|Smiles from Cañada Real|
(photo by Rafael Robles L)
Foreign (plural same). Noun. Mid-20th century.
[French, from bidon = an oil drum or petrol tin + ville town.]
A shanty-town built of oil drums, etc., especially on the outskirts of a French or North African city.
Cañada Real, Madrid, is Europe's largest shanty-town. It has some 40,000 residents. Conditions there are described as comparable to the Third World. I've been to Madrid on a number of occasions, but until I started researching the French word bidonville I had never heard of Cañada Real. Its existence and my complete ignorance of it shocks me.
Whether it be Cañada Real in Spain, the bidonville of France or the burgeoning slums of Greece, there is something deeply uncomfortable about the idea of such shanty-towns in Europe and the grinding poverty that spawns them. A shanty-town, after all, conjures images of the Brazilian favelas, or the corrugated shacks of Mogadishu, foreign and remote, detached from the supposed egalitarianism and refinement of Europe. Maybe it's a misplaced sense of European pride, denialism or just stupid naivety, but something tells us we're better than shanties and slums and bidonville. The evidence clearly says that we're not.