I put it down to the same compulsion that leads us to drink too much: escaping mundane reality.
Not long ago I found myself in close proximity to SpongeBob SquarePants and a 6-foot crayon engaged in a fistfight with seven jockeys (the ones that ride horses). I don't for one minute expect Catalan readers to know what I'm talking about, but don't worry, because I'm about to explain. They were not cartoon characters from a film but in fact grown men dressed up in - very impressive it has to be said - costumes. And the result of the fight was the jockeys being expelled from the arena while SpongeBob and his friend the crayon danced to several hundred drunken people singing “SpongeBob, SpongeBob give us a wave, SpongeBob, give us a wave!” The event I was attending held far more than a few hundred, I should point out, that was only the section where I was sitting; there were in fact some several thousand people gathered in the arena to watch a bunch of overweight men playing professional darts.
If there is one cultural sight I do not expect to witness at any point during my life here in Catalonia it is men in outrageously infantile costumes singing, drinking, fighting and then doing it all over again egged on by drunken hordes. For many in my native culture this constitutes “a good night out”. I've mentioned my compatriots' penchant for drinking, singing and fighting before in this column, and in disparaging terms, but never in conjunction with fancy dress costumes and two men throwing darts at a board over a hundred metres away on a stage that can only be seen via huge screens hanging from the ceiling. It is one of the lowest forms of culture my country of birth has to offer, and I imagine cultures like the Catalan, where I struggle to think of anything remotely approximating such public debauchery, would find it difficult to comprehend.
This overwhelming desire to dress up in ridiculous attire is not restricted to darts tournaments. Some British friends of friends were recently in Barcelona to run the half marathon, a very popular event that attracts several thousand people. They proudly claimed to be the only ones who had dressed up – as superheroes in this case – due to the fact everyone else was taking the run so seriously. The European poker tour is held in Barcelona casino every August, and there you will find people sitting around a poker table dressed as anything from a gorilla to Big Bird from Sesame Street, but they will be of northern European origin rather than locals. So what makes my compatriots and other northern Europeans so desperate to dress up? I put it down to the same compulsion that leads us to drink too much: escaping mundane reality. Restricted as I am by the parameters of generalising about culture that I have set for myself, I'm left asking myself the following questions: How is it locals can handle mundane reality without the need for such outlandish behaviour? And what constitutes a comparable “good out” for Catalans?