I hope that you are all well. The past week has gone by even quicker than usual; I can’t believe that it’s already Saturday! I actually don’t have a copious amount of things to catch you up on like usual, just a few highlights.
The first worth noting is that my friends and I went out to an authentic Italian restaurant this past Thursday. The ambiance was spot-on, our server was friendly as can be, but the only thing that was odd was the Spanish. The food was all written in Italian, with Spanish descriptions. Some things we still had to translate with a dictionary after we didn’t know their meanings in either language, haha. I ordered Italian gnocchi with pesto sauce and my favorite tinto de verano. I definitely want to go back again soon! [There is photo documentation of my pesto gnocchi, of course, but it’s on my friend’s camera and she hasn’t uploaded her pictures yet.]
Secondly, yesterday, I went on a field trip to the Roman Ruins of Italica with the university. We arrived a couple minutes early (or so we thought), but that ended up being over a half hour early, because, well, there’s such thing as Spanish time, lol. My friends and I got paired with a Spanish-speaking guide, but I’m happy that we did. He was very kind and was always willing to explain (albeit in Spanish) a word or phrase that we didn’t understand. The Ruins were very astonishing, and as our guide suggested, they became even more astonishing when I imagined what the place looked like when it was up and running with fully-constructed buildings and people. Here are a couple of my favorite pictures from the trip:
So now for the title of this post. As many/all of you know, Spain’s economy is currently very bad. It is in a state of [Cree’-seez], as it’s pronounced here. According to a recently-published article—that I had to translate from Spanish to English a couple nights ago for homework—there are 5 million unemployed. Well, thanks to the UPO International Center, I now have a job babysitting/teaching English to two little niñas who are the daughters of an UPO professor. I was originally undecided about taking on a responsibility here, but I figured there’d be no harm in interviewing and just letting fate do the rest.
After a solid ten minutes of navigating through the labyrinth that is Building 14 of UPO, I met the girls’ dad, Ruben. My interview was entirely in Spanish, and while I thought bringing my all-English résumé was a silly idea, he actually seemed appreciative that I’d brought it (and hence, I was justified for standing in line at the Copy Center of Doom for a half hour waiting to print the stupid thing). I got the call that same night, roughly 45 minutes after the interview.
Wednesday was my first day on the job. The girls’ mom picked me up, and we discussed—in Spanish, ironically—how I was not allowed to speak Spanish to the girls, nor acknowledge that I understood them. This proved to be harder than I expected. It was fun playing with Barbies and drawing on chalkboards, but I just hope that I was convincing to the girls that I didn’t understand them. On the way home, the older daughter asked her mother if I could understand what they were saying, and I almost nodded my head “no” before I realized that in doing so, I’d be giving myself away. Being that we had to be convincing, the girls’ mom had to speak in English as well. Which brings me to my next observation…
In my Intercultural Communication class, we have been discussing cross-cultural differences, one of which being la distancia de poder (the distance of power). That is, how or to what extent superiors are actually superior to their subordinates. On the ride over to the family’s house, I was a bit nervous, mainly because I was with a superior with whom I was speaking a foreign language (and making a conscious effort to speak to her in the more respectful usted form). I felt inferior as she was rattling off everything she had to say with ease. On the way back to my house, though, it was a completely different story. She spoke in very basic English, slowly, and with uncertainty. For one of the first times since I’ve been to Spain, I was actually on the other side of the exchange.
Spain was once a culture where superiors were revered as such, but today the disparity is a lot less. It’s customary to call all of your teachers by their first names, which I do like (I still attempt to speak to them in the formal usted form, but I haven’t mastered that yet). Anyway, my point to all of this is that I realized that there are two sides to this. Yes, I still have my bouts of discouragement when I can’t think of a vocab word or I mess up a verb tense, but my superior quickly becomes my equal when (s)he steps into my shoes. Even my very intelligent—and sassy—Literature teacher got very shy when she attempted to say something to me in English.
Language is everything. Put two people in a room who don’t know each other’s language, and regardless of social status or “power,” they will inevitably resort to communicating in extra-linguistic—and I imagine primitive—ways. I’ve always taken for granted how easy it has always been for me to communicate, being that I have up until this point only been surrounded by people who speak my primary language. This trip is definitely teaching me that communication is a gift, and I feel very lucky and blessed that I can say that I am able to communicate with millions more people in the world by learning Spanish.
Un abrazo, a hug,