Two news items this morning remind me that while in most ways people are the same everywhere, culture certainly plays a vital role in shaping how we interact with one another. For the past few days El País has been reporting on a shady investigative unit created by a Madrid councilman. They describe it as basically a publicly funded private detective agency used exclusively by the councilman to spy on his political enemies. With no accountability. And this morning some good quotes from Nacho Duato, the director of the National Dance Company, regarding his anything but amicable departure. In both cases the degree to which energy is directed towards very personal rivalries is quite striking. Rosa Maria Artal observes in her recent book España, ombligo del mundo, echoing generations of earlier writers, that Spaniards are plagued by envy. It seems that anyone's success must be at the collective expense of everyone else. It seems to be the national sin. There have been many comments along these lines, for example, regarding the famous chef Adriá Ferrán. It's my impression that historically Spanish society has prized individual genius over the more mundane accomplishments of collective effort. The grandeur of the gesto. And during the empire, Spanish might was often portrayed through the image of a personified nation of unique brilliance, in turn exemplified by a small number of heroic figures: El Cid, Columbus, etc. All countries have done this, of course, but in the case of Spain the emphasis on individual exceptionality seems particularly strong. And as the catholic church has taught generations of Spaniards, sainthood is reserved for a very select few, even though all should aspire to it. This persistent envy then gets translated to institutional rivalries as well. Now Malaga and Seville are fighting over which city will host the central offices of the hoped for megabank created by the merger of several Andalusian Savings and Loans, the Cajas de Ahorro: Unicaja, Cajasur, Caja Granada, etc. And Malaga fights with Cordoba over which city should be designated European Capital of Culture for 2016. In fact, last night with Pedro Martín-Almendro of the Fundación Málagaa, I attended a talk by Neil Peterson, who led the Liverpool Culture Company, the organization that got that city the cultural capital designation for 2008. Based on the attendance I wouldn't feel too excited about Malaga's chances. And I'm sure some people in the Madrid metro felt envious of Asun and me when they spotted us with our three beautiful daughters. Who could blame them? Just joking. After all, Obama did speak yesterday of the importance of humility. I hope we were listening!