The Climate in Spain Mary E. Farrell
At this very moment, the Spanish are gradually being introduced, via the media and pop clothes, and electronic instruction manuals, to Japanese and Chinese characters, food from other countries and, above all, customs brought by numerous and unexpected waves of immigrants from Latin America, the Maghreb, the countries from Eastern Europe as well as the Chinese. For teaching the Spanish student body, mostly local students, this situation is very enriching and has the benefit of offering first-hand experiences similar to those the United States has been experiencing for centuries.
Television and films also contribute to considerable degree the forming of the Spanish mind set. In fact, many students are more familiar with the United States Constitution with its Fifth Amendment of 1791 than they are with their own Article 21 of the Spanish Constitution approved in 1978. Since the sixties, Spain has opened its eyes to many cultures, especially to the media's portrayal of the American way of life. The Spanish have gradually weaned themselves from the French language, which most people studied as a second language up through the seventies, to the adaptation of English. Spain still depends on an important tourist sector, and English has become the lingua franca as it has in many places on the globe. Due to the wide-spread adaptation of the English language, the study of English Philology peaked in the eighties and nineties, so that as a consequence more people began to read the English and American literature required in their curricula. In the nineties, the so-called new literatures in English began to grow in popularity. And as it stands today, many readers approach all of these literatures perhaps more in translation than in the original.
In addition to literature, American top culture and pop culture are everywhere, most of it filtering into people's worlds before they even know it. Some young friends, who are not literature students, recommend David Foster Wallace's The Girl with the Curious Hair as great strange fiction--postmodern and pop, "hysterical realism" to use James Wood's term. Families watch reality shows, and sit-coms translated or calqued into their own languages, kids, mostly boys, push skateboards to their limits, and when people go to the cinema they eat popcorn.
As I see from the many Spanish colleagues' work, the field of American Studies is broadening. There are more comparative studies being made between Spanish and/or Catalan literature and American and/or English literature plus various literatures in English. There is more genre blending, more attention to literature and films, music, art and theatre, within our postmodern, could we say post-Poundian reach. This is, in part, due to the advances in technology and less expensive access to travel, which allow us to integrate more than just the local, regional and national.
For checking on the vibrations being emitted and received about America within the Spanish sphere in particular, or perhaps within the European sphere in general, this study is based on the following methodology. First, there was thorough, exhaustive and exhausting scouring of the press represented by three newspapers on three key days. El Mundo, El PaÕs and La Vanguardia were chosen because of their relatively wide circulation among the Spanish reading public. The collection of references detected in these papers provided a sampling of what the printed page sets forth about the Americans. Then a one-page brief questionnaire was distributed to over two-hundred people living in the Levantine area of University Jaume I. Most of those approached answered promptly and were, indeed, generous about answering. Finally, the interpretation for these data, we used both the running commentary and a final summing up of the notions gleaned throughout the study. Probably more people are influenced by the radio and the television, where frequent, often impressionist opinions are flung glibly about, yet for our purposes their inclusion would make this study far too prolonged and less manageable.
Mary E. Farrell is Associate Professor of American Literature at the University Jaume I, Castellon, Spain. She is the author of From Cha to Tea: A Study of the Influence of Tea on British Culture (2002).