A mainstay in the Spanish shopping culture is the “Chino,” as the shop owned and run by Chinese people is so simplistically called. Years ago these shops were stocked almost exclusively with foodstuffs. In Spain back 10 (or even 5-6) years or so ago there were just two kinds of stores that could open on Sundays – those that sold food and those that sold newspapers. It’s not surprising, then, that the original “Chino” was a 7-11 type joint. It’s just the sort of business that fits perfectly with the nose-to-the-grindstone mentality exhibited by immigrants the world over – be they Indians at the Kwik-E-Mart, Pakistanis at the Corner store, or Chinese at the “Chinos.”

In true entrepreneurial fashion, many shop owners decided to monopolize on their being the only place open on the day of rest to also stock such emergency items as toilet plungers, tin foil and greeting cards. No one can say for sure where the leap occurred but at some point a new kind of Chino started to pop up. And this time they sold all of the random junk – knock-off colognes, shirts, shoes, underwear, Tupperware, fake flowers, shower curtains, light bulbs (you get the drift) – and no food. And the word “Chino” as a store designation came to be synonymous with a dollar store – alternatively, and still to this day, called Las 100 Pesetas or Los 20 Duros (twenty 5-cent peseta coins).

But, like all successful industries, the Chinos weren’t done there. After yet another facelift, the clothing Chino has emerged. This time sporting names such as, Sassy, Pretty Lady, and, yes, it’s true, Crassy, the Chino of today courts women of all ages with their hip clothing and shoes at rock bottom prices.

Now just because a new kind of Chino has appeared doesn’t mean that the others have faded away. After all, each kind of store fills a different role.

The food store attracts the 7-11 clientele; open late – think 1am – and selling cold beer and sodas, individual bags of chips and bulk candy.

The “dollar store” offers a bit of everything at a reasonable price. The only true competition they have could perhaps be the megastores like Carrefour and Alcampo, neither of which are easily found in the city center, or Corte Ingles, which most certainly sells everything but at a much higher price.

The clothing shops rarely close during the siesta and, although the quality is cheap, the offerings are plenty and the prices are low (I got boots not unlike these for 12€ on Saturday).

All of that means that, generally speaking, the Chinos are doing pretty well in spite of the general state of affairs. And it’s not at all uncommon for a neighborhood shop to close under the weight of the recession and for a Chino to open in its place. In the 3 blocks between my street and the next biggest street there are 8 Chinos – 2 food stores, 2 dollar stores, and 4 clothing shops.

And so I finally get to my point. Yesterday I saw a sign in the window of one of those 8 shops.

“Liquidación por cierre.”

The Chino was having a going-out-of-business, everything-must-go sale. This reminds of the Imponderables book I had when I was younger.

When a Chino closes, what opens in its place?

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No lie.

Just popped into the lunch room here on my floor to heat up a quick cup of tea and the conversation I overheard was definitely one of those “only in spain…”s. About 12 people talking about the various ways to make tortilla española.
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Me llamo…

Over the Christmas holidays we headed up to Edinburgh to be with the family. While waiting on the bus for our trip from the plane to the baggage claim I caught part of a conversation between a man and a Scottish-Spanish family comprised of a Scottish mom, Spanish dad, and their two early-teen kids. We had quite the wait and the mom had time to tell the chatty man everything about their familial situation and what they were doing living in Madrid and why they were visiting Scotland and how the kids spoke both languages and which language they spoke at home and a million other things the guy wanted to know. Finally the man turned to the kids and asked,

“So, do you have Spanish names?”

The kids looked at each other and then at their mum and just shrugged their shoulders in the universal gesture of “I dunno.”

Mum answered for them, “Well, this one’s Daryl, so that’s not really Spanish. And my daughter is Andrea, which could be either language.”

I think this little interchange was pretty representative of their situation as a whole. For an outsider it’s seems pretty interesting – bilingual families, kids fluent in both languages from birth, etc. But for the kids it’s just what they’ve always known. Those are their names. And while Andrea certainly could be either Spanish of English, there is no doubt that Daryl comes from the English side of his progenitors. I would have thought that the boy would at least have realized that his name was not common in Spain but clearly it’s not something he’d ever really considered. For him, whether he says, “My name is Daryl” or “Me llamo Daryl,” the important part is who he is and not the language.

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Rain rain go away

I have a number of things that I want to write about over the coming days – reflections on my recent trip to Edinburgh and the holidays with the families (Christmas with my family and New Years with my in-laws). For the time being, however, I’d just like to know when weather.com hired a psychic. 100% at 7pm? Really?

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The Soundtrack of my Morning

It’s off to Edinburgh for the holidays. But as we pack this is on the TV… fingers crossed…



A Cold Day in Hell

They’ve set up a foodstuffs market out in the boulevard of our street. A row of white booths offering everything from Galician breads to Canarian cheese to wines from all over the place. We’ve already checked it out for some good holiday gifts… The noteworthy thing about all this is, however, that the market has a security guard. No surprise, I suppose, considering the value of the goods locked up in those booths. But here’s the kicker…

The security guard is there. All. Night. Long. And, just his luck, this week is COLD. It was down well below freezing both last night and the night before. Sunday night-Monday dawn it snowed. (it’s snowing a tad now too.) Nevertheless, all week when I’ve walked to the metro in the morning, there he is.

Considering the current economic situation, I wouldn’t be surprised if he isn’t counting his lucky stars to even have a job – especially with the holidays fast closing in. But it seems like a job that no one in his right mind would really want…

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Boob Tube

For my generation, at least, a great portion of the “knowledge” that people have about the USA comes from TV. Holidays such as Halloween and Thanksgiving may not be observed here but at least people have heard of them thanks to their favorite series. Elements of American “culture” show up all of the time and more than once I’ve found myself saying, “have you seen the episode when…” to explain something I’m talking about. Be it boy scouts, science fairs, or the bookmobile.
Friends and the Simpsons are by far the most commonly-used “dictionaries.” Seinfeld, however, never managed to fully push into the Spanish market. Although it’s a mystery to me, the show simply didn’t gain the success here that some of the other series did. Although I find myself wanting to refer to it in normal conversation, I limit myself to the shows which I know were widely viewed here.
Perhaps TV is a universal language as long as you stick to the script.