Since my last blog, a number have strange events have occurred which have warranted a response to my own complaints.
One of my biggest symptoms of culture shock has been the constant and persistent harassment by men on the streets. In America, this is not okay, at least by my standards. But when you move to another country, you have to put aside everything you have ever thought…about anything. You have to stop being yourself for a little while if you are truly going to learn about the new place. This is a struggle for me because I have worked very hard to become who I am, and losing that is scary. In some ways, I have been clinging to my old identity more than I should.
But I recently had the opportunity to talk to a very nice Spanish brother and sister. I told them that there are certain things about Andalusia which I have been struggling to get used to, specifically, the aforementioned issue: “No me gusta cuando los hombres me gritan cosas como “guapa” en las calles.” I got blank stares. They simply did not understand my complaint. The sister even had to repeat the sentence to her brother, mostly because of my atrocious accent. They said, “why?” I told them it was offensive and disrespectful. More blank stares. “You mean, you don’t like it when they call you beautiful?” No, no, I don’t like it. Not from someone I don’t know. It’s creepy. I don’t know that word in Spanish. .. “But Spanish people are very straightforward. They tell you what they think. If they see you on the street and they think you are beautiful, they tell you so. It doesn’t mean anything more than that; it’s simply a game people play.” But it’s disrespectful, I insisted. “Why?” The conversation became circular for awhile.
My Spaniards told me that if you don’t want the attention, there are certain ways to avoid it, which I had already been learning slowly. If you look their way, for example. So if you don’t want to be spoken to, you must not look at anyone on the streets. For an observer, that’s like torture. But mostly, they instructed me, one must not take it too seriously. The woman is even permitted to respond with a cajoling statement, such as “¡venga ya!” it’s supposed to be a pleasant interaction for everyone concerned.
Eventually I began to understand. It is an entirely different culture. Certainly things flatter Americans that Spaniards find offensive, and, as I am learning, vice versa. I am learning slow as molasses how to be a Spaniard, and digging my heels in the ground all the way. However, I am running out of time to adjust.
“Guapa,” means beautiful and classy, I have learned. “Rubia” is not so good. When I asked them about “cuanto cuesta,” which means “how much?” their reactions were much different. The brother, gentlemanly and appalled, said “people actually say that?” and the sister informed me that because I am clearly a foreigner, there is nothing I can do to avoid it, besides be offended. There is nothing good about that comment.
I have learned that when a waiter or a nice man at the salsa club calls you “guapa,” “mi amor,” or “reina,” it is quite nice and even funny. One of my friends has instructed her American boyfriend to call her “reina” from now on. Girls even refer to each other with such names. It’s better than what some American girls call each other, names which I am sure you are familiar with and won’t repeat here.
I still haven’t learned to enjoy comments from random men, but I have learned from the Spaniards that those things happen and they pass you by. You can’t take them with you and dwell on them. Yes, I don’t like that men can comment on women but the opposite is not permitted (not that I would engage in such activity if I had the option). I don’t like that there is such superficiality here, but in reality almost every place is immersed in it and the Spaniards are simply more upfront about it. It is something that I am at least getting used to, although I think I will never enjoy it like a Spaniard would.
I have never before been very proud of American culture or considered myself adjusted to it, but I am discovering that I am more American than I ever thought. I am not sure what I think about that.
Just when I thought “get me the hell out of Spain,” when I couldn’t stand Andalucians anymore, like magic I began to have a number of positive experiences. It began with the brother and sister and continued with my intercambio, who is very nice and normal girl named, (surprise!) Maria. Also, I teach an English class and take a flamenco class, which are both filled with boisterous, hilarious women who restore my faith in this place. Their energy is contagious and they make me feel more included in the culture. They are endearing, if not very diverse.
I have noticed that there seems to be a very small range of personalities here, which is unfortunate. Many of the Spaniards I have gotten to know are great and I love them, but they are not very interesting except for the fact that they are Spanish. You can have virtually the same conversation with 5 different people. Maybe I have been spoiled by American diversity, but I miss the spontaneity that usually comes with meeting new people.
Andalucía may not be a place I would move to permanently, but I am learning, albeit slowly, how to enjoy my time here, including the homogenous but delightful people.