Mi España Loca: A Postmodernist Reading of the Other Yeah?
To live in a foreign country is to begin a lifelong discovery of the self. Only when you have experienced another culture directly can you truly reflect on what it means ‘to be me’, and even then, the existential questions of ‘why am I me?’, ‘who would I be, if I weren’t the self that I am?’, and ‘where is the me that I am truly from?’ can only be pondered; they will never be answered.
If you’re still reading (and part of me wishes you weren’t; shame on you), you should be fuming. The previous paragraph is pure bollocks. It was deliciously enjoyable to write but, hopefully, excruciating to read. Living in a different country is confusing, embarrassing and fun. Perhaps it’s the confusion that provides most of the satisfaction. It’s a bit like dreaming; you see things that you understand in isolation but when you put them together, they don’t quite make sense. I know people who live in more exotic countries than Spain. In fact, there is a British biologist, with whom I’m relatively familiar, currently working in Mongolia. He, and those like him, probably scoff at my fascination with a Western European country because it is so similar to Britain. My opinion is that, because there are similarities, the differences are subtle and take time to discover. I enjoy this.
Learning Spanish has caused much of the embarrassment that I experience here. Misunderstandings are an integral part of the process; usually, my errors don’t cause much discomfort beyond a few giggles. I like a giggle, even if it’s my expense. There have been occasions, though, when I have desperately wanted to click undo. The most memorable example of this happened shortly after I began teaching a new adult English class. It was August and the temperature was high. I sauntered into the classroom to begin that day’s educational adventure. The first thing I said was ‘woo, estoy caliente!’. This literally translates as, ‘woo, I’m hot!’ Nothing wrong with that of course, except to utter those words in Spanish is to say, ‘woo, I’m horny!’ There were a few uncomfortable looks around the room before one of the pupils, understanding my mistake, quietly explained it to me. The remainder of the lesson passed uneventfully but painfully.
When people ask me why I enjoy living here, it’s difficult to give a satisfying answer. The weather helps, of course, but that’s only part of it. I suspect it’s also because Brits have it easy in Spain. It feels a bit like being famous. If you wander into a bar and ask for a beer, people turn to look; they take notice and want to talk.
‘WHERE YOU ARE OF!!!’
‘Hola. Manchester. ¿Qué tal?’
‘Yeah, Manchester United! Joder!’
‘HOMBRE! COÑO! MANCHESTER UNITED AND MANCHESTER CITY!!!’
At this point, I’m out of my depth. I know nothing about football. I understand, however, what is going on; a stranger has identified the most famous aspects of my home city and wants to celebrate them with me. I may well be a ‘guiri’ (pale Northern European, often associated with sunburn, socks and sandals) but I am welcome; almost made to feel at home. Almost.
There is still a sense of unfamiliarity with my surroundings; I’m constantly, slightly befuddled. It feels good; morphine rather than Alzheimer’s. Surreal things happen. The other day, while I was waiting to cross a road, a woman sidled over to me, stood very close and started whistling a Coldplay song. She didn’t look at me; she just stayed very close and whistled Coldplay. What could this possibly mean? What is it about the Iberian cultural backdrop, the history of empire and civil war, a nation of common ideals yet varied identities, that caused this to happen? Was it none of these things? Maybe she was just off her tits. We honestly don’t know.
Everything just feels slightly off kilter. Spanish TV deserves a blog post of its own, and I’ll write this in the near future. Five meals a day is the norm. There’s a Valencian festival called Fallas, during which they burn millions of euros of artwork in a single night. I don’t know why; they just do. Again, Fallas requires a complete post.
Each day is full of little surprises and quirks; there is true joy in this. Although it is a bit like dreaming, my eyes feel wide open. There is no discovery of the self here. The self is boring and mundane, and while I can’t escape him, I can ignore him, and focus on exploring the beautiful, fascinating and confusing España loca.