Time Europe has a Special Report on Spain in this week's magazine. I haven't read all the articles, but the general idea is that Spain is becoming a significant presence in Europe and the World, probably for the first time since the Holy Roman Empire was centered in Madrid (if I've got my history right).
Appearances are very deceiving when it comes to Spain. From a social, business and technological perspective the culture still has a long way to go - even though it seems on the surface of it that they are making huge strides. In my case, I came back to the U.S. and was amazed at the interest in my resume and experience, after receiving so little respect in Madrid for so long. I had started to doubt what I was doing in life. I still feel the sting from two years ago that after desperately looking for a job for six months, I was finally offered a job for $22,000 a year. Who the hell can live on that, even in Spain? But it wasn't just the money - it was the attitude of the employer - that they were giving me an amazing opportunity and when I turned it down, they were shocked. And why was I looking for work? Because I quit the previous job because my coworkers smoked like stacks at their desks in a window-less office and my cries to be moved were ignored. Working life in Spain leaves a lot to be desired.
That's my experience from the trenches. And I'm a white guy with a technical background. For minorities or women or people without skills as easy to translate, the exprience in Spain can be even harder. I'm talking about living and working - ie, having a life, not to those on vacation. I don't think there's much overt racism (well, no more than in most Southern European countries) and sexism is usually restricted to unwanted advances. But what I'm talking about is the effort it takes to live and integrate into Spanish society. That's a much bigger hill to climb. So take what you read about Spain with a grain of salt - I didn't come back to the U.S. to live because I was homesick.
That said, the thing about Spain is this - what you see today isn't what you'll see tomorrow. Since the death of Franco in the 70s, Spain has been on a hockeystick angle path of self-improvement. I've written about this before. My wife talks about dirt roads in her town and a limited number of phones and black and white TVs, etc. Now we're reading today about how Spain is going to create the world's second largest super-computer and is one of the first in Europe to provide third generation mobile services with over 70% of the population owning a mobile phone. That's quite the change over a short period of time, and they're not slowing down at all.
Spain has a super-liberal constitution, an amazingly educated populace (everyone, it seems, has some advanced degree or another) and a general level of insecurity which makes them continue to try to "keep up" with the rest of the world. They - and I'm being very general here, but you can see it in the newspapers and on TV - love to compare themselves to other counties in every respect: Sport, Culture, Politics, etc. After living in Spain for a while, it wasn't a surprise to me to see President Aznar do what he could to gain the world stage during the run-up to the Iraq war. This is how the Spanish see themselves - as a country ready to take it's place among the larger powers in Europe: UK, France, Germany and Italy.
Anyways, these are my thoughts. I'm going to have to read these articles to see what others think of Spain as well. Like I said before, Spain is a permanent part of my life now. My wife and son are Spanish and we still speak Spanish in the house. Hell, Ana just got back from Spain and is still in that weird transition stage where she's not really sure where she really fits in. So something like this big analysis of the country from Time is one of those weird things that touches insanely close to home.