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Stef On Spain: Culture Shock, Catcalls and Lentils

They don’t have a word for shock here, at least not one that I’ve heard. Likely because nothing really shocks Sevillanos – they’re way too relaxed to be taken aback by anything. Though they’re relaxed, they’re also bold.

Por ejemplo, when a girl is walking down the street, she’ll hear catcalls. And then the dudes here will actually get up in her face yelling QUE BONITA, QUE BONITA or something else dumb. After so many seasons of American students here, you’d think someone might realize this is not at all an effective pick-up line, but actually just makes us more uncomfortable in our first few days – or very complemented. Not sure.

The second style of Spanish pick-up artistry is wildly more effective, though arguably just as tasteless. Girls go to a discoteca known as ‘that place where the American girls go’ by Spaniards, who come for cheap thrills (1 euro cover, sometimes free) as long as you aren’t wearing shorts or sandals. In said club, American girls dance like frat parties in movies and eurofolk just stand around, bobbing and watching. You make eye contact and since Don Juan and Jane Student don’t have a language in common, eye contact is as good as “let’s go.” And you go until 6 AM, easily. (Note: Don’t worry, Mom and Dad: I’m not Jane Student, la americana estupida, so far.)

So these are cross-cultural comparisons that are important for the American girl studying in Spain. A full cross cultural tendency is more sociologically interesting. Americans sugarcoat EVERYTHING. Spaniards don’t. So you can’t introduce a girl as your friend and badmouth her two minutes later because Luis and Carlos have actually been friends since birth and still live with their parents, next door to each other. They won’t understand what you’re saying if you can even get that far in Spanish. They value words, they value friends, and they keep both limited and deeply meaningful. Americans don’t. This greatly confuses Spaniards. Also, even though I really liked the chickpeas, I’ve since been served artichoke and lentil, two other vegetables I really strongly don’t like. If I were Spanish, I would probably just say “I don’t like lentils and artichokes (in Spanish).” But, I’m too weird-American-polite (which doesn’t make sense because I’m way cynical and New York brusque for this place) so I just kind of ate parts and pushed some to the side and said everything was good. I didn’t say delicious though, because I’m practicing not sugar-coating. Or less sugar-coating.

Not everything I see gets analyzed into absurd and obtuse cultural observation – I’m actually learning from the Spanishmen more than just Spanish. Today at lunch, my host dad (who I think is named Luis but I really haven’t the slightest clue) told us that during the end of the Guerra Civil/beginning of Franco’s dictatorship, many people ate lentils because they were very cheap, and now lentils remind some people of tumultuous times and Franco. I hate lentils and dictatorship, so I guess I fit right in? It was a funfact and I’m really interested in the dictatorship so I was glad he brought that up randomly.

Point being, there is an intense history to this culture, this microcosmic dream I’m living in. There is nothing I really dislike yet (except lentils) because it feels so foreign – because it is. Everywhere we go feels like a thousand+ years of people and events are with us. I almost cried at a wedding on the steps of a church because it was just so fascinating – people are happier here. So even if some clubs are sketchy and some men are rude and not everyone is automatic best friends, there are aspects of this Sevilla life that are definitely the way things should be…

Or maybe I’m still just incepting into someone else’s dream – that’s what it feels like most of the time.

But, classes start tomorrow – back to some kind of reality.

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