An exasperated Majorcan friend took me to task the other day because I’d posted her a thank-you note. Why, she wanted to know, did I still feel the need to follow such formalities when we were established friends. A simple verbal ‘thank you’ surely sufficed?
That’s the trouble with old fogeys like me. I still adhere to the protocols and potency of the pen nib to express certain emotions. It’s the same with birthdays. Majorcans find it very quaint that I accompany gifts with greetings cards – a rarity here – and no wonder. The average Spanish effort is kitsch at best and artistically barren at worst. And when it comes to gifts, it never pays to be ostentatious. Birthdays are celebrated in a very low-key way and modest presents are acceptable but not obligatory. More emphasis is put on saints’ days and the delights of celebratory food and drink.
Last week I was discussing the British habit of enquiring as to a guest’s culinary likes and dislikes in advance of an invitation to dinner. My Majorcan friends thought this unnecessary and were appalled to hear that some British guests actually jumped the gun and stipulated their food preferences in advance of the event. In their eyes, this was the height of bad manners. Guests should eat everything offered by their hosts and only in extreme cases – such as allergies – politely cast aside a food morsel on the plate without fuss or comment. Most Spaniards I know generously bring a bottle of wine or a little gift to dinner parties but few bother to send thank-you notes afterwards. This probably has more to do with the Mediterranean love of spontaneity and living for the moment than anything else. Why harp on about a past celebration when everyone’s moved onto the next?
Of course where Majorcan children are concerned, there’s an increasingly relaxed attitude to manners. In my infancy my mother’s mantra of ‘manners maketh man’ rang loud and clear when guests visited but here it’s far more mañana. Although a child will accept a gift cheerfully enough, often with an appreciative mumble prompted by the parents, penned thank-yous are as scarce as hens’ teeth. Equally, few children will worry about leaping up from the dinner table – without a ‘please’ or ‘may I’ – when they’ve finished eating and in formal settings such as at weddings and christenings, they tend to do as they please. At a local wedding I watched enviously as children yawned and chatted during the priest’s oration and happily skipped about the church, played with friends in the pews and even left the premises when the lengthy ceremony became too tedious.
I notice with Majorcan men that manners – as far as women are concerned – are still important although I can’t decide whether this has more to do with Spanish machismo than anything else. In my mountain town men charmingly hold doors open and often allow a woman to be served first in shops. On the road there’s another whole set of rules. Men rarely stop at pedestrian crossings unless a woman has children in tow whereas women drivers unfailingly draw to a halt. However, if a woman is trying to turn onto a busy highway from a slip road and offers a pleading smile, Majorcan males will inevitably show great chivalry and wave her through. It’s the same on a narrow road when two cars meet head to head. The majority of Majorcan men will gallantly reverse into a lay-by, allowing the woman driver to pass. Rather mischievously, a male friend assured me that this was only because women were deemed to be such lousy drivers. Ha!
Despite our differences it’s surely gratifying to know that manners still matter in Majorca, in a manner of speaking, of course.
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