Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Hola Land

 id=It terms of size, it's a little word. Not as small as 'hi' or 'hey' but certainly less interminable than 'good morning' or 'good afternoon'. In the world of salutations - literally, not figuratively - hola towers above its international counterparts. It doesn't requite glottal gymnastics of the palate; you will not spray anyone when you chirrup an hola. It is sing-songy by nature and almost compels the speaker to smile.

It is insidious.

I come from a country populated by the Über-polite; we routinely apologize when someone else bumps into us. The majority of us Über-polites employ a language that by many standards is equally Über-polite. I was wondering if I could possibly have a cup of coffee? Thanks so much. We preface many requests with I'm sorry, but if you're not too busy ... Having said that, apart from small towns, we Urban Über-polites don't go out of our way to greet people on the street. If fate cruelly throws us together in an elevator, we either mumble an awkward 'hi' or fix our gaze on our shoelaces.

Not so in Spain
where - to my anal Anglo-Canadian mind - the whole hola business has spun precipitously out of control. I'm slowly getting used to hola-ing and being hola-ed by the person who is marooned on the same street corner as I am; hola-ing and being hola-ed by the person who has just sat down beside me on the Metro; hola-ing and being hola-ed by the lone walker I pass on a quiet street; hola-ing and being hola-ed by the person waiting at the bar to be served ... but public toilets?

Almost without exception, if I am exiting a washroom stall - having performed all manner of activities which, had I a choice, would have been executed in the privacy of my home - and there is a person waiting, I will be hola-ed. This is the one place where I would prefer to remain anonymous and invisible. I might add that it is not entirely impossible that I just made an indiscreet noise in that stall. By being hola-ed by that Über-polite woman, I have just been made accountable for my all too recent - and possibly audible and aromatic - expurgations. It's - in a word - embarrassing. The situation is undoubtedly more dire for Señor Gato Gringo where it is considered not so much good manners as de rigueur to hola the person at the next urinal. I suppose bladder-bursting madrileños have perfected the art of making eye contact while offering up their holas without allowing said eye to wander too far south.

Yesterday, as I was flushing and exiting the stall at
Telefónica - Spain's telecommunications behemoth - the cleaning lady who was wiping down the counter looked up at me and smiled. I steeled myself for the imminent display of
Über-politeness and putting aside decades of ingrained loo-aloofness, took the initiative. Hola, I sing-songy sang (oh god, I'm going native) to her. Hola, she responded. ¿Que tal?

¿Que tal? How are you? She wants to know how I am? Where is this going to end?


Me and my camera said...

You're in Madrid.

They have toilets.

Perhaps you'd prefer a squat-over hole-in-the-floor in silence?


La Gatita Gringa said...

You speak the truth. I hang my head in shame.

Me and my camera said...

No shame required (or intended).

Annabellie said...

I'd rather an excess of holas than people coming into my store and growling "I'M JUST LOOKING" at me when I ask how they're doing. It's funny, I get that answer a lot, but I don't remember ever greeting someone with "Hi are you just looking today?"

La Gatita Gringa said...

Anne, try the standard Moroccan greeting (in tourist shops): "Welcome to my store. No charge for looking!"

N (Mr) said...

I experienced my first squat toilet in Platha Mayor in Madrid

La Gatita Gringa said...

Mr. N: Were you hola-ed by the person waiting outside the door of your squatty?