Besides being active, elderly people in Spain do not sweat, are always well-groomed and usually have a friendly piece of advice on the cheese you should buy, observes Jeremy Holland.
Newcomers to Spain are always pleasantly surprised by how active the elderly population is here in Spain.
You can see them shuffling around, pushing their carritos from fruit stand to supermarket as they do their shopping. On sunny days they gather on benches under trees with their friends, their lap dogs sitting close by as they chat, punctuating their sentences with laughs. During the evening, you’ll find them at the local bar sitting around a table talking loudly and animated about their family and friends while stroking their pet Yorkshire terrier that sits on their lap.
In fact, if you were to judge a country solely on the how active the people are in relationship to their age, Spain would be near the top I imagine.
So with that in mind, here are some of my five favourite characteristics of la tercera edad.
Madrid: old men playing in El Retiro park
1. They never sweat.
It can be the middle of August when the sun is blazing and the humidity sticks to the skin, and yet there they are, dressed in skirts and blouses, stockings and shoes, their made-up faces free of one bead of sweat as they cool themselves by waving a fan just under the chin.
2. They dress with dignity.
Compared to the rest of Spain, I think Barcelona is a bit more on the casual side fashion-wise. But you’ll never find an elderly person here going out in sweats. From their dyed hair to the wrinkle-free clothes they wear, everything is immaculate and well-put together with an understated class.
3. They provide a glimpse into Spain’s past.
This holds true for most senior citizens no matter where they live (not for Spain, but the country they’re from). There’s nothing more interesting that sitting down and having a chat with an elderly neighbour. They’ll be more than happy to share for a few moments company and it’s amazing what you’ll discover.
4. They’re out and about.
The father of a friend of mine likes getting up at the crack of dawn and going out to get each of the free newspapers before they’re gone so he’ll have something to read. This is his ritual every week. There’s also this elderly couple from across the hall who will walk the neighbourhood’s streets arm-in-arm for their daily paseíto at five o’ clock whether rain or shine. Like I said, they just seem more active.
5. They’re friendlier.
Whenever I go shopping at the market, I can usually count on one senior citizen offering me suggestions as to the best cut of meat or a new cheese to try. Nowadays, it often corresponds with what I planned on buying anyway, but it’s always nice to hear some friendly advice. I remember when I first came here and didn’t speak any Spanish, I got a real hoot from an old guy trying to explain what the shop keeper said to me by shouting different words but using the same language and speed as if the problem was my hearing. It was all very surreal.