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Do you understand?

Lots of Spanish men have grey hair and quite a few are as tall as I am. My clothes come from Spanish shops and I have my hair cut here. Nonetheless people recognise me as a foreigner long before I speak. I too play the game of recognising Brits in the street. I'm often right though I'm far from infallible - sometimes they're Dutch, German or Belgians but mostly, when I get it wrong, they are Spaniards.

Last night we went out to get a couple of drinks and eat something at one of the Cruces de Mayo bars. As is so often the case at fiesta type events we had to buy tickets first and then hand the tickets over at the bar in return for the food and drink. I suppose it centralises the cash handling, increases security and also leads to a slight over-expenditure on the part of the customers - just to be sure.

We joined the scrum at the bar. For once I wasn't too worried about shouting my order through the din. At the bar, there were price lists everywhere. Ordering would be easy despite the general melee. Finally I got to the front and a young lad looked up to serve us. He gave me one look, fled, and called a girl over to take his place. I think he'd recognised me as a foreigner and was passing the task to his English speaking pal. I gave her the order. My Spanish obviously has a strong English accent but the things I wanted, longaniza, empanada, patatas bravas, cerveza and fino de Jerez, are all easy to say and pretty specific given the situation. She asked me to repeat the order, then she asked me to repeat each item, then she scrutinised the price list and then she disappeared. She never came back.

We waited at the bar, a bit lost. Eventually an older barman asked us if we needed anything, I said I thought we'd ordered but I repeated our order to him. He didn't ask me to repeat the order or give me a quizzical look though he did say he was out of a couple of items so I had to change the order. He went to get our stuff. Straightforward in the end but, maybe, the most humiliating transaction I've ever conducted in Spanish. It made me swear a lot and not this time at myself.

Twenty minutes later a young woman approached us. She started "We're raffling 1,000 cars" then she stopped, "You're foreigners aren't you, you don't understand do you?" she said. We understood perfectly but we didn't have to say a word and we didn't have to buy a draw ticket. Swings and roundabouts.

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