THE CULTURAL TIGHTROPE
YOU CAN’T DO THAT HERE
just as I’m entering the BLISSFUL state described on the packaging, I hear muffled cries and receive a firm tap on my shoulder
Sometimes it feels like I’m not making a great deal of progress in my attempts to affect change in my adopted society with my sage, engaging and witty remarks in this column. One might even think Catalans couldn’t give two hoots about my unfalteringly astute observations. I’m the last person to take a hint, however, so here we are again with an anecdote of an incident that utterly bewildered me recently. But this time I will refrain from comment, I will merely depict the scene for you to make your own minds up about whether there was anything amiss...
I’m in a very large and well-known store in a very prominent location in downtown Barcelona. I guess you would call it a novelty store, for it has all sorts of fascinating products from designers around the globe. However, it is very much a Catalan store, in that all the staff are and speak Catalan. I can’t tell you whether they speak any other languages, or to what proficiency, but given their location they almost certainly would have to in order to deal with the huge numbers of international customers constantly crowding the store.
I’ve been wandering around for a good half an hour, picking up display items and perusing them, often wondering what they’re for and then gasping at the ingenuity of the design, before then gasping again at the price, when I come across what I shall call a relaxation aid. Far too vague, of course, but I don’t remember what it was called exactly, so I will have to describe it for you. It was basically a bendable cloth tube that you could wrap around your head to block out all light and sound. Genius! On the packaging, it said something along the lines of “Pop this around your bonce and be in a state of pure relaxation within a couple of minutes. Try me!” (“Bonce” is a word for “head” in colloquial British English, by the way). So I do.
After around 45 seconds, just as I’m entering the blissful state described on the packaging - and becoming very interested in the product – I hear muffled cries and receive a firm tap on my shoulder. “Això no es fa!” is the sentence being cried at me, I realise as I carefully remove the relaxation headgear. For any non-Catalan speakers, this translates as “You can’t do that!” (literally “That is not done”, but we do not translate literally, do we?). “You can’t do what? Try it on?” I reply in Catalan. “No, not after Covid, now I’ll have to spray it”, continues the outraged middle-aged sales assistant. “It says ‘Try me’ right here,” I explain to her. At which point she seems a little perplexed, but, unbowed in her outrage at customers trying out products in a novelty store, and intent on winning the battle, for clearly she sees that as her job, rather than trying to get customers to buy stuff, she shrieks “You can’t put it on for that long!” “How am I supposed to try it without keeping it on?” I retort.
Eventually she settles for some further muttering about Covid and very demonstratively sprays the item and everything around for far longer than is necessary to make her point, but, and here’s what I’m getting at, I leave without purchasing the product. So there you go, Covid has become just another excuse for deterring potential customers. Bravo.