Alberto Letona, a Spanish author who, after spending decades living amongst the British and eventually marrying one – has written a book to help his countrymen understand them.
In an interview with The Local, the author of a new book entitled, Hijos e Hijas de la Gran Bretaña – Sons and Daughters of Great Britain – Letona explains how he has delved into the
hidden psyche of a nation in an attempt to go beyond the stereotypical image of Brits abroad.
“In the south of Spain on the Costas, Brits have a reputation as a nation of hooligans – swilling beer, staggering around bright red in the sun – and I wanted to show that there is more to the British than that.
“It is supposed to be an affectionate look at the British, whom I am very fond of, actually,” Letona, tells The Local by telephone from his home outside Bilbao.
“It may be a little irreverent, a little critical, but I hope people realize that although I may take the mick out of the British and try to be humorous about them I have a lot of respect for them.”
He insists for example that the Brits are much maligned over their cuisine. “Spanish people seem to think that the food in Britain is awful but in fact it is not at all bad. It's not all greasy café's and boiled veg,” the 60-year old former journalist told The Local.
“Britain is much more adventurous about food while Spain is really quite traditional,” Letona insists. “Basically the British are more sophisticated and multicultural than the Spanish.”
He also thinks that the British are hypocritical and overly polite – but it's a trait he loves. “In Britain you never really know what anyone is thinking. They are always polite even if they can’t stand you and pretend to be very friendly. It’s 'please' this and 'thank-you' that.
“But in Spain we are more direct, more sincere, but also more brutal with the truth,” he said. “And that is not always a good thing.”
His book, published by Varasek Ediciones in December and already in its second print run, examines British attitudes to important issues compared to those of his own countrymen.
A copy of Alberto Letona's book with Pushkin the cat.
“The Brits are animal lovers and much more civilized than the utilitarian Spanish,” he said.
“Anglicanism is kind of a joke. It’s wishy-washy compared to Catholicism,” and in terms of education “the Brits will do anything for their children, even moving house to get into a good catchment area.”
No subjects are taboo in his analysis – even British sexual habits are examined: “the Brits are either sexually crude and inappropriate or prudish and puritanical,” he said.
“That said, I think Brits are very pragmatic, more adventurous. The Spanish are much more conservative, there is a right time for everything.”
But for all his efforts at dispelling the myths, Letona admits that there can be no denying some traits, and that Britain is indeed a nation of drunks.
“While in Spain it's more of a social thing, the Brits like to binge drink. In my experience in big cities across the UK, people try and drink as much as they can in the shortest possible time to get totally pissed. I’ve seen it in Glasgow, Belfast, Liverpool, London.”
And once drunk they are prone to turn into “hooligans”.
“It is one of the least nice things about the UK that people become violent.”
In matters of style, Letona, who has two children, said anything goes in Britain.
“In Spain people are quite fussy about how they look but in the UK sometimes I think you could go to the supermarket in pyjamas and no-one would bat an eyelid.”
But the most damning criticisms are reserved for matters of hygiene.
“The biggest difference between us is cleanliness. Brits just don´t wash as much as the Spanish and their houses are not kept as tidy. I was really shocked by the carpets. They are just disgusting. All that bodily detritus like old skin, hair, toe nails all trapped under the carpet for years and years – I hate it.”
He said the best and worst can be summed up on a trip to an English pub. “It's always a case of 'beer was excellent, toilets were despicable',” he said.