People here take the virus seriously. Very seriously, indeed.
Wherever we go in our Spanish town of Olvera in Andalucía, folks have masks dangling, half-mast, from their ear lobes, ready to pull them up to cover their mouths and noses as soon as the shadows of others are seen approaching.
That’s outside, on the streets.
Elsewhere, the masks are also facial appendages. Little old ladies sit and chat with covered faces, night after night, on benches in the tidy little park at the bottom of Calle Campillos, where Olvera´s former post office had stood, replaced years ago with this quaint oasis in the midst of row houses zig-zagging as they bend and stretch up and down the narrow, steep street.
Across the border in Portugal, little old men sit on knee-high walls surrounding their village churches, pontificating about this or that (as is their nature). It’s difficult enough to understand their dialects under the best of conditions; but, with mouths muffled by máscaras (mascarillas in Spanish), it’s even more challenging to decipher their staccatoed opinions and argumentative crescendos.
Even the youngsters – from toddlers to teens – understand the seriousness of the moment, responding without usual rebellion when told to step back, stay away, come inside, don’t touch, wear their masks.
These are people, entire populations, who barely survived under severe lockdowns for three or more months. They’ve seen death and the toll Coronavirus can take, up-close-and-personal. So, they´re now bound and determined to do whatever they can to ensure they and their communities aren’t again victimized by the virus.
Now, they take Covid-19 damned seriously.
To promote social distancing at restaurants, cafés, and snack bars, Olvera’s local government has granted special dispensations to eating venues and watering holes, allowing them to squat on public space: either grassy land nearby or by cordoning off four or five asphalt parking spots and dedicating them to diners.
After all, this is a café culture where people relish food, drink, and companionship … with wine, coffee, cola, and beer.
Nobody – employees, delivery personnel, clients, customers – enters a shop (large or small) without wearing a mask. Sanitizer is plentiful everywhere. Plastic gloves are often available, sometimes required (in groceries and markets), other times not—but recommended. Cosmetologists and stylists apologize for having to raise prices by fifty cents to pay for the plastic booties and robes clients are required to wear. And, woe to the supermarket customer who dares to inch beyond the designated markers! You may be allowed to put purchases on the conveyor belt … but you’ll be warned to wait until the previous customer has completed paying and packing, before advancing. The one person per elevator (lift) rule is respected, as is a minimum meter distance on escalators. Waiting rooms, as elsewhere, maintain two empty seats between each available one. Spitting on streets is strictly prohibited and enforced by one hundred to one thousand euro fines.
Throughout the Iberia peninsula, Covid-19 isn’t a matter of personal politics or in-your-face freedom fighters; rather, it’s actually about personal hygiene and public welfare: the common good.
I certainly don’t mean to imply that everyone here is a sanitized saint, dutifully and willingly following the new “normal” rules for social interactions. Just the other day, in fact, I observed a woman in one of our favorite supermarkets picking up plastic packages of pastry, squeezing them, and putting them in front of her (masked) nose for a sniff. She picked up and put back at least a half-dozen packages. Not that she was malicious, but simply self-serving and negligent, not thinking about the potential consequences she was causing to others. I caught the eye a store associate and nodded at the woman. Without hesitation, the supermarket employee approached the offender and gave her a lesson she’ll not soon forget about appropriate protocols for grocery shopping.
Nonetheless, such experiences are exceptions to the rule.
By and large, we live among demonstrably caring, emotional and “affectionate” people who share their feelings with hugs, handshakes, and serial kisses on both cheeks. Not now, however. Instead, we poke elbows … laughing about how silly (but serious) such a greeting seems.
Elbow kissing doesn’t come close to sharing a good, hearty hug.
And that’s what really, truly hurts.
No hoax intended!
Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.