I once won a race in high school by being clever rather than fast. Being fast definitely helped, but it was quick thinking that ultimately did the trick. I was the anchor leg of the 4x400m relay, which is always the last and most exciting race of the meet because often the winner of the whole meet comes down to the points won in the last race. I had a lead going into my leg of the race, but my opponent was phenomenally fast (went on to state championships), and I knew she would gain on me. Sure enough, she caught up to me with 100 meters to go. She moved into the second lane to pass me. Now at a dead sprint, I moved over in front of her. She cut back to the inside lane to pass me; I cut her off again. She again tried going around my right side, but I got there first. This went on with the two of us weaving back and forth the rest of the race. She never made it past me, and I won the race, winning the whole meet. People watching said it was one of the most exciting and amusing races they had seen.
Living in Spain, I now understand what the experience must have been like for my opponent. How can one person possibly block so much of the path? Little old women with shopping bags and men with canes somehow manage to take up an entire sidewalk. Because this is Spain, they walk at approximately the pace of a tortoise, and if I try to pass them on either side, they magically swerve (or stumble) that way just before I get there. If I try to squeeze through the microscopic space they leave between themselves and the street, I instantly feel like a jerk pushing someone’s grandma aside.
|This sidewalk gets very crowded very easily|
But my daily commute still gets more interesting. In most countries I have visited, there seems to be an unwritten law of society that says that on pedestrian routes in which traffic flows in both directions, you generally stay to the right (or left if you’re in the UK, Australia, or Japan). But such a law does not appear to apply on the streets of Spain. You know those awkward moments when you and another person are walking straight towards each other and one or both of you is going to have to move to the side so you can pass each other? I experience those everyday, and naturally, I always move to the right. But quite often that person decides that’s where they want to walk, suddenly deciding that they must cut right in front of me to look in a store window. Great, so I move to the left. They change their mind. That part of the sidewalk looked really nice. This can get even more complicated when there is dog poop being avoided, and I’m also usually trying not to inhale their second hand smoke as I pass them.
Spaniards seem to have very little concern for anyone else on the street and don’t even think about when what they do might inconvenience others. Obviously this is a generalization and there are polite people and situations in which most people are more considerate, but in my experience they just don’t give a damn.
But don’t be mistaken; walking everywhere is still one of my favorite parts of living here. I absolutely do not miss driving, sitting in Southern California traffic, filling the gas tank, getting oil changes, or anything of the sort. I have never ascribed to American car culture, never felt any particular bond with a car, didn’t name mine or personalize it with bumper stickers, and wasn’t even really sad upon finding out that my brother had totaled my former car (Car ruined, brother fine).
Walking to work has other benefits. How else would I get to hear those two really cute guitarists on Calle Nueva? Where would I get my free newspaper each morning? Where would I get my occasional boost in self esteem that comes when someone stops me to ask for directions, and not only do I know how to get there, but can explain how to do so in Spanish? When else would I get to (try to) make friends with the local stray cats?
|People force these into my hands everyday as if to say “Here! Keep up with what’s going on in the world AND practice reading Spanish.” It’s a win-win|
|Another intriguing sight of my daily commute|
Despite the occasional frustrations of walking the streets of Spain, I wouldn’t think of trading it. My feet and an occasional bus ticket (such as today when it’s raining) are all the transportation I need.