A supermarket, somewhere in Andalusia

by La Sevillana /
La Sevillana's picture
Feb 04, 2010 / 1 comments

A friend once mocked me with the caustic observation that: “We’re going to rename you Paciencia [patience].” The friend, my husband and I had returned to Seville after an afternoon in the countryside to find that the radiator in the car we had borrowed from my in-laws was hemorrhaging coolant.

My husband, not knowing the procedure in Spain in this type of situation, telephoned his father regarding how to proceed getting the car towed and serviced. His father responded by yelling at him excitedly through the mobile phone for more than 15 minutes and then, rather than calling a garage or his insurance company, calling back to yell excitedly for yet another 15 minutes. (In defense of my father-in-law, I would like to take a moment to note that this is typically how any problem is resolved in Andalusia; first, by discussing it adamantly. It can be endearing, enraging or shocking, depending on the context in which it occurs.)

While this strange and unproductive drama unfolded, my husband, my friend and I were forced to stand in the street of a city which had shut down for siesta in heat exceeding 100 degrees. We were tired, we were thirsty, we were hot and we had no where to go. I lost my patience.


(Pictured above: the Andalusian countryside, with fields of sunflowers in the forefront and behind groves of olives and mountains.)

Three years later, I’m still in Spain, and I still sometimes lose my patience (more often, however, I simply stand stupefied). It would be tempting at this point to smugly note that I’m not a very good anthropologist as, supposedly, a well-trained anthropologist would adapt to her environment and learn to be patient. Yes, a good anthropologist would allow the mystical substance of paciencia to flow through her, like a young Skywalker learning the ways of the Force. A mall and toldos

I disagree with this assessment. A good portion of Spaniards are actually more impatient, and vocal about it, than am I. I would argue that I have internalized perfectly the Spanish temperament, and learned to respond in a culturally-appropriate manner. I can at least claim that I’ve never yelled loudly in frustration, as a guy in line at the check out next to me did recently, “Venga!” [“Come on!”] in an attempt to get those ahead to move more quickly. And one shouldn’t assume that Spaniards are not aware that things ought to function a bit more efficiently than they sometimes do. We all know about the pitfalls of assumptions.

(At right: a mall in the regional capital of Seville. The toldos above serve the dual purpose of blocking the harsh rays of the sun while lending a splash of color to the drab browns and grays of the structure below.)  

But I digress.

I was reminded of the horrid incident reported above (with the car) after having gone shopping for bread at a grocery store in my neighborhood this past week. It’s a fine illustration of the sort of mishaps that occur on a day-to-day basis in southern Spain that bring both frustrations and joy. Here’s the rundown: I arrive at the checkout counter.

There are three customers in front of myself in line. While I’m pondering my good luck at having gotten into line before it had a chance to get longer, I notice that the elderly woman at the register checking out her purchases has evidently dropped her change somewhere, and that the checker has excitedly left her post to search the store for the lost coins, which the woman eventually discovers she had accidentally dropped into her grocery bag. After she has exited, the even more elderly, almost decrepit, fellow who was behind this forgetful (although apologetic) lady wants his items double or maybe triple bagged. The checker, unaccustomed to bagging for her customers and probably feeling that she’d done quite a bit of work for the previous customer, passively-aggressively defies him by bagging as slowly as possible (In all honesty, I have seen this very technique put to much better use by store employees. She was an amateur). I then notice that the lady next in line behind the demanding fellow is going to pay for her purchases all in pennies.

When I see her pull out two fistfuls of copper, I hurry over to the line parallel to my own, which has just opened, and where the customer checking out does not have enough cash to pay for all the apples she wants to purchase. She tsk tsks her situation for a bit, discusses things over with the cashier, and then nervously exits the line to lighten her bag of apples by one and reweigh her purchases. When she returns, the manager must of course approve the refund of her old total before she can be ringed through with her bags one apple lighter. Not surprisingly, after the manager has finished doing his thing and the checker has rung her purchases through once again, the customer finds that she has not taken enough apples out of her bag and must once again exit the check out line in order to return yet another apple and re-weigh before she can pay. Finally.

Old couple

Meanwhile, I glumly note that the three customers who had been behind me in the first line have already checked out and paid for their groceries and are merrily on their way home (the penny counting having gone much quicker than I had imagined).

Paciencia, Traci. Paciencia.

(At right: an elderly couple celebrates a mild winter's day with a stroll through the city center of Seville. This couple returns to this plaza again and again, always together.)








La Sevillana is the Anthropology Editor, Andalusia, for Wandering Educators

Comments (1)

  • Dr. Jessie Voigts

    14 years 4 months ago

    one of the hardest things to learn (and practice) is patience - no matter WHERE you are. funny story!


    Jessie Voigts, PhD

    Publisher, wanderingeducators.com

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