Lately I have noticed that I am enjoying walking around by myself more and more. During the hustle and bustle of everyday activity, we tend to fall into routines. Getting up at the same time each day, getting a morning coffee from the same store, traveling to work or school on the same streets, meeting up with the same people, passing the same scenery, etc. When did we become so robotic? I can’t even remember the last time I explored a new area near Hamden, Connecticut or even in the surrounding towns in my home state! Being taken out of my daily routine has made me realize that during my time here, I don’t want a daily routine. I want to see new places and faces each day. I want to shop in new stores and try different restaurants and be in new areas at different times to see how the atmosphere changes. I have found that being alone helps me to do this because I am not obligated to hold a conversation or walk a certain pace or take into consideration where another person wants to go. When I walk alone I have to opportunity to watch other people, look at how they dress, what they say, how they act, and how the surrounding environment has shaped the community it holds. Not having constant Wi-Fi is also a huge help because I don’t walk down the street with my face in my phone and I’m not preoccupied with emails, texts, or social media notifications. Normally I would be ready to respond at the first sense of a vibration, but now that my phone is away I am distraction-free and I can allow my feet and senses to take me where they may.
One of the things that really grabs my attention, not only on my walking adventures but every day, is social etiquette. There are a ton of differences between the United States and Spain on this subject, and I am finding them a bit difficult to adjust to simply because I do not want to come off rude or disrespectful while doing what I have been taught is polite. For example, everyone, even people who have just met, is greeted with a kiss on each cheek. A handshake or a hug will absolutely not suffice. When you want to order food or get the check at a restaurant, you need to call the waiter over. They will not come to the table unless asked. Or when you make plans to meet up with someone, it is considered perfectly normal to arrive about 10 to 15 minutes late. Arriving early or being impatient with someone who is running late is unacceptable. It is also unacceptable to eat on the go or take home doggy bags. Everyone sits down for every meal. Nobody walks around with coffee or granola bars, or even bottles of water. When at a café or restaurant, you never pick up your trash. It is always left on the table to be cleaned by the staff, even if it can be thrown directly into the garbage. Eye contact is another big distinction. If a woman makes eye contact with a man for even a few seconds, it is a signal that she is interested in him. I have learned to be extremely careful with where I let my eyes roam, because men here will come right up to you or yell to you from across a room. People here are generally more aggressive and blunt than in the U.S. If you see something or someone that you like or don’t like, you just say it. It is okay to call someone ugly or fat because it’s simply a “true statement,” not to be taken as an insult. These are just a few examples of the dissimilarities I have picked up on. I think it’s interesting to notice how different something so “normal” can be in another part of the world. I am doing my best to learn the appropriate things to say and do to blend and adapt to the Spanish culture to the best of my ability.
I thought of the travelogue I read as a communitas I could carry around with me. I absolutely loved reading it because it made me feel like I wasn’t alone in the mistakes I have been making or the observations I have made about differences between the United States and Spain. Being that the book was written by a collection of authors, it further reassured me that there are many more Americans like myself in this country trying to live their lives here while learning from the challenges they are forced to face in a new environment. It kind of reminded me of an international version of the “Traumarama” section in the back of Seventeen Magazine, where people share their embarrassing stories with other readers likely experiencing similar situations. There were a few stories in particular that I found extremely relatable that mentioned topics such as language barriers that make even the simplest of tasks extremely difficult, and navigating the curvy, selectively labeled streets of the maze I call Sevilla. (Side note: I tried to order a pizza over the phone last week and it took 20 minutes to communicate my address and how the delivery man would get to me. On the bright side, I chose to make the call myself rather than asking someone else to do it, and the pizza did make it there exactly how I wanted it!)
One quote from my travelogue that really stood out to me was that of a young woman who considered turning back on plans she had made because she was nervous. She wrote, “I reminded myself that I was in Spain on an adventure, and that I needed to take advantage of every experience, especially if it ripped me out of my comfort zone and stomped on my pride.” (Spain From A Backpack, 191) This is something I am constantly doing, as I want to reach my goal of trying and experiencing new things, regardless of how nervous, anxious, or uncomfortable they may make me. For example, this past weekend I went to Cadiz for the annual Carnival. I had no idea what to expect, but my program coordinator and even my host father told me that it was a crazy experience. After seeing it with my own two eyes, I would describe it as a Halloween party on steroids. There were thousands and thousands of people dressed in costumes, roaming the streets of Cadiz, holding as many bottles of alcohol as they could manage to carry. I was hesitant to go in the first place due to fear of the unknown as well as the fact that the bus arrived at 10:00pm and would not leave until 5:00am, and I felt uncomfortable at times being approached by intoxicated men in costumes who didn’t speak my language. As the night went on, the city became more and more filthy due to a lack of trashcans and bathrooms. (I’ll spare you all the details.) Aside from the nasty negatives, I did have a fun time with my new roommates and even met some other American students as well as some nice locals who were happy to practice their English on me. Overall I was very happy I went because it was a very new cultural experience for me. I also found it very funny how well I blended in with the Spaniards that night while wearing a face mask, neon green tights, and a bright blue tutu, when on normal days I get stared at for wearing leggings and converse.
This is a picture I took from the top of the Cathedral of Sevilla. Clearly, it’s very overwhelming and there is a ton to see. Not to mention that this is only the view from one side of the tower. Even though I explored new streets and saw new sights during my walk, there is so much more out there to be discovered and learned about. I am so happy that I still have over three months to make my way around here and I cant wait for what else is in store as I stray farther and farther off the paths I have already taken.
Spain From A Backpack- Edited by Mark Pearson & Martin Westerman