“No pasa nada” is hands down my favorite phrase that I hear on a regular basis in Spain. And it’s one that I have heard at least once if not quite a few times every day. When you’re a foreigner taking 5 classes in Spanish and trying to navigate the intricate differences between a foreign culture and your own, trust me you will hear it A LOT. It doesn’t have a perfect translation in English, but more or less means, “Nothing happens”. For someone like me who thinks and overthinks the results of their actions, it’s quite calming when I mess up for someone to say to me that it’s really not a big deal at all.
As I’ve adapted to Spanish culture, everything has felt like a big deal and I’ve realized it is because I’m out of practice being embarrassed. Being abroad changed this real quick. There’s nothing quite like sitting in my human rights class and walking out two hours later having only a random jumble of Spanish phrases in my notes to show for it. Or spending 20 minutes mapping out in my head what exactly I’m going to say to the employee at the bus station in order to get my student bus card and then staring blankly at her as she replies because she’s speaking too fast for me to understand. During my first few weeks in Salamanca, these situations sent me running back to my host family at the brink of tears. And my host mom’s response as she handed me a steaming hot plate of lentils?…“No pasa nada”
Situations that for me might feel like a really big deal back at Georgetown are reduced to a shrug of someone’s shoulders, a knowing smile, and a “no pasa nada”. I was in Portugal for a weekend earlier this month. It is a time zone behind Spain and I forgot to change my watch when I got back to Salamanca. This led to a hilarious exchange at the breakfast table one Monday morning as my host mom asked me what time I had class and I replied 10 and she replied, “Well you’re aware it’s 9:55 right?” And then I replied, “No I very much was not,” and proceeded to break the world record for quickest time taken to eat a banana and put on pants. When I regaled this story to my host dad at lunch he laughed and said, “No pasa nada.” And he was right. I made it to class only 10 minutes late (thanks to the cab driver who seemed to pick up on the fact that I didn’t usually hail a taxi instead of walk the mile to class, and this was a special situation). And then there was the time that I accidentally thought my professor had asked who hadn’t read the article for class, and in trying to be an honest human being I raised my hand, only to be called to the front of the room to give a summary of the author’s thesis. Turns out he had asked who had read the article. Now in front of the class and determined not to reveal my mistake, I said something incredibly general but somehow specific enough to satisfy my professor. As I sat back down, cheeks burning, I revealed my mistake to the girl next to me and she gave me a warm smile and said, “No pasa nada”. I’ve come to realize that I may mess up in a myriad of ways every day here, but life moves on, nothing happens.
I think “no pasa nada” reflects the more relaxed lifestyle I see around me. Of course, Spanish people still have jobs to go to and laundry to do, and race through their days the way Georgetown students often do. But at the same time there is a sense of relaxation that I view throughout my days. For the majority of the population, the idea of doing anything other than go home for lunch at 2 is unheard of. The school cafeteria is jammed with students every day mid-morning taking a coffee break and enjoying each other’s company. Even paying is a relaxed thing here, something that might seem small but was a huge shock for me. The waiter is not going to come over and give you the bill as this would suggest you should finish up and leave. And at cafes you pay on your way out instead of as you get your coffee. My friend and I the other day were having such an exciting conversation that we flat out forgot and walked right out of the café without paying. When we realized, we debated going back, after laughing that we could now check “dine and dash” off our bucket list of petty crime, and then decided next time we’d just leave some extra coins on the table. I guess we’re getting into the Spanish state of mind because that was exactly what my host mom said to do, of course after a laugh and a “no pasa nada.