Are You Afraid?

I don’t think I give myself enough credit sometimes. In the past year, I’ve done a lot of things that are new and many things that are scary in some way. I’ve:

  • started dating someone from another country
  • moved to another country (if temporarily)
  • started a new job teatching children
  • returned to an airport in which I was held against my will for 24 hours

Honestly, many of those things were difficult, scary, and challenging. Yet I am still afraid in many ways.

I fear looking stupid in front of my pupils. Children can be cruel, and they often are. Just today, they made fun of my accent and another teacher’s current state of baldness, which I am guessing is a result of some medical condition. What did I do? I refused to speak any more Spanish because I thought perhaps they would continue to make fun of me. I don’t know why it matters so much, but I don’t like feeling foolish. They put me on the defensive.

In the grand scheme of things, these students making fun of my accents matters very little. I don’t know why I am more afraid of sounding silly than moving to another country, but I am. Our fears are often irrational, trite, proportionally warped. We fear things like tripping on the staircase in front of that cute boy, but don’t think twice about talking on the cell phone while driving.

I remember reading once that the #1 fear of people was public speaking. Really? You fear that more than death? sickness? I guess so. We’re quite a funny species at times, aren’t we?

Home

I miss home.

I miss the tree-lined streets and cracked sidewalks. I miss “watery” coffee with fake sugar. I miss baby carrots and cottage cheese. I miss the American flag flying on our neighbors’ lawns. I miss my driveway, its length and the way it leads up to our dead end street, the perfectly manicured front lawn beside it. I miss my dog, her enthusiasm for running and playing and living. I miss the smell of fall: nutmeg and cinnamon, pumpkin, leaves, bonfires. I miss my bed and its softness. I miss hearing crickets instead of noisy neighbors. I miss my dishwasher. I miss carpet. I miss English and how easy it is – conversation flowing and not being forced! I miss grocery stores with zillions of options and no fish markets. I miss pretzels shaped like pretzels…with lots of salt. I miss not having to take the bus, ever. I miss the ability to wear gym clothes to the store. I miss the way the sky looks at night, stars and just barely visible clouds that loom in the darkness. I miss running on my street after a rain, the way the wet pavement smells. I miss restaurants that have way too many options – salads and sandwiches and steak and desserts. I definitely miss Diet Coke and free refills. I miss real Orbit gum being available. (The stuff here sucks.)

Most of all, I miss the people. I will never be Spanish or feel Spanish. I might wear scarves and own a pair of black boots. I might eat lunch at 2 and dinner at 9. I might speak Spanish and drink café con leche with my colleagues at a nearbyl café. I might indeed be working and living in Spain. But…I am utterly, irrevocably American. I don’t think I fully understood just how much my Americanness affected me until I first stepped foot on Spanish soil in 2008. I always harbored a bit of healthy skepticism for blind patriotism, thinking it ignorant and uneducated. But while I was busy dismissing any sort of pride in one’s country, I overlooked what a love for one’s country is truly about. Hint: it’s not the politics or the food or the television shows. It’s the people.

There is no substitute for American hospitality, even if the people in the northwest aren’t quite as warm as a Southerner – outright, that is. It’s not that Spanish people are cold (especially, I’ve heard, down south), it’s just that many have grown up with a different mindset. I can’t imagine not hugging my family, not telling them everyday that I love them, not feeling a deep ache to see them after months apart. Here, it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary to never utter those three words. More than anything, I can’t see myself having children away from my mother. I’d need her. I do need her. Everyday this realization hits me like a ton of bricks.

Living abroad has a way of doing that to me, taking my most deeply held beliefs and shaking them up. It’s like before I was living in a snowglobe, all the flaked white plastic sitting tranquil at my feet. Now, some giant hand has reached down, grabbed the plastic globe, and given it a violent shake. My beliefs are raining down upon me; I see them in a whole new light. They look different from down below.

Not as Exciting as You Might Think

My life is not as exciting as you might think. Sure, living in Spain sounds exotic, especially if you’ve never been to Europe. You may think of medieval castles, cobblestone streets, foreign languages, and exotic food. True, all of that exists, and I’m not one to deny that the food here is generally a step up from the SAD. However, I’m going to let you in on a little secret that I’ve been keeping (mostly) to myself:

People are people everywhere. Yes, here in Spain they speak Castilian Spanish. They eat eggs for dinner and cookies for breakfast. Ham is practically a religion (second only to Catholicism). There’s no Ovaltine, but there is Colacao. People live in apartments generally and walk a. whole. lot. more than we do. But here’s the thing: they’re just like you and me. Life is life, and it’s not terribly exciting in the everyday mundanity. Every morning, I too wake up to the annoying beeping of a cell phone alarm. I too groan inwardly and start the coffee, fumbling in the semi-darkness to find the damn button. I too hate grocery stores lines, and always, always end up behind the old lady who insists on counting out the exact change in nickels (or the equivalent). Work is work, and sometimes I don’t like going. (Okay, not yet; I’ve barely started.)

So, please, don’t envy me too much. Really, sometimes I envy you. Why? Let me make a little list.

  • Grocery stores are open on Sundays.
  • Banks don’t close at 2 PM for the day.
  • Cars are useful, and having one is nice.
  • There are so many more options … for better or for worse.

I could go on, but really, I don’t want to. Life here is good; life here is normal. But it’s not one grand rollercoaster ride. (Thank goodness, Mario would be peeing his pants 24/7.)

Coming up: Commentary on my first days at work. No, children, I do not know anyone famous, and no, my favorite music is not Lady Gaga.