a wandering woman writes

Sunday, March 12, 2006

A proud Salmantina responds

Don Valcárcel, a "Spaniard, a proud Castilian" read an old post of mine today, about my discomfort returning late books to my local library. I'd like to post his comment.

And respond. His comment:

Good Afternoon:

Although you wrote this a while ago, I have some issues. First, I should state that I am a Spaniard, a proud Castilian, and though not from Salamanca but rather from Madrid, I know Salamanca very well...as I do all of Spain, my great country.

I don't know where you get this idea that "Salmantinos are not punctual." I deal with many North American foreigners (especially students), and I have only had problems with punctuality from them (and this is not to mention, since it is not very relevant here), their highly disrespectful behaviour in the city centre.

I also find it interesting that you find yourself in Salamanca (I do not know this moment but when you wrote this blog), and yet, you do not write in Spanish. Is it fair to think that you have not learned one meaningful sentence in Castilian Spanish? Why did you come to Spain then? Are you like 90% of all the other foreigners who just come here to "soak in" what you like and not learn the real culture?

Again, I know this comment is "overdue"...and I will end with this:

If you had a problem returning the books due to time issues, then you should be more responsible and write down the hours when they are supposed to be returned to the person in charge (la encargada)...because this way you wouldn't need to complain about the way hours work.

Good Afternoon

By Don Valcárcel


First, I do want to thank you for your comment, Don Valcárcel. I'd hate for you to have thought all that and not told me!

I hope you will come back and read a bit more. If you do, you'll find that I love your "great country", spend my life in castellano, and spend much of my time and virtually all of this blog exploring and celebrating the delicious daily differences I find between my own culture, and the "real" Salamanca culture I have very deliberately chosen to immerse myself in.

What I try not to do, in this blog and in my life in Spain, is make assumptions. Draw on stereotypes. Judge people by who I think they are, by what I expect them to do, and not by what they do. How they live.

Let me respond to your concerns.

Punctuality? Well, I speak from my own experience. Friends arrive 5 minutes late, meetings start at least 20 minutes late, coworkers arrive 10 minutes late, concerts start late, and my boss runs several hours late, every day.

And I, for one, love every less than punctual minute of it.

Funny thing is, Don Valcárcel, I am not an impressively punctual person, myself. I arrived late to meet a friend during my first few months here, breathless, stiff with stress, frustrated, and sputtering out apologies. Only to be greeted by warm Spanish patience, and 5 of the sweetest words I've ever heard: It's OK. You're in Spain.

That never happened to me in Chicago.

(Your North American students likely arrive very late. That doesn't necessarily tell us Spaniards, or Germans, or Swedes arrive on time, does it? )

I have never run into the legendary Spanish "mañana". I'd argue my Spanish friends put nothing off, even things I wish they'd put off. But I have had clients refuse to see me when I arrived 5 minutes late for a sales meeting in the States, and a successful young Spanish CEO counsel me never to arrive right on time.

One woman's blog. One woman's experience. And not one ounce of complaint.

Language? Castilian. I work for a Spanish company. In Spanish. I run meetings in Spanish. Give seminars in Spanish. Eat my lunch in Spanish. Answer my phone. In Spanish. Send all my e-mails in Spanish.

I live my life in Spanish.

Although I will admit I have little choice in Salamanca, I have exactly, well, NO extranjero friends in Spain. I do work with a nice British chap, Rob, although we don't socialize often. And we speak Spanish.

I am one of those extranjeros who lives in Spain to live in Spain, Don Valcárcel. Maybe that's rare. Or maybe you've met too many temporary visitors, and not enough proud residents. Salamanca is hardly the top choice of the Costa del Sol set.

So, with all that castellano, you ask, why the blog in English? Well, if you read a bit more, you'll discover that I originally started this blog to connect to family and friends back home. Who don't speak Castilian. OK, and I write a lot better in English. A lot.

Still, something spectacular happened after I started this blog in English. Spaniards came to read it. And they came back. And commented. I soon found myself following their blogs, where I read and comment in Spanish. Meanwhile, they follow mine, reading and commenting in English.

I have watched, delighted, while this blog has become a very tiny part of something I am desperate to see -- a bridge, a gradual, grass roots conversation that gets my countrymen to see the world outside their borders, and my beloved Spanish hosts to see extranjeros - particularly North Americans - from the inside.

And sometimes I just make them all laugh.

I do have a secret wish to start a second blog in Spanish, strangely enough. My Spanish writing teacher sells me the idea every week. What I don't have is time. Or stellar, quick writing skills. Yet.

I guess what I want to tell you, Don Valcárcel, is that I am not "90% of the foreigners who come to Spain". I am one person. One person intensely in love with your culture, with a life lived in your native language and with everything both of those experiences are teaching me. One person who is, as far as I know, not responsible for the admittedly obnoxious behavior of other people's children, whether they are 19 year old Dutch hordes in the streets of Salamanca or packs of 23 year old Americans in Madrid.

Please read on, Don Valcárcel. Read Overdue again. Imagine if you can, an extranjera who chooses to live her life in Spanish, who chooses to live in Spain to open and expand her mind, to see the world through another lens, to explore how much we all really have in common, obnoxious college kids and all.

Read my reaction to a Spanish blogger who travelled through my country and wrote about his experiences. From his Spanish point of view. A lot of what he found didn't please me, but I don't doubt that those were his experiences. Nor do I doubt there's truth in how other people see me --- or my native country.

Read on. Because before you know it, you may meet me. As so many of your paisanos do every day. Don't worry, you won't recognize me. You'll never guess I am North American. No one ever does. Truth is I probably won't tell you unless you ask.

But here's the rub: I am.

I am also a proud resident of Spain. And a damn proud Salmantina.

I hope you'll read more, and I hope you'll keep an eye out for foreigners who surprise you.


I'd be happy to correspond in Spanish, by the way. E-mail's on the profile page.

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13 Comments:

  • I love your response to that email! I'msorry to say , but what an idiot! I am spanish and my blog is in english, so what? Everyone choses to write in certain language for a reason, personal reason, that no one have the right to judge! I am sorry but he sound so "pedante", as you say, he should do more reading before even talking or ask you for explanations! I think your views of Spain are great, and very real ones, I mean, most of spanish are always late, so this man must live in lalaland because Usually most foreigners are the punctual, not the spanish!:)

    By Blogger ayalguita, at 11:50 PM  

  • Once, while studying Basque with a group of "castillians" a very nice Californian co-student said to us he was really, really fed up having to represent the whole 200 millions of people in the States. He didnt chose it; it was just the people in Spain saying kind of "You americans did this or that.." and he was only he, who had chosen a very diferent path, coming here, living here and even learning all our four languages.
    This is why this post rang a bell in my head.
    Take it easy, there are too many Don Quixotes out there, trying to find a windmill to fight against with bravery.
    Love

    By Anonymous ana, at 1:42 AM  

  • Thanks Ana and Ayalguita. I never feel like an foreign "outsider" looking in at Spanish life, so I was hoping I didn't write like one. I feel like a woman who lives in Salamanca, Spain. That's what I feel like. :-)

    Anyway, I came back this morning to see if I should tone down my response.:-) Last night his comment "got my Irish up" as my mother likes to say. Ups.

    Weird thing is, I share his frustration about foreigners who live in Spain but don't live in Spain (think I blogged once about going to far South in the sierra of Cádiz, and hitting the UK. :-) Shocking, like crossing a border! And yes, the roving bands of English cackling American students can be obnoxious; I avoid them.

    Sometimes I like to think of myself as a bit of a Quijote, Ana. (Does everyone do that?) But this time, I think I was just a windmill. Not at all what he thought he was tilting at.

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 8:56 AM  

  • Everybody has a right to say, I supose, but I enjoy reading you as you write, Wodering Woman.

    Pity you live in Salamanca, I'm going to Valladolid soon to have lunch with a friend, If not, I would like to have had a cup of coffee with you.

    By Anonymous Alex, at 10:54 AM  

  • Yep, everybody absolutely has a right to say, Alex.

    If you get to Salamanca, do e-mail me for the coffee! Are you really coming all this way (to CL) just to have lunch?

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 11:04 AM  

  • Yes, to have lunch with a friend. And really it's only about an hour and a half (by plane).

    Oh, the same goes to you if you happen to pass through Barcelona. Please email me, and I'll make sure that MestreTites comes also.

    By Anonymous Alex, at 2:25 PM  

  • If you start writing this blog in Spanish part of me will just wither away. I don't have time to learn Spanish and would miss the poetry of your life more than I could say. I do hope this gentleman comes back and meets you, the real you, here.

    By Blogger Laura Young, at 2:59 PM  

  • Ah, the universality of prejudice!

    As we say in Spanish, la ignorancia es muy atrevida.

    I've mostly given up on engaging with this level of cluelessness but every now and then, it's very gratifying to put somebody in their place, even if there's no hope that they'll get it.

    Great answer, WW.

    By Anonymous Pato, at 5:39 PM  

  • After all, you write mainly for yourself and he can always choose not to read... if people happens to like what you do (as in my case) then great, if not, 'tant pis pour eux'.

    By Anonymous Cristina, at 6:04 PM  

  • I think not being punctual is a fault. I try and I don´t always get it, but many people I know do the same. That your American students are not puntual doesn't tell us anything about the punctuality of Spaniards. I suggest the following experiment: Go to the usual appointment place, under the clock in the Plaza Mayor, and watch the people who are waiting there. Note the time, and measure how long each person waits there, and how long each group remains until the final Spaniard has arrived and they head off together to their destination. That will estimate Salmantino punctuality. Then, we'll talk.

    I know, because I know her personally, that wandering_woman speaks Spanish better than you write in English. That she has chosen her native language to tell her stories only proves her humility. Because in her post, she didn´t even show the slight accent when she pronounces what a ridiculous man!, for example, her extra effort with the ?r?.

    Although you read the words you don´t understand the message, I am surprised that you haven´t found that this American is among the other 10% of your statistics. And, in any case, I don´t see why anyone has to eat cocido madrileño if they don´t like it.

    To end: you sent your arrows in the wrong direction.
    --------------------------------

    Considero un defecto no ser puntual. Intento serlo en mis citas pero no siempre lo consigo, y lo mismo digo de la gente que conozco. Pero, que sus estudiantes americanos no sean puntuales no demuestra nada respecto a la puntualidad de los españoles. Así que, le propongo el siguiente experimento, vaya usted al sitio de cita habitual, debajo del reloj de la plaza, y observe los corros de gente que allí espera. Mida el tiempo desde que llega el primero hasta que todos se van y podrá estimar la puntualidad de los salmantinos. Hablemos entonces.
    Sé, porque la conozco, que wandering_woman habla mejor el castellano de lo que usted demuestra con su inglés, que haya escogido su lengua para contar sus historias sólo demuestra humildad. Porque en el blog, ni se le notaría ni el ligero acento cuando pronuncia ¡que tío más ridículo!, haciendo un esfuerzo extra en la erre, por ejemplo.
    Aunque usted entiende las palabra no capta el tono, me sorprende que no haya encontrado que esta americana está entre las del 10% de su tópico. Y si no lo estuviera, tampoco creo yo que uno tenga la obligación de comer cocido madrileño si no le gusta.

    Vamos, que se ha salido usted del tiesto.

    By Blogger Nomadita, at 9:55 PM  

  • I don't get the problem about your blog being in English - it isn't in Spain anyway, it is in cyberspace! Perhaps Don Valcárcel doesn't realise it is not intended to be read solely by Spaniards?
    Like you, I lead my daily life in the language of the country I am living in (or at least one of them, as Belgium has 3) but use my own for my blog. I would not expect a Belgian or Spaniard living in England to use English in their personal journal, which is effectively what a blog is even if it is made available to the general public. I know of at least 3 by Spanish-speakers in Leeds, this is one of them:
    http://tajaoenleeds.blogspot.com/
    And why on earth not?!
    I suppose Don V. thinks that Pablo Neruda should have written his poetry in Italian while living in Italy in exile, or in other local languages in any of the countries he served in as consul?
    Y nosotros, ¡¿tenemos tambien que hacer comentarios en Castillano?!

    By Blogger qaminante, at 3:02 AM  

  • don´t change your posting for anything! it puts a smile on my face, inspires me to keep my eyes open and "wandering", and means that i have a friend in salamanca should i ever venture by. you go girl...;-)

    By Blogger nikkicee, at 9:35 AM  

  • WW, that was a fantastic response!
    I would've thought that someone who writes English as well as Don Valcárcel would have been a lot more open mind and less prone to make sweeping generalisations!

    As you know, I am an Algerian who's lived in the UK for over 30 years. From day one I have wanted to know everything about the British. Now, it's Spain's turn to suffer me at least 8 weeks a year. I am very serious about learning the Spanish language as well as Spanish ways.
    However I hope that my Moro looks won't prevent me from getting to know great Spanish people who will judge me as one simple human being!
    By the way we serve Cocido Madrileño at our Casa del Mar and I adore it!

    By Blogger cream, at 6:53 PM  

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