It was an unusually warm and sticky spring day in Dorset and the sickly sweet chimes from an ice-cream van wafted on the breeze, jarring with the squeaky brake of a departing milk float. Along the street two window cleaners were balancing on tall ladders, whistling cheerily as they pounded away with cleaning cloths at the upper windows of a semi-detached house. Like moths to a flame a gaggle of giggling teenage girls hung around the ice-cream van, two of them ludicrously kitted out in miniskirts and fleecy UGG boots.
It struck me that this was a scene of English bucolic bliss that I would never, ever witness back home in Soller. And why would I? In our mountain town, ice-cream shops are two a penny. We even have our own ice-cream factory in the town and when it comes to foot attire, the ubiquitous espadrille or traditional Menorcan avarca, country leather sandal, are de rigueur and there isn’t an UGG to be seen. Locals mostly buy long-life milk from the supermarket which lasts longer in the heat and as for window cleaning in my valley, I can’t think of a soul who doesn’t tend their own. My finca has 25 windows and cleaning them isn’t such a chore because they all open inwards, making it a less hazardous sport.
While pondering on those everyday sights, often taken for granted back home, I came up with some Majorcan alternatives. Here on the island, especially in the rural zones, common callers include the water delivery man, woodcutter and the chirpy chap who fills up the industrial oil tank. And then there are the Majorcan workmen who rather quaintly come to one’s home following completion of a building task, in order to hand over the invoice personally.
Every week, rather sombre black and white death notices can be found on the counters of shops, in cafés, supermarkets and after time, clogging the drains in the street. Poignantly they show an image of a deceased local together with his or her personal details and time and circumstances of death. It is a mark of respect and a way of letting locals know that one of their own has passed on. This of course is a tradition that has yet to catch on in the UK.
When it comes to the high street, there are no coffee chains in Majorca aside from a handful of elegant Cappuccino outlets, and one would never find the likes of Boots the Chemist in every town. Spanish farmacias, are rather serious affairs and counter staff take on a confidential air with every customer. It’s also usually necessary to queue and ask for a particular product, rather than grab it off a shelf for oneself. And of course we have no confectionery stores although there are tabacs for the smoking fraternity.
Despite the differences, even on the fringe of the rugged Serra de Tramuntana in the rural northwest of the island, Majorca and England can be found to have one thing in common: Jehovah’s Witnesses. In my very first month in Soller, a polite and smiling huddle of young men and women in suits braved my scorching, rocky track to deliver a religious pamphlet. Rather sweetly they complimented my atrocious Spanish and left graciously despite knowing that I would not be joining their flock any time soon.
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