Recently I overheard a woman on a reality TV show who was trying to buy a house complain that an ideal pad she was looking at didn’t have enough of that Spanish charm. Ordinarily I try to stay away from the realm of reality TV, unless it involves upstate New York and/or food, the latter preferably involving Guy Fieri in some way. There was something about this woman that really irked me, though, as I caught several snippets of her in full-on talking head mode making a big deal over Spanish charm. I don’t know; I’m thinking it maybe had something to do with the fact that she was buying a house in Valencia. As the narrator took great care to keep reminding the viewers, this is the third-largest city in Spain, coming in just behind Madrid and Barcelona. According to Wikipedia, there are well over 800,000 residents of Valencia. It’s easy for me to conclude that a fair number of those residents are Spanish, but I’ve never been to Europe, so what do I know?
Welcome to House Hunters International, a show that drives me nuts. This show has a veneer of spoiled mockery and a ring of extreme haughtiness from the One Percent. Ever since this show came to my attention, I’ve always seen it as the television equivalent of Gwenyth Paltrow – the heiress who reminds us lowly knaves that we are, in fact, nothing more than lowly knaves by offering her opinions on living life to its fullest. There’s nothing wrong with that per se. The problem steps in when it appears that the way to live is by spending money. Then spending more money; perhaps on a nice blouse which costs more than my entire wardrobe.
The times I’ve suffered through this show, I’ve frequently wondered why all the episodes have commons themes, no matter where they’re taking place. One is that the buyers always seem to have budgets which could afford the entirety of South Buffalo. Another is that the cities are all glamor centers. I’ve never seen House Hunters International make a play at a couple relocating in the other direction – wherever they go, it’s always from wherever to your Kyoto, or your Aukland, your Vienna, your Rio de Janeiro, or if the episode is about a non-American expat headed in our direction, it will be New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. None of these are people from the creative class arriving with idealistic visions of turning the place onto its head. You’re not going to see anyone trying to move to whatever the non-American version of the Rust Belt is. (Spare me the diatribe about how Europe’s decimated economy means the entire continent is basically the Rust Belt now. You know what I’m talking about.) Well, okay, there were one or two episodes revolving around around Reykjavik, the capitol of Iceland. Also, the show seems to have a weird bias against single people, families with kids, seniors, gays, and minorities. Are you anything other than a 30-ish straight person in a relationship? House Hunters International will ignore you.
This show is basically selling to people who are viewing the rest of the world through the quaintness lens. I have very little doubt that nearly everyone who appears on it is seeing their new home mostly as tourists who are expecting to makes their purchases with the expectations of finding nothing but an extended vacation. It occurs to very few of them that they’re really going to uplift and re-pot themselves in an entirely different culture in which the language is different. Even if they manage to learn the language, they’ll also have to learn a somewhat bastardized form of it because whatever language they’re learning has slang expressions of its very own. Trickier still will be the unspoken cues which people use from day to day to communicate. There will be things natives will try to convey through between-lines spoken expressions and plenty of gestures they’re not going to get.
Another thing I’ve started wondering in light of that idiot in Valencia up there is, just what do they plan on doing while living in this country? If you’re living in Spain, Spanish charm shouldn’t be a qualifier for deciding your living quarters unless you’re going to go hobnobbing exclusively with your midwestern-accented buddies. I suspect the realtors on House Hunters International are little more than tokens. Afterward, the newly-nationalized residents are going to hang out with other expats or have a cultural pressure breakdown. I’ve read about non-American cities having America-towns, the same way this country has Greektowns, Little Italys, and Chinatowns.
Basically, this show is a travelogue for rich people planning extended vacations or long excursions for the occasional tax purpose. It’s not informing us or giving us windows into the lives of anyone. It’s mocking us, and that’s all.