Today I met my intercambio Miguel after about 2 months of not seeing him. He got sick, then went on a trip, then I had exams and left Spain for the holidays so life kept getting in the way. I was sort of dreading our meeting because I hadn’t spoken any Spanish in a month and had yet to speak any Spanish for a prolonged period of time since being back in Madrid. It was sort of sad when I bought my ticket to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza on Thursday. I legit stared at the ticket counter lady for a good 10 seconds before remembering how to say “one ticket for a student.”
However speaking to Miguel went just fine. Obviously I stumble across words once in awhile, mix up masculine and feminine and simply don’t know what a word is in Spanish sometimes. Unfortunately Miguel’s English is not as good as Laura’s (my other intercambio) so if I don’t know a word, he can’t help me unless I describe what I’m trying to say in an another way.
Today we had a hilarious misunderstanding while Miguel was telling me (in English) about his trip he went on back at the beginning of December. He went to London and the Canary Islands and was describing how for some reason there were lots of Germans in the Canary Islands while he was there. Then he started talking about the hotel and said what sounded like the word “stuff.” And of course being Spanish, he is unable to let go of the e that comes before the s and consonant following it (like sp, st).
Quick explanation: in Spanish, no word ever starts with an s and is followed by another consonant. An e must always precede the s and the consonant. Case in point: train station–> estacion del tren. Spaghetti–> espaguettis, spinach–> espinaca, special–> especial and so on and so forth. Any Spaniard I’ve met is unable to let go of the “e” sound preceding the s and the consonant following it at the beginning of the word. So when Miguel said what I thought was the word stuff, it sounded like “ehstuff.” I kept insisting “no e, no e!” but Miguel was doing it without even noticing. It’s so hardwired into the Spanish brain that it’s impossible to let go of. It’s like the French and their inability to pronounce the “th” sound in English.
I quickly figured out Miguel meant “staff” and not “stuff” since he was talking about the hotel staff and that they all spoke German but that none of them spoke Spanish even though the Canary Islands are part of Spain and therefore Spanish territory (which I pointed out is how a lot of Americans feel like when they go into certain neighborhoods or towns in New York with high Hispanic populations and not a word of English is heard).
However even though I kept repeating the words staff and stuff (and made sure to explain both words mean two entirely separate things), they sounded exactly the same to Miguel who just kept repeating “ehstuff, ehstuff.” I’ve given up on trying to get him to let go of the e.
Other things we covered in our discussions were beer pong and the Greek system on American college campuses. Miguel was able to grasp the concept of beer pong easily enough (which he thought was bizarre because it involves a ping pong ball so I had to stress how popular it was in the US by telling him bars hold beer pong contests) but explaining what a sorority/fraternity was was a whole other kettle of fish. I’ve already tried to explain the concept multiple times to French family members and they just don’t get it. I told Miguel it was impossible to understand unless you were an American and I referred to the sorority/fraternity as “sociedades” that were kind of like a cult or sect. In fact, I always use the cult comparison when trying to explain it to non-Americans. I hate likening Greek life to cults but you have to admit, when you throw in the words ritual and initiation, that’s what it sounds like. Miguel couldn’t wrap his mind around the idea that there were secret rituals that I couldn’t tell him about, not even to my family (though to be honest, I’ve forgotten a lot of Theta ritual… sad but true). I told him to go watch the show “Greek” (which he had heard of) to understand. In fact, I do this a lot when I explain American college life, “It’s just like in the movies/tv shows.”
Other things we talked about included the right to bear arms in the US (using the recent tragedies in the Arizona shooting as an example) and censorship on US television. One example of this would be the infamous Janet Jackson concert at the Superbowl a few years ago which infuriated the American public. Considering you see boobs and butts on a regular basis on TV in Europe, Miguel told me Spaniards didn’t really understand what the fuss was about when that happened.
Considering Spaniards are way more PDA oriented than French, English, and Americans combined, no wonder they thought the Janet Jackson fiasco was no biggie. They embrace their sexuality which is great, but I wish they wouldn’t do it so much on public transportation. What is so romantic about the metro and the bus? (I’m an American prude, ok I admit it) I brought this up to Miguel, using the word “carinoso” which really means Spanish people are more affectionate. But that’s not really true… Spanish people are just more slobbery in their affection and have no qualms making out five inches away from strangers on the metro. Of course, last night on the metro was worse than usual because my roommates and I had to deal with all the drunk teeny boppers heading out to botellon (heading out around 1 AM in typical Spanish fashion just as we were heading back to our apartment) so the PDA was about 10 times worse than it usually is. However the older Spanish crowd have learned to ignore it. But as soon as you speak English on the metro, they all stare at you (another topic to be discussed in another blog post).