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The etiquette of prostitutes on a rural Spanish road

Back in the spring time I spent a couple of months staying at my mum’s house in the Valencian countryside. The experience taught me a lot. Such as how I enjoy the sensation of exchanging pleasantries with complete strangers. Who knew? I certainly didn’t before arriving in Spain. Allow me to take you there now, to a sparsely populated stretch of land, not far from the town of La Hoya, between the city of Elche and the Mediterranean coast, by way of a journal entry written on the day that it happened:

Out here I don’t see many other people and can sometimes walk for a couple of hours at least without coming across another human, not when I’m wandering about in the fields anyway, but occasionally I slip away from the fields to cut across the only road for miles around, that connects the city of Elche with the coast, and although the road is more often than not dead, it is still the place of work for prostitutes, who sit by the side of the road on a little chair under an umbrella, reading a book, and when they’re ‘busy’ their book awaits their return on top of their empty seat. There is one of these girls approximately every mile. Eastern European or South American. And these girls know not to take me for a potential customer as I approach them – I haven’t got a car, for a start. Plus I like to think they recognise me as someone who wouldn’t have to pay for sex. Ha! he says modestly! More likely they take a quick look at me and come to the conclusion that I couldn’t afford it – I’m just a scruffy thinking man, wandering about in his mind. And I have to squeeze by these girls at the side of the road, and I always do so in silence and with my eyes averted to the ground. And just the same, these girls completely ignore me. It is as if we don’t acknowledge each other’s existence. But obviously we do, or at least I do, or I wouldn’t be writing about it. I carry on walking. She carries on reading. Even though we are the only two people for miles around, seemingly we would rather be the only person singular for miles around.

I passed one of these girls a little while ago, South American woman, and we said nothing, standard, and then I took another path that led me back into the wilderness, and I started thinking about how sad it was for two humans to just blank each other like that out here in the middle of nowhere, and how a simple ‘Hola’ wouldn’t take too much effort. And then I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wanted desperately to exchange greetings with someone. Just briefly, passing in the day. I don’t want to disturb anyone’s life with idle chit-chat. Just to say hello, to acknowledge someone, to have someone acknowledge me. But it’s not like I could go back to the road now. That’d just be weird. If I walked all the way back to that particular spot of road where that South American woman sat under her umbrella, reading, and I went up to her and simply said ‘Hola.’ She’d just look up at me.

‘Yes? Can I help you? Do you want something?’

‘No, that’s all. Just wanted to say hello. Nothing more.’

‘Oh. Right. Well, would you mind fucking off now please, you’re having a detrimental effect on business.’

‘Ah, yes, of course. Right you are. Bye then.’

And if then I just walked back off into the distance. No, that would just be plain wrong! Plus I’m not sure she would express herself as eloquently as I just imagined. And if she had, in Spanish, I’d have struggled to understand.

So I just carried on walking deeper into the fields, until up ahead in a field to my right I spied a shepherd with his black and white dog, herding together a flock of goats. I am not sure that flock is the correct collective noun for goats. This old farmer was the most sun-dried man I have ever come across. Looked like a raisin on legs. And as I approached him I thought ‘Right, I’m gonna do this,’ and as I got to within earshot I waved my arm high into the air and shouted ‘Hola!’ as enthusiastically as I could. Well if you’re going to do something you may as well do it properly.

And a wonderful thing happened. This human, this shepherd, this Spanish raisin, raised his arm and shouted twice as loudly as I had ‘Hola amigo!’ And I thought Yes! Yes! This man and I are friends. Amigos. He said it himself, didn’t he? And it felt good. So then I thought right, when I pass that woman on the way back across the road I’m going to say hello. Or hola. Breaking down barriers!

But when I walked past there an hour ago there was just a book sitting on a chair under an umbrella.

Kris Mole’s book ‘Gatecrashing Europe’ – where he freeloads his way around an otherwise expensive continent – is published by  And there’s more about him at Smashwords. Follow him on twitter at @KrisMole.

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