Just another traveling twenty-something with a blog.
Upon arriving at my homestay in Spain I was greeted by Lluisa, a five-foot nothing brown haired, glasses wearing, proud Catalan woman. I hadn’t slept on the plane and after carrying my bags up four flights of stairs I was a little out of it. So, you can imagine my surprise when I was received with a hug and a kiss on both cheeks. “Heh,” my jet lagged self said. “This isn’t France,” I remember thinking to myself, and then wondering where the hell I could get a cafe con leche con leche de soja.
After being here for five months I get it. When you first meet someone, you give two besos. When you meet up with a friend, you give two besos. When you say goodbye, you give two besos. Seems simple, no?
The double beso is sweet. It breaks down boundaries and you instantly feel at ease with your new acquaintance. In the United States there is no clear way to meet people. In a formal situation you shake hands, easy enough. However, when you meet people in a casual sense, what are you supposed to do? Do you hug? Shake hands? Do an awkward wave? I think that everyone does this differently, but I wish that we had a clear way to do it like the Spaniards.
One of the most difficult times for this American was when I first began tutoring Alejandro. Alejandro is 10, adorable, builds his own model cars and loves watching Bob Esponja. I gave both of his parents a double beso, but didn’t know whether or not he also gets them. In the States you would be arrested for child abuse, but here, it is a cultural faux-pas if you do not do it! Ah, the agony! What do I do? I ended up double kissing him, but I haven’t done it since, and I think his sweet mother thinks I am an alien. Oh well.
One of the tough questions I have been faced with recently is “Do you have any Spanish friends?” After being asked this I need to think about it. “Well, I did meet this person that one time..uhh..Do my students count?” Meeting Catalan/Spanish people has been difficult.
Thanks to social media outlets, *ahem Tinder* I have met some natives. Yet, even messaging people from different cultural backgrounds is different. They love their emojis. And sometimes they will end the conversation with a kiss. My emotionally uncomfortable American self was first confused, but then remembered that it is sweet, or cariñoso.
Cariñoso refers to a term of endearment. Spanish terms of endearment are much different than English ones. I often hear my students saying “maricón,” which translates to gay. Sure, we say this in American English all the time, but that doesn’t mean that it’s ok. As a “communications scholar” and a “language teacher” I believe language is extremely important. What you say matters and how you say it is extremely important.
That being said, you can understand my complete lack of cultural literacy when my Venezuelan flatmate of four months grabbed my stomach and told me I was fat.
Immediate reaction: I’m not fat, and go fuck yourself. Sure, I’m not as toned as I was in September after working with horses for a year, but I’m not fat. I am one of the more body confident people that I know. I have never been impressed or overwhelmed by outward appearances. What has always mattered to me is how you are as a person. For me, the most important thing is that you are nice and respectful.
Second reaction: I know it’s cariñoso. While studying the Spanish language at University, I learned that it is a nice thing to say. It’s a term of endearment. It’s not bad. So, if it didn’t bother me, and if I have as much self-esteem and think of myself as highly as I claim to, then why was I still discussing it to my friends hours later? My friend Semhar said it: Alex, you’re talking about it, it’s clearly bothering you.
Third Reaction: Ate two salads in 12 hours. On the second day, ate one for lunch, then for dinner I went hard on a blood sausage sandwich on a baguette, patatas bravas, and ate a bar of Milka Oreo and three glasses of wine. Obviously succeeding at being gluten free, dairy free, and vegetarian. I don’t really exercise here (sometimes I walk up my stairs..), and I am certainly not going to start now. Gyms are expensive and I need to save my money for wine, coffee, and new shoes. #Priorities.
So, should I be mad about this? Upset? If you were Alex, what would you do?
For those of you who know me you know that I don’t let things slide by. I try my best to let people know when they irritate me, which is obviously what I did when he said it a second time a few nights later. I told him that yes, I understand that it is cariñoso to say this, but it does not mean the same thing in English so don’t say it again, especially to an English speaker. Is that wrong? Am I breaking through the walls of Intercultural communication? Or am I correct in standing on my feminine soapbox.
Regardless, if a Latino calls you fat, remember it’s not because you’re fat. It’s because they’re culturally uneducated. Don’t hate the player hate the game.