The Liberating Sound of Spain
One trip can change your life, especially the first one, so you better choose wisely, and not because you won’t like it or because it’s dangerous, but simply because the first time you live abroad will be the most eye opening experience you will ever have. It will be a swift change in your world’s perspective that will leave an imprint on you. It’s like discovering a new degree of lightness, your vision will never be the same again. Whether it’s an experience you enjoy doesn’t matter, what matters is how radically different your new environment is from the one you were raised in.
I moved from Valencia in Spain to be an au pair when I was eighteen, only two months after finishing high school. I was hungry for adventure and thirsted for “something else”. I come from a very traditional family in a little town close to Versailles in France, and I had no idea how drastically my outlook was going to change.
I landed and there it was, the noise. Constant noise wherever I went: people slamming doors, people laughing loudly, and above all, people talking to each other (or what seemed to be yelling) in very crude and frank words. I don’t think I ever felt more alone in my entire life. It was as if I had ended up on a little island in an ocean of rude strangers, far away from home and there was nowhere else to go…
The night I arrived, my luggage had barely made it to my room, when the mother took the time to check if her new full-time nanny was trustworthy. She immediately asked me to take the kids to the cinema, the legendary Parisian distrust was noticeably absent from this first encounter. Now I don’t know if you’ve ever been to see a movie with young children, but if you known my pain, then you will understand how desperate it is doing so in Spanish with kids that I had met only one hour prior. As expected, not ten minutes into the movie, the boys started throwing popcorn at eachother and a few people behind us. Mortified, I was trying to calm the chimpanzees down as I was waited for the rain of reproach to fall upon me. Spain was going to spit me out as fast as it had swallowed me. Panicking and painfully self-conscious, I failed to notice that ‘my’ kids weren’t the only ones misbehaving. In fact a glance to my left side showed me another little boy in the process of throwing his shoes at the screen, and yet no one said anything. The rain never fell, and I stayed for another six months.
Method to the madness
It didn’t take me long to see that it was chaos, and that the Spanish loved it. Well maybe they didn’t love it, but they were surely used to it and seemed to thrive in it. After a month, the noise didn’t bother me anymore and their rudeness suddenly seemed to breathe out honesty. They acted and lived like they had nothing to hide and from my observations almost despised ambiguity. I later realized this coincided with the characteristic of the Spanish language to pronounce all the letters, without exception. What I first thought was a scary jungle turned out to be my very own Narnia, where the cub I was could try to roar as loud as the old lions!
This fresh air of straightforwardness liberated me, and it was as satisfying as screaming in a pillow, only Spanish people wouldn’t use the pillow. My wonderful and joyful Spanish teacher Maria explained to me that in their culture, silence in a conversation meant trouble. It meant that the interlocutor had something on his mind. She then added with a big smile that they would take it as a signal to talk even more, and accompanied by two more bottles of wine. She also explained that they would almost get offended if you said ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ simply because they gave you food or helped you move. They believe that a small thing like sharing a meal with your neighbor to be the most natural thing in the world which shouldn’t require a gesture of demand or gratitude. When I asked her about such open-handedness, she answered back with a question: “Wouldn’t you do the same for them?”. It was that simple.
The psychological barrier that people in the western world naturally put between themselves was obviously absent here. People weren’t scared to talk to each other, or say hello to strangers, or hold the door for men and women equally. They would even smile smiles that were genuine and full of kindness, the kind that immediately improved your day. The connection, the constant flow between people wasn’t broken or blocked, but well-alive and happily passing through the good mood of everyone.
Not All Who Wander Are Lost
It gave me the key to a door in my being that I didn’t even know existed. It gave me access to a warm and solar energy only a hot land could unravel. I became more open and outgoing, I started allowing myself to make a little more noise day by day, to let myself be heard, to let my presence be known and let others into my world. It was a simple act which ultimately was, I realized later, a claim of my own existence and a cry of rebirth.
It doesn’t specifically take a French upbringing to appreciate Spain however. Its merciful weather, good food, and the the long Mediterranean beaches, but above all, the best parties you will ever have can be found there. Some would argue that you would find these in Brazil or Mexico, and I can’t say I disagree, but you see the little extra to Spain is that it also happens to be the pass gate to Europe. Many Latin-American immigrants, as well as student’s at a European crossroad, help make it a small cosmopolitan heaven where all cultures can meet on the beach, have sangria and share their ways of drinking it.
The most iconic ‘young’ party you could have over there, is the famous Botellón (Big bottle in Spanish), which is basically a meeting at a preselected location to drink in public and make new friends. The last Botellón I went to was a gathering of over 5000 persons in the streets of Valencia. To this day, I am still puzzled by the lack of involvement from the police that such a big drunk group would have normally caused.
Oh Spain, You Are So Welcoming
One thing is sure about Spanish people, they will make you feel welcome and they will make you feel at home. They may do this to such an extent that you will never want to leave. They teach you that it’s okay to be human, it’s okay to have flaws and doubts. They teach you not to take your problems too seriously, because it’s not the point of life to be too heavy. They taught me to let the sun in and enjoy the little things, the ones that count, but most importantly, they taught me that I was allowed to talk, to speak my mind and say exactly how I felt without needing to be ashamed of it.
Spain made me who I am. It gave me chance to redefine myself, to discover the spontaneous and easy-going side of me that I thought was lost. This first emancipation from my journey abroad triggered a love for traveling that was going to take me everywhere. I simply thought that if I had found a forgotten part of me in another country, the rest of the world must be a treasure map to myself. I jumped into the once frightening ocean, swam away into the warm transparent waters, and never looked back at my island.