Monday, April 17, 2006


[Note: This is an essay that was recently published in Expatica Spain.]

I’ve been watching Spanish teenagers a lot since I moved here in 1999. And it’s not just because they refuse to talk with me. They are, in fact, fascinating creatures to observe—and, contrary to some of their US counterparts, are unlikely to be concealing weapons.

Whether it’s due to curiosity or age, I’ve amassed a number of conclusions about their behavior that I’d like to share. So let’s begin this discussion on a scientific note. Evolution!

Within the next one hundred years, evolutionary forces will render the average Spanish teenager’s legs non-existent. This will happen because those legs are, in fact, redundant appendages—having been replaced long ago with the two-wheels of a Vespa® motorbike.

Spanish teens ride motorbikes everywhere. They ride them to the supermarket. They ride them to the park. They ride them to the toilet at 3am. But do they ride them responsibly? The answer is...“kind of.”

Spain has a mandatory helmet law, which teens strictly observe in spirit—if not in letter. The problem, you see, is not whether they wear their helmets. It’s where.

Half of all teenage motorbike drivers wear an unstrapped helmet balanced gingerly atop the crown of the head. This has the dual advantage of allowing the sun’s nourishing rays to penetrate the driver’s scalp, while freeing his face to smoke a cigarette at eighty kilometers per hour.

The other half wear their helmets on the elbow.

Arguably, however, Spanish teens don’t *need* to wear helmets because they’ve devised other, ingenious ways of making the motorbike experience a safer one. Foremost amongst these is to remove the muffler from the motorbike’s exhaust pipe and replace it with an empty beer can. This modification effectively notifies other motorists on the road—and in fact, across the entire province—that a teenager is in the vicinity and all lane changes should therefore be made with extra care.

They then take safety-consciousness one step further by driving these modified screamers between the hours of midnight and 3am—a time during which they’re likely to have the roads all to themselves, because the rest of the populace has long-since gone to bed and is trying to sleep.

But enough about science. Let’s move on to fashion.

A few years ago, my then-thirteen year old cousin from Nashville, Tennessee visited me in Barcelona. It was his first trip abroad. After twenty-four hours in town, he looked up to me and said, “Gosh!” [Apparently, they still say “Gosh!” in Nashville.] “The kids in Spain sure wear tight jeans.”

“What do they wear in Nashville?” I asked.

“The same thing, but six sizes bigger.”

And he was right, as I learned upon returning home the following Christmas. US teenagers wear ass-crack-to-floor length blue jeans so baggy and tattered that even Charlie Chaplin would be reluctant to don them; whereas their Spanish counterparts prefer jeans that appear to have been fashioned from Lycra and pulled from the wardrobe of a Barbie Dream House®.

I’m not sure why teens on each side of the Atlantic choose to dress so differently. Aren’t teenagers supposed to be the same the world over? I do, however, see logic in each side’s position. On the one hand, it makes perfect sense for teenage girls to flaunt their newly-budding bodies by wearing form-fitting jeans. On the other hand, it makes perfect sense for teenage boys to conceal their delight at such flaunting by wearing enormous, loose-fitting jeans.

And speaking of newly-budding bodies, let’s move on to our next topic...PDA.

Spanish teens are great aficionados of PDA. By “PDA,” I don’t mean Personal Digital Assistants. No teen would be interested in one of those, unless its screen displayed images of muscular bald men hacking each other to pieces with samurai swords. Rather, the PDA that I’m talking about is Public Display of Affection.

And when it comes to THAT type of PDA, Spanish teens are performance artists without out equal. Indeed, they’ll seize any opportunity to launch into a well-rehearsed pantomime of two carp pursuing the same piece of bread...and they’ll do it anywhere. They’ll do it in a commuter train. They’ll do it on a park bench. Or—as happens all too frequently—they’ll do it in a the table in front of me...while I’m trying to eat dinner.

Which brings us to our final topic for today—the botellón.

When the weekend rolls around, Spanish teens take to the supermarket. And what do they buy? They buy two-liter jugs of Coca-Cola, Tetrabrik boxes of low-grade red wine, bottles of the cheapest simulated Scotch whiskey on the shelf...and potato chips. Lots of potato chips. Then they congregate at a pre-arranged location for a “botellón.”

Botellones are informal, open-air parties at which several to hundreds of teenagers compete to see who can achieve the most skull-crushing hangover for the least amount of money. Botellones used to be a widespread occurrence throughout Spain—usually taking place in public parks of major cities. But alas, Spanish authorities began clamping down on these parties because—amongst other reasons—the kids failed to remember what their parents had taught them: Always pick-up after yourself.

Botellones still happen, of course. But they’ve moved on to more discrete venues. Here in Sanchoville, the weekly botellón takes place in the cornfields up the street from my house.

I was tempted to join these Children of the Corn during last Friday’s festivities. You know...for journalistic reasons. In the end, however, I decided against it—as being caught drinking Calimochos (i.e., red wine and Coca-cola cocktails) with peers who were wearing diapers when I was wearing university robes might not bode well for me when it comes time to renew my residency visa.

And anyway...they probably would’ve refused to talk with me.


At 3:12 PM, Anonymous Karl said...

Skin tight jeans and plenty of alcohol. Sure sounds like a good oportunity for some journalistic "research" :-)

At 5:29 PM, Blogger woman wandering said...

I giggled my way through this one ... and 3 times I said to myself through laughter ... 'Sal, did you really write that?'

And ya did!

Thanks for the laughter.

At 6:41 PM, Anonymous Sally said...

Do Spanish teenage girls still pose while slowly and seductively flipping their hair to the opposite side of their faces? That was a fave pastime in the 80's, when I lived in Madrid.

Thanks for the laugh; I love this entry!

At 8:09 PM, Blogger Expat Traveler said...

Well I guess they might accept you if you venture over in tight jeans.... ;-)

On the other hand, I swear every teen I've seen loves wearing their jeans low, tight or not, it's just that "You know how old I am" trait. Lucky for us, we don't even have to guess their age anymore because it screams out to us... (maybe that's except for Spain)...

I have a feeling you try to find an excuse for everything. I hope your parent's didn't get driven too crazy when you were little as a result. ;-)

At 10:10 PM, Blogger CanadianSwiss said...

Up to just recently, the kids driving "mofas" (under 50cc) in Switzerland used to wear their helmets over their right elbow. They must have had severe cerebral concussions, but their elbows were safe.

So you didn't take out your 80's jeans to join the kids?? Or was it the hangover you were afraid of? Hehe.

Nice post. Laughed all the way :-)

At 10:41 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Karl: Whenever I think about this, I hear Jethro Tull. "Sitting on a park bench. [DA-DA-DAAAAA!] Eyeing little girls with bad intent." Sorry. Hope that doesn't cost me my visa.

Lady Di: No charge for that. I don't make this stuff up. I just report the facts.

Sally: Field? Brown? Struthers? Or my evil female twin? Actually, I haven't noticed the hair-flipping thing...but will take special note of it tomorrow. I fear, however, that they might set their hair ablaze with the cigarette.

Expat Trav: If only I could find the Jordache jeans I had in 8th grade, then they'd like me...right? Jordache! When was the last time you heard THAT word?

C-Swiss: Perhaps I'll try a different approach and go to the cornfield in bell-bottoms and a fringe leather jacket. You know, the Country Joe & The Fish look. Then they'd like me...right? BTW...I'm still thinking about that in-home sauna. Man! How cool is that?

At 1:13 AM, Anonymous Sally said...

Sal - evil twin, definitely. ~cackle~

On the hair-flipping, in the 80's the technique was this: Teenage girl stands still, bends one leg with foot at angle to body. With one hand, she runs her fingers through her hair, flipping it over to the side of her hair where the part is. This creates a "cave" of sorts in the middle of her head, and because she has defied gravity vis-a-vis the natural part, she is then forced to keep her head at an angle, tipped in the direction of the flipped hair, in order to maintain the *look*.

And you're right; all of this has to be accomplished while keeping the hair flame-free.

It's a lot of work being a Spanish teenager.

At 2:42 PM, Blogger Kim/Thomas said...

I love this post, next time could you take pictures? Oh wait, that would definately have spanish kids wondering what the heck you were doing...ok, camera phone!

Great great great post!!

Very amusing and really I don't need the photos, your writing is descriptive enough, and I don't want to get you arrested!


At 3:24 PM, Blogger CanadianSwiss said...

Jordache? I think I haven't heard THAT name since I left Canada 20+ years ago! And the in-home sauna is cool and HOT- temperature wise and ... ;-)

At 3:42 AM, Blogger Sophie said...

Ah, the ubitiqous motos! Stock up on earplus. The soft, orange ones from Leight's do the trick for me. At any rate, I wish they would take noise pollution more seriously in this country.

At 10:45 AM, Blogger christina said...

Boy, that all sounds pretty scary. Have you signed your little Pumpkin up for a private girls' boarding school in Switzerland yet?

German teens also smoke and drink a lot but are more into the baggy rapper look. Well, the boys at least. The girls are still wearing low-rise skin-tight hip-huggers whether they have the figure for them or not. I have found myself averting my eyes on occasion.

At 11:03 AM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Sophie: I'm a devoted orange earplug user. At least, I used to be when I lived in BCN. Things are pretty quiet in Castilla-LaMancha. I'm partial to 3M earplugs. I've steered many away from the yellow earplugs, which have all the density of a hot dog bun.

Christina: Pumpkin is pre-enrolled in a Shaolin monestary, where she will study and master the ancient art of kung-fu. As for those low-rise hip-huggers, I know what you mean. IMOHO, they are the single worst clothing design ever conceived. Only 1/10 of 1% of the the earth's population look good in them. Honestly, if I wanted to look at someone's fully-exposed, stretchmark-laden belly and love-handles (male, female or otherwise), I'd go to a Chicago Cubs baseball game and sit in the bleachers. In this respect, there's a lot to be said for the burkha.


At 5:02 PM, Blogger ramblingwoman said...

Thanks for giving me a laugh Sal. (popped over from Trac's blog). Not only hilarious but informative too!

At 11:48 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Hey Rambling Woman: Your sister "Wandering Woman" also visits frequently. Any friend of Euro-Trac is a friend of ours. She knows Elvis, ya know.


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