There’s a scene in the first series of Mad Men where the Draper family go on a picnic. When they finish Don Draper picks up the chequered cloth they’d been using and shakes all the contents onto the grass where he leaves it.
“It’s just like Tenerife.” I thought the first time I saw it, except Mad Men was set in 1960s America.
In some ways Tenerife is decades behind Britain. There are big positives to that – community and traditions are strong and the island is safe. When I see local children playing it reminds me of my childhood. Last year I could hardly walk through Puerto de la Cruz without tripping over spinning tops. In traditional areas it can be delightfully old fashioned, harking back to more innocent times.
But in other ways there are negatives. First time we walked, apprehensively, into the police station in Puerto de la Cruz in 2003 to apply for a NIE (Número de identidad de extranjero) I was shocked by how badly organised it was. Given an afternoon I could have transformed the place with a few simple changes. It was simply decades behind the UK offices I’d worked in.
Then there’s traffic safety. Zig-zag lines were added to zebra crossings in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s for obvious safety reasons. Forty years later and you can still park right up to a zebra crossing on Tenerife and in Spain. In fact some people think zebra crossings are parking spaces. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have ‘stepped out of nowhere’ because there’s no clear view of the crossing. It’s crazy not to have implemented such a simple change.
One of the most obvious areas where Tenerife has lagged behind is in the attitude to litter.
A couple of weeks ago there was a damning report in the Spanish press about the state of Mesa Mota zona recreativo (picnic zone) in La Laguna after a group of students left the area like a disaster area following a Saturday night al fresco party.
The culprits, incidentally, were law students.
But I have some sympathy for them.
It’s a cultural thing. Current practices on Tenerife regarding rubbish management send out confusing messages. Anyone who has been to a big fiesta, carnival street party or New Year’s Eve bash will know what I mean.
The first time we went to a romería was in Garachico where the passing floats and animals left a sea of plastic cups, discarded bones, splattered boiled eggs and steaming heaps of goat and cow droppings in their wake. Following right behind was an army of street cleaners, magically erasing the rubbish as they went. I was almost as transfixed by this as I was by the colourful parade.
At Tenerife’s street parties where tens of thousands of revellers gather bins soon fill up, so empty bottles and discarded plastic cups soon pile up around them. By five in the morning the place where the street party is taking place looks literally like a tip. By ten in the morning you’d never know there’d been a street party. Again, an army of street cleaners descend and perform wonders.
In many ways it’s a good system and one which works relatively smoothly and efficiently. But it is a system which could be seen as sending out a message which says ‘it’s okay to dump your rubbish anywhere’ and it’s one which means individuals don’t always take personal responsibility for their own rubbish management.
Before the Keep Britain Tidy campaign in the 1970s many Brits were guilty of a similar attitude towards respecting their surroundings, but that was nearly half a century ago.
The island should keep the practice of a quick post-fiesta clean up by all means, it’s a good system. But instead of having a go at students for doing what they’ve been brought up thinking is acceptable, the authorities should do something constructive. Maybe a ‘Mantenga a Tenerife limpio’ campaign perhaps?