Compare & Contrast

When traveling to another country for a vacation, seeing the differences is part of why you go. The food, transport, customs. All different than home. But you know it’s temporary.

Now that we haven bitten the bullet and are attempting to make a life in another country, it’s different differences that we notice. Both in those we are trying to assimilate among, and in ourselves.

The first thing I noticed is that Jeff and I don’t whisper to each other in English. Usually, when traveling in the past, we wouldn’t want anyone to know we were Americans so we would mutter under our breath a lot. It was a recipe ripe for misunderstanding. But since this is home now, we are just using a regular speaking voice. It’s just happened. Strange.

We don’t see overweight people here – ok a few, but everyone is fit and I think I know why. They walk or take public transport everywhere. Since we’ve been here, we are walking our asses off, literally. We’ll be 30lbs lighter in no time!

The food will help with this. We hardly eat and when we do, the portion size is so much smaller. We are only eating when we are hungry. No ‘American three square meals a day’ for us, now that we are no longer on native soil.

People here are friendly but they don’t smile a lot. I smile a lot and I get stared at for it. They also don’t chat each other up in a queue. I tend to make friends with people I wait in line with so I’ve gotten some muttered comments. But that’s Ok.

People meet us half way – ok, maybe 90% of the way. We both noticed, that while our Spanish is very, very limited, if we try to use the few words we do know – whomever we are speaking to will conjure up some broken English to bridge the gap. Sometimes, they’ll helpfully correct our pronunciation with a smile so we can learn.

Just telling people we moved here from the US 2 days ago, also helps. They are more sympathetic to our fumbling, both in the language and our stepping on social norms. And they help us with what we are trying to do. We’re like toddlers in their eyes. Barely upright. Liable to fall on our asses at any moment. They just have to wait, cause it’s gonna happen.

I’ve also learned that the advice I got about watching Spanish tv back home, was great spot on. I understand more than I can speak but at least I know a lot of what people are talking about, announcing on a train, in a cafe, all around me. It’s less isolating.

Space motivates. Living in a ‘Compartment’, as Jeff calls it, makes you want to go out and interact with the world. No wonder it seems everyone is out on the street in cafes, parks, shopping. It’s packed. I feel the urge too. Looking out our apartment window, I hear and see people. And I want to go down there and be a part of it.

In US suburbia, we have play dates for our kids, have to drive miles to have coffee with friends, or commute hours a day to work. It’s more of a singular life, where interactions with others is tightly controlled by us. Here, interacting with others is unavoidable and valued. I love that.

Back home, the US is a vast country. We go in any direction for thousands of miles, and we’re still in the US. That feeling makes you a different kind of person, requiring little cultural adjustment from one part of the country to another. Here, 5 feet and we are uncomfortable. We have no clue what we should do or how to do it. And go 400 miles North or West and it will be another country all together. Different rules, customs, national priorities.

I think this is why, in the US, we tend to think everyone should want to do things like us. We don’t get other perspectives. They’re just not available to us. It’s why immigrants are so feared there. Let’s face it, the crime rate for immigrants (legal or not) is very low in the US. Lower than for natives. But we are fearful of them and don’t tend to welcome other who are not like is.

Yesterday, our stuff was delivered by a Brazilian guy from the UK. He’d only been here 3 months. He described himself as ‘English’ after having lived there for 30 yrs. He was happy to speak English with us, as his Spanish isn’t great.

It made me hopeful and wonder. Will we describe ourselves as Spanish when we are 80? Maybe we will have earned the right to say ‘We are from Spain’.