Although it was the small things that shocked me at first, it is the bigger differences that have stayed with me these four months in Spain. After a couple of weeks even, you get used to the rebellious youth with tattoos, piercings, dreads and what not, having mixed drinks directly out of huge soda bottles, and smoking although no one actually believes they’re 18. You no longer feel awkward leaving a few coins as a tip after meals. And you even stop suffering about the fact that your most intimate underwear are hung up outside in drying lines for the rest of the world to see. These, now, are five long-term shockers that I continue to grapple with.
1. Misconceptions and rumors about the States- I think examples are best for this one:
First, one of my good salmantina friends here and her family came back shocked from visiting New York, because they could not grasp their heads around the fact that Americans eat more than just hamburgers. They were in a state of absolute disillusion; it was strangely amusing.
The other day walking back from a psychology class, another close friend pulled me aside because she was very eager to get an answer about something she’d heard. “Is it true that all you are allowed to study in the States in science classes is Creationism?” she said. Apparently, it is a common belief here in Spain that this is the case.
And finally, I think it is safe to say that, in general, there is an enormous rejection of foreigners, Americans and non-Americans alike, in terms of incorporation into class groups. The general consensus, as girls I have worked with on projects have told me, is that “ghiris” or “Erasmus students” (foreign students) are usually unreliable and lazy, so no one will accept them into their project/class groups (even upon the teacher’s request!). Unless you make Spanish friends from the get-go (as I was incredibly lucky to, thanks to a few extremely sweet and welcoming girls), it is almost a guarantee that you will end up working with other “ghiris” the rest of the semester.
2. Spanish law and the judicial system
Thanks to a psychology of delinquency class I have been taking this semester, and the fact that my host family and I watch the news each day at meals, I have been able to get better acquainted with the laws here and the Spanish judicial system. While perhaps the reasons for suing in the States are somewhat exaggerated at times and the frequency of sues outrageously high, what has truly stunned me is the lax nature of penitentiary consequences here. We had a professor from Salamanca’s law school as a guest speaker one day in class, and no one said a word when he talked about 40 years in jail being the maximum amount of time a mass murderer or anyone else for that matter can go to jail for. Apparently “consensual” child rape (whatever that means) was alright in his book as well as other things that had me looking around the class for some sort of reaction from the others. I got none.
3. The “pure” and “correct” Spanish
Although we’ve all heard people discuss “cool accents” and “interesting slang” from different countries, I’m not sure I had ever had someone confront me about the “right” or “pure” nature of the language they speak. Here in Salamanca (and the whole region of Castilla y Leon), this is always a hot topic and one to avoid at all costs if you have a low tolerance for others’ intolerance. Although perhaps my Spanish is a tough blend to figure out due to my mixed Hispanic background, I have never had people identify it as anything but “Spanish”…except for here. Apparently it is not a “correct” or “pure” Spanish but rather a “variant of some sort,” as is any sort of dialect that is not specifically from Spain’s Castilla y Leon region (according to those here, of course!)
4. A different opinion IS a personal attack
Few people (with the exception of some exceptional professors and such) will congratulate you for stepping up and speaking out when in disagreement: a huge difference from what I have encountered in the States, where a different opinion is viewed as a sign of interest and, generally, of thought. For one, religious and political topics rarely lead to anything resembling a sophisticated and well-constructed discussion; rather, they usually end in broken friendships (or worse—unless one side settles). And don’t even get me started on “the customer is always right,” it’s a laughable notion.
5. Religion is only for the ultra-conservative (with dictator-like qualities) and the old
This point fits in perfectly with the last one, as well as with a future post I have pending on a unique theology class I have been enjoying here (more so as a result of the people in it and its atmosphere than anything else). But for now, let’s leave this point’s self-explanatory nature at that.