Today I met with Mireia Pujol Reverter, the API Cultural Director for my study abroad program here in Barcelona, Spain for our scheduled interview. She is a local here in Spain and plans all cultural events for my program so I figured her to be the perfect person to speak with. Before our interview I knew that discussing cultural view points and mind sets with a person from your host culture was important but it wasn’t until afterwards that I realized how truly beneficial and fascinating it was. What I learned from Mireia was more than what I would’ve learned off of a simple google search or out of a travel guide book. She was able to give me insight knowing the context of the questions I was asking her and was able to give me an answer based off of herself and what she believed the overall culture was like. She studies and compares cultures for her job, she could not have been more perfect.
The first cultural value set that we discussed was change versus tradition and it was perfect to start our informative, fascinating conversation. She told me almost what I was expecting to hear, the elderly (around 60 years+) do not welcome change while the younger generations almost embrace it and are the ones who create it. It was the examples she gave me that were fascinating. Halloween is not a holiday celebrated here in Spain, they have their own version which is a day of the dead where at night they enter grave yards to mourn their dead. However, Mireia told me that the younger generations actually want to celebrate Halloween, she said that the youth here in Barcelona admire the American culture and want to mimic it. She said if you ask her parents though Halloween does not exist and never will, they prefer to keep their day of the dead. Another example she gave was of Valentines day. Barcelona is apart of Catalonia, a region in Spain that is pushing to secede from Spain and become its own country, they even have their own language. All of Spain celebrates Valentines day, besides Catalonia. They have their own holiday on April 23rd called St Jordi day. This holiday celebrates their patron saint where a man will buy the person he loves a rose and a woman will buy the person she loves a book. Only in recent years has Valentine’s day become a thing in Barcelona, Mireia herself has never celebrated Valentine’s day before, and claims she never will because she celebrates St. Jordi day. Catalonia really is a country of its own separate from Spain; traditions and all that they don’t want to break or lose.
The next cultural set we discussed was on materialism. I was surprised by what she told me. I always thought that Europeans disliked Americans, however, she told me that Spain has actually grown to acquire certain characteristics of the states because they’re admired; a lot having to do with materialism. She said that Spain has always viewed that owning more means you “are a better person” but it was never a thing to show it off until the past decade. Mireia explained how before Spain was a working class country but now that it has grown people here will buy large cars seen in the states in order to show off their wealth because it is (incredibly) rare to see a large car here in Barcelona. Americanization almost symbolizes wealth here (I was amazed). She said materialism is typically found in the youth here, basically showing off to other kids the money their parents have (which I said is pretty much how it is in the states in my personal opinion).
Another interesting concept we discussed that is very different compared to the States is independence versus dependence. Mireia explained to me how here it is incredibly normal to move out of your parent’s house between the ages of 25-30 and any time before that is almost impressive or unheard of. She said how it is because when attending college people usually live at home since they attend close by universities and their parents will house them and take care of them until they are well off to be on their own. This is an idea that in the states is the complete opposite I felt. By the age of 18 we typically move off to college and then have jobs in new areas away from our parents showing a sense of independence, something we are proud to have at such a young age. Here in Spain the unemployment rate is also 25% so fining a job is hard for the youth which leads to many of them remaining with their parents until they know their career is actually steady. Mireia explained how many of these factors in their culture play off of this cultural idea.
The last idea I will share that I found interesting was about formal versus informal. Mireia said how Spain is very formal in attire and the outfits they wear for certain events, i.e. weddings, work, school, etc., are very specific and different than the states. She was shocked when she her study abroad students would show up to events wearing work out clothes as their outfit of the day or show up to class wearing work out attire. She explained how here in Spain that is unheard of, you only wear workout clothes if you are going to workout. To go to class most Spaniards will be presentable and to go to work if a man works in an office they’re expected to be dressed up nicely in a button down. A total difference from the states where we will show up to class in practically what we wore to bed and when you’re actually dressed nice a friend will ask “why are you dressed nicely?”. Mireia is right too because when walking around the city I will never see a local wearing workout clothes.
Mireia and I discussed cultural differences for a lot longer than either of us expected which led to me needing to run out of the office to class, arriving 10 minutes late, and forgetting to take our picture together. However, I improvised and included a photo of St. Jordi day I found online that depicts the sale of roses and books here in Barcelona (I found it at http://www.dmc-rtaspain.com/dmc-barcelona-sant-jordi-day/).
A specific part of home campus life in which I do not participate is the sports life. I do not have a negative view point or uncomfortable feelings towards it I just have not given it much thought because I am not a part of it. However, just as Slimbach stated, “most are keen to help cultural outsiders appreciate their unique history, language, musical forms, religious practices and political concerns” (Slimbach 129). Now while the sports teams are not an entire country with centuries of history or a special language, they are unique in their own way with their own culture within. I would be beneficial and valuable to sit down and discuss with a representative of that group all about their own culture that they value so much. I feel they would greatly appreciate the willingness and open mindedness to asking if I could hear all about their culture they value so much. I could learn from them details I wouldn’t have imagined like how I did sitting down and speaking with Mireia. It helped me learn and understand that everyone has a story, every culture comes from somewhere, and everywhere in different. It only takes curiosity and an open mind to learn all about it. This assignment is my favorite, I cannot believe what I learned from Mireia today. It is something I feel all students should do whether for a class or not.