An American In Spain
Traveling is such an amazing way to experience different cultures, and in the process, you begin to think of your own culture differently. For example, I consider myself a laid back person. I know Americans are often thought of as being uptight, and very work oriented, but I never saw myself that way… until I went abroad and found out what “laid back” means to someone in a much more relaxed culture. I realized that I’m more American than I thought.
Traveling as an outsider also gives you so much respect for those who move away from their homeland to start a new life. When I was in Spain, I knew no Spanish. All throughout high school I took French as a second language, so I knew my poor, uneducated Spanish must have sounded terrible to the locals. Although I was there for my third year of undergrad studies, I could barely speak the language. I felt like I was looked at as an outsider, and many people didn’t have patience with me. Understandable I guess. People in the US often complain when someone doesn’t know English. We get annoyed as though these people are stupid, and should be able to do better with our language, or maybe they just shouldn’t come to the US at all if they don’t know English. This is a terrible way to think, and a terrible stigma to attach to people.
While I was in Spain, there was this one cafeteria I would always go to, and the waiter eventually got to know my face. One day we began to communicate (as best we could). His name was Marcus, he was originally from Colombia, and had been living in Madrid for the past 3 years. I frequented the cafeteria enough to see that he wasn’t always treated as well as he should have been. When I started to ask around, I found out that South Americans were treated rather poorly in Spain, just as they often are here in the US. Many are given menial jobs, and are seen as a minority rather than part of the fabric of the society they live in (even though they speak the same language).
The way he and I were being treated as “less than” was interesting to observe, because it didn’t reflect who we were at all. I was a third year undergrad from the US and he was in graduate school studying music. This experience really makes me think twice about getting short-tempered with someone who doesn’t completely understand our language or our culture. Just because someone isn’t proficient in your language doesn’t mean they’re stupid or uneducated. Keep that in mind the next time you meet someone from abroad!