Culture and Communication

Two weeks before I came to Spain, a random man stopped me on campus and asked me where my hair was from (it´s weird – after getting comments like that for so long, you´d think I´d have a clever answer for that, like ¨my head¨ or something. But no, I still get taken by surprise). He asked if I was Spanish. Now, in general, that was a really weird conversation, but as I was going to Spain in two weeks, I was sort of flattered. Then I got to Madrid. And started to laugh at that silly man. I did not look like I was from Spain. I stood out a lot.

Now we have been here for three weeks (WHAT? ALREADY!?) and I have thankfully figured out a lot since the time in Madrid. I´d say I stand out about 785345834 times less. I have been mistaken for a local a few times, once by a group of American tourists, and once by a man who asked me for directions (and he was actually asking. Did not pickpocket me). He said something about the park and over here and over there and that way, so I said ¨sí¨because that sounded right, then he chuckled and said something about oh you´re not from here, are you, and got directions from someone else. Oh well. I fooled him for half a second. Just a general knowledge of what I´m doing, a better grasp of the language, and a greater awareness of how to dress and behave has given me the ability to blend in much more.

Even though I don´t look like a tourist anymore, there are a few things I can´t change about myself that give me away as a foreigner. First, I have not see one person in Spain fall down, trip, or stumble. Yesterday I saw a lady lose balance, but it was just a misstep and she carried on. If we´re lumping, I´d day that Spaniards are graceful people who know how to walk.  I have tripped about 10-15 times, and had two major spills where I have eaten the ground (it´s fine, I was able to get right back up afterwards both times).

During our orientation to the city, MJ said that in Spain people don´t go around smiling at strangers. This is true. However, this is not to say that the people are unfriendly, communication is just preformed in different ways. For example: the other day I was stopped in the median between two cross walks, waiting with a sizable group of other pedestrians waiting to cross. As cars, motorcycles, and horse carriages passed by, one caballero in particular was driving his horse and carriage in the lane closest to us. Okay. Then, as he passes us, he leans over on his seat (while still driving) to the man standing next to me, greets him, confirms plans for the evening, and leans over out of his seat to attempt to high five (or maybe handshake, it was unclear) the man. All of this was preformed while he was still driving, and the horse was none the wiser. Absolutely fascinating. Also, another thing I´ve noticed about communication here, at least in our apartment, is that people greet the other people in the apartment building as they passed.   Because of the no-smile thing, I refrained from doing this, and then as time went on and people kept greeting me, I realized I was probably being impolite. Now I get to greet all of the strangers I live with. Yay! Reminds me of home.

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