Living on Tenerife and Trying to Understand a Different Culture

Posted: November 13, 2011 in Life, Tenerife, Travel

Living on Tenerife involves a lot more than simply moving to a climate where you can sit back and soak up the sun…well unless you live in a bubble that keeps you well away from having any interaction with the real Tenerife.

In some ways, the British and the Canarios are similar and in some ways the culture couldn’t be more different, occasionally to the extent that it can make your head want to explode.

This week as Andy dropped off some Real Tenerife guides at the post office, I spent my time waiting for her at the car by, as usual, observing daily life in Puerto de la Cruz. This normally involves listening to the old guys at Bar Aqui Me Quedo sounding as though they’re arguing about everything under the golden globe, and enviously watching the slick moves of the pupils at the dance academy opposite where we park. But on this occasion there was the added bonus of a car crash right in front of me.
Actually it was more of a gentle bump, but what developed illustrated the gulf in cultural responses to certain situations.

The road where the bus station is now located is a slow one and accidents like running into the back of another car when you’re driving at 20 kph shouldn’t occur. Who knows what had grabbed the woman driver’s attention as she drove too close to the car in front, maybe it was the moves at the dance academy, but when the car in front stopped for people at pedestrian crossing, the woman behind didn’t and subsequently drove straight into the back of it.

It wasn’t a big bump, but it did result in a small dent on both cars. Both drivers were out of their cars pronto to inspect the damage and that’s when the cultural differences came to the fore.

The car in front wasn’t a Toyota but was a hire car and was occupied by two German visitors who looked at the bump on the fender and then reached for their documents. This didn’t go down well with the Spanish driver who didn’t feel that the damage was serious enough to warrant exchanging insurance details.

The Germans couldn’t speak Spanish but clearly understood the gist of what was going on. One of them pointed to the hire car label on their car. It was obvious to me that they were trying to communicate with the woman that as theirs was a hire car, they had to do this by the book. But she was having none of it and became more and more agitated, flinging her arms in the air and pointing out over and over again that the damage was minimal. Despite their requests she refused to give the Germans her insurance details.

Then, with an impasse looming, the German woman did something really smart. She took out her digital camera and snapped a photo of the ‘culprit’ driver’s number plate. When the Spanish driver asked what she was doing a ‘helpful’ local onlooker stepped into the fray.

Instead of pointing out that the Germans were in the right, he told the Spanish driver they were taking a photo of her number plate because ‘they were German and were trying to get money out of her.’

It was an interesting take on events and not a conclusion that I would have reached. This is what I mean about the occasional chasm between our cultures. In this case the Germans were judged to be in the wrong because they wanted to do things by the book which the culprit believed justified her annoyance at them.

She was the one who drove into them…yet she was the one who was angry. That is the sort of skewed logic that makes your head want to explode.

A few months ago Andy was sitting in the car when a local man we know reversed straight into her. Our car was in a car park and was stationary at the time which made it all the more bizarre. But the guy’s reaction was even more incredible.

Instead of apologising, he rushed across to the car, furious with Andy for, get this, ‘being parked there’. This type of thinking just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

Similarly, what did the driver do when the Germans took a photo of her number plate? She jumped into her car, reversed (nearly hitting another car in the process), pulled around the bemused Germans’ car and drove off,  leaving them and their car isolated in the middle of the road.

Thirty seconds later the police arrived. I was gutted as I really wanted to see how they would have dealt with the situation.

When I witness situations like this and the approach to what I’d consider are basic laws of the road, Pirates of the Caribbean always enters my head.

I have a sneaking suspicion some drivers on Tenerife have a similar view to the highway code (codigo de la circulación) as Captain Barbossa does to the Code of the Order of the Brethren – i.e. that ‘the code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules.’

  1. I was once witness to something similar, and a year later, was called to the court in Santa Cruz to testify as a witness. The offending driver was a no-show, the victim had been subjected to considerable stress (it had been a bigger bump than the one you saw), lawyers and the personnel of insurance companies had been working for nothing (no wonder our premiums are as high as they are), and I lost a day of work. The police, basically, apparently, couldn’t be bothered tracking the offending driver down, even though we all lived in Los Abrigos, a small enough place, and she was seen around all the time. Still makes me angry to think about it.

    I had an interesting discussion about perception of the law after I saw you the other day, but that for another time.

    • dragojac says:

      When renewing our insurance last year, we asked why it had jumped so much and the guy’s response was ‘because we’re such bad drivers in Spain…lots of little bumps.’

      I look fprward to hearing about the discussion about percetions of the law. I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s an unwritten code that doesn’t bear any relation to the actual law. It’s more a case of ‘how we think it should be.’

      La Orotava’s mayor said as much in public the other week.

  2. Richard says:

    Nice observational story. I know exactly what you mean about thinking that all the animated shouting meant that canarios were for ever at each other others’ throats, when in fact it’s quite the opposite 🙂

    Most of the time I find the driving in Tenerife quite OK (less aggressive than the UK if the few days I spent driving a rental car there were anything to go by). But then you come roundabouts … and say-no-more, you know the rest.

    Ironically, my most recent run-in was with a German. I had parked in the car-park at the cable car station early to catch the first lift up el Teide. When I left the car there were only a few others parked, and masses of room. When I came back down, the car park was full with tourist buses and I noticed a rental car had parked next to ours leaving hardly any space.

    Just as I arrived their door opened, and the most obese man that I’ve ever seen attempted to get out (no kidding, you could have fitted three dragojacs into this man’s lederhosen and had space left over).

    Just as I was about to stop him and reverse out myself, I heard this horrible grinding noise as he used his massive bulk to force his door into mine and squeeze all that flesh through the gap. All the while he was panting obscenely while his only-slightly-less-bulky wife urged him on impatiently (hence me knowing that they were German).

    I did the usual English thing of standing there looking tetchy but saying nothing, and luckily I didn’t notice the dent and scratch until later, otherwise I think I would have lost it in that beautiful place on such a perfect morning.

    Our car was only a few weeks old and this was the first mark on it, it’s virgin paint-work violated in record time. But hey, life in Tenerife is too short to worry about your coche’s virginity eh ?

    • dragojac says:

      LOL – When it comes to looking tetchy/disgisted/outraged without actually saying anything, we’re world beaters.

      When we went for our car’s first service the mechanic was amazed it didn’t have any sort of bump or scratch at all – just not the norm.

      I agree about driving being less aggressive on Tenerife, but I think there’s a massive distinction between how people drive on the motorways and in the country. To me some of the practices on motorways are more dangerous than aggressive – i.e. driving at speed far too close, using the indicator to tell you to get out of the way…even though there’s an unbroken line of traffic on the inside lane.

      In the hills on the other hand it’s the opposite – people driving at 20kph and slowing to ‘beep’ a hello to everyone they pass. It can be as annoying as hell when trying to get anywhere quickly, but I much prefer it to the TFs.

      The real problem for me is one of inconsistency. We may not like rules, but when it comes to driving they mean that everybody knows what everybody else is likely to do. Not on Tenerife.

      Sometimes dangerous situations are caused by overly courteous driving – On more than one occasion I’ve approached a ‘fast’ road on a slip road and the driver on the main road has stopped to let me on. Very friendly – but it makes it terribly unpredictable. Similarly I realised very early on that when someone waves you past them in the hills, it simply means that they want you to pass…not that the road ahead is necessarily clear.

      I guess this is why there are still public information adverts most nights in the Canary Islands about the ‘rules of the road’. Somebody once quoted to me the estimated numbers of people who had never taken a driving test but who drove regularly – it was a frightening figure.

      But overall I love driving on Tenerife – sometimes the quirks just add to the fun of it all 🙂

  3. Alison says:

    Lol! I loved this and the great comments left above. The additional bonus for me was that you have a driving school advertised in the background. Classic 🙂

    • dragojac says:

      Fantastic – lol. I hadn’t clocked the driving school in the background. Now I can see why the woman (culprit) on the right is looking in that direction. She’s thinking ‘damn, if only I’d gone there to learn to drive before buying this car.’

  4. Peter says:

    Haha\, LMAO reading this. It’s so true but you have to admit, development of the islands didn’t happen that long ago and it will take time to close the gap between north and south.
    I’ve been witness to several of these types of incidents and sometimes the reaction is opposite. If it’s a woman driver, she burst out crying at her mistake. Most of them happened in the towns and thankfully, nobody was injured.

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