Of Little Significance

Have you ever met someone who’s profoundly affected you and then lost contact? Of course you have; we all have. But there are probably dozens more people that—after all’s said and done—ended up as not-that-important. You know, the person you meet on the train or the airplane and have a fun conversation with, but soon forget about, except for every once in a while when you think, Hmm, I wonder what happened to her.

In Spain, I’ve had loads of those sorts of encounters:

  • The Korean lady who ran an alimentación shop in Toledo. Study abroad isn’t really about studying, in case you haven’t heard. Inside the walls of Toledo, there wasn’t even a Carrefour or Eroski, so we did all our late-night shopping there, buying liters of Mahou or boxes of Don Simón sangría.
  • Pablo, a Spaniard, who studied in Cologne. Pablo chose la Fundación José Ortega y Gasset (which we affectionately referred to as “The Fund,” pronounced with the long Spanish “u”) to stay during a vacation. I can’t even remember why anymore. We lived in a renovated convent, and, while it was located in a rather idyllic place, it was still a dorm. We talked about politics (why we had reelected George Bush and whether Obama would be elected), Spanish food, and studying. I don’t remember much else.


A view from my room.

  • My first intercambio, Carlos. We were a true intercambio—we spoke one hour in English and one in Spanish. Always. He gave me my first insights into the true Spain, not just the idealized version I had read about in books.
  • My Spanish teacher in Salamanca. I can’t remember her name anymore. She at first thought I was horrific at Spanish, but soon realized I am just shy. She finally coaxed it out of me. When she heard I was dating a Spaniard, she told me, “¡Qué bien! Es la mejor manera de aprender un idioma.” Or something like that. I finished my classes with her and never saw her again, except once—through a window. She smiled knowingly, the kind of smile where you realize you don’t have much to say to the other person, but you had indeed shared something.
  • The waiters at this certain bar in Zamora. It was close to my house, comfortable, and free wifi. (Remember, in Spain it’s pronounced wee-fee.) I would usually head there in the late evening, grab una copa de Elías Mora for the ridiculously good price of 2€, and settle down for a nice Skype date (but maybe not as often as my mother would have liked).

People come and go; I’ve come and gone from several different places. We all change, and in some ways we all stay the same. I’m still me, after all. It’s jarring to think of these people, people I laughed with, ate with, talked with … existing somewhere out there without me. They live and go on. So do I.

Do you have these sorts of people in—well, out of—your life?

13 thoughts on “Of Little Significance

  1. I completely miss the lady who used to wash my delicates, the bartenders at the bar down the street who called me VECINAAA and offered up a buchito of wine, the man who took me on the bus to my auxiliar job. Living in Triana made me feel like a part of a community..

  2. You have carrefour in spain too?I love how I can complete relate to that word! I have met so, so many people, some more significant than others who are no longer in my life. I never really think about what they are doing though…I love the flow of life of meeting new people and letting people go.

  3. Yes! The doorman at my piso, the bartenders at the restaurant next door (we never went there but they always waved when we were coming and going), etc.
    There was also the dry cleaner next door to my Chicago apt. Just a little storefront place and the owner was from Mexico. I’d go and just talk with her to practice my Spanish.

  4. I love this post, it really made me think. It’s a great idea, an original and interesting subject, and something everyone can relate to. I had a lovely Spanish teacher in Ecuador, a girl who was living with her boyfriend. I remember in one class, she confided in me that she’d just found out she was pregnant, and faced a terrible dilemma, since she couldn’t afford to have a baby, but as a Catholic could not countenance terminating the pregnancy. We talked (in Spanish), she cried, I tried to offer advice and comfort as best I could. The other person was a student I had, also in Quito, recently married, who told me she was pregnant on the bus into town after the class, and was thrilled. Two very different situations. I often wonder what happened to them.

    1. Thank you! I appreciate it. Those sorts of people you remember are always intriguing. I just remembered we had an exchange student from Japan (just a month-long thing), and we lost contact. No idea what happened to her!

  5. I have tons of people like this, but I am sentimental to a fault and have a tendency to get into touch with them years after the fact. I clearly got this trait from my mother–when I was studying abroad in Chile, she sent a postcard to the last known address of a guy she and my father met on a train in Peru in the 70s. He, his wife, and their three kids took me out to dinner and I caught him up on what my parents had done in the last…oh, 30 years.

    This post made me think of the song “Somebody That I Used To Know.” Kind of sad, but rather appropriate for the theme of the post: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9NF2edxy-M.

  6. I can relate! I often think about the people I met on a bus ride or shared a day in the city with. It’s impossible to stay in touch with everyone you meet on the road, but it’s always a nice memory to look back on. :)

  7. I have a few of these people too! Mostly people from when I spent a year teaching in South Korea. The couple that ran a restaurant on the main floor of my apartment, the women who worked at a bakery I frequented, and of course my favourite students.

  8. It’s a coincidence, in Toledo at the Fund I had an intercambio named Carlos and we also talked English/Spanish equally down to the minute. Nice guy, tall, with glasses.

  9. An old post, but maybe you’ll see my comment! This was a very sweet and original idea, and, as others have said, it strikes a chord with most people. It reminds me of people I’ve known, too. There was an old boss at my first job in London who hugged me when I heard some really horrible news. Vanessa, my old French penpal (with whom I accidentally started a fire once…). A nurse who comforted me after a painful medical procedure, and showed me phone photos of hens she kept in her garden to take my mind off it. So many different people who pass in and out of our lives – you’re right, I think about some of them from time to time and wonder how they’re getting on.

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