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Easter in a Catholic Country

Depending on where you are today, you might be collecting hidden chocolate eggs, having a family lunch, lighting a bonfire atop a hill, or going to Church. In Catholic countries, one doesn’t exactly go to church, but rather, the church comes to YOU.

Easter might be the only holiday in Spain that is not about shoveling food down your throat non-stop. The concept is simple: someone in the 15th century decided to take their sculpted Biblical personalities out on the street. That way, the common folks would experience Jesus’ last days on Earth, relive his pain, and repent for being such dreadful sinners. The idea spread like wildfire, and nowadays Easter in some provincial locations of Spain looks like this:

Source: Pixabay – Semana Santa

If I were an unknowing tourist right there, happened to make a turn and bump into these people, I would run away so far that not even Google would be able to find me. But fear not, these people are not here to murder you in your sleep. This somewhat creepy outfit represents the Christian sacrament of penance i.e. reconciliation with God. Pretty much like football teams, each congregation has its own penitential robe, conical hat, flags and symbols. They take the streets carrying their pasos (floats), each more lavishly decorated than the next, depicting scenes of the Easter story.

For a whole week, some Spanish cities and towns look like this. Every major street turns into a heavily incense-scented escape room. For a whole week, there’s a grave, gloomy atmosphere lurking all over the place, and Catholics really feel “it”. Basically everyone is devastated until Jesus comes back from the dead.  Yes, the dead.Expat Gone Foreign, Christianity, Religion, Catholicism, ResurrectionGrowing up in rural Andalusia, Catholicism was ubiquitous. Reciting prayers in kindergarten gave way to Sunday mass and Bible study in school, and that’s where trouble began. The stories just didn’t hold up.

For instance, Noah would have had to build a 10,000 square meter ark – that’s roughly the surface of 30 basketball courts lined up – in order to fit two animals of each kind in his boat. God was a trinity, which meant three persons coexisting in one entity. Nothing weird about that. There was this dude who allegedly feed a multitude with five loaves of bread and two fish. I’m sorry, that’s not a meal. It’s not even tapas. The guy who wrote the Bible had clearly failed physics, biology, math and common sense across the board 1.

Creationists didn’t like questions, so I was told that biblical texts were not meant to be taken literally, but rather understood as the story of a nice guy who went around preaching love and doing good things. That was a relief. Basically, being Christian was about acting nice and loving thy neighbor – unless your neighbors were gay, agnostic, promiscuous, black, Muslim, or belonged to any other deranged minority. Catholicism wasn’t exactly fond of the ladies either. Just because Eve ate the apple, all women were by default the root of all evil and needed to be kept in line 2.

Fortunately, things have come a really long way.

Nowadays, participating in the Easter parades is more about aesthetics and folklore than religion itself, and I do understand the artistic value of sculpted scenes and the street performances 3.

I also understand the human need to belong, to have some sense of community. Religion has fulfilled that role for centuries: it kept people together and gave the common folks some reassurance in times of plagues and famines. It served its purpose at a time when science wasn’t there to explain miracles.

My point being: how is THIS still a thing?

British Politeness

“Getting around in the UK will be a piece of cake, I’m already fluent in English!” – Boy, was I wrong. I had to learn how to read between the lines, a skill only found in the British genome.

You see, successful communication in Britain is all about the implied meaning rather than what is actually said. In fact, Brits are the best at not getting to the point. But worry not! Here is a comprehensive guide to decipher the cultural enigma of British politeness.

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, culture clashes comics, British politeness, life abroad

If you liked this strip, check out British sinks.

The Paperwork Cult

I’m starting to believe that German bureaucrats belong to some sort of cult – the paperwork cult. Its members hide in plain sight, spend hours in their filing fortresses, feed on officially approved certificates and have mental Bescheinigasms 4 every time they use their seal to stamp a document. 

Truth be told, dealing with paperwork in Germany seems pretty straight-forward, at least compared to other countries. However, the system has a catch: the daunting amount of documents, forms and certificates necessary to accomplish any task, which makes any bureaucratic procedure a highly intimidating and time-consuming experience. At times I even think that the system is so convoluted so that you give up halfway through the process. Oh, and don’t get me started on the Amtsprache 2.

I wonder if Germans have ever thought about simplifying their system. If they were to, it would go like this:

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Paperwork cult, paperworkmania, German bureaucracy, Bürokratie

 

If you liked this strip, check out The Anatomy of a Beamter to unravel the secrets behind the insatiable bureaucratic monster.

Foreign, not deaf

Human interactions are fascinating, especially when the people involved in the linguistic exchange don’t share a common language. Picture the following scenario: a native speaker attempts to communicate with a foreigner. The native says something and the non-native looks puzzled. Then the native repeats the exact same thing in the exact same order and speed, just 30 decibels louder. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, language comics, life abroad, native speaker yelling to foreigner

My hearing works perfectly, thank you very much. I’m foreign, not deaf. Shouting is not going to magically make me speak your language or understand words that I haven’t previously learnt. Rephrase, use simpler structures, find more basic vocabulary… anything but yelling.

Two people don’t need a common language to communicate. They just need to be willing to understand each other.

British Sinks

Being abroad can be a nerve-racking adventure in which even the most common daily routines become a hilarious challenge. Take washing your hands for instance. British sinks are the place where dragon fire meets penguin tears. They have two taps: the hot one will scald your hands, whereas the cold one will shatter them into frozen pieces. So, why do British sinks have separate taps for hot and cold water? Foreigners around the world have asked themselves that question for decades.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, British sinks, cold and warm water taps, faucets

Back in the day when our grandparents were toddlers, houses didn’t have hot running water, just cold water that came from a main supply. Later on, hot water systems were added separately to each building for safety and health reasons.

British plumbers were concerned about the pressure difference between cold and warm water. The first came from a main supply with a much higher pressure than the latter, which was stored in a tank inside each house and relied on gravity. In case of an imbalance of pressures, one stream could force its way into the other and pose a number of problems.

There were also health risks involved. Old tanks were made of galvanized steel, which corrodes easily; and they didn’t usually have a proper lid, which made the tank an AquaLand for errant birds, distracted insects and sweaty rodents in need of a swim. Squatting fauna aside, hot water sitting in an attic tank was not considered safe to drink, for it created the optimal conditions for bacteria like legionella to proliferate and wreak havoc on human stomachs. So, what did the Brits do? They came up with regulations to keep them separate and prevent the hot water contaminating the cold water supply.

You might be thinking: “Sure, but that was YEEEARS ago. Why haven’t they switched to mixer taps yet?” – Well, in a word: tradition. Whereas continental Europe reinvented its water supply system after the war, Britain rebuilt its houses clinging onto the separate taps tradition. Chances are that mixer taps will take over in the future, but in the meantime, have fun flapping your hands between the two taps when washing them.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, travel and language comics, tea, United Kingdom, British problems