When I first arrived in Spain nearly 2 months ago, my sis was at my side, reminding me regularly that I was now officially a “village person”. With my one-way ticket to Spain, I wasn’t coming here to vacation. I was coming here to stay and the 22 boxes (still) en route from New York City are 22 (too many) additional examples of tangible proof of it.
However, while it was super easy to hop on a plane and physically move to Spain, adjusting to a new language, new culture and new territory has been slightly more difficult. I regularly experience moments of despair with the Spanish language, I don’t quite know if it’s culturally polite or rude to accept so many vegetables and fruits from David’s aunt and uncle when we visit their stand on market Fridays, and, after being so thoroughly spoiled by the easy navigation system of New York City, I find that the streets here look way too similar and even when you know the name of the street that you’re looking for, oftentimes, it’s frustratingly impossible to actually find the names of the streets on the streets themselves. (About the only thing that I can get to on my own is the beach but that’s only because I can see it in the distance when I exit our apartment building.)
However, having said that, since I’ve been in Spain, I’ve been desperately trying to do as the Spaniards do, and I’m happy to report that there have been some very distinct signs that I’m donning a tiny percentage of my “guiri” (foreigner) tendencies. Here is the proof that there might be hope for me yet. Though seemingly insignificant, they serve as small beacons of light at the end of a very long tunnel:
– I actually have an appetite – at times. Feeling hungry has been such a rare feeling for me since I arrived that it actually hit me as odd when I was so hungry the other night that I couldn’t help but nibble at my dish before David and Luisa got their food. But perhaps this has less to do with me adjusting and more to do with the weather. As the weather cools off a bit (everyone told me that July is the hottest month of the year, and I’ve been relieved to see that that’s true), I’ve been more physically capable of actually feeling hungry.
– Eating lunch at 2:00, taking a siesta at 3:00, having dinner at 10:30 and then staying awake until 4:00 am is beginning to feel normal. Though I fought it in the beginning (sleeping in the middle of the afternoon seems so unproductive!), I’m beginning to understand the whens and whys of life in Spain. Living on Spanish time is about much more than setting my watch ahead. It’s about adopting a whole new timetable and entirely changing my eating and sleeping patterns.
– Thanks to my mother-in-law, I am beginning to understand the rules and etiquette of Bingo. Playing Bingo the first night was terrifyingly rapid and intimidating. But when I returned a second time with Luisa and she explained to me the way Bingo cards are set up (1-10 is in the first row, 10-20 is in the second, etc.), I was relieved to find that there was system and organization to the chaos after all. It’s elementary and I should have figured it out on my own, but I didn’t. It certainly made a world of difference, though, once I knew. I also learned that when you have one number remaining, you chant the number quietly so that everyone at the table can send positive vibes. Of course, at the time when I had one remaining number, I hadn’t yet learned this. So, instead, I sat there in my anxiety, quietly waiting, wordlessly hoping. Needless to say, it wasn’t a winning card, but perhaps the whole night would have ended differently if I had just learned sooner to chant that final number. And I learned that the winner pays the next round for everyone at the table. The first time, it was exciting. When the same woman won a second time less than an hour later, it started to lose its novelty. I couldn’t tell if I should feel lucky because I was getting a second round for free or unlucky because we were so close to winning Bingo, yet so far. When the same woman won a line less than a half hour later, I decided that we were flat out incredibly unlucky, and it was time to cut our losses and get out of there.
– I am starting to be able to hold my own when it comes to Flamenco Palmas. When I first arrived, I was amazed at how involved the audience got when listening to Flamenco music. Clapping along, they were fully engaged in each song. To my untrained ear, it just sounded like a whole lot of clapping, but I’ve come to realize that it’s much more than that. Palmas has a whole percussionist technique and style and, when done correctly, the clapping accentuates the rhythm of the music. For David, it comes as second nature to him. As a child, he listened to his dad play and sing Flamenco music and even sang alongside him at times. Now, as an adult, he’s teaching me the basics of Palmas. And while I’m not yet confident or skilled enough to find the right beat and clap along unless I have others to clap along with, I can at least join in and know somewhat what I’m doing.
– My mother-in-law is by my side. When I first arrived to Spain, David pointed out to Coral and me one common similarity between all the families you see: there’s always an older woman, often wearing yellow, who turns out to be the mother-in-law. After David pointed it out, we started watching out for it and sure enough, the mother-in-law was always present and definitely distinguishable. Well, now that we have Luisa visiting us, we, too, have a mother-in-law in our little group.
– I have been christened with a Spanish name! In Spain, last names are made up of two names: your father’s first last name followed by your mother’s last name. (When you marry, your name doesn’t change.) My Spanish name came about quite unexpectedly, really. Craving books and thanks to my friend, Amy’s, suggestion, David and I went in search of a library. We were happily surprised when we found a nice one with free WiFi, movies and even air conditioning and immediately turned in our application along with a copy of the official paper showing that we were residents of Torrevieja along with a photo of ourselves. After waiting several days for the cards to be processed, we returned to pick them up. The librarian found David’s immediately but when I told him my last name, nothing came up under “Wilson”. How could that be? We had applied for the card at the exact same time. He looked under “Sara”. Nothing. Dismayed, I was about to give up when David had a flash of inspiration. He told the librarian my middle name: Li Chun (“beautiful spring” in Chinese), and that did the trick. The librarian finally found it under “Chun”. So now the name on the card reads Sara Li as my first name and Chun Wilson as my last.
I suppose that, technically speaking at least, Coral’s right. I’m a “village person” because I’ve registered with the city, but I have yet to actually earn that title. I’m working on it though and am very slowly adjusting to my new life… and my new two-part very Chinese/American – and not in the least Spanish – sounding last name!