5 Things They’ll Tell You About the U.S. … That Aren’t True

Ah, I get it. You are returning to the United States, and you are preparing for the much-feared reverse culture shock. What to expect?

You should expect to find it weird when people address you in English, that the grocery store has about three hundred different types of cereal, and people want to talk to you while standing in line. Yeah, okay, I feel ya. I see how that could seem weird or odd for a while after you return home.

But let me tell you something, sometimes I wonder if I grew up in an alternate universe, if perhaps my experience of the US has been different from many expats who write on the Internet, because some things I just don’t see. Some stereotypes just don’t fit my experience. I write this to see if I am alone.

1. Americans are always in a hurry

I live in Madrid, so everyone seems to be in a hurry, especially on my morning commute. But my experiences in Madrid aren’t extended to the rest of Spain. Thus, I find it hard to believe Americans are always in a hurry, because most of my family and friends don’t ever seem to be in a hurry. Where are all these hurrying people you’re talking about? New York City? Where?

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Reasons Why the “Auxiliares de Conversación” Facebook Group Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

Guiri with her Spanish Boy

Left: guiri, Right: not a guiri

One of the ways I have found to amuse myself when bored is to get on Facebook, but that can be depressing. All those enormously successful, happy people, while I’m at home eating yogurt out of a mug on my couch. But I know some people who will never fail me, los auxiliares de conversación en España. That is to say—the Facebook groups. Some are more interesting than others, but my favorite one is “Auxiliares de conversacion en MADRID”. Of course, for every amusing post, there’s an equally boring post.

But then there are the pull-my-hair-out, scratch-my-eyes-out posts. Here’s the rundown of some of the most annoying posts, topics, and people in these groups:

British (and sometimes other European) people who love to talk about the ignorant Americans they know.

Because stereotypes are there for a reason, amirite?! Guys?

People trying to avoid all contact with other guiris.

Guiris are the gringos of Spain, if you didn’t know. And aren’t they just the worst! This guiri-avoider must live with other foreigners in order to avoid speaking English. He/she will see Americans out at restaurants and remark about their loud voices and annoying laughter. Boo, guiri hater!

Actual quotes:

staying away from americans is my #1 plan.

“Everyone’s so flipping materialistic here [in the US]”

People who only want to hang out with other guiris.

Conversely, some people actively avoid contact with the other, a.k.a. Spaniards. Strange, isn’t it, that one would travel so far to speak only English, interact with only foreigners, etc.? These are the people that invite—ostensibly—the whole group to their house for their very first fiesta. Oddly they never seem to have a second …

People stereotyping heavily about Spaniards.

People who think getting residency in Spain as an American is as easy as 1-2-3.

Asked by one curious auxiliar: “does anyone know how difficult it is to obtain residency in Spain if you’re not employed or a student?” Two words, young one: Very. Difficult.

Crazily ignorant people.

These people will ask for tapas bar recommendations after living in Spain for nine months. They wonder if this Messi they’ve been hearing all about plays for Real Madrid (or what?).

“whats the difference between piso and habitacion as far as looking for something to rent?”

Where can I buy a good/inexpensive umbrella?

do public libraries exist in Madrid?

According to Spaniards I’m a “giddy.” Still haven’t figured out if thats a good thing or bad thing…

You begin to wonder how in the world they’ve survived this long.

(Thank you to the Twitter account @GuiriBullshit for the quotes!)

Americans in Spain

We come, wearing backpacks and North Face jackets. We come, sporting tennis shoes and jeans, talking loudly in our distinguishable American accents. We come to learn Spanish, to party, to travel. And we come in droves.

Source
In Salamanca, we are many. In Zamora, we are few. Nevertheless, we are here. Our presence is felt. The only part we’ve yet to really penetrate are the villages with 50 or fewer residents, yet slowly but surely we are conquering those, too. We come with expectations; we’ve been told by study abroad coordinators or friends or Internet websites how to not act like a dumb American. Tips include not wearing gym shoes/fanny packs (for the love of God, who wears fanny packs in 2010?), not assuming everyone speaks English, speaking quietly in public, etc. Generally, it has a lot to do with clothes. For the most part, Spaniards are a bit more concerned with appearance when they step out the door, but I’ve also seen them wearing sweatpants outside the house. Horror of all horrors.

So, our preconceptions about Spain exist and we arrive here, waiting to be knocked off our feet by Europe’s awesomeness. We take photos of cathedral after cathedral, walk on cobblestone streets, and take kazillions of pictures to show off to our friends on Facebook. “Look how cool I am,” we shout electronically. “I am in EUROPE! And you, my friend, are in Podunk, Indiana.” (Podunk exists. Really.)

I wrote about this previously, but many Americans come here and don’t ever really meet any Spaniards. It was like that for me when I studied abroad in Toledo in 2008. Nowadays, things have changed. I am often the only American. I stand out from all the females because I am tall. I falter over my words and often speak very little due to shyness and general unwillingness to slow down a conversation’s seemingly frenetic pace. Of course, there are those Americans who try and try to meet Spaniards, to speak Spanish, to avoid Americans.  It’s weird to me because I never tried to avoid Americans. I met my boyfriend accidentally. I flirted without really meaning to. Best non-decision I ever made, by the way. Now, I’m here and I don’t know any of the Americans living in my city. I hang out with Spaniards, not because I am trying but because, um, I’m in Spain and there are more of them!

I really don’t know what’s better – the Americans who come here, loud and proud, and party with other Americans all semester or those who snobbishly refuse to make friends with other Americans based on fear of having an unauthentic experience. All I know is that somehow, by not choosing, I ended up being able to get to know the authentic part of Spain, a Spanish family, and most of all one Spanish man.