What’s There to Lose?

November 6, 2015

in Academic Year 2015-2016, Caroline Stevens, Europe, Spain

There’s a lot that goes through your mind when you’re thrown into a social situation with people you don’t know who are all speaking a language you’re not fluent in. Number one: How did I let this happen to me? I don’t even like meeting new people in English. Number two: Everyone is talking over each other. Is this what counts as a conversation for Spaniards? Number three: At least I have nothing to lose.

The way I’ve approached socializing in Spain is monumentally different than the way I socialize in America. Back home, if someone I sort of know invites me to do something with their friends I don’t know, I will say no 90% of the time because I hate interacting with people who I’m not familiar with. But here, where I started with no friends and a hope to better my Spanish, I really have no reason to say no to those situations. For example, my roommate asked me to come out with her and her friends, and I saw it as an opportunity to meet some Spaniards and practice the language, so I obliged. Now I’m confident that the best way to get to know a country is to go out with a group of people from said country and see what they argue about. Here, it’s all about what region of Spain they’re from. People in Madrid, especially students, come from all over: Ibiza, Andalucía, Catalunya, Basque country, etc. And they all like to make fun of weird things about the other regions, as well as the accents from other regions, which vary a ton. Andalusians are notorious for having thick, hard-to-understand accents. People from the Canary Islands have accents more similar to Latin America, dropping letters left and right. And I might be remembering incorrectly, but I’m pretty sure somebody told me that the “purest” Spanish is spoken in Galicia.

Political conversation is another favorite among Spaniards, and they will unabashedly interrogate you about American stereotypes. “Is it true you can get a gun anywhere in the United States whenever you want? I heard there was a promotion for Jack Daniels where they gave away a free gun with the bottle,” they’ll say, and you’ll explain that our constitution was written way back when arms weren’t automatic rifles, and that gun laws vary drastically by state. They also don’t really know much about the country in its entirety outside of New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and why would they? Americans get used to the idea of our country being the center of the world and the country that all other countries aspire to be, but what circulates mostly is the image of America through media which, as we all know, can be misleading. They seem surprised that anything worthwhile exists between the coasts. My definition of Minnesota has devolved into, “It’s basically Canada.”

These conversations are fun, but taxing. I really am getting better at the language on a weekly basis, but at the beginning, trying to enter a conversation of native Spanish speakers felt impossible because by the time I had formulated an interesting addition to the topic, they had already left it in the dust in favor of something else. And then there are the times were they all stop speaking at once and turn to ask for the American’s opinion. One time it was, “Do you think 1.50 Euros is a good price for a kebab?” I tried to say something along the lines of, “If it’s a good quality kebab, that’s not a bad price,” and ended up saying, “Si no es bueno, es malo.” If it’s not good, it’s bad. A quality piece of guiri wisdom for you right there.

Dessert with Sara (my roommate) and Mariel (another Madison student)

Dessert with Sara (my roommate) and Mariel (another Madison student)

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