having to safeguard one’s future does that.
    * I don’t agree about the mediocre economic prospects though. As a software guy, I can easily find a job in SF for over twice what I’m making here, but after calculating the costs of healthcare, rent, having to own a car, etc etc etc I’ll be left with less money. Add to that having to psychologically deal with social stuff like having to live in a country that loves its guns and death penalty and violent cops and all the other 3rd world stuff USA proudly keeps, I think America doesn’t pay enough.

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    1. * I don’t agree about the mediocre economic prospects though. As a software guy, I can easily find a job in SF for over twice what I’m making here, but after calculating the costs of healthcare, rent, having to own a car, etc etc etc I’ll be left with less money. Add to that having to psychologically deal with social stuff like having to live in a country that loves its guns and death penalty and violent cops and all the other 3rd world stuff USA proudly keeps, I think America doesn’t pay enough.

      I made similar calculations for myself once and found the opposite. Is your conclusion largely based on being in the Bay Area?

      The main sticking point for me is taxes, in most European countries you’re paying 40-60% marginal taxes past 80-ishK USD. See here – https://taxfoundation.org/top-individual-income-tax-rates-europe-2019/

      In the US, you don’t pass 24% until $163K, and then peak is 37% well over $500K. State level taxes are usually only 0-5%.

      Even out-of-pocket healthcare costs are only maybe $5-6K per year. With employer provided insurance, it’s a lot less. A car is a big up-front expense, but daily costs are comparable to public transport in Europe.

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  2. Thanks Dormin, your posts are never predictable but always interesting!

    I can confirm, I am from the UK and I have more knowledge and opinions about American politics than British.

    Did you know that Ecuador uses USD as its currency, but they use 1 dollar coins more than notes.

    How did you meet so many cool people to have deep conversations with? Did you speak in English?

    How did you describe your country since it has no name? This is what I imagine:
    >I’m from America
    >Bueno, cual país?
    >No, the United States of America.
    >Which one? The Federative Republic of Brazil?
    >No, in North America
    >Oh, then you are from the United States of Mexico?
    >Further North!
    >Oh, that American Union of States.

    It’s worse than the Republic of the Congo.

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    1. I did not know Ecuador uses USD, but I had that same experience in Cambodia. When I was there 6-8 years ago, the local currency was present, but everyone preferred USD. It was a little strange (but totally understandable) that the whole local economy pretty much ran on denominations of $5 or less, which in the US would be considered petty change. IIRC, I tried to pay for something with a $20 bill once, but the store owner said he wouldn’t take it.

      I was visiting someone in Spain and she introduced me to her friends. Nearly everyone spoke at least a little English, though few people spoke it fluently. I have high school level Spanish, but we mostly stuck to slow English.

      The “America” naming thing was more contentious than you’re describing. Every time I’ve had that conversation, the Europeans knew what I meant by “America,” but they found it stereotypically USA-centric or even imperialistic of me to assume the broadly continental mantle of “America” for one country in the “Americas.” So they’d actually stop the conversation and tell me they don’t like to use the term (again, usually in a friendly way). In my experience, most Europeans refer to the US as “the States” but Americans never say that.

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      1. Weird… I always say America to mean the USA. In my experience Americans always say “the States”. But then, all the Americans I’ve met were travellers who probably had that conversation before.

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  3. >> Spaniards are hot

    Yes. Lived in Barcelona for two years. Practically broke my neck from turning it so many times. Only place I’ve ever been that beat it is Oslo.

    >> Except for the Parts of Spain that Look Like Massachusetts

    My biggest takeaway from my time in Spain was how varied the terrain actually is. Like you, I basically just assumed “desert”. I also thought it was hot everywhere, all the time. I never knew that it snows in Madrid every year. Even Barcelona gets cold during the winters, the humidity making it feel bone-chilling.

    >> Spanish People Can’t Stop Talking About America

    Like you mentioned, this is mostly because you were talking to young political leftists. The average Spaniard is deeply uninformed about anything across the Atlantic. Doubly so for the average Catalonian.

    >> Do all Europeans carry coin purses?

    The vast majority of males carry wallets with coin pouches, in my experience. I’ve been back in the US for seven years and I still treasure mine. They’re so hard to find here.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. – From my experience, the “don’t call the U.S. ‘America'” thing is also relatively frequent among lefty young people form the U.S., especially (understandably) Hispanics.
    – I don’t think “what does Spain look like” is a good framing. Spain, or any decently-sized country, is a broad territory with multiple landscapes and climates joined into one political entity. Trying to think of landscape on the country level is, I feel, a categorization error.
    – I think that the (broadly speaking) left’s “cultural dominance” is not that clear in Spain, and definitely not as strong as it is in the U.S.. It’s hard to come up with quantitative data to support this claim, but, for instance, from the top 10 newspapers in circulation (https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anexo:Comparativa_de_peri%C3%B3dicos_de_Espa%C3%B1a), only El País and El Periódico are moderate left; all others are either moderate right or (in the case of ABC and La Razón) right-wing.
    – U.S. fringe hard-right parties aren’t the right comparison for Vox — Vox would easily fall within the mainstream Republican party. Its main political positions are being anti-immigration, nationalistic, pro-(Catholic-)church, anti-abortion, socially conservative but economically liberal (lower taxes, flat income tax), pro-bullfighting and hunting (some similarities with 2A issues in the U.S.), with a strong populist discourse (it has Bannon as a political advisor). There are fringe far-right parties in Spain as well, such as Falange, whose logo is a literal fascio.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. On “what does a country look like,” I half agree. As you say, it’s one of those categorization problems where you can err on over generalizing, but I think you can undergeneralize too. I’d say that most Spain-sized countries have one landscape/climate type which covers *most* of the land and sets a baseline expectation. Like, if I imagine “Italian landscape” in my mind, I picture arid conditions, rolling field, lots of sun. I know that the north of Italy not sticking out into the Mediterranean is more temperate, and their are mountains, but my sense is that my mental picture roughly covers 70-80% of the country. It’s certainly a more accurate description of the Italian landscape than “cold, tundra, boreal forest, etc.” However, larger countries (US, Russia, China) are too geographically diverse to categorize in such a way.

      Spain is unusual in this regard because it’s more geographically diverse than I expected, likely because it’s one of the few countries that straddles the Mediterranean and Atlantic.

      That’s interesting about Vox. My lefty friends in Spain were up in arms about it, and explicitly said it was a far-right resurgence. I get your point though and agree if those are its positions.

      Like

      1. Mild disagree on Italian landscape — the Po valley is very flat, and the right-side of the peninsula (down to Abruzzo or so) doesn’t really get a dry season.
        But I do get the point that Spain might be particularly noteworthy in this aspect. I guess I think of countries as being political rather than geographical entities, though.
        By the way, you may have seen a lot of Spain in older films — a lot of Westerns were shot in the desert near Almería: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_films_shot_in_Almer%C3%ADa

        Also, I still think Vox are terrible — I’m just trying to contextualize them as I don’t think they’re qualitatively different from a good portion of the Republican party in the U.S. or even from the right-most-wing of the existing Spanish PP.
        Of course, by expanding the Overton window in that direction they will cause some fringe far-right discourse to become more acceptable (and will flirt with it themselves), so the effect your friends complain about will occur.

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  5. Mild disagree on Italian landscape — the Po valley is very flat, and the right-side of the peninsula (down to Abruzzo or so) doesn’t really get a dry season.
    But I do get the point that Spain might be particularly noteworthy in this aspect. I guess I think of countries as being political rather than geographical entities, though.
    By the way, you may have seen a lot of Spain in older films — a lot of Westerns were shot in the desert near Almería: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_films_shot_in_Almer%C3%ADa

    Also, I still think Vox are terrible — I’m just trying to contextualize them as I don’t think they’re qualitatively different from a good portion of the Republican party in the U.S. or even from the right-most-wing of the existing Spanish PP.
    Of course, by expanding the Overton window in that direction they will cause some fringe far-right discourse to become more acceptable (and will flirt with it themselves), so the effect your friends complain about will occur.

    Like

  6. “Spaniards Have Two Last Names”
    All Spanish speakers have two last names. You are from the US, come on, motherfucking Mexico is your neighbour XDDDDDD

    Like

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