Two Lira’s in Madrid

9 Jul

With my time left in Madrid and Europe rapidly coming to a close, I am beginning to realize that there is a high possibility that the term “reverse culture shock” may actually be true. How could I possibly feel out-of-place in my home country? I haven’t really been gone that long, have I? The warnings about this difficulty of re-assimilating into the USA seemed to be a bit silly when our coordinators warned us about it in our re-entry workshop. However, the realization that it is true really hit me when my mom came to visit. This was the first time my mom had ever left the USA, so as you can imagine, everything in Spain was new and exciting to her. Touring her around Spain all week really made me realize just how different our two cultures really are. After being in Spain for so long, things that once seemed so foreign to me now seemed like the norm. But to my mom, some of these cultural experiences were downright weird to her. I didn’t know I had adjusted my perceptions quite so much until I saw my mom’s reactions.

1) Walking on the Street It about drove her crazy that people didn’t walk on the right side of the street, instead it is a haphazard mess of walk-where-you-want-to. It didn’t even phase me, but seeing that it bothered my mom so much I began to realize just how much more effective the US’s system of sidewalk etiquette really is. It really doesn’t surprise me because Spain never scores high in efficiency. People don’t seem to be in as big of hurry here, so having someone walking in front of you is really no big deal.

2) ¿ Lo Siento? Another aspect that really bothered my mom was the fact that very few people apologize for bumping into you. I never really thought about this, however, I could tell every time someone would hit her she would look at the person waiting for them to say something, which of course, they rarely did so. I am sure I was the same way, but I have just gotten used to it. The combination of the Spaniards lack of personal space and being in a big city makes apologizes for bumping into you seem silly and certainly unnecessary. I have often heard that many find Americans to be over apologetic.

3) Ok, I was ready to order 15 minutes ago… Perhaps one of the hardest things for my mom to adjust to was the lack of service at restaurants. Americans are used to being able to sit down at a restaurant and have a waiter waiting on them hand and foot for the duration of the meal. Waiting for even ten minutes to be served is a guarantee for a reduced tip. However, because tipping is not a norm in Spain, waiters have no real desire to do an excellent job, as their pay will not be effected based on the customer opinion. This combined with the relaxed lifestyle of the Spaniards leads to rather slow table service. I remember my first meal. It lasted over 2 hours, so I knew my mom was going to be in for some culture shock, but what astounded me was how much of a difference there was between the two of us in patience with waiting for service. In the US, I never would have said I was more patient than my mom, in fact, I would have said the opposite. However, after living the Spanish Lifestyle for five months, I couldn’t believe how impatient my mom seemed. But it wasn’t her that changed, it was me!

4) Don’t you know smoking kills? We all know that smoking is much more common in Europe that in the US. Almost everyone is lighting up when they have the opportunity. I would compare it to the 50’s in the States in which it was the cool thing to do. However, smoking is fairly rare in the US and luckily we are not around cigarette smoke very often due to new laws preventing smoking in many public areas. I hate cigarette smoke, but apparently not as much as I used to. The smell that once gave me a headache is now just another part of my life. It still bothers me, but not nearly to the extent it did in the US. My mom, however, often found the smoky smell to be downright awful. We would be eating dinner and she would pick up on the smell of smoke and comment on it when it hadn’t even really crossed my mind to be bothersome.

5) My meal is staring me in the eye… And the food. To an American much of the food eaten in Spain is appalling. But not to an American who has lived in Spain for some time. I never thought of my Mom as a picky eater, but I was shockingly surprised at what she wouldn’t try. She had her heart set on getting Paella( a typical Spanish rice and seafood/meat dish) until she saw a picture with large shrimp with heads still attached and mussels in their shells. Suddenly she decided that pasta seemed a whole lot more appealing. I ended getting the paella and she did try some of it, but still didn’t have the desire to sample the more exotic seafood. But she did indeed give it a shot and liked the rice part at least. Perhaps one of the funniest expressions she made was when she ordered sea bass and it was served as a whole fish. Not even the head, tail, or bones were removed. When it was set in front of her, my reaction, was “Wow that looks great! I kind of wish I had ordered that.” Expecting my mom to be just as excited as me, I was a little confused when her face turned to horror as she realized a dead fish that was staring back at her was her meal. I gave her some tips on how to eat it and she reluctantly dove in. She said it was good, but I think that gross fish head sitting on her plate kind of ruined the meal for her.

010  6) That’s all the coffee I get? Yes mom, coffee here is really, really small. No Venti sizes here(unless of course, you break down and go to Starbucks). Although it was small, she couldn’t get enough of the café con leches( espresso with steamed milk). And because they were so small, she encouraged getting one multiple times throughout the day. One day, I did treat her to a very American grande sized Starbucks coffee.

I don’t mean to be hard on my mom and peg her as someone uncultured or ignorant. Her being here helped me see the Spanish culture as I most likely saw it when I first arrived. Although my mom’s reactions to some aspects of the culture surprised me, I really couldn’t expect her to act differently. My five month absence did not make her extra sensitive to people being rude, extra picky about food, or impatient. She was the same person. It was me that has changed. I guess since my mom and I were always so similar to each other I expected her to still be just like me, but there is something about living abroad that changes a person. I am not the same Mandi Lira as when I left. Spain has changed me. Reverse culture shock is going to happen. I got small whiff of it by having my mom around, I can only imagine how much stronger it will be when I get home.

Having a whole week to show my mom my life in Madrid was perhaps one of the best weeks of the whole experience. This was the first time that my mom and I had really spent so much quality alone time. It was great having a buddy constantly with me to talk to and share my feelings. And I had so much pride in welcoming her to my city. Never before have I lived somewhere that was all mine. Not even at Purdue as both of my parents went there, so the university is just as much theirs as mine. I got to show her how I had not only survived, but thrived in this huge metropolitan city. And not to mention that it was quite fun showing off my new Spanish skills.

Despite the challenge of assimilating to some aspects of the culture this is what my mom said she loved about the country:

“the neat tidy streets, the lack of litter, the fresh pastries, the feeling of nice china with every cup of cafe, the warm embraces when you meet someone, the elderly walking tenderly and lovingly hand in hand, the young walking the elderly, the graceful walking in high-heeled shoes, the modest, neat attire of the young, the politeness shown to the elderly on the metro, the well-behaved dogs wandering around without barking or scaring people, and the children playing ball in the streets and courtyards everywhere( I loved watching the kids and reinforcing that kids are kids wherever we go)”.

The bottom line is that a new culture is just that…new and with something new there are going to be parts that are great and some parts that take time to adjust. Note: Although I am home now, I wrote this blog before I left Spain, but am just now posting it.


One Response to “Two Lira’s in Madrid”

  1. Amy Shelley September 2, 2012 at 1:00 am #

    I’ve enjoyed reading along with your experiences abroad Mandi. It seems like you made the most of your time in Spain and got to experience a whole new world.
    I love the photo of your Mom and her fish dinner. I ran into that same sort of problem when I was in St. John once. We went to a fish fry and you could choose the head or the tail half of the fish. I got over my dinner looking at me once I found out how delicious it tasted!
    Good luck in your next year at Purdue!

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