1/30/2006

"Don’t be one of those people who throw papers in the public street!" [JANUARY 29, 2006]

An American, a Czech and a Spaniard walk into a bar. They each order a coffee and, once the barman serves them, they each tear open the sugar packet that came with their drink and mix its contents in. The American crumples up the empty packet and leaves it on the counter. The Czech neatly folds it in half and places it between the cup and the saucer. The Spaniard just tosses it on the floor along with the spent cigarette dangling from his lips – despite the fact that there’s an ashtray directly in front of him. There’s no punch line to this joke, folks. Anyway you look at it, the Spanish are pigs.


"Yeah, that's my trash on the floor. You got a problem, amigo?"

Now I know that people litter no matter what country or corner of the globe you’re in. It’s a fact of life and one that people who respect the environment cringe at the sight of. In most industrialized nations, the government in conjunction with these deep-rooted environmentalists form some sort of campaign to stop the pollution of our planet. Such a simple thing, they tell the populace, as placing your empty gum wrapper in a bin instead of on the street can make a world of difference. Everyone is always on the lookout for a litterbug and people generally turn up their noses at the sight of one. At the end of the day, those who litter form the minority of an environmentally-conscious whole.

In Spain, however, the opposite seems to be true. Everyone litters. People toss papers, cans, bottles, bags, fruit skins, empty cigarette cartons, sandwich wrappers, warped umbrellas, toilet seats, fruit & vegetable crates, broken light bulbs, diapers and whatever else you can think of onto the street and into the sea. In the cafés, customers ignore ashtrays, tables, and counters and opt for the floor as their trash bin of choice. Stranger yet, the proprietor gladly sweeps up after them every few minutes because he views this kind of behavior as normal. I wouldn’t be surprised if that very café owner tosses his trash on the floor too when he visits other cafés. And on the streets, it’s even worse. Wherever one spots a group of Spaniards, there will always be a few pieces of litter left in their wake – sprinkled by the omnipresent shells of those sunflower seeds they so dearly love to eat.


Where the hell did all those umbrellas come from?


Just a regular park bench after a little snack... sunflower shells included

As far as I can tell, the Spanish must see it as their God-given right to litter. At any time of day, on whichever street corner of Cádiz you find yourself, you’re bound to find at least one piece of litter strewn on the cobblestoned pavement below. Even when you look over the city walls towards the sea – onto the massive boulders that protect the residents from the crashing waves of the mighty Atlantic – one can’t help but notice the piles of trash that haplessly have been tossed aside here. These boulders have now become a feeding ground for stray cats and seagulls as they scavenge the litter and pick at anything that might resemble a morsel of food. This type of behavior is even more difficult to understand when one considers that the sea has been this city’s lifeline since the day it was founded. Recently, in these times of rough unemployment, it has been one of the only reasons why tourists come to visit. A "day at the beach" must contribute hundreds of thousands of euros to the struggling local economy and yet, still, the Gaditanos view the Atlantic as nothing more than their local dump. If they can’t toss litter into the vast ocean, then where should they?


Ahh, Cádiz! Postcard picture perfect - just... ...DON'T LOOK DOWN!

The zenith of all this littering, though, occurs during public festivals or Carnaval, which is fast approaching at only a month away. The pre-Carnaval celebrations that have been going on over the past two weekends have been a sign of things to come – piles of trash scattered throughout the streets. As we were walking around this Sunday (Erizada, or Sea-Urchin Fest, was taking place in our neighborhood) we found it difficult to ignore how much litter had accumulated outside our door. I understand that oftentimes, especially during public celebrations, there may be no trash can or bin of any sort available for public use in the vicinity. But this isn’t the case in Cádiz. Before each Fest, the city sets up extra bins every few steps away for the revelers to use... but they simply ignore them. We saw countless piles of trash strewn on the ground while practically empty bins stood in their midst. I don’t understand. How difficult can it be to lift your arm and throw that bottle or used plastic plate into the empty bin by your side? We even saw a couple of people using the trash bin tops as tables to rest their food and drinks on or, even worse, they would simply pile their trash on top of the bin without bothering to open it– as if a plastic cover can be that heavy!


Spain's only Environmentalist:
"Where's the trash bin? Oh well, I'll just leave my dirty cups and plates on this plastic lid."



The littered remains of pre-Carnaval fun... ...And the empty trash bin next to it.

One of the most frightening things in all of this littering-mayhem is the attitude of Spaniards – even what must be environmentally-conscious Spaniards if they actually do exist – towards others who pollute. The locals really don’t give a damn at all. In fact, none of it seems strange in the least to them. Why walk to a bin, the local reasoning must go, when you can just as easily toss it on the ground? And this kind of conditioning to a lack of environmental awareness starts young and continues into adulthood. Not once have I seen a child reprimanded for dropping a candy wrapper, or an adult look at one of his fellow countrymen and shake his head in disgust as someone soils his beloved España.

I don’t want to try and rationalize this behavior and, frankly, I’m really not sure why the natives of this lovely land treat their country in such a manner, but I think it might be subconscious. They’ve been programmed to think this way. For example, as far as I know, there is no word in Spanish that litter can be directly translated into. All there is that I could find was basura, or trash, and papeles, which literally means papers. And as for the verb to litter the nearest one can come to translating it is either ensuciar, to get something dirty, or tirar papeles, to throw papers. Even litterbug, or litter lout as the Brits say, can only be rendered into Spanish as persona que tira papeles en la vía pública, or person who throws papers in the public street. No wonder there’s so much litter and no public campaigns to improve the environment here in Spain. The catchy saying we have back home, "Don’t be a litterbug!" doesn’t seem quite as catchy when translated into "Don’t be one of those people who throw papers in the public street!"


"I love litter! Without it, I'd be homeless."

When you take these linguistic shortcomings into mind, it starts to explain some of the Spanish attitude towards litter. But what really completes the picture is how much the government – both local and national – must spend on cleaning up after its citizens. Cádiz, more or less, is quite a clean city especially when you take into account how much people litter. This is due to one thing and one thing alone – the ever-vigilant local garbage-men. Trash is collected every night outside each resident’s door and the streets and trash cans (both public and private ones) are sprayed down clean with a high-powered hose using a disinfectant liquid mixture. Well actually, that’s not completely true. First a group of garbage-men SWEEP the street and then they spray it down... And this happens practically every night and sometimes even during the day too! When I first moved here and would walk home from a bar at two or three in the morning, I was always curious as to why the streets were all wet when it hadn’t even rained a drop. It took me a few months before I figured out those damp cobblestones were all that was left of the Garbage-Man Posse’s evening stroll through the city.


I salute ye, O brave Garbage-Man! Vigilantly cleaning the streets both at night and at day! Litter, beware!


Who can wash the streets down and make the mornings shine?
The Garbage-Man can! The Garbage-Man can!

After a foreigner in Spain considers all of these factors, he can begin to at least try and understand the local attitude to litter. Now I’m not trying to excuse them, but the way the residents of Cádiz see it is "Why clean up when someone else will do it for me?" And even if they don’t know that someone is cleaning up after them, when a Gaditano wakes up the next morning, he inevitably finds his city as clean as a whistle and litter free. Who cares where the trash went as long as it’s gone? The entire situation reminds me of when I cook a little snack or make myself some coffee and pile up the dirty dishes in the sink. The next day they’re all inevitably gone too – cleaned and put away in the cupboard. How they got washed and placed there (although I do suspect my girlfriend may be somehow involved), I’ll never know. But then again, do I really care? As long as the sink is empty and the kitchen is clean, I’m happy. I suppose the Spanish are the same way when it comes to their litter.

17 comments:

Deborah said...

I think behavior like that is passed down from the previous generation. Without a major jolt, I doubt little is going to change.

Great pictures. Not pretty but GREAT! And point well made.

christina said...

This is really interesting. The times I've been in Spain I never really noticed the litter, but I tend to think that most of Europe is filthy anyway (public restrooms in France? Gahhhhh!) so I guess I wasn't paying proper attention. The Germans will also tend to throw their garbage beside a garbage can rather than in it when they're outside, but restaurants aren't that bad.

As for the "why should I worry when someone else is going to clean it up anyway?" attitude, I was just reading a story somewhere about supposedly mild-mannered Canadians getting into a fist fight in the middle of the (Canadian) street because one guy threw a bunch of garbage out of his car when he was stopped at a stoplight and a female cyclist came along, picked up all the garbage and shoved it back INTO his car through the window. He promptly punched her in the face. Someone from another culture (not Spain) commented that she got what she deserved and that it was perfectly fine to leave your trash anywhere you like because you're paying taxes that goes toward street cleaning. Or something. Maybe the Spaniards feel the same way?

MommC said...

Hi.....I'm visiting from Juan Dolio in the DR. I'd like to link to this post for my next installment as you seem to have explained the problem here in the DR to a "T".
However since I'm visiting through Technorati I can't seem to find the 'trackback/permalink/ to this entry. Would you mind visiting my blog and leaving a URL for me??

B Pierre said...

ahh simpsons references. iorgos, you will shudder to know that the simpsons are not what they used to be. I actually look forward to the family guy more than the simpsons these days. I KNOW I KNOW... sakreligious (gummy demilo, ahhhhh).... but the time they are changin' and I'm finally admitting it... the simpsons have gone down hill.

Now, since you've been gone for so long... there are still nuggets of genius here and there.... but, you know. either way... simpsons is what they will always rank the others against. and groenig is the man.... hell, he's a zappa fan.

BTW: IF YOUR NOT A ZAPPA FAN, I WILL SEND YOU HIS MUSIC. YOU WILL LOVE IT.

sincerely yours,

Brian Pierre

Harry H. Hippie said...

we all litter. it's a fact of our modernized world. If you call yourself an "environmentalist" and say you don't litter... you better be able to back up your words with example. BECAUSE WE ALL LITTER.

I have friends- very earth conscious friends- who used to- and still do- chuck things out the window of the car and don't think a second thought. On the street you might call them "hippies", I certainly consider them earth conscious. But they have a point: Unless you are someone who goes out of his way to conserve waste and eliminate excess... then you might as well throw your garbage out the window. Hell, who among us can say that he does not use on a daily/weekly basis: Styrofoam, plastics, disposable containers, etc...

So what is the difference from throwing that horrible NON-BIODEGRADABLE styrofoam box into the trash and throwing it out your window? We are just pretending to help the earth by keeping that shit out of our eyesight. Throw it on the floor- spread it out on the table- walk on it- I don't give a FUCK. just don't pretend like your better than the rest of us if your "disposing" your waste into the trash can.... unless your REALLY earth conscious... otherwise your just a hypocrite.


PEACE

MommC said...

Thanks.....you're my quote for Fridays entry!
Think I might even add a permanent link to your blog. I like your style and content!
Besides with a title like that you're sure to get lots of traffic!

GC PHILO said...

Christina: I thought the Germans were more environmentally conscious. My brother lived in Cologne for about a year and when I went to visit him, I remember seeing how clean everything was and how many recycling bins there were on the streets. in Cádiz you're lucky if you see a trashcan outside someone's door waiting for the Garbage Man (as opposed to heaps of soiled, disgusting bags) and, as far as I can tell, there are only two glass, paper, and plastic recycling bins in the entire city (population of about 100,000). Plus, shouldn't the government be spending money on better things than cleaning up trash? Especially in Germany and Spain where unemployment is so high and the economy is suffering a downturn?

mommc: Thanks for visiting. I took a look at your sight too and liked what I saw. I'll link yours if you link mine. (liNk, dammit, liNk... you perverts)

b pierre: Say it ain't so?! The Simpsons have gone down in quality? Whatever happened to the good ol' days when Homer used to wear a pink shirt to work and got locked up with Michael Jackson? Can I get some independent verification here on the decline in quality?

Harry H. Hippie: I understand that we all litter. I do too, even if it is without thinking about it. It's in our nature as living beings to consume what's around us and leave the scraps -- even moreso as humans. But I try to clean up after myself and recycle when I can. And how can you honestly say that throwing trash outside the window is the same as throwing it in the bin? There are different degrees of littering just as there are different degrees of crimes. By your logic, just because someone stole something, he might as well kill people too. In fact, we should all go around killing each other. After all, who of us hasn't committed a little "white" crime every now and then? (And just to further bolster my argument, "Yo momma so fat she's 36-24-36... but that's her forearm, neck, and thigh!" BOO-YA!!)

euro-trac said...

Oh no! I was just getting sad about the litter and then I read about the decline of the Simpsons!
:-(

euro-trac said...

Oh yeah... I meant to say,
Great Pictures!

Lisa said...

Hi GC,
People like to attack you, don't they? I'm noticing a pattern here. You need to change the title of this blog to "Take Your Best Shot" -or- "Target".

I agree with your litter comments. We can't be perfect, but we should do our best.

In my piece of Germany, if you throw so much as a cigarette butt down on the street you can be fined, and if anyone sees it it's guaranteed at least two people will stop you (lay their hands on you if necessary) and ask you what your problem is with the littering then give a ten minute speech about the evils of not taking care of the environment and insult your upbringing. I'm serious, I've seen it.

If the Ordnungsamt (office of order, I think) catches you doing it it's an instant fine and you pay right there where you stand. If you resist they call the police and you're arrested.

hippo_pepperpot said...

Litter is sad... I see a lot of it in my neighbourhood. We have a really nice green belt behind our house. People would use it as a dump... for everything, at night the hooligans would gather it up and burn it... it has got better since the council started putting their foot down...

Oh... I got my gross picture from Google... I googled 'three eyes' and that came up as one of them... weird.

Expat Traveler said...

Wow - I never knew it was that bad there! Switzerland is truely lucky when it comes to trash. I think I'd agree with Christina - totally an attitude thing. People should care and it's up to use to do our part.

Expat Traveler said...

Oh that cool link can be found on Nyana's Blog

Anonymous said...

You should see Filthydelphia.

The Expatriator said...

About the litter: Yeah, here in Barcelona it's the same pretty much. The street trash (litter, not the people) definitely reflects a problem in attitude, although it's much worse in the tourist zones... I wonder why.

We also have mighty mighty garbage men here in BCN (called BCNeta, which is kinda funny because of the Baque's ETA... get it?). What I don't get is how they justify that kind of mass water usage when reserves are down to like 25% in the summer and the local rivers are so small that they notably change in size when a nearby school has a food poisoning crisis and everyone rushes to the can.

Last year they finally implemented a law against leaving your dog's shit on the streets. Thank God because in my first 6 months here I must've had a run-in with some canine nastiness three times. I fuckin' hate that. People are definitely better about that now, although the anarkistas still don't give a shit about what their dogs are doing, obviously, so you still hit it occassionally.

About the Simpsons: Dude, Family Guy rocks. You'll love it. And yeah, the Simpsons kinda dived a couple years ago. I think I heard they're outsourcing it's production to India. I'm not kidding.

Robert Bernardis said...

You need to look at www.sachetstand.com and
www.sachetpot.com
I'm the inventor and on checking my 'google position' by typing 'sugar packet litter' found this blog (incidentally we are #1). Would appreciate a comment on our blog.
We're winning but at a very slow pace. We are from Australia but only just achieved an entry on a Cafe Code in Melbourne (2.5 million people) which affects 1,600 cafes\restaurants Feb 6 2008. We are canvassing countries and so far have only sold some product to Japan. Sometimes people do what they do because they are offered no alternatives. Keep up the good work, the more people that talk the more that listen.

Robert Bernardis

Robert Bernardis said...

You need to look at www.sachetstand.com and
www.sachetpot.com
I'm the inventor and on checking my 'google position' by typing 'sugar packet litter' found this blog (incidentally we are #1). Would appreciate a comment on our blog.
We're winning but at a very slow pace. We are from Australia but only just achieved an entry on a Cafe Code in Melbourne (2.5 million people) which affects 1,600 cafes\restaurants Feb 6 2008. We are canvassing countries and so far have only sold some product to Japan. Sometimes people do what they do because they are offered no alternatives. Keep up the good work, the more people that talk the more that listen.

Robert Bernardis