Don’t Take It Personally

17 Nov

Nothing extremely exciting has happened in the past week.  Well, okay, I did spend a day with some of my Spanish friends having a barbeque in the mountains.  But aside from that, I’ve just been working on my term papers, which are all due this week and next.  Then when I’ve decided I need time to procrastinate, I’ve been dreaming about my trip to Milan & London in about two weeks 🙂

Since I don’t have any major fascinating stories to tell you, I would like to focus on something that I wish I had known more about before coming abroad to Spain.  That way, for those of you who plan on studying here, you will hopefully have a better understanding than I did at first.  The fact of the matter is, Spaniards are extremely blunt.  There is no beating around the bush.  However, you can’t have the notion that Spaniards are rude—you have to remember that you are in a totally different culture, and this is just the way they do things.  In our predeparture meetings and such, we were told that Spaniards were more direct, but I definitely underestimated the extent of it.  My impression after arriving was that the culture as a whole was fairly rude.  However, I soon realized that this is just their way of life, and after living under a rock in the US it just takes a little getting used to.

Now, I’ll be honest with you, I am a very sensitive person, probably more than for my own good.  However, I learned real quickly I had to suck that up and just “deal”.  I used to get offended when my madre would say things to me that she didn’t like.  For instance, after a night out and not returning home until 6am, sure, I am probably still going to be sleeping at 1pm or even 2pm.  After I rise, she sort of shakes her head, and remarks in a stern tone that she doesn’t like it when I sleep so much.  At first I would get defensive and explain that it wasn’t that I was sleeping my life away, it was really the fact that I wasn’t going to bed until the wee hours of the morning.  You will find that this is no use.  Remarks still come, and now I just shrug them off and say “vale”.  It took me a little while to learn that even though my madre was always telling me what she did and didn’t like, what she does and doesn’t suggest, or what she would or wouldn’t do, no matter her opinion, I was still free to do what I wanted.

Also, don’t expect wonderful customer service here—and if you get it, consider yourself lucky.  The truth of the matter is, “customer service” here has a different level of priority than it does in the States, and here it certainly doesn’t mean being waited on hand and foot.  For example, at restaurants, the waiters are going to take your order (quickly), bring out your food, and will not check back until you flag them down for your bill.  Nope, there’s none of that “I’m going to try to make eye contact so he knows I’m waiting for something”.  If you go that route, you will be sitting there all night.  You just gotta gently shout out “La cuenta?” and they will get to you when they can.  You need to remember, however, it is expected NOT to give tips, or “propinas”, here in Spain—other than just a cultural difference in general, this could contribute a great amount to the service expected by the waiters.  Also, on more than one occasion, I have been cut in line at Mercadonas or shopping centers, simply because they felt they were justified to go first.  This is typical, try not to be alarmed… although, I understand, it IS frustrating.  Another thing to note, is that while someone is checking you out at the register, don’t expect them to be fully tentative to you—many times they are chatting away with other co-workers, or even on their cell phones, and only pause for 2 seconds to give you the cost of your bill, then continue talking again.

Okay, so if Spaniards are blunt in the home, on the street, and in service, you better bet the same pattern follows through in the academic system.  I actually just found this out last week, and out of all the things concerning this topic, this was by far the most shocking.  In the States, grades are a very private thing, unless you are willing to share with someone you know.  After an exam in the States, a professor might say, “Okay, we had about 10 A’s, 30 B’s, 15 C’s, and 3 F’s”.  Names, of course, excluded.  Normal, yes?  Well, the other day in class, our professor was handing back rough drafts of our essays.  As she was passing them out, she boldly states (in Spanish, of course), “You three—excellent.  The rest, good.  But YOU”—points to another student across the room—“very very bad”.  Luckily, the guy who supposedly had a “bad” essay was a good sport and took it comically.  The professor later told us that even our final grades for the class aren’t private—they are listed on a page when we log into our account, with all the names of everyone in the class… the final grade right next to it for all to see.  But if you don’t mind other people seeing your grades—it really doesn’t bother me—then I suppose this system wouldn’t be too bad.

Well, don’t let this scare you away from Spain, and definitely don’t begin to think Spanish people are rude.  There are rude people and nice people, just as there are no matter where you go.  However, as a whole, it is fact that they are much more direct and blunt about everything they say and do.  I think it’s better to be aware of it now, so you don’t have as much of a shock factor.  In some ways, I almost like their more direct and independent nature, because there are definitely some perks.  No nagging waiters asking if you need anything while chatting with friends, no being rushed out of restaurants,  nobody is running up to you in a clothing store to meet their sales quota, and it’s almost nice that someone would just give you straight out opinion about how you look.  Just remember to roll with the punches—and don’t take it personally 🙂

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