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Fitting In


Congratulate me – I double-parked the other day. I don’t mean that it’s good that I broke the law; well, not exactly broke, more like bent it, well, not even bent, really. (And should this get to a court, this is all a joke of course.)
I had to run into a store for, I swear, not more than two minutes. And I could see the car the whole time. And Spanish cities’ rates of car ownership exceed the availability of parking spaces by a factor of 10 to the millionth power. So I did it, I double-parked.
Why is this good? Because only a foreigner like me would have even thought twice about double parking. Here it’s a reasonable solution to that skewed car-numbers to parking-spaces ratio. If you weren’t meant to double-park, why is there so much extra room on the street, right? So my double-parking means I’ve taken one more step to acclimatizing.
It’s nice to have those moments because we’ve just finished up the Fallas festival here, an almost month-long noisy nightmare that I don’t think I’ll ever get used to. The highlight is when these huge, papier-mâché statues costing hundreds of thousands of dollars get burned in the streets on the last night, but what really drives me nuts are the random firecrackers kids and the kid-like shoot off whenever they feel like it throughout the month.
During the main Fallas week, 20 cars and more than 100 big trash containers were set on fire. One truck full of fireworks exploded while parked in the middle of the city, injuring some 17 people and damaging several buildings. A bullfighter was gored in the ring. And I assume the standard dozens of minor and a few major injuries of burns and blown-off body parts were chalked up in the hospitals.
To me it seems simpler to just have someone in every neighborhood set his fingers on fire and be done with it, but then we Americans are always sacrificing traditional practices to the gods of efficiency, aren’t we?
Actually, what we Americans do worship is the god of safety, particularly when it comes to kid stuff. We like helmets and fences and warning labels and rules, and the more the better, and this, as you might gather, is not a universal position outside the U.S., nor inside for that matter. Personally, I think waterproof helmets for protection in the bathtub might be a bit much. And sizing a toddler tether that you use not to lose kids in the mall to teenager size probably is going too far too. (In fact, there’s a debate over at Brain, Child magazine about whether Americans do go too far with child safety obsessions.)
On kids and firecrackers though, some Valencians are way off the average safety opinion scale. But moderating some of these local extremes is what the European Union does, and recently, to meet E.U. regulations, Spain had passed a law limiting the kinds of firecrackers kids under 12 could handle. But Valencia’s city hall, not to mention Fallas traditionalists and the small-newsstand owners who make a nice little bundle every year selling this exploding junk, complained so much that they got the law put on hold until Europe really insists.
Naturally the first question Son the Elder got when he was back in school this morning after the Fallas break was whether he shot off any firecrackers. As the other kid asked about a long list of types of firecrackers, my deprived child could only offer a story about the truly gargantuan thing some idiot exploded right next to him and his brother and father when the kids went downtown this weekend with the husband.
In theory I lean more toward the relaxed side of safety ruling. In theory. So during the recent school carnival here, when a bunch of kids were playing in a playground with an open gate and without adult supervision, I didn’t go running to lock them in while screaming about bogeymen. I mean, not out loud. Maybe I should have? Anyway, that worked out okay. See, I can adapt to different mores. But next year, when I know I’m going to get asked by one or both of my kids whether they can shoot off a firecracker, do I keep making them the odd-men-out? Do I try to find noiseless, flameless, safety style sparklers? Or do I do the only thing a loving, self-sacrificing, American mom living abroad can do – and set my own fingers on fire?

Share  Posted by Deborah Klosky at 5:19 PM | Permalink

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