“Maybe we are snobbish and judgemental”, I say to my boyfriend as we walk into the foyer of our apart-hotel in Salou in the northeast of Spain. It is the last night of our weeklong package holiday and we have spent a considerable portion of it complaining. I wasn’t impressed with the puddle of hair that greeted us on opening the door of our apartment, and even less so with the used tissue we found behind the bed. He became fixated one evening by a quest to procure a plunger to unblock our onion skin-filled sink and I refused to take off my flip-flops in case I was infected by the maladies of the previous occupants.
We agreed: Salou is a place characterised by an unforgivable tackiness. ‘Locals’ do not exist there. It is a town dedicated to the English-speaking world – a culture of drinking and cheap entertainment.
Dotted by the seafront are identical shops selling playboy beach towels and offering hair-braiding services. Restaurants advertise ‘real’ fish and chips and Yorkshire pudding while the supermarkets are painted with the colours of the British flag, luring customers in with their sign-posted promise of ‘REAL BRITISH FOOD’.
On our way home one night we stroll into a dingy market stall posing as a tattoo parlour. There an English woman leafs absent-mindedly through the design catalogue picking out a tattoo while a little boy swings around her leg as if attached to a totem pole. Continuing home, we become distracted by a disturbance on the side of the road. In the exposed entrance area of an apartment block, two women are attacking each other in the lift. We arrive as the doors open and the scene explodes out onto the reception, where the rhythmic beating of the hands that accompanies the terrible screaming of their children sends a chill down my spine. Eventually, the two are separated and sent off with their respective set of children in tow.
Looking beyond the pile of vomit on the pavement, the incessant hum of a bad Kylie interpreter and the call for audience participation in singing The Fields of Athenry however, Salou has something to offer. Clean, golden beaches. Proximity to Barcelona. A fantastic theme park within walking distance. Cheap accommodation.
Perhaps our oh-so-middle-class attitude represents no more than an unpleasant and bitter superiority complex. While other people enjoy themselves, we spend our time cringing and as they dance the night away- intoxicated by their home beverages at discount, ‘international’ prices, we stay in and talk about literature.
So, on this our last night, we think ‘Let’s give this place and its people the benefit of the doubt’.
We walk into the foyer and past the reception desk, freezing at the scene before us. At the top of a crowded bar, a loud lady with a microphone faces a captivated audience. Four men stand in a row: they are rivals. ‘WHICH OF THESE MEN IS THE FI-EST, MOST MANLY FELLOW HERE TONIGHT?’, she bellows. This is to be determined by a series of ‘rounds’. Round one sees the four desperate men rush around the room kissing strange women for points. We hold our breath for round two. She pauses and then asks ‘WHICH MAN CAN COLLECT THE MOST BRAS FROM THE LADIES IN THE AUDIENCE?’.A group of grannies shields their chests in girlish delight as around them, women rip off their undergarments and hand them to their candidate of choice. At the top of the room, as the candidates are lining up to be counted, a little boy plays with the bras his father has collected.
Before round three, I turn to my boyfriend. “Maybe we are snobbish and judgemental”, I say as we walk away to pack our bags.