THE CULTURAL TIGHTROPE
This is not a pleasant topic to write about, but it is something I feel I need to address. It’s definitely a cultural issue in some respects, though as always, it’s going to be difficult to draw any real conclusions in that regard.
What happened was this: I regularly play in a pitch and putt tournament with a bunch of people of different nationalities, including Catalans, Italians, Americans, British and Irish. If you don’t know what pitch and putt is, it’s a short form of golf, i.e. shorter holes where you have 3 shots to get the ball in the hole, as opposed to 3, 4 or 5 shots in regular golf, depending on the distance. We play once a month at one of the many courses dotted around Catalonia. I’m not great at golf, or pitch and putt, but I do enjoy it a lot, even if I am aware of all the environmental criticisms aimed at it… but we’re not going to get into that here. For me it’s a great way to see old friends, meet new ones and do a bit of competitive sport while having a stroll through nature.
But as you may have guessed from the beginning of this column, my last outing was not as pleasant as usual, due to a regrettable incident I and my fellow pitch and putters witnessed on the course. On the hole ahead of us was a Catalan family comprising a couple in their thirties, their two small boys and two grandparents. The grandparents were quite elderly and just walking round with the group, but the mother, father and two boys were all playing.
The younger of the two boys was getting more and more frustrated as he went round the course – and believe me, pitch and putt and/or golf are for the most part very frustrating sports, even for adults, trying to get that little ball into a tiny hole 100 metres away in just three shots – although he could clearly actually play the game and hit the ball quite sweetly at times. As his frustration and temper tantrums increased, so did the exasperation of his parents, but nothing had prepared us for what was to come on the 18th tee. After a couple of wild swings and misses from the young lad, he vented his frustration by attempting to storm off, only to be caught by his dad and given a couple of stinging slaps on the thigh/backside. My group of four were all quite horrified, and waited for the mother or one of the grandparents to step in, or at least say something. But no, clearly this punishment was acceptable to all those present, as they simply ignored the resulting cries of the boy.
One of the guys in my group, an Englishman, had to be restrained from making his feelings known to the father of the boy, as the rest of us felt it was “not our business” and we should “stay out of it”. Although nothing further came of it, in the car on the way home I was suddenly struck with a feeling of guilt for not having said something to the father and for restraining my playing partner. If the man had hit his wife, would we have stopped him? Or one of the elderly grandparents?
So here’s the cultural part… I certainly would never have laid a finger on my son while he was growing up, as I see it as great weakness to resort to violence to educate your children. I’ve lived here for many years and don’t remember seeing a Catalan parent slapping their child before. So this came as quite a shock. I tend to use these tournaments as an opportunity to educate foreigners about Catalonia and Catalan culture – for many of the participants are not from here, as I have said, and know little about where they have chosen to live – but unfortunately any good work I might have done on this occasion was sorely undermined by the actions of that one father towards his son.