Monday, May 3, 2010

A Positive Post

A forward:  This weekend, I went with some friends from my program to Galicia, an autonomous community in the northwest of the country, right above Portugal.  We had a really good time.  We couchsurfed with a charming EU translator named Mercedes, who lived out in a development in the countryside.  The first day, we tried to go to Finisterre, the formerly supposed "end of the world", but there weren't any buses for a few hours, so we went to A Coruña to see, among other things, the world's oldest operating lighthouse.  The second day, we went to Santiago de Compostela, a famous pilgrimage site.  The cathedral there contains the supposed remains of St. James (the apostle), and we got a chance to go on the roof.  It was a really nice trip overall, and apparently pretty unusual for Americans to take, because we kept on getting asked where we were from, which never happens in Madrid*, or at least it's unusual for Americans to take buses to little towns of no interest to foreigners.  We also got to see a Spanish bachelor's party, in which a groom's best friends take him out all weekend for drunken shenanigans.  They were still out from the night before at 10 AM.

Anyway, I was going to write a post mocking Spanish multilingual policies, which are responsible for Gallego having a protected status in Galicia, even though it differs from Castellano by only a handful of phonological transformations and a slightly different lexicon.  Meanwhile, other dialects, like Asturian, get no protection because no one bothered writing in them before the Civil War.  It would be a little like if Cockney were considered a different language because someone wrote in it phonetically.  However, on my commute to my internship office, I decided to write something positive instead:

Spanish people are really caring.  I don't give them enough credit for this.  Among foreign students and expats, Spaniards have a reputation for being cold and judgmental.  They don't wish you a nice day in stores, they don't act friendly unless they like you, and they say what they feel even if it isn't very nice or politically correct.  They have the opposite complaint about us - we're too artificial and never act honestly towards others.  Among friends or friends of friends, they're caring and considerate, even if they've never met you.  At times, this can be really frustrating.  It can feel like no one likes you, when in reality, they just don't know you.

This morning brought out the best in Spanish social customs.  On my way out, I said hello to my portero, Paco.  Porteros are sort of like building caretakers - they come in a few hours a day to sort the mail, clean the lobby, and do some simple maintenance.  Paco has always been really nice to me, as he seems to have been to all the students who stay with Pilar.**  I was sort of in a rush, but he stopped to chat with me, even following me as I went towards the door.  His wife gave birth to a son, their third child, on Wednesday.  He was really proud.  He then wanted to know about my weekend and all the places I went to (though he admonished me for not calling A Coruña by its Castellano name, "La Coruña").  Paco isn't a doorman - his job isn't to be nice to the residents - he's just a really nice guy who likes to chat.  He even stopped me once when I ran into him on the street to introduce me to his family and talk for a while.  It's nice that he would take some time from his job to talk to the silly foreigner who can't speak well in the morning.

My metro ride was also a nice reminder of how kind people here are.  I've always found the metro remarkably civil compared to the New York subway, where you spend all your time averting your eyes from everyone else.  The cars are narrow, but everyone is always very courteous.  From time to time, a homeless person will get on and make a brief speech about how they need help.  They aren't demanding or trying to guilt-trip; they just explain their situation and what they need.  They then quietly go through the car and people give them food or a few coins with remarkable generosity.  Homeless people aren't viewed with suspicion, and everyone assumes they really will use the money to get a room for the night.  If an elderly person gets on, people rush to leave their seats for them.  This morning, two younger women argued with and older but healthy woman about how she should take their seats.  It was really sweet.

This follows an experience in A Coruña, where an elderly woman asked us in a cemetery if we could put flowers on a third-tier grave for her.  Although she criticized us jokingly for letting a female friend climb the ladder (she was lightest), she was extremely thankful, gave us all kisses, and kept on wishing us blessings.  When you get down to it, people here can come off as cold, but they really do look out for those they don't know.  In many ways, it's quite a nice and caring society

*So rare, in fact, that it took one of my friends a while to realize what he was being asked.  We almost never hear the informal 2nd person plural permanent "to be" verb "sois", as in "¿De dónde sois?" ("Where are you guys from?").  They don't really teach the informal 2nd person plural (called "vosotros") in the U.S. because it isn't used in Latin America, so it sometimes takes us by surprise.

**If someone has a Sacajawea dollar or two that they wouldn't mind sending to me (I'll pay you back), I think it would be a nice thing to give to him when I leave.  He collects coins and I know he's been looking for some.

Another note:  David had better write something here soon.  This is rapidly becoming my blog and I get the impression that my adventures are less exciting.

1 comment:

  1. I've been busy, but hopefully tonight will be a blogging whirlwind.