We live only 30 minutes drive from Spain and haven't been there near enough. It's quite a bit cheaper than France and way cheaper than over-priced New Zealand. And let's not get on to house prices.
The service in Spain is quite serious. Yet virtually all their social life is spent outside their homes in cafes, bars and restaurants. They're a lot noisier than their French neighbours who, by the way, talk only in irritating whispers on long train journeys.
The cities my wife and I have visited have been spectacular. Old fortress towns with narrow streets, intimate bars and restaurants, the aesthetics aided greatly by the use of stone. This column is never going to be a travelogue, but if you're in Europe then Spain has wonderful towns with fascinating histories. The fortress town of Toledo is one, so is Segovia with its viaduct built by the Romans in the first century.
We sat at a pavement table in Madrid for two hours, virtually all of which I spent people-watching while my wife and daughter chatted. I must have taken in a thousand faces, and each had its own brief fascination. I can report that not one elderly woman in Madrid has grey hair. Hairdressers must do pretty well here, but there should be no shame in having grey hair in your 70s and 80s. I don't understand the vanity.
What you'll see in this ceaseless stream of humanity is human variation, our different ways of covering up our perceived flaws. More than vanity, it is vulnerability exposed, social fear, bowing to the will of the collective.
The lengths we go to to protect ourselves from being judged. From discarding our natural hair colour, wearing clothes that neither suit nor fit, makeup trowelled on, expensive designer sunglasses, spending thousands on a handbag, a piece of jewellery, an outfit. Males less so in terms of dress, but conformity manifests in other ways and some men crack from the impossible effort of trying to please everyone all the time. All for what?
To appease that inner voice urging us to do such-and-such, so we might fit better. To obey some emotional command that has no logic or rationality; yet it could not feel more carefully thought out and perfectly reasonable. I reckon a lot of people are unknowingly trying to avenge their childhoods.
This conformity applies to faces and the ageing process, the very things we cannot change.
But on what can be changed in Spain - at least I assume it can be - obesity is clearly an accepted physical state for which no judgments are applied.
Only in America have I seen so many morbidly obese people. It starts young; you see the signs in an inordinate percentage of podgy to chubby children, even overweight toddlers. Kids drink a lot of fizz and eat sugary things. By adulthood obesity is so normal it is clearly not a problem, let alone a national malaise.
Presumably it's cultural - sugar the main culprit, along with potatoes more often than not fried; the bread is thick and doughy, often sweet and loaded with butter. From potato omelette at breakfast to fries with most lunch courses, given out free at near every bar. What do they expect?
The bakeries are glistening offerings spread, sprinkled and sparkling with sugar.
I don't want to put anyone off Spain. The unsmiling service does quickly warm up, the wines are superb and unbelievably inexpensive. Fish is a national specialty, ox-tail melts in your mouth and if the bread was any good you'd go through a loaf mopping up the sauce. But you will notice how fat people are.
What better family event than watching the All Blacks play Wales here in Madrid, with one daughter over from London with her partner and another daughter from Whistler, Canada. The venue an Irish bar and what atmosphere, what decor it had: small stained glass window portraits of famous Spaniards, including two Nobels for literature and the artists Dali, Picasso, Goya.
Now, since when did booing the opposition goal-kicker creep into Kiwi culture? These people are a disgrace. If you hear it, rip into them. We must never descend to the level of football hooliganism and institutionalised idiocy.