*and one unexpectedly weird British thing
My job description includes two major parts:
- Help deliver class material to Spanish teenagers in my native language, speak slow English, occasionally attempt to explain what “turn down for what” means
- Act as an unofficial “ambassador” for my country and culture
The second of the two often comes into play even when I’m not at work. A lot of times I’m one of the first Americans that many Spaniards have interacted with, so I’m constantly aware of how I behave and present myself in public.
I psych myself out about this too much, but sometimes it’s hard not to wonder if people assume the worst of me. I’ll accidentally bump into someone at Zumba and feel like they’re probably thinking stupid American can’t stay in her own personal space. And God forbid if I have to ask someone to repeat something in Spanish – not because I didn’t understand, but because I genuinely didn’t hear what they said – because I know they’ve gotta be thinking joder, qué tonta esta guiri que no entiende nada.
Luckily, the people I’ve surrounded myself with have gone the extra
mile kilometer in making me feel welcome and accepted. The people I’ve met here in Spain are a huge reason why I’ve decided to renew my contract for the auxiliares program another year. Even with that being said, some things that I find to be completely normal aspects of everyday American life can seem interesting and even downright weird to my European friends (most of whom have gotten their information about the US from movies before I came along).
Here, I’ve tried to put myself in their shoes and understand why, exactly, some of the things we do are kind of weird. It’s a whole different side of culture shock.
I was involved in cheerleading for the majority of my life before college and it’s still really important to me (I dare you to say it’s not a sport). Even though I loved it like crazy, even I had to admit that it sounds really stupid when trying to explain it to someone from a culture where cheerleading basically doesn’t exist. I mostly just end up recommending that people go watch Bring It On.
This amazes my 18-year-old students who are just learning to drive more than anyone else. “But what do you do with your other foot?” I don’t know, it’s just kind of…there?
The general existence of Foster’s Hollywood
Foster’s Hollywood is Spain’s most famous American restaurant, although I’ve never seen it in the US (at least not where I live). I ate there for lunch with my segundo de bachillerato kids on our class trip to Madrid. I almost felt like I was back home, from being seated by a host rather than walking in and finding your own table, as is common in Europe (“kids, in America it is someone’s actual job to show you exactly where to sit”) to seeing giant plates of bacon cheese fries (just about every one of the students ordered their own, only to realize that they had severely overestimated their ability to eat American-sized portions when the food arrived).
The aforementioned British thing, but still a huge part of the English-speaking music industry. I was with my boyfriend when he had his first Bohemian Rhapsody experience, during which he and most of the other Spaniards present observed in quiet awe as me and about 10 other people in the entire crowded bar eagerly sang our hearts out for six epic minutes (and fell several octaves flat when singing “for meeeee…”). I can only imagine how it must have seemed to someone who has never heard of Freddie Mercury and isn’t super comfortable yet with the English language. When the song was over I jokingly commented to him that he won’t be able to say he speaks English until he knows that song.
Another one from the novio. He innocently asked me about “the houses with the letters on them where American university students always party in the movies” and I wanted to hug him.
Most Americans get weirded out when we hear about gazpacho or its thicker, creamier cordobés cousin, salmorejo. “Cold tomato soup? Ewww!” These dishes are actually incredibly popular during the scorching summer months in the south of Spain due to their cool and refreshing taste. On the other hand, try explaining tomato soup to an andaluz and you’re likely to get some strange looks. Turns out they think hot gazpacho/salmorejo is just as weird as the opposite seems to us.
If I’ve learned nothing else during my four months in Spain, it’s that everything is relative. We might go to another country and think that their ways of doing things are strange, without even considering that they would think the same of us. It’s fun to learn about how other places define “normal,” and life gets a lot more interesting when we accept that we’re all strange in our own way.