One of the firmest (you will get the pun later!) cultural differences that I have noticed between Ireland and Spain is the importance of bed-making. Now, I’m no slob, was brought up well and will never leave undone a bed I have slept in, even in hotels, but the standards that apply here in Spain to bed-making leave me believing that there was either something hopelessly lacking in my upbringing or us Irish are pigs-in-the-parlour slovens. In all the Spanish households in which I have slept, the matutinal progress through the bedrooms of the woman of the house (plus at least one helper) is as much a part of the daily ritual as the sweeping of the cortina (yard) or putting the chickpeas to soak for dinnertime’s cocido. If you were to follow these women (I have never seen an Iberian man make a bed, even to Irish standards) you would witness the various stages in Spanish bed-making:
1) Appraisal and grumbling.
The women walk gingerly into the bedroom inspecting the tossed bed from a distance while wondering aloud about whether it was a pack of wild animals or a human being that slept in it. If they are feeling extra grouchy they may even speculate as to what was gotten up to underneath the sheets.
The many sheets and blankets (a Spanish bed, even in summer, will have an excessive [to this author’s eyes anyway] confection of thin, medium and thick materials) are whipped off with a viciousness which demonstrates the long-standing cultural contempt that exists for the unmade bed.
3) Stretching and snapping.
Between the two or more women, the various sheets will be pulled and snapped to tautness, with specific attention being paid to regions of the fabric with folds or creases. These must not be allowed to persist.
4) Folding and turning down.
With elaborate care, the sheets are returned to their rightful positions atop the mattress. This is real precision work, during which silence prevails in the room. Grouching and gossiping are set aside, while with millimetric accuracy sheets are centred, turned down and folded together. It is common for women to ruthlessly bitch about and criticise this aspect of one another’s bed-making technique. If you fall down on this point of bed-making, you are not a good mother or wife.
The bed’s outer layer is smoothened to a degree that it would be possible to host an Olympic curling match on its surface. (But I’m guessing that if a prospective atop-the-bed-curler even suggesting laying a finger on the bed, he would be told in no uncertain terms where to put his stone!).
Usually done from a position near the door. Gimlet eyes are run over the bed. If it doesn’t pass muster, the entire process could start all over again.
But what about duvets? I hear you ask. Haven’t duvets arrived to Spain?
The answer is: not really.
As far as I am aware, our own is the only household in Spain that uses duvets. There must be others, though: Ikea has a whole football-pitch-sized section of its labyrinth devoted to vacuum-packed pillows and their larger feather-filled brethren. Maybe it’s only foreigners like ourselves who are brave enough to dabble in the esoteric world of tog numbers, eider and cotton-polyester blends. The Spanish for “duvet” is nórdico, which means “Nordic”. Perhaps a rebranding of the duvet to something less open to puns would increase its success. You could not imagine how many jokes there are about sleeping under or rolling around with Nordics in this country!
I am old enough to remember a time when there were no duvets in Ireland either. As was the case with many foreign and exotic items we now see as completely domesticated and ordinary (rice, pasta, pizza, olives, avocado, salami), duvets appeared in our household sometime in my early childhood. After duvets’ convenience to she who did the washing (my mother) and those who made the beds (us children) became clear, the old concoctions of bottom sheet, blanket, top sheet and quilt were consigned to the loft, and only reappeared when there was a spot of painting to be done.
Apart from linguistic reasons, I would guess that an attachment to the age-old rituals of bed-making also accounts for the lack of uptake in Spain of the duvet. Bed-making is one of those much-complained-about tasks, which nonetheless provides great satisfaction upon completion. In how many areas of modern life can a labour input of ten or fifteen minutes supply the warm glow of a job well done and the sensation of a measure of chaos wrestled from the universe? Bed-making is also one of those chores that brings the participant back in time to when she performed the very same steps with her mother or grandmother. Besides cooking or needlework, how many modern domestic chores stretch back through the generations in such an unaltered state?
My own daughters, having spent time with their Spanish grandmother and great-aunts in my partner’s village, have been inculcated into the ritual. In our house I see them in the mornings taking elaborate care fixing up their duvets and pillows, and I smile. There is an expression in Irish:
Briseann an dúchas trí shúile an chait.
Breeding breaks out through the eyes of a cat.