Posted by: jayteea | Wednesday. 5 March 2008.

What you think about when you are tired of sticking out all day, every day

So, I originally wrote this post a couple of weeks ago…I was kind of having a bad day.  That’s why I waited to post it–I didn’t want to regret my negativity.  Here’s a slightly tweaked version:

 It’s getting too dark to read without squinting.

 On my way home from the park, as I ignore the one knee sock that is slipping down my leg and getting all bunched up in my shoe, I (once again) get philosophical about life in Spain.  This time I’m less happy about it.

There is no doubt about it–as everyone who passes me on the street instantly knows, I am not from this place.  Earlier today Chema rattled off something about facial proportions and how my jaw is way too wide and my facial features (though beautiful), way too fuertes, strong, to pass for a Spaniard’s.  Now that it’s too late to hide behind sunglasses, I feel acutely vulnerable to the glances, stares, and oh-so-common critical once-overs that I get from almost everyone going the other way.  I remember to completely relax every muscle in my face, assumedly achieving my practiced look of nonchalance, but I refuse to take my hands out from where I have stuffed them in my pockets.  “Typical American stnace,’ I’ve been told before, but it’s fricking comfortable and that’s how I am going to walk.  I stick out and I know it–I feel it, even.

 If I close my eyes, the noisy Sunday evening traffic, even-louder birds, and screaming (and I mean screaming) baby behind me make it impossible to distinguish this place from home.  (I.e., it’s too loud to overhear any Spanish being spoken.)  Upon first glance, even, Spain isn’t all that different.  There are familiar chain stores, all kinds of cars, old people with canes, younger people with strollers, bike lanes, bus sops, normal things that remind me of other things back home.  That’s what’s so strange about being here–I feel like I  should feel at home.  But I don’t.

 Chema and I went to see No Country for Old Men at a movie theater outside of town this weekend.  In Spanish, it’s “No es país para viejos.”  Like the title, the audio track had also been changed into Spanish—it was, unsurprisingly, dubbed.  In any case, here we were, stuffed into this theater, being fed this nonexistent representation of an idealized American culture.  It didn’t remind me of home; rather, it reminded me of the other Americanisms here.  The triumph of Burger King’s “Sandy,” their run-of-the-mill ice cream “sundae.” The Mae West (as they pronounce it, “MY-west”), a very popular dance club, whose décor pays homage to classic American cinema.  Advertisements for Ballantine’s whisky* featuring well-known American icons—Steve McQueen, baseballs, muscle cars, etc.  (Check one out at http://www.interactivadigital.com/fotos/comun/actualidad/Octubre07/Control/Ballantinesbolet2.jpg) Popular music imported from the US.  Again…one might think that I would feel more at home here than I actually do.

Thing is, I know better.  All these cultural references are only idealized representations of the US.  The real “America” is quite different than the hazy picture of it that the typical Spaniard harbors in his or her mind.  This homage to the freedom of rock and roll and cowboy culture has nothing to do with the place I call home.  I sense no camaraderie between myself and huge posters featuring smiling, light-haired girls.  Watching No Country for Old Men in Spain didn’t make me feel proud of my American-ness*.  This reverence for an imagined U.S. culture is just plain weird.  Even though I might be reminded of the US by certain facets of life in Spain (normal, every-day similarities, specific cultural references), I am definitely not comforted by these representations of my culture, nor do I feel like I fit in any more because of their existence.

Okay, I will not draw out any more conclusions.  That’s about as profound as we’re going to get today.  Apologies if I perhaps got a bit carried away.  Sometimes I miss writing papers and need to vent.

* Maybe Spain is ready to accept and even look up to this idealized version of US culture, but they still, in the same breath, bitterly criticize US politics, consumerism, obesity rates, pretty much anything they can use against us.  (Mind you, I am no raging patriot, but even I get a bit miffed when I encounter this barrage of criticism on a more-or-less daily basis.  But then again, most of this comes from the Spanish press, which is pretty Anti-American.)  This summer, PBS did a great documentary on this European phenomenon in general called The Anti-Americans (A Hate/Love Relationship).  More info on that at http://www.pbs.org/weta/crossroads/about/show_anti-americans.html

*Ballantine’s Brand Director claims that this new advertising campaign is “about leaving an impression by being true to yourself and living, like the Ballantine’s brand itself, with a strong sense of originality, charisma and style.”  Interesting, since I see these particular ads as representations of conformity/Americanization/globalization rather than individuality.  (Granted, the ads’ protagonists—eg. Bob Dylan, Steve McQueen—are/were assuredly not conformists; however, the portrayal of them here is anything but original.)

*Though watching A Prairie Home Companion two years ago in Madrid did make me rather nostalgic.  🙂

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Responses

  1. Oh, dear. As a soon-to-be ex-pat myself, I’m finding this sort of alarming. I’ve always just assumed that if I’m gregarious enough, I’ll be able to escape people’s preconceived notions about my American-ness. . .
    But looking out a brighter window, I’m taking the GRE in May and I think of you whenever I think about the exciting world of GRE vocab 🙂

  2. Yay, GRE. Are you excited? If I were you, I would be…cause I would know that I was about to beat down all of the other test takers! Oh yeahhhh, vocab.

    Being an ex-pat is definitely sometimes cool, sometimes not. Needless to say, I’m excited to go back home in 7 weeks (!), but in an ideal world, I would be in two (or three or four) places at once.

    Besos to you!!

  3. I really loved this blog of yours. Reminds me of the many conversations you and I have had. I think you will always have a love in your heart for Chema, but some of the things he has says just makes the hairs raise on the back of my neck. I think you speaking your damn good Spanish has always been enough and theres no reason to feel like you need to look like those people. Youre beautiful and thats all there is to it. But I related with many things you said about the culturisms and assumptions of the USA. Very well said. 🙂


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