Keep it down!

Today, I’m not going to talk about the weather. Thank goodness for that, I hear you say. Living in Spain we are all used to the uproariousness, the joyous shouting and laughter, the noise of everyone from the bombona man calling out to customers as he brings his gas canisters, to the man at his fruit and veg stall extolling the virtues of his onions. After a local victory in a football match, everyone sounds their horns as they celebrate, driving along with their team’s scarf trailing out of their car window. After a Sevilla-Betis derby a few years ago – I think it was a league final - the hooting went on all night, literally. I heard the next day that my neighbour, an irascible English teacher who shall remain nameless (his flat, like ours, faced the internal patio), had actually run into the main avenue outside our block in his underpants, stood in the middle of the road, and shouted at the motorists, ´´Shut the **** up!´´ Knowing the Andalucian propensity for exaggeration as I do, I took this with a pinch of salt; but then, knowing the neighbour’s temper, it could equally be true. The noise had bothered me as well, but I am far too lazy to run all the way downstairs, across patios and out into the street to shout at people who will either laugh at me, or ignore me, which would only intensify my fury. So I wasn’t very surprised to find out that Spain is the second-noisiest country in the world, after Japan (Japan?). Apparently, one in four Spaniards (or Spanish residents, I presume) is exposed to excessive noise levels. The tolerable level is 45 decibels, and on the TV news the other day, the reporter measured 75db in a Madrid street. One report claims that this causes anxiety and stress in 25% of the population, problems of concentration and irritability in 28% (my ex-neighbour), and aggressive behaviour in a considerable 36% (my ex-neighbour again). I would imagine that this applies largely to urban areas – the flat I lived in at the time was just off Seville’s main circular route which follows the old city walls. Perfect for driving round and round for hours on end, tooting your horn to celebrate your team’s victory and annoying intolerant, bad-tempered English teachers (I think he left the country soon after). Of course, most people who live in cities reside in flats, which don’t afford much in the way of noise privacy. I remember being pregnant and having my siesta interrupted on a daily basis by the most tuneless singing I have ever heard from my neighbour (different flat), accompanied by the same phrase repeated on the piano. I almost wept in frustration when he ignored my banging on the wall. While living in flats in Spain I’ve heard babies screaming, a violin being assassinated, numerous rows and couplings, and loud, hysterical tears. No wonder one of Spain’s most popular TV series was about the characters who inhabit a block of flats – they can all talk about, spy on, and interfere in each others’ lives – a popular pastime here. A new website called ‘Que nada te quite el sueño´ - don’t let anyone stop you sleeping – has a few suggestions – take off your heels when you’re walking about (note: this is especially true if you have wooden floorboards; if your dog has long claws, please clip them); only use the horn when it’s necessary (ha! How many times a day do you see a blind/deaf/stupid/dangerous motorist? Isn’t it self-defence, and your civic responsibility, to stop the idiot from pulling out in front of you because he hasn’t seen you, because he was talking to his mate, or using his mobile phone? Therein lies another entire blog post); and control the volume of your TV and music. It is perfectly normal in Spain to leave the TV on at full blast all day, whether or not you are watching it, having a conversation, or the kids are trying to do their homework. A friend of mine told me that visitors sometimes actually turn on her TV when they come round, so she did what any sensible person would do – she hid the remote control. I was delighted to find mention of a ´Dia Internacional Sin Ruido’, which took place on 29 April last year, during which children where educated in ´Culture of Good Sound Practices´ - sounds like something they’d teach in China. How intriguing. Instead of yelling ´Mamaaaaaaa’ at ear-splitting volume, do they whisper? Instead of blasting out their heavy rock music, do they play folk at a softer, more considerate volume? Rather than calling to their siblings in the street, do they ask politely, ´Excuse me, Pablo, would you mind coming here please?’ I think not. Like smoking, I can’t see the Spanish changing their behavioural habits that easily. In any case, how would anyone ever be able to collect their tapas order at a bar without the barman shouting, ´Pacoooo, solomillooooo’ at the top of his voice?
Blog published on 8 February 2010