Many a writer on Spain has commented on what a noisy country it is: Ernest Hemingway, for example, and George Orwell, Washington Irving, James Michener and Giles Tremlett, the author of Ghosts of Spain. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) Spain is the second noisiest country in the world after Japan. Paul Whitelock is not surprised. Here he gives his assessment of the noise in his adopted land.
Well, it is noisy, isn’t it? Everywhere you go it’s loud: people talking on the bus, in a bar, on the street, even in church. But there are other noises that are unique to Spain: the barking of distant dogs, the braying of a donkey, the crowing of cocks and the clucking of hens, the Sunday morning trailbike phutting loudly across the land, the tooting of a night-time train as it passes, the blaring of radios and TVs through open windows, the sound of gleeful children playing.
We moved house three months ago and we have all of the above. But in addition we’ve had the sound of heavy lorries chugging up the hill into town, the Foreign Legion in the nearby barracks practising drumming, chanting and marching for hours on end, and the clanging of the recently installed bells on the several level crossings in the area.
So, what effect does all this Spanish noise have on people? According to the WHO three out of every four Spaniards suffer from excessive noise levels. Of those, more than nine million have to tolerate levels of noise above 65 decibels, the acceptable limit. In Europe 20 per cent of the population – some 80 million people – are exposed to unacceptable levels of noise. Noise causes hearing loss and can have a negative effect on the quality of life of those who have to put up with it.
Here in Spain, things are beginning to improve, however. There have been recent court rulings imposing fines on discotheque owners for making too much noise too late at night. Councils are also banning the botellón, the gatherings of young people in public places to drink and listen to loud music until the early hours.
In theory, the policíá municipal is in charge of handling noise-related complaints, although whether or not they are actually able to do much more than register your complaint is another question. Probably the most effective way to avoid noise problems is to establish close relationships with neighbours and to handle any resulting problems with discretion and tender loving care.
As for me, I’m not used to noise at all, for, since I became old enough to be aware of it – in other words since I became an adult and a parent – I’ve always lived in quiet places. In a cul-de sac next to a park in a Cheshire village, up a mountain in North Wales, and next to a football ground in a northern English town, where there were only two matches a week to break the silence. Even in Spain, I’ve only lived in quiet places (quiet for Spain, that is!): in a peaceful barrio on the edge of town and up the hill where no cars can reach in a pueblo blanco in the mountains of the Serranía de Ronda.
But now that we’ve moved, auditory hell has been let loose! But as I get older and increasingly hard of hearing, it doesn’t seem to matter that much. Everything else is perfect and I guess you get used to the noise – in the end!