American in Spain

Spinal Discord

March 3, 2007

This is the first in a series of blog entries about little differences that I notice between the US and Spain. For each difference, I'll decide which country does it better, and award points.

The first topic: Book Spines. Here are a few pictures of our bookshelf, and some books I've removed from the shelf. Examine them carefully. It may help to click on them to see them better.


Notice that the Spanish titles are written in the opposite direction from the English titles. Now, which way is correct? A simple thought experiment will tell us.

Imagine that you are sitting at a table, and I hand you a book and tell you to place it, closed, on the table. You are naturally going to turn it around so that the front cover is facing up, and you will probably orient it so that you can read whatever is on the front cover, with the spine of the book facing to your left. Now imagine that there is a person sitting to your left, who wants to know what book you have, so she reads the spine. On an American (or British) book, she will have no trouble reading the spine. But on a Spanish book, the text on the spine will be upside down. USA wins!

I have explained this to a few Spaniards, and they all agree that the Spanish way is wrong, and they have no idea why the standard is how it is.

I would like to postulate that it might have something to do with the Arab influence left on Spanish culture from a thousand years ago. As I understand it, Arabic is read from right to left on the page. Does anyone know if they read books from back to front as well? It would make sense if you were reading from right to left to turn pages from left to right. When you are looking at the front of an Arabic book, is the spine on the right? I really don't know. Anyone?

Did you notice that the book that my great-great-grandfather wrote in Old Norwegian also has the spinal text going the wrong way too? I wonder why that would be...

First round result: USA: 1, Spain: 0