Monday, 7 March 2011

A foreigner in your own country?

I've been reading Head over Heel by Chris Harrison this weekend. It's his witty account of life in Italy through the eyes of a foreigner and it got me thinking about my life in Spain.

I've lived here all my life but I still consider myself a foreigner in many ways and there are things I find difficult to get used to.

For instance, Spanish people are extraordinarily welcoming. If they invite you to pop in for a coffee or drink whenever you want, they mean it. In fact they'll give you a bright smile when you knock at their door early on a Sunday morning and say "Hi, we've come all five of us and the dog for lunch today" and stay on until twelve at night. Even if their fridge is completely empty they will fabricate an edible meal with an egg and a potato (also called tortilla). 

Now this sounds idyllic if you're the one knocking on the door, but if you're the one answering it in your pyjamas which you had planned to keep on all day whilst lounging on the sofa with a book and eating nothing but crisps, the scenario may not be as ideal. Maybe that beaming grin is actually a muscle spasm caused by the shock of opening the door to the couple with the hyperactive children who were so kind as to decorate your walls with inedible ink while you had to look through 500 photos of their trip to the beach. "Oh, look there's the little one with a full bucket. Look, here he is with an empty bucket. Ah, look at him filling the bucket..." 

You just know you will have a stiff neck the next day from all that nodding and you will probably not be able to recover your usual mouth shape after stretching your lips into a smile for so many hours. The subtle hints in the form of a yawn or "Hey, is it that late?" gradually lose their subtlety, "Such a pity we've got to work tomorrow," "I'm exhausted and we've such an early start tomorrow", "Don't you have to work tomorrow?" until you finally get up, say goodnight and ask them to lock up after they leave.

But then of course, I'm still a foreigner and I've got lots to learn about hospitality.


  1. Oh my goodness! I guess the best thing is NEVER to say to someone in Spain, "Please drop in anytime."

    Did enjoy - and laugh - at this post. Especially love the line about not getting your mouth back to its usual shape :D

  2. Thanks Marisa for your lovely comment, and you're right, that is why I never say "drop in anytime"

  3. Ah, cultural differences. How I lovehatelatheadore them... Makes life so difficult, and yet quite entertaining.

    I would definitely not be a happy host in that situation, though I really wish I could be. Because even if it means one day less spent with quality you-time, it probably would be quality-friends time, if I could only adjust to the idea that receiving guests while I was in my jammies, without having cleaned the house or cooked an impressive meal, was okay. Perhaps I need to spend some time in Spain to loosen up?

    Anyway - I feel your pain. I don't often feel like a foreigner in my own country, but currently I am a foreigner in a foreign country (go figure), and it certainly is a handful sometimes!

  4. Cruella, you're living in Japan, that must be such a different culture but I get the idea that they are very respectful towards other people.

  5. Oh ugh, I'm not sure I could deal with that. I'd probably have to go live in a cave! It's one of the reasons Mr TR loves England so much - people don't 'intrude' on your life (especially in London).

    PS - Yay! You blogged! :)

  6. Tracy Tidswell7 March 2011 at 21:50

    I think I must be far too unsociable to live there, (although a little bit more friendliness would be nice too).
    This made me smile, thank you :)

  7. Chris Harrison8 March 2011 at 09:21

    I am ashamed to say that I pretended not to be home on many occasions during my time in Italy. But for some of the elderly in rural villages that kind of lifestyle is a godsend because they are never lonely, unlike many pensioners elsewhere.

  8. People in our village drop by, which is okay. They just don't know when to leave though!

  9. Sooo different from here in the UK. I often think it would be good to have a bit more social interaction in an English city but there are limits. Maybe something in-between the two extremes would be favourite.

  10. Scotland sounds like Spain in the hospitality stakes. When I first moved here from England 23 years ago, I was shocked that everyone you met in the street spoke to you even when they didn't know you. When I go back to visit England I'm shocked that they don't!

  11. I don't think I'd cope with that, I love to see people but I want to know they're coming so I can clean and get some food in. Oh, and get out of my pajamas so I'm respectable......

  12. Mi casa es tu casa! But not in my book I'm afraid! I always struggled with this. Latin American culture (I know Ecuador very well) is essentially Spanish culture. I will never quite forget the shock of being greeted by some people almost completely unknown to me in the village where I had the base of my fieldwork operations (used to be an archaeologist)& being told they had organised a party for me that very evening! In the end I'm afraid I didn't go; I just couldn't deal with it (& watched my popularity then plummet....). In Sevilla though they're very different & tend to keep themselves more to themselves. I both experienced this & had people tell me that. I wonder why? Overall I prefer the openness; the 'paseo' every evening around 7/8 when all the families come out etc. At present, grounded overlong back here in the UK, I really miss Spain; so much I loved, like lurching from one tapas bar to the next enjoying picillos, tortillas, rioja mmmmm. Lo extrano mucho! So in short, enjoy!


Recent posts