a city through the eyes of a girl who's not sure how she ended up here

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Sun, sea and soap operas - A Majorcan holiday, part I

Apologies for the Accidental Absence, however from time to time Londoners need to get away from the city, to have a change of scene and maybe realise what a fabulous place their home is. Together with 3 chums, I headed for Majorca, the largest of Spain's Balearic islands, for a week of sunshine, serious nights out and a much needed break from the office. Now, I will hold my hands up here and say that our destination of Palma Nova, a mere 30 minutes shambling stroll from the neon lights, late-night chip shops and lap-dancing clubs of Magaluf (yes, the same Magaluf where a British holiday-maker was recently battered with a baseball bat in a carpark), would not be my first choice of holiday-spot, however it was wonderously cheap, so off we flew.

Palma Nova was a juvenile settlement, not small but young (as the "nova" in its name suggests). The majority of its buildings cannot be more than 50 years old at most, although many look as if their first major face-lift is slightly overdue. It has soft, sandy beaches and a lovely warm sea, clear enough so you can see the odd small piece of plastic floating in it. Trees line a road running along the sea, clustered with bars and restaurants, and small shops selling cut-price perfume, leather handbags, cheap sunglasses, and even cheaper alcohol. High rise towers thrust up out of the rocks around the shore housing hundreds of other holiday-makers.
Settled into our self-catering apartment (the kitchen of which was used for no more culinary effort than the opening of a bottle of wine during our stay, however), it became apparent that here on this Spanish island we were surrounded by English people. Worse than that, English people on holiday. All geared up to make use of my A-level Spanish, I was met by Essex drawls everywhere I went. The British on holiday make shamefully little effort when they go abroad choosing to yell louder rather than attempt another language, and it seems the few locals who brave the Brits have surrendered and learned English.

Palma Nova (and Magaluf even more so) panders to these lazy, and resolutely uncompromising, Brits. Grocers stock Heinz baked beans and PG Tips tea-bags. There are bars named "The Willows" and "Kings Road Bar", even Irish theme pubs, and endless, greasy all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurants. Take a stroll along the sea-front in the evening and all the bars' flat-screens relay English soap operas, such as "Coronation Street", "Emmerdale" and "Eastenders", to the ex-pats. After which they all mysteriously switch to never-ending re-runs of "Only Fools & Horses", a quintessentially English (and awful) TV drama staring the quintessentially English (but less awful) David Jason. Surely the point of a holiday is to escape from one's daily routine at home - work, household chores, BBC television scheduling?

Strangely all this familiar Britishness did not make me feel at home. The juxtaposition of news-agents selling The Sun tabloid to tattooed Brits called Colin and Maureen and the bright, hot actual sun was just too confusing. Give global warming a few years to work on the British climate and this is how I imagine Blackpool or Weston-super-Mare will be. As a Midlands girl, and now an adopted Londoner, I had never felt more out of place. My parents (as I have previously complained about - never again!) used to take my brother and I to soggy Scotland to stay beside seas you would not want to have swum in wearing even a thermal wet-suit. Traveling further abroad I climbed Andean peaks, camped in Madagascan forests and pottered merrily around New York City, but this British enclave in the Balearics was entirely the most alien thing I have ever experienced. And all the more terrifying for the lack of locals; "What have they done with them all?" I wondered, wandering the streets in wishing to encounter someone named Jose rather than Jordan. For the first couple of days I was horrified by it all. The lobstery-red sun-bathers cooking on the beaches, the holiday-makers browsing shops in far too little clothing with the exact outline of yesterday's outfit picked out in sunburn (yeuch!), the screaming blonde children called Josh, Ruby and Hayley scrambling on climbing frames late into the night, when even I should have been in bed.

It appeared I had two choices. Turn and run, head back to the civilisation I knew at home, or stay, brave it and embrace a truly "British" holiday...

4 comments:

  1. Dear A.L.
    Despite being an avid reader, I have been hesitant to comment for fear of exposing myself as an "Ugly American." (I wouldn't heavily debate the Ugly part. It just seems prudent to minimize exposure.) This post, however, has drawn me out. As s citizen of the U.S., I believe you could have shared an identical experience in about a dozen Mexican resort towns, or Caribbean island. I can't explain why I find that comforting, but thank you.

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  2. Rest assured, David IV, you are not the only American reader of my little blog, and you are in excellent company. It is rather consoling however that others do share my horror of such holidaying experiences, so I in turn am comforted by your comment!

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  3. Greetings, AL from an accidental Nicoise. I know exactly what you mean: these places are to be avoided at all costs!
    Lovely blog; really enjoyed my visit - all the best from Minnie (ex-Londoner).

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  4. An Accidental Nicoise! How fabulous. I'm so reassured by comments saying my sentiments are not mine alone - stay posted for the sequel, in which I go in search of somewhere less terrifying!

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