Spanish social phenomena and the occasional culture shock.

Three social phenomena that are still very interesting concepts for me, even though this is my third year living in a charming Andalusian town, are:

a.) Personal space is a silly idea. Very, very silly.

b.) Being completely open with everyone the way one might only be open with a very close friend is okay.

c.) Cursing style.  Because everyone has a style, right?

Now, I’m not particularly squeamish when it comes to a variety of taboo topics, because being from L.A. can desensitize you to high amounts of vulgarity and the infamous flashing of celebrities’ nether regions. But in my personal Michi bubble – there is a line.

A line that was naturally disregarded and tossed into the warm Mediterranean Sea the moment I hopped off the airplane.

a.) Personal space is a silly idea.

I LOVE the fact that Spaniards kiss each other on both cheeks when greeting. Even in professional situations, they will kiss. It’s so much warmer than the usual American handshake, and it’s a constant reminder that I am happily living in Europe. (Because living in Europe means having access to the best cheese in the world and affordable higher education. Kisses, cheese, and not having to drown in school loans – woopee.)

But it can get tricky when someone – and when I say someone, I mean most people – speak/s to you within the exact same kissing distance. This is where the personal bubble ceases to exist. Forever. Though I’ve gotten used to this very-close-proximity-while-speaking custom for the most part, it continues to make me very self-conscious. Today, when I ran into one of my student’s moms at the market and she decided to stop and chat (within kissing distance), my thought process went like this:

Oh no! It’s kind of hard to focus with her face so close, but try not to cross your eyes! Did I eat a ton of garlic again?  Swallow any excess saliva, Michelle, you don’t want to accidentally spit in her eye. Wait, is that spit in MY eye???

That is more or less what I go through every time someone talks to me like they’re about to kiss me and I don’t know what to do. But speaking of conversations at the grocery store…

b.)  Being completely open with everyone the way one might only be open with a very close friend is okay.

Not only am I privy to the occasional (very) loud public conversations about bowel movements and love affairs, I am also aware of what goes on in my neighbors’ nether regions.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is not an exaggeration.

The other day, at another grocery store (what is it with the grocery store?), I stood in line between two women from town. The conversation began innocently enough:

Woman in front of me:  [Addressing the woman behind me.]  Hi! How are you?
Woman behind me:  Not so great.
Woman in front of me: Oh, no. Why? ¿Qué te pasa?
Woman behind me: Oh you know, I just got back from the gynecologist…

Really?!?! You can’t get together for coffee at each others’ houses? Oh, wait, of course not. Because you’re not. even. friends. How do I know? Conversation continued:

Woman in front of me: [Grabbing her grocery bags.]  One time a similar thing happened to me. I would tell you all about it, but I have to go get my grandkids from school.
Woman behind me: I never realized you had grandchildren!
Woman in front of me: Yes, four of them now! The oldest one is 10. I take care of them on Fridays.

Like I said, not even friends.

And what if you’re trying to maintain a basic sense of professionalism?

A fellow English-teaching friend of mine politely asked one of her adult students how he was doing at the beginning of class the other day, and he politely responded, “Constipated.”

At first, she didn’t know if she had misheard his response. Though her Spanish is great after having lived in Chile, the accent in Southern Spain can be difficult to understand. So she looked at him and tried again, “How are you…?”

Polite adult student: “Constipated. But this afternoon I will take a [concoction] and hopefully I will cagar.”  Take a shit.

She later asked me if this sort of openness was “normal” here, and I had to tell her about the constant TMI I’m getting from my neighbors. Which leads us to think, once you’re living in another country and in another culture, isn’t “normal” relative anyway?  But speaking of taking a shit…

c.) Cursing style.

One of the most entertaining things for me is an angry or frustrated Spaniard because, all of a sudden, the ONLY thing I can do is visualize them shitting all over the place. Why? Because THEY MAKE ME visualize them shitting all over the place.

A few very “normal” examples:

Me cago. I shit.
Me cago en la madre que te parió. I shit on the mother that birthed you.
Me cago en la puta de oro. I shit on the golden whore.
Me cago en la leche. I shit in milk.
Me cago en tus muertos. I shit on your dead people.
Me cago en todo lo que se menea. I shit on everything that moves.

There are several very blasphemous ones that I’ll refrain from putting up, because I’m starting to feel like a huge potty mouth.


30 thoughts on “Spanish social phenomena and the occasional culture shock.

  1. This blog makes for GREAT conversation with your mom.. have her compare to Guatemala.. I guarantee que te vas a cagar de la risa! ;-) Similar in so many ways… your potty mouth though I must say I have been introduced to, at least once before… hee hee.. but not in Spanish. :-)

    well.. i’m still trying to figure out the “me cago en la puta de oro”… I highly doubt whores are thought of as gold or golden! LOL. ;-)

  2. This is HILARIOUS!!! Do you constantly laugh out loud? I’d insult people constantly because I would walk around laughing at this ALL THE TIME!! Oh- and writing down all the various new ways of stringing together cuss words…. Thanks for sharing.

  3. OMW Michelle. Even I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. And here I thought I was the Queen of TMI.

    We’re less open in SA, but people are very friendly. And by very friendly I mean they talk to you like they’ve known you forever (don’t exclude myself here – thats how we met innit ;D)

    But sometimes it gets very personal and annoying. Annoying because they want to know everything about YOU but are not willing to disclose anything about THEMSELVES… presumable ammunition for future gossip sessions “oh you know what she told me?”… so they want to know all your embarrassing and humiliating stories but don’t want you to know anything embarrassing or humiliating about them – because here everything is about how things “look” and what people will say and what others think… and most people want everyone to view them as perfect and flawless. The falacy in that ideology is that the truth always finds a way to come out ;)

  4. Really, really good! Tienes toda la razón. Ahora entiendo porqué el mundo dice que los españoles somos “gente abierta y alegre”.

    Me he reido mucho con el post.


  5. I get this kind of behavior all the time from my mother-in-law who is a Greek national. She’ll barge right into the bathroom while I’m sitting there. “Hey! I’m using the toilet!” and her response is always “That’s okay. Now listen to me. What do we need from the store? Anything?”

  6. Hi there! Great blog, you’ve certainly got a knack for summing up Andalusian village life! My favorite is when they see the cutest little new born baby and say (excuse the spelling) ‘El ojillo por culo’… not sure what the translation would be, but I know it involves a few vulgarities…


    • I just asked D-Man, the saying is, “El jodido por culo” (in a very Andalusian accent, so it sounds like: “El jo’illo po’ culo.” It’s basically their way of saying: “Fucked in the ass for being so cute!!”
      Ah. The Andalusian vulgarity.

  7. Woooow! This was a VERY hilarious blog entry. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed by the way. The shit part, had me dying and I’m typing from thelibray.

  8. Hi – here in New Zealand we do speak English. I was once asked by a cop in LA where was I from and when I told him he asked ‘do they speak English in New Zealand?’ So I don’t have problems with the language but I have a problem with one friend who invades my personal space constantly. Where can I get some green dye to spray all over her so that others know that she is a PSI?

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