Majorca can teach us a thing or two

19th August 2005 at 01:00
Every year many of us take a holiday in Majorca and see an island with worrying aspects. There are the appalling "British Bulldog" or "Rose and Crown" bars, the greasy "Great British Burger Houses", the shoddy trinkets and merchandise being sold for rip-off prices and the multi-storey, whitewashed obscenities that pass for hotels on the British and German parts of the island.

Everyone is in search of a tan. We use our special lotions and potions for the time pre-sun, post-sun, during the sun and now even for the time when we are thinking about the sun.

People turn various shades of pink, brown, black and red, and then go back into the sun to improve the mix. The check-in queue going home at the airport is a kaleidoscope of colours, all proudly displayed and all destined to last no more than a week.

Majorca is the island setting for all this foolishness, a playground for our vanities, insecurities and, for the older among us, their search for eternal youth.

But it is far more than this. Indeed, as we in the UK increasingly resemble the inhabitants of a defeated, self-loathing Indian reservation, up to its ankles in vomit because of binge drinking, Majorca may have more than just its sun to offer us.

The first thing the island has is strong families. People see their relatives frequently and family functions are a strong source of identity.

Children are treated as integral parts of the unit and participate in all family dealings - like going out for meals, even if they are age three (or less). There is no need to achieve, or overachieve, to prove what you are in Majorca. Your family does that for you.

The second thing the island has is balanced lifestyles. People do want material success, as anyone who has been pursued by Majorcan estate agents and property dealers will testify. But the strong Spanish commitment to sport, to the beach culture during the summer, and to the importance of people rather than things, ensures that the island inhabitants' lives seem less unbalanced than ours in the UK. Spanish people will sacrifice only so much of their lifestyles in the pursuit of loot.

The third thing that the island shows is a commitment to honesty in its interpersonal dealings. Because everyone on the island knows everyone else, a verbal commitment is a solemn and serious pledge. Anyone reneging on a deal will be ostracised by the community that they are intimately connected to.

While the island possesses the customary army of lawyers, it is the community and its pervasive strength that enforces higher standards of conduct.

The island's fourth social strength is its maintenance of traditional standards. If young people misbehave in the street, then adults other than their parents try to correct them. If old people cannot negotiate steps, then someone helps them. If someone falls over in the street, hordes of passers-by will descend to help.

There are unacceptable sides of life on Majorca. The driving is appalling.

Endless macho posturing by adolescent - and even adult - males is pathetically embarrassing. The fact that everyone knows everyone else can lead to an endless web of gossip and tale-telling. And a community where everyone knows everyone else this well is one that is always talking at each other rather than listening.

Of course we should not forget that in many parts of Wales a community still exists and that people still care for one another. But advanced industrial societies are under threat from factors much more powerful than the recent terrorism. We no longer have such organised families or communities to maintain the social fabric. Individuals are isolated from each other, and some people increasingly do not care about each other.

The media can tell us its outright lies without people having their own experiences to judge by. And the sad spectacle of the state trying to regulate what people do continues to rivet our attention.

So next time you go to the Costas or the Balearics, and no doubt to Greece, Portugal and Turkey too, take a look at their societies, not just their sun.

David Reynolds is professor of education at the university of Exeter and lives in south Wales

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