Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Because Spain.

yes, Spain is different!
"You ask some unusual questions," is a comment that I often hear in Spain. How do you say this? Why do you say that? What is this? Why do you do that? are quandaries I am always presenting friends and coworkers, equally in attempts to improve my language abilities and cultural awareness as to accomplish basic tasks like opening doors, operating appliances... Last year it took me about a month to discover the secret of turning on the television! (Really, who would think to use the channel button?)

Exploring cultures besides our own can be enlightening. And it can be frustrating.

One post in Often Wandering, Rarely Lost really resonated with me, because I empathized with Martina's feelings when she discovered that the Spanish post office doesn't carry stamps. When first mailing postcards from Cangas I was met with the same surprise. They didn't have any stamps, the man at the desk told me, but I might be able to find some at the tobacco store. Or maybe I could check back another day and they might have some. How could this be? At least in my personally unique life experience, when I think post office, I think "stamp store." That a business would stock its principal product only intermittently was dumbfounding if not inconceivable. Thankfully, Martina had the answer:

Because Spain.

This expression originates from a Redditor's poetic musings on being a foreigner in a strange land. In his case, it was China, but any traveler can benefit from his wisdom:

There is no why.

People say that you shouldn't criticize things that you don't understand, and I've come to think that you really shouldn't criticize anything, because you probably don't understand it. Even if there is no "why," there's usually a reason things are the way they are, however absurd and unnecessary it may be. So, my intent is not to pass judgement, but to share the things that have delighted me in my wandering.

To level the playing field, I'll start with some of the laughs I've had talking to people about American culture. As a casual observer in Spain, I am intensely interested in foreigners perceptions of my native country. Do we really eat hamburgers and hotdogs all the time? Why are the streets so poorly lit? Isn't there a law that the American flag must appear in every film? Why would they design the highway system so that, if you miss your exit, you're completely f*'d? Are the houses all built out of such flimsy materials? (Apparently 75% of the world's superstorms hit America, resulting in a lot of disaster-related, Twister-style press.) Someone even told me that they were under the impression that the sole purpose of smoke detectors was to punish people for smoking indoors.

But there's something funny about stereotypes... Let's just come out and admit it: They're all true. (Well, maybe not the smoke detectors bit, but hey, who knows! Big brother might be watching.) As a bilingual girl of average height and weight whose favorite restaurant is not McDonald's, stereotypes may not be precisos, but they have their sentidos. No, all of my meals don't come from a box, but, yes, I do love Kraft Mac n' Cheese every bit as much as a five-year-old child. No, I don't drive an SUV, but, yes, I will make an extra lap around the block to catch the end of my favorite song. And sometimes you just need to drive to Taco Bell at three in the morning, you know? Just embrace it. We're all products of experience, and there's nothing like a fresh foreign perspective to draw it to your attention for consideration.

So, what about Spain? Stay tuned to find out what anomalies have struck my fancy!

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