Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Three Cheers For The Elderly!

As some of the recent comments on "the drinking and smoking..." post show, one of the more pleasant surprises newcomers to Spain have is how active the elderly population is here. You can see them shuffling around, pushing their carritos from fruit stand to supermarket as they do their own shopping. On sunny days they gather on benches under trees with their friends, their lap dogs sitting close by and chat, punctuating their sentences with laughs. During the evening, you'll find them at the local bar sitting around a table talking loudly and animated about their family and friends while stroking the fur on their pet Yorkshire terrier that sits on their lap. In fact, if you were to judge a country solely on the how active the people are in relationship to their age, Spain would be near the top I imagine. So with that in mind here are some of my five favorite characteristics of la tercera edad.

1. They never sweat. It can be the middle of August. The sun is blazing and the humidity sticks to the skin, yet there they are, dressed in skirts and blouses, stockings and shoes, their madeup faces free of one bead of sweat as they cool themselves by waving a fan just under the chin.

2.  They dress with dignity.  Compared to the rest of Spain, I think Barcelona is a bit more on the casual side fashion-wise but you'll never find an elderly person here going out in sweats. From their dyed hair to the wrinkle free clothes they wear, everything is immaculate and well-put together with an understated class.

3. They provide a glimpse into Spain's past. This holds true for most senior citizens I find no matter where they live (not for Spain, but the country they're from), but there's nothing more interesting that sitting down and having a chat with an elderly neighbor. They'll be more than happy to share for a few moments company and it's amazing what you'll discover. 

4. They're out and about. A friend of mine's father likes getting up at the crack of dawn and going out to get each of the free newspapers before they're gone so he'll have something to read. Every week day this is his ritual while at five o´clock rain or shine I know I'll see the elderly couple from across the hall walking the neighborhood's streets arm-in-arm for their daily paseito. Like I said, they just seem more active.

5. They're friendlier. Whenever I go shopping at the market, I can usually count on one senior citizen offering me suggestions as to the best cut of meat or a new cheese to try. Nowadays, it often corresponds with what I planned on buying anyway, but it's always nice to hear some friendly advice. And I remember when I first came here and didn't speak any Spanish getting a real hoot from the old guy trying to explain what the shop keeper said to me by shouting different words but using the same language and speed as if the problem was my hearing. It was all very surreal.

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