119 – Noisy, Noisier, Noisiest

It’s over two years now since the sounds outside my bedroom window that very first night, made me think about how we react to noise, especially at night  “First Night in My Casita”.  Back then, in July 2012, I took a firm decision that NOISE, however noisy, was not going to bother me.  The combination of dogs barking, children shrieking, adults arguing, and church bells ringing, was clearly going to be a regular occurrence, and even as an inexperienced newbie it seemed to me to be something that I either needed to get used to and push to the back of my mind, or it would grow to become something unbearable. 

Since then, someone a couple of streets away has installed a cock which crows triumphantly at 7am, seemingly unaware that we have been awake until the small hours – la madrugada.  A house which is quite a distance by road but across the roofs and patios is quite close, has a young goat in a shed on the terrace.  And the mule in the parallel street still complains loudly and vociferously whenever he is dragged in through the front door, across the kitchen and out to his stall in the rear yard.  The neighbour’s children are growing, as is their vocal capacity, and as is the audible frustration of their mother.

119-dominosThis is Spain, and these are the sounds of Spain.  The bars keep the television turned up to maximum volume, so the old boy propping up one end of the bar has to shout even louder to join in the conversation at the other end.  Often a second television competes, showing a different football match or another noisy game show.  In a corner, the clicking of the dominoes is enough to drive you mad if you allow it to.

There are beautiful sounds as well.  The high notes of the pan pipes float down the road, signalling the arrival of the knife-sharpener.  The mournful emotional sounds of the agony bells (el toque agónico) as someone approaches or arrives at their death.  The annual flamenco competition in the village, the music drifting over the rooftops into my open bedroom windows.  The clatter of hooves down the street as the still-working horses head for the fields.

Missing are the sounds that filled my old life.  The comforting drone of John Humphrys on Radio 4 in the mornings.  Traffic outside the cottage.  Aeroplanes overhead.  The school playground across the road.  Contrary to popular belief, I would suggest that Spain is not noisier.  But they are different sounds, and they tend to be at their peak at hours when the UK is falling silent.  Not better, not worse, just different.

Yet sadly, the English-language newspapers and the expat forums are full of complaints about noise.  Perhaps people imagined that the noises they found charming when visiting Spain on holiday, would somehow disappear if they lived here full-time?  Or perhaps holidays in nice hotels on the Costas were inadequate preparation for living in an isolated home in the campo surrounded by working farms and animals?  Whatever the reason, “noise” in Spain seems to be a major cause of dissatisfaction.  Recently a discussion in a local internet forum included a plea to visitors in nearby holiday rental homes “Can’t someone explain to these holiday-makers that some of us have to live here?”  The complaint was that visitors were drinking on the terrace and playing music until the small hours.  Goodness – how dare they!  Just like the Spanish!   The behaviour of Spanish children is a regular source of complaints too – “They shouldn’t be kept up late like that, it’s SO bad for them” is the cry.  Perhaps “bad for me” would be more accurate – at least if someone wants to retain UK-style sleep patterns in a country which does things differently.  There is a balance to be struck between being blindly uncritical of our adopted country which clearly has faults and problems, and being blindly critical of differences which have emerged naturally from a different climate, culture and history.

It’s a noisy country.  The cities are modern, vibrant, loud.  The rural areas are traditional, sociable, loud.  Maybe one day it will change – though I’m not convinced that 119-doorstepwould be necessarily for the better.  In the meantime, we can choose to grump and moan, going to bed at 10pm with ear-plugs and complaining about the children (and adults) shouting outside.  Or we can take a kitchen chair out onto the street along with a mug of coffee, and sit comfortably with the neighbours in the cool of the long summer nights, shouting and laughing along with them, until eventually at 2am or thereabouts silence falls, the group of friends bid each other “sueños dulces” and the wooden chairs are carried back indoors.


©  Tamara  Essex  2014                                           http://www.twocampos.com



I’m trying to get my head around “falta”.  Easy enough when the waiter comes over during your meal to check if we have everything we need – “¿Falta algo?”  Is anything missing?  But then there is “Hace falta …” which seems to mean the opposite, well sometimes.  “Hace falta ….” means “you have to”, a bit like “tiene que” but less personal.

So we can imagine the following conversation …

119-paella“¿Falta algo para la paella?”
“Si, falta un pimiento rojo.”
“Vale, hace falta comprar uno.”

“Have we got everything for the paella?”
“No, we are missing a red pepper.”
“Right, you have to buy one then.”

This is a great example of just having to go with the flow.  A direct word-by-word translation of that conversation would render it ridiculous.

“Anything is missing for the paella?”
“Yes, a red pepper is missing.”
“Right, it makes missing to buy one.”

And for months, whenever I heard “hace falta” my English brain tried to grapple with the concept of “hace” (it does, or it makes) and “falta” (missing), together meaning that you have to do something.  Finally, with the help of my unofficial language guides, I have been persuaded to allow my English brain to close down, and simply accept that translating doesn’t work.  You have to hear it, and you have to say it, without translating.  “Hace falta escucharlo, y hace falta decirlo, sin traducirlo.”

7 thoughts on “119 – Noisy, Noisier, Noisiest

  1. ayabowman beat us to it – no R4…? Agree with everything you say – but lucky you only have one cock nearby – we have dozens and they crow at random times, eg 3am! And dogs? once they set each other off it takes a fair while for them to settle down.

  2. Haha yes I CAN get Radio 4, it’s there on the iPad …. it’s just that it was ALWAYS on in Dorset, so it seems to me it is one of those sounds that I associate with the UK in the same way that I associate dominos, cocks crowing, and people shouting, with Spain! And yes, I love my nights on the doorstep with the neighbours – one of the great joys of village life 🙂

  3. Maybe our blogger is listening to Spanish radio! Nice piece. If you think about “falta” as indicating a need it can help. Do we need anything for paella? We need to buy a red pepper. But you’re quite right – you can’t actually work language out to the last detail. Much of it you just have to accept.

  4. The Spanish just seem to experience noise differently. There’s no volume control.

    In the past, living on the seafront, I sat on my terrace and listened to every word of the conversation 3 teenage boys were having, on the beach, about 700m away, sat side by side.

    That said, the noise that bugs me most is the scooters with the silencers taken out being revved like crazy for no reason, you really don’t have to jerk the throttle back and forward like that!

    The (pet) dogs in the village that left outside on terraces or in postage stamp sized gardens to bark for hours on end are not cute or cultural, its just ignorant and anti social.

  5. Hello Tamara, as ever an entertaining, thought provoking piece. I have followed your chronicle about a new life in the Axarquia from your first post and can relate to many of the situations and encounters you so beautifully descibe. My Mother lives in Rio Frio and we enjoy the privilege of spending as much time as possible each year in Andalucia, driving around exploring new towns and villages on each visit. It is your latest post on “noise” that has caused me to respond. We have recently returned from a few days in Antequera, staying in an apartment in a busy working class district immediately adjacent to the Alcazaba. It provided a great opportunity to live in a real Andalucian City, largely unspoilt and, at least in our district, almost totally devoid of any signs of tourism. One incident particularly stands out that, I believe, underlines the charm of many of the locals. I was walking up one of the many “cuestas” lugging a heavy bag of shopping when I heard children’s voices calling from behind “Hombre! hombre!” Two boys, around 9 or 10 years old, and proudly decked out in Barcelona colours caught up with me and explained that, as sons of the Supermarket Owner I had just visited, they had noticed I had dropped a 20c coin as I had left. They had picked it up and wanted to return it to me. I sadly have to confesss, my suspicious English nature rearing its head, that I thought I was being played some sort of low level scam. I quickly checked myself and realised that the boys were just displaying a trait I have so often encountered in the region – honesty and consideration for others. So, what has this little episode to do with noise? Well, returning to the Apartment I was greeted with the now familiar cacophony of several of the neighbourhood dogs barking seemingly continually and often with the Owners being close by. The dogs would bark into the early hours and wake us first thing. We were on holiday and I was resentful that there was no chance of a lie in. But I reminded myself that we were in a real, working Spanish City where people generally arose early (despite seemingly going to bed late). I guess, and maybe I am answering my own question, that you just get used to it, that the Spanish do not “hear” their dogs barking and are therefore surprised when Visitors have such a problem with it. It is not that they are intentionally being unsociable? That said, there surely comes a point where a line is crossed and it is hard to escape the fact that we have occasionally witnessed some appalling examples of poor animal treatment. The many strays that pervade the streets up and down the Country are surely a testament of this sadly. And whilst there are obviously good and bad aspects in all cultures, I lean to thinking that there should not be anything wrong in challenging behaviour that you find unacceptable.

  6. Pingback: 104 – All the Language Points in One Place | A Foot in Two Campos

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