Friday, February 22, 2013

Qué blanca eres!

  One thing about living abroad is you never know what humorous (and/or surprising) thing you will hear each day. Sometimes I just don't know how to respond to the things people say to me. After being here a year and a half I still get surprised at the very direct way of speaking that Spaniards have. Americans never actually say what we mean. We word things very indirectly and are always careful not to offend anyone. It's part of our culture. I remember my first few days teaching at the school and everyone was so surprised how fair skinned and blond I was. "Qué blanca eres" they would tell me. "You're so white!" Obviously I stick out, and even back home I never considered myself tan, but what exactly do you say to someone you just met who proceeds to tell you that. I'm not offended, just caught off guard. "Um, gracias??" Maybe they meant it as a compliment, but more likely it was just a statement. Even now, I still get the occasional "blanca" observation from my coworkers- just because I live in sunny Spain did not change my DNA. Crazy, I know.
  Another interesting thing I've noticed is they won't shy away from mentioning your appearance: be it good or bad. If you're having a rough day, well, be careful. A common response might be, "Qué te pasa?" "What happened to you?" It always give me a chuckle because quite often I don't know what happened to me. I thought I was fine. Or they'll ask you if you've got a cold or something, "porque pareces malita". Pause. Then you inform them that you are not sick, but apparently you look it. Awesome. To be fair, the same goes for the days you decide to make yourself look semi- decent while running around all days with kids. "Qué guapa estás!!" At least it goes both ways. Also, luckily for me, I have dozens of fans among the first graders. The girls love my hair and therefore think I'm pretty everyday. Aww.
   Taboo discussion topics.... not so much taboo. Example one: a person's weight. Can you imagine entering your break room and someone telling you in front of the whole staff that you have gained/lost weight? Then without any discomfort at all, you proceed to inform all who will listen what diet you've started/ what bad habits you've fallen into and the exact amount added or lost (in kilos, or in our case, pounds). I have actually heard this several times in our lunchroom (thankfully not directed at me). Sometimes they will use that as an excuse to get you to eat something you have no intention of eating. "Here take one of these mayo, egg and tuna nasty sandwhiches, you're too thin." We have a breakfast break provided at the school with coffee, fruit, packaged pastries, toast, and aforementioned nasty sanwhiches (which people devour). As I cannot wait until 11:30 to eat breakfast, I eat cereal at home and then just have some coffee and fruit at the school breakfast time. So of course I get asked if I'm on a diet. And that I am thinner than last year (um, how closely are you people looking, I don't notice any obvious change...) and that I should eat a nasty sandwhich. Still passing on the sandwhiches though. Well, some days we are lucky and have some baked sweet or pastry. A delicious one is the "Torrija" that is a typical sweet around Easter. It's like bread pudding with lots of sugar and cinnamon. They are always a welcomed sight for me. The second I place one on my plate and a take a bite, someone will graciously remind me not to eat too many because "they will make you fat." To which I think, and not the tuna mayo sandwhiches?? (holding tongue)
   Politics: yes of course we talk about politics in the US, and things can get heated, but I've witnessed some political discussions at a whole new level. People will be shouting at each other, calling someone else's ideas complete stupidity and never mentioning  any pardoning phrase like "I can understand your point, but..." or "maybe you see it this way, but I don't." Nope. Just, you're wrong. That's that. But what occurs next is interesting as well. After berating each other over policies, they move on to some very light conversation like, "I like your new haircut. Where did you get it done?"    ??  I thought some friendships were on the very fringe, but nobody ever seems offended. It's like when I first started working and heard people shouting at each other during lunch. I thought everyone was angry at everyone all the time. (they aren't)
  A common one for expats is: "Wow you have such a strong American/British/whatever accent. How long have you been here??" This one is especially difficult to hear for someone who has spent some significant time abroad and made many efforts to improve the language. It's like making judgments on someone's language knowledge basely only on how they sound (which I suppose is the sad and inconvenient truth). But accents are not picked up immediately. Living 1.5 years in Spain (and the other 24 in the US) will not give you a native speaker's accent. Again in this situation, I have to hold my tongue because I want to blurt out: "Yes I do have an American accent. I'm American!" But I never do.
 Imagine this, but more mayonnaise

 There are worse ways to die

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