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The Climate in Spain Mary E. Farrell

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Words and customs

To begin we might just cite the collection of English-American vocabulary that has seeped into the Spanish language. The local gym offers to the growing number of people who work out such options as (all written in English in the original brochures) "fitness" sessions, "step," "aero-boxing," "body power," "aerobics" and "spinning." Not that we need to examine every single American influence on Spanish activities, but it is interesting to recall that spinning was introduced by the Midwestern American Schwinn Bicycle Company, and that body power and aero-boxing are American derivatives, as is aerobics, which come from American cheerleading routines. Nike, an American company, fomented step and Tai Chi is a very familiar Chinese martial art, which also fits into a span of martial practices in Spanish culture. Despite a general anti-American undercurrent on the Spanish scene, no one seems upset about being colonized by these activities. Nor is there, for the moment, any grudge against the Asian martial arts as invading practices.

An example of trans-culturation which does not seem threatening or hegemonic, words often associated with the Americans grosso modo, can be detected in the 2004 Christmas programs of the very university where I work. We heard the Big Band UJI and the Orfeon (the choir). UJI played Strike up the Band by the Gershwins (misspelled twice in the program as Gershin and Gerswin), Groovin' Easy (also misspelled) by S. Nestico, Mantega by D. Gillespie, Misty by E. Garner, as well as six other pieces by American writers and composers, nine pieces for the total concert. Then the choir sang twelve songs, six of which were either from American spirituals or American musicals. And when Krystian Zimmerman, the Polish pianist, played on a Steinway piano, no one felt that using an American-made piano was an outrage. Yet, as some might say: "But these Americans are either of African origin or descendents of Europeans." Those that provide this type of opinion, and they are frequent, forget to ask why the later had not stayed in Europe, and who began the lucrative slave trade in the first place.

There is definitely a confused state of ideas about America in general, which often seems incoherently placed between acceptation and rejection, and which is often provoked by the Americans themselves given to their ideas of free speech and self-criticism. In an obituary for the author Susan Sontag, La Razon published these words by Luis MarĠa Anson of the Spanish Royal Academy, "The writer, closer to European culture than North American, died between fear and trembling, as she herself commented in Oviedo a year ago, at the growing fascist spirit in the United States." This opinion is not isolated. Indeed it is symptomatic of a certain snobbery found at all echelons of the thinking public. It somehow implies that there are European values, and that they are superior to American values. Yet, hardly anyone questions this stance, nor mentions that certain assumed values are class biased, that the words mafia and fascism are of Italian origin, Italy being considered officially part of the twenty-five members of the European community. Generally it is not pointed out that Martin Scorsese or Susan Sontag herself might not have been Americans, if those "European" values were actually worthwhile in what concerns human dignity.

For our objectives as teachers leading our pupils into American studies where literature is a center star, it seems appropriate to quote Sontag's own words on the subject in her acceptance speech upon receiving the Award for Letters, Prince of Asturias, 2003:

... [L]iterature is a fundamentally cosmopolitan enterprise. The great writers are part of world literature. We should be reading across national and tribal boundaries: great literature should transport us. Writers are citizens of a world community, in which we all read and learn from one another. Considering each major literary achievement as, finally, part of world literature is to make us more open to the foreign, to what is not "us."

This, too, is my aim in the studies of American culture--to view it within a world where human beings, more often than not, tend to produce similar reactions and inventions within similar circumstances. No one culture is exempt from misery; no one culture has the sole possession of excellence. Lazarillo de Tormes, Moll Flanders and Huck Finn are all picaresque characters. The first American cowboy pairs are similar to, if not based, on Quijote and Sancho Panza. There is Hollywood and Bollywood. And we could go on; however, the gist should be clear.

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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).

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