If you take a walk around Madrid’s Retiro Park on a Tuesday afternoon, you are bound to come across one or two Chinese wedding parties. The bride and groom are being photographed in picturesque settings by a Chinese photographer, and videoed by a Chinese cameraman and his Chinese assistant. Amongst their party there is never a Spaniard to be seen.
Fair enough, you may say, but this is pretty much representative of the level of social integration that the Chinese have gone for in Spain: nada. On a scale of 1 to 100, I’d go for about 3. The Chinese have been here for years, yet their community is private, busy, and seemingly quite content. Yes, the children go to Spanish schools, speak better Spanish than their parents, and often work the tills in the numerous barrio corner shops, but in ten years I have yet to see a Chinese-Spanish couple holding hands in the street.
The Chinese run restaurants, corner shops, and One Euro (formely 100 peseta) shops. They allegedly make quite a lot of money from pirated music and movies, which you often see Chinese women flogging in busy bars until way past midnight. This fits in with reports of a large Chinese mafia at work in Spain, but you never hear of them interacting with any other bad guys, or flashing money at bent Spanish politicians. Once again, the Chinese keep themselves to themselves.
How long has there been a significant Chinese population in Spain? I have no idea, but certainly long enough for them to enter the Spanish vernacular: Trabajar como un chino, to work like a Chinaman, means you work damn hard, for example, and Suena a cuento chino, means something sounds like a tall story. I’m not sure the Chinese in Spain would be too offended by either of those. (Update: see comments for more on these phrases).
I suspect the case of the complete acceptance of the Chinese fits into the Spain and Racism debate somewhere. I’ve certainly never heard a bad word against them (suspicion of their privacy aside). In fact, most of the Spaniards I have met find their restaurants and shops extremely useful and are happy to have them in town. Perhaps there is hope for other immigrant groups yet!
(Above photo for the first and probably last time Â©iStockphoto.com/Phil Date – I had a pic of my own from a wedding party in the park today, but if felt kind of rude to use it on the couple’s wedding night without asking first. Normal photographic service will resume forthwith.)