When in Spain... 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY IAKOV FILIMONOV / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM - waste management Recycling truck picking up a bin in barcelona.
  • photo by Iakov Filimonov / shutterstock.com
  • waste management Recycling truck picking up a bin in barcelona.

They say travel broadens a person. Other than travelling on an all-you-can-eat cruise ship — something I'm still not old enough to do — I have no idea why they say that. I've met too many people who have travelled and come back wondering why wherever they went doesn't do things the same way they're done where they came from. When you're someplace else, you often see these people in McDonald's, or Starbucks. Go figure.

I just got back from some time in Spain. Spain is often painted as one of the sick sisters of Europe, along with Greece and Italy. The people doing the painting are often German and French. Draw your own conclusions.

But Spain was once a great empire. So was Great Britain. Again, draw your own conclusions. When Spain was a great empire, the country "ruled" large swaths of North and South America. The Spanish liked to think of it as a symbiotic relationship. They got gold and silver from the people who lived in the Americas and in return, gave them smallpox and measles... at least those they didn't outright slaughter.

But that was a different time and such things — called atrocities nowadays — were just business as usual. Besides, it's not like the Spanish were mindless brutes. Heck, they liked to have as good a time as the next guy. Remember the Inquisition?

Enough travelogue. Back to the broadening. There were things I noticed in Spain that we could do worse in Canada than emulate. A few of them would include...

Saving Power: No, I'm not referring to Spain's three-hour afternoon siesta. But every hotel room I stayed in was totally dark, completely without electric power. Until, that is, I slipped the room key card in the little slot on a wall-mounted activator by the door. Voila! Let there be lights.

It was impossible to leave the lights on in your room when you weren't there, unless you were comfortable leaving the door wide open. Since there were safes in almost every room, I took that as an indication leaving the door open wasn't such a good idea.

Almost all public areas, hallways and stairwells for example, were lit via motion sensing switches. Given human fallibility, this seems like a good idea and certainly falls within the walking-the-talk category. Not groundbreaking technology, just widespread adoption of good ideas.

Waste Management: Almost everywhere I went there were multiple refuse containers on sidewalks, streets and alleyways. Businesses did not seem to have a sloppy bin out back. Good thing too because not too many businesses had an out back to begin with.

There were containers for garbage, for paper recycling, for plastic recycling and some I couldn't decipher, universal icons notwithstanding. People and businesses all used them and seemed reasonably adept — and willing — to put things in the right container.

Which wasn't really a container at all but was an inlet to an underground, pneumatic waste collection system that may be the epitome of tossing something "away."

Other low-tech versions had above-ground portals and underground containers. Big trucks would come by and lift the whole kit and caboodle — whatever that is — out of the ground and empty it.

Whistler could do worse than have something like that in our neighbourhood bear-feeding grounds. Convenient and bearproof.

Round and Round You Go: Roundabouts. Anyone who's used them know how well they keep traffic moving and get rid of all the jerky stop and start we put up with in North America with our addiction to stop signs and traffic lights.

Sure, there are traffic lights in busy urban areas. But for the most part, there are roundabouts.

I suspect anyone who's tried to leave Function Junction at quittin' time would be happy to see a roundabout there instead of sitting at a red light with little traffic coming from the other three directions. Ditto the lights at Creekside... especially late afternoon on a weekend during the winter.

Slow Down and Smell the... Coffee: I believe there is a Spanish regulation requiring a bar, cafe or someplace to buy coffee every 30 metres in developed areas. There are three common elements to Spanish coffee. It's good. It's served in a washable cup. No one gets it to go. Everyone has enough time to sip a cup, is standing or seated. It's so civilized. There is also no Spanish word(s) for Big Gulp, although takeaway has crept into the vernacular.

Green Man Walking: Where roundabouts won't do and traffic lights are installed, pedestrians either jaywalk, cautiously, or wait for the green man walking sign to light up. Green man is fun to watch. Whether he's accompanied by a timer counting down the seconds to red man or not, the last few seconds of every green man's life are a flurry of activity as he becomes green man running. If you know what's good for you, you'd better run too.

I'll Drink to That: Spanish liquor regulations may, in fact, be an oxymoron. I'm not sure there are any. But then, I didn't witness much in the way of public drunkenness, British tourists notwithstanding. I did see lots of people milling about, drink in hand, outside bars and cafes. They were having a good time. They were outside because they couldn't smoke inside. They looked like they were having more fun than the people inside but the people inside breathed easier. Life's a compromise.

Oh yeah, many of them had their kids along. The kids weren't drinking. But they were having a blast... at 11:00 p.m.!

Small Cars & Trucks: Contrary to what North Americans believe, houses and buildings get built and renovated in Spain without everyone who owns a hammer also owning a three-quarter tonne pickup truck to carry it in. I still don't know how they manage to do that.

Lest you think I'm blind to the manifold weirdness of Spain — or, heaven forbid, Canada bashing — there are, of course, a number of things Spain could learn from Canada. Rudimentary concepts of customer service and business hours that aren't interrupted by three-hour afternoon breaks for example. The invention of something other than white bread also seems to have gotten past the country unnoticed.

And don't get me started on the kamikaze pedestrians. Walking in a straight line with no notice of anyone else seems to be the country's version of the USofA's Stand Your Ground mentality. Fortunately, only the guardia civil seemed to be armed.

Still paradise is where you find it and there's no place like home, Toto. Besides, I was getting to the point where I was hopelessly confusing my por favors with my s'il vous plaits. Good to get home.



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