Friday, March 11, 2011

Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now: Spanish misery

Once upon a time, when the world was an altogether simpler place and you could drink yourself stupid for 100 pesetas (about 60 centimos) and when a Mallorcan waiter would beam with greeting and gratitude at a small tip with which he could save up for a new piece of tin to cover his shanty hut, everyone was happy.

Those were the days. The sun did always shine, both in a Mallorcan sky and on TV. Cliff Michelmore would look out at Magalluf and inform his black-and-white audience that here was paradise found. Sylvia would wish long life to España, and we'd all sing along with smiling, happy, sombrero-wearing barmen.

Happy, happy, happy. Oh, how things change. Those were the days, my friends. They did come to an end.

The Spanish are the most miserable people in the European Union. Those in the Balearics are the sixth most miserable in Spain. The "index of misery", so says a report by two organisations (of international financial analysts and of large businesses of seasonal work), gives the Balearics a rating 1.5% above the national average and Spain as a whole a new claim on a European championship - that of the miserabiliist league table.

The "les miserables" of Mallorca have come over all Morrissey on account of inflation and unemployment. They might brighten up a tad, as seasonal work prospects buck up, thanks to the droves from the reallocation of the north African tourism vote heading Mallorca's way this summer, but even this might be shortlived. Woe, woe and thrice woe, as Frankie Howerd's Lurcio once put it. Up "Pompas fúnebres". The funeral laments continue to drone because of the misericorde struck into the heart of long-term employment contracts.

Frankie Howerd's long-faced lugubriousness is the mask of gloom now on the countenances of the island's workers. Rather than being happy, happy, they worry, worry. They are preoccupied with their "preocupación". You can't really blame them, but some will. The some who would rather the workers were waving a Dave "happiness index" around like Doddy's tickling stick or were in fact still all Ken Dodds, bursting into a chorus of "Happiness". "What a great day for going up to General Franco and telling him he's a private. Tattyfalarious! Tattyfalarious!"

Being Europe's biggest miseries seems like a strange burden for the Spanish to carry. They've got the sun, the sea, the sangria. The SEATs. What is there not to be happy about? There must surely be parts of the European Union where one has the right to be miserable. I don't know, Lithuania perhaps. There again, the Lithuanians spent most of the last century under the yoke of authoritarianism. They must be pretty damn pleased nowadays. The Spanish only had to put up with 40 years, and they have the Med rather than the Baltic. There's no pleasing some people.

But back in the day, of course, there wasn't all the worry about unemployment, as it hardly existed. Even with the sun and the sea, that's life today. Y viva la vida España.

So you'd think that with all this misery prevailing, that one-time, probably mythical state of welcoming, friendly tourist-hugging would be far from the terraces and receptions of today's Mallorca. It is a charge that gets levelled. Last year, a bunch of tour operators pitched up in Alcúdia and said that more needed to be done in showing greater friendliness. Strange then, that a few days later a spot of press investigation found there wasn't any real need to worry. Friendliness and helpfulness were all around. Then a further few days later, research from the Universitat de les Illes Balears discovered that Mallorca was bettered only by the Caribbean (and ahead of the likes of Turkey, the Canaries, Greece) when it came to tourist satisfaction, an aspect of which was friendliness.

Misery there may be in Spain, and the people of the Balearics are only the sixth most miserable set of Spaniards, after all, but the welcome remains. Always trying to look on the bright side of life, and all that. A different matter might be whether the tourist has to endure some misery. "Airport, you've got a smiling face." Hmm, not if they're all out on strike it won't have.

Any comments to please.

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