People suck sometimes.

I’ve been debating on whether or not to post about a particular problem. For the most part because I’ve wanted to highlight the best Spain has to offer in regards to its food, culture, and people. Another reason is that I simply couldn’t put it all into writing, as it’s an uncomfortable topic and something most people would like to pretend isn’t there, or doesn’t exist anymore.

But what happened yesterday stems from the same issue that’s been eating away at me since shortly after I returned to Spain last Fall, and I just can’t stay mum and pretend it didn’t happen this time…

*     *     *

Yesterday, D-Man and I began our search for a place in the city of Granada, the second city in Spain that’s captured my heart after Sevilla. Since D-Man had an early school exam, I went ahead and ran a quick errand for my sister-in-law in the meantime. My sister-in-law, whom knew we would be in the city for the day, had asked me if I could go to her school to pick up her certificates of completion. I said it wouldn’t be a problem, so she requested the documents via telephone and signed an authorization form along with a copy of her I.D., which would give me the legal permission to get the certificates for her.

I went over to my sister-in-law’s school, and located the specific teacher that had her certificates of completion.

The teacher, Maria del Mar Romero Morón, was in a small, nearly empty classroom speaking to one of her students while two other students worked in a corner of the room together. I quietly stepped into the classroom and stood over to one side, planning to wait until she had finished speaking with her student. She immediately looked up and said, “Dime.” Tell me.

I told her I was there to pick up Josefina’s academic documents. She responded with, “Josefina? I don’t know a Josefina. Who are you?”

“Her sister-in-law.”

“Do you have her I.D.?”

[Fiddling with the papers I had in my hands]. “Yes, and the authorization request form.”

“Well, hold on! Can’t you see I’m with a student??”

“Okay, sorry.”

I moved back over to one side, and texted my sister-in-law to let her know I was at the school, but that the teacher didn’t seem to know who she was. Josefina called me immediately, and I stepped outside of the building to tell her what I knew – that the teacher didn’t recall a Josefina, that she seemed to be in a very bad mood, but had said that as soon as she was done speaking with her student she would help me. My sister-in-law told me not to worry, that she was the only Josefina there had been at the school, and that she had spoken personally with the teacher. She said that perhaps the teacher was simply suspicious that I was someone else.

I walked back inside. Seeing that I was going to be waiting a while, I patiently sat down at one of the empty desks and began reading one of my books. Within 5 minutes the teacher walked over to me, slammed the certificates down on the desk (without asking for the authorization request form, or any sort of identification for that matter) and said, “Next time, have Josefina inform you well about what it is you’re supposed to do. And….difference between…. a privilege….and a right!!”

At times, my Spanish fails me. What I knew in this moment was that I was being verbally attacked, and emotionally, I had turned in on myself. I told the teacher (in her native Spanish) that I didn’t understand what was going on.

“You don’t understand?! Awww, how terrible, how sad!!”

By this time, several other students had trickled into the classroom and were watching the scene unravel. I was trembling with embarrassment. I was hot, I was cold, I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t understand what I had done to make her so angry.

My words failed me. Eventually, after having more insults hurled my way, I resorted to responding in English, “I’m sorry. I don’t understand…”

Teacher: “What?! What did you say?” [Turning to the student she had been helping]. “What did she say?”

Student: “Dice que no entiende.” She says she doesn’t understand.

Teacher: [Turning back to me]. “You think you speak English….”

Now I knew. You think you speak English.

I look Spanish-speaking. But English is my native tongue. Though now I can say I dominate the Spanish language at a fluent level, it doesn’t always hold the same ground for me when it comes to defending myself in uncomfortable situations (in which case, any language might fail me anyway).

I picked up the certificates she had slammed on my desk, held her menacing stare, and walked out without a single sound.

*     *     *

Back in town, my sister-in-law told me that she had called her teacher to see what the problem had been. The teacher had told Josefina her side of the story, which, amazingly, coincided with mine. My sister-in-law was abashed and apologized to me profusely, crying, saying that if she had known better she would never have sent me to pick up those papers for her.

Apparently, the teacher had told Josefina over the phone that I, as some [dirty Latin-American] immigrant, did not have the right to be in Spain, but the privilege. She also piled on some other racist and politically-incorrect things about my assumed nationality that my sister-in-law kept to herself so as to not further crush me.

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened, and it most certainly won’t be the last. Due to the country’s major budget cuts and overall economic competition, animosity has continued to skyrocket towards, for lack of a better word, colored immigrants (what else is new?). I have had even worse insults hurled my way, both subtle and not-so-subtle, and some even detrimental to my health and well-being (I was denied medical service at our town’s health center three times until I showed them my passport and further explained that their government had hired me as an English teacher and I, therefore, did have social security).

Either way, I feel like a big sheltered idiot. I feel that I’m finally beginning to see humanity for what it is, and I can’t help but be deeply disappointed. I’m even angry at myself.

My only hope is that I continue to learn from life’s experiences and find it in myself to trudge ahead and be the very best person I can be. Because as much as there are ignorant and intolerant people in this world, there are also countless wonderful people that make life a joy to live. And we can only try, in solidarity as living beings, to show each other the kindness and respect we would like in return.

I will keep you updated on the situation. But for now, are there any thoughts or similar experiences?

UPDATE: 4 months later.

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32 thoughts on “People suck sometimes.

  1. I’m sorry this has happened you to, yet again. I know we all have our pros and cons about where we live our lives and what they are surrounded with, but I have to say that in fact what I love most about living in California is the diversity and acceptance you don’t always see elsewhere (my opinion from my travels and of course living here). Don’t get me wrong, racism and discrimination is all around, but here you can voice the injustices that need correction and attention. (I’m not sure about there). I will say that it is truly sad that some people, although intellectually wealthy, fail to learn human skills, social skills, and even worse, common sense! Like this woman you speak of!!! (and the one at that agency you told me about). Sometimes taking action can help in not having similar things happen to others, but for you, for YOU, this has hopefully not left a dent in your heart and a chip in your smile….. I beg you…… DON’T LET IT DO THAT!!! Know that as amazing as you are, which you TRULY are, people like that act in anger and disrespect out of spite for their own lives and personal hatred. No one has a right to treat anyone that way, for any reason and under any circumstances. Lets hope that the better served justice will be that of God’s will… and karma!!! If we treat others with respect and kindness because we want that in return… just imagine what is coming to her for her cold, heartless, awful and unnecessary actions. This is a woman teaching those we call the “future”?…. she needs a reality check and to head back to school to learn a lesson on treating humans with respect and dignity. You continue to walk tall and smile because that is the best lesson you can learn… to stand tall even when unhappy people try to hurt you. We ALL pay our dues! Always!

    • I do believe in karma. Though in this particular case it is highly disappointing that this person is considered to be an educator. God knows what other beliefs she tries to instill in her students. I feel like something should be done, because someone like this should not be a part of any educational formation on the planet. But no, I will not let this put a dent in my soul or heart, don’t you worry. :)

      Also, for every ignorant person there are two that are willing to learn. And for every intolerant person, there are two tolerant ones. My life here in Spain has been filled with joy and beautiful experiences. Of course I always have California in my heart, since it has always been my home, but I won’t let this incident deter me from enjoying my time here in Spain while I can have it.

      The ones who are missing out are people like this teacher. She is missing out on meeting new individuals that have so much knowledge and experience to offer, gaining positive friendships, and learning about the marvelous world around her. She has brought this loss upon herself, I can only imagine that it must be terribly lonely…

  2. From my arms to your heart dear Michi. When flesh is removed, we are all pink on the inside. We are all the same. And yes, intolerance is rampant and energetically gaining on us all everyday that we allow it to consume another human being.

    Might I make a suggestion? In this case, you have an opportunity. She is an educator, therefore intelligence is present. When you are able, re-visit this teacher. Humbly ask her forgiveness and her tolerance. And see what happens. I’d be interested to know the outcome for selfish reasons. And here they are:
    http://spreadinformation.wordpress.com/2011/02/07/are-you-a-racist/
    If you gain ground, I will act likewise and re-visit the characters in my story too. Then we can truly say we have attempted to change the world together.

    Love to you today my friend. Buena Suerte!!

    • Madeline, this is a very good idea, however I honestly don’t know if I am capable yet of asking for an apology (however humbly I may go about it). What I wrote does not do the woman justice. The hatred in her eyes was awful. However, yes, my sister-in-law is going to speak with this teacher directly as soon as she can, and I am considering going along with her to file a written complaint at the school. I strongly believe that having such an intolerant woman in any education system is detrimental to the educational development and advancement of its people. I found out later that this has not been the first “incident” this teacher has committed.

  3. I’m so sorry you had to go through this Michelle, especially since anyone can see that you have a heart of gold. But don’t let this particular incident stain your beautiful soul.

    The truth is, (and I’ve said this many many times) racism is rampant in every single society that exists today… just in varying degrees. Living in South Africa, we’ve seen the worst of it. Over the past decade or so, there have been an influx of foreigners from the rest of Africa, particularly Zimbabwe, most of whom have fled their war-torn countries and are seeking better lives for their families here in SA…
    You will not believe it, but just 2 or 3 years ago, we had a massive problem with Xenophobia in the townships that was fueled by the looming recession, a very bad economic climate and high unemployment rates.

    Most of these foreign nationals had settled in the townships where the majority of population is poor and the cost of living is the cheapest and a lot of them had opened up small supermarket-type businesses from their homes in these communities. Now, because South Africans in general like to rip off their fellow men, these foreign owned mini-markets were making good money because most of their products were far cheaper. Things because so tense and eventually came to a head where angry residents and local business owners burnt down these foreigners homes and drove them out of the communities!!

    Now imagine that, we’re a country where every non-White knows about the depths of the struggle against Apartheid, yet here in the Black communities, local blacks were PERSECUTING foreign Blacks because they were “stealing their business”!! Talk about the Oppressed becoming the Oppressors! It was headline news for months! And there was even talk that we were going to lose the Soccer World Cup because of it. Government had to step in and provide make-shift communities (a whole lot of tents) for hundreds of these poor foreigners with little children and no home or food.

    And this is just one example – albeit a huge example. I encounter racism almost every week, sometimes from some white-embittered-Afrikaaner that still thinks we live in the 60’s and other times from blacks that feel entitled to everything in this land – and this is my home country!
    When I’m abroad it’s worse! I was questioned for SIX hours at the border in Israel. In Dubai, our plane was on the runway, moving slowly and getting ready to take off and Officials stopped it so that they could come and ask me for my boarding pass to see if I’m a terrorist! Now how exactly did I get on the plane if I didn’t have a legitimate boarding pass in the first place? In Egypt, people kept on asking me if I’m Muslim – and when I’d said Yes, they wanted to know why I couldn’t speak Arabic!?! Then they wanted to know why my Mother had an Arabic name, but her surname is Matthews. When I told them in South Africa, our mother-tongues are English and Afrikaans (similar to Dutch) they were confounded and I went around and around in a circle of the same never ending questions! And I distinctly remember being treated very badly in a super-market in Belgium because I’m brown and Muslim. I could tell you stories all weekend, but there isn’t enough bandwidth in this country :D

    Not that my friends overseas have it any easier. One of my good friends, Lyn, says she frequently encounters racism because of her skin colour – and she lives in Chicago, USA.

    So don’t feel bad my friend :) We all suffer, some more than others. It certainly wasn’t right what she did to you and you should definitely take steps to resolve the issue so that the teacher can face the consequences of her actions and learn that she cannot go around ill-treating people and making unwarranted judgments and assumptions about harmless strangers.

    • Thank you for your comment! I always look forward to hearing what you have to say. :)

      I always end up learning so much about history in SA from you, and I know that there is so much more to learn, good and bad. It saddens me to know that people can be so horrible to their own (people within their own countries tend to discriminate RIDICULOUSLY amongst themselves as well – North vs. South, East vs. West, rich vs. poor, this neighborhood vs. that neighborhood, etc, etc, etc, the list goes on forever!)

      Haven’t people realized that it takes LESS energy to be nice to one another, and that it feels SOOOOO much better?

  4. Oh dear, sorry to hear that, very well written though! Don’t let this put you down and as you said, there is much more to life than that and there are loads of good people around you.
    Since I came to England I had a few cases where I was called a foreigner, but you just have to ignore ignorant people and just live your life the way you want to live it! Some people are like that, full of themselves, self concentrated, but that’s all they have, anger and negativity and they are not worth the hassle :)
    Charlie likes saying ‘it’s not where you live, it’s how you live’ :)
    Just keep smiling :)

    • Charlie is a wise man! “it’s not where you live, it’s how you live’” – love it! I will most definitely keep this saying in mind. :)

  5. *sigh* It seems that I am having some trouble finding the words to express my feelings on the story I just read. Disappointment in humanity, maybe? Saddened at the disrespect she showed you, not only as another human being, but as a woman as well, perhaps? Maybe you should tell her: “You know what they say about making assumptions… it makes an ass out of…” no? Oh right… the whole lost in translation thing.

    Maybe this is why I’m so anti-social and misanthropic. Dealing with stupidity on a daily basis does that to you. For example, the other day I was at a bar with an Indian girl friend of mine, when this ugly fat dude came sauntering up to us – drink in hand. After saying a few racist/sexist/obnoxious things to get our FULL attention… he followed that up by asking my friend where she’s from… she answers that she’s from Northern India. His response: “What’s that?”

    . . .

    WHAT’S THAT?!?!?!!!!????? Really? REALLY???? Of course when he asks that his voice is colored with disgust and confusion… like what countries outside of the United States, China, and Mexico can possibly exist?

    Anyways, my point is: hang in there, Mich. You got this. :)

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Jamie. I know you’ve been in a similar boat as I have in regards to dealing with people that make you want to slap yourself in disbelief because you can’t be sure if what you’re hearing from them is actually real or some sort of a bad nightmare. Though perhaps being anti-social and misanthropic isn’t exactly the answer…? It’s incredibly difficult to master, but you know what they say… “Kill ’em with kindness.” They won’t know what hit them, they’ll be so confused, and perhaps such arrogance can finally be humbled. But who knows, I’m going to go ahead and try it myself. Thanks again, I really do hope I “have this”. :)

  6. Hi MIchelle,
    I am so sorry that happened to you. It is amazing how closed minded some people can be. I am from US and living in Costa Rica and there are many, many times that I feel like people are treating me differently because I am “Gringa” People assume I have money, that all I want to do is surf and that I am ignorant, spoiled and think I have the rights to everything. Luckily, at the same time, like you, I have met some really wonderful people. I try not to let it get to me, but it does bother me.
    My thoughts on it are that some people need to be exposed to different cultures and people to help them open their minds past the stereotypes.
    Maybe after writing this post, you will feel better about the situation (kind of therapy).

    • Stereotypes are going to be the end of us (amongst other awful things, of course). Writing this has definitely been therapeutic! I’ve been debating for so long whether or not to post something about it, but it was too difficult for words. The opportunity to finally write about it presented itself on Thursday, and I tried my very best to remain objective about the incident, which is to say, write about it just as it happened while it was still fresh in my memory. Thank you for commenting. :)

  7. michelle
    Yes, I saw this in italy – not so much towards Americans (who often got a positive reaction, like “you want to live here and not in california?”) but towards those from less fortunate countries. In the immigration office, it was heartbreaking to see people lining up – some with babies – for hours, days, with the “taparelle” slammed down in their face mid-sentence if closing time arrived. (at the same time, i must say italians are very charitable – catholic upbringing – and I have seen many acts of kindness towards immigrants. ) Because of our connections and my husbands work, I didnt need to stay in lines and got special treatment, Im now embarassed to say, but it was the only way I would ever get my papers (and it still wasnt easy and took many trips and tons of legwork). Something I have to mention, though, is that I had many negative encounters with Italian women, the woman bank teller who was so rude I eventually just waited for the man to help me, the woman at the bakery who helped everyone in the room before me (and still wouldnt look at me). I couldnt help but think it was because I wasnt Italian and maybe because there was an idea that I was American (spoiled, too many liberties,etc). Ive read about similar situations from other expats in travel memoirs. But definitely, if you are the least bit attractive – the woman-woman thing was always a challenge. not sure if related to anti immigration or not. amazing you could write about this sounding so reflective and not angry. I sure hope you run into this woman again when you are in granada. congrats on your jobs!!

    • BTH – it’s funny that you should mention the woman-woman thing, because I would say that 90% of the remarks I’ve received have been from women within the age range of 20 – 40 (and I’ve always chosen to ignore such remarks because it’s easier for me to just walk away). When I have received certain comments about my race from men, it’s mostly been in a flirtatious manner (though still degrading). I suppose they might think that here I am, a person of “inferior” race yet up to their competitive standards? – I have no idea what the psychology behind all of this is!! You can really just think about it all day and get depressed over the whole matter. Anyway, it shouldn’t matter what you look like, as long as you are a good person with positive energy. How and why are we humans so goddamn petty? :-/

      Thank you!! David and I are very happy about how things have worked out for us. :) And yes, he is a chiropractor as well!! He is currently working as a nurse, and is trying to branch out professionally as a chiropractor and osteopathist. However, such professions here in Spain are still somewhat unheard of, and many people think they are some sort of “hippie” profession. We have been looking into future options for him back in California, seeing as he might have more opportunities there. We’ll definitely see. :)

      • 2 chiros named david! in the future, if yours ever wants to learn more about what it’s like to start up a practice in the US after working in europe, Im sure my husband would be happy to share his experience. also, my husband has chiro contacts/experience from working in italy if he is ever interested in learning more about what it’s like working there.
        monique

        • Wow, wow, wow – I cannot believe the coincidence!! :) Thank you so much for offering all of this useful advice! We will definitely contact you and keep in touch about this, we are always looking to learn more and are open to all sorts of positive opportunities. Thank you, Monique! :)

  8. I am sorry you had to go through this. The only thing I can say is that it doesn’t matter in which country you are in, you will always find all kinds of people – educated, uneducated, tolerant, intolerant, ignorant, and not ignorant. You can be in your own country and still find discrimination, be it for religion, social and economic status, etc. Ridiculous stereotypes will always exist. Unfortunately, many are unable to think outside of the box or refuse to live outside of it. The important thing is to NOT allow these closed minds to affect your life in a negative way.”

    Siento mucho que hayas pasado por este mal rato. Lo que te puedo decir que no importa en que pais te encuentres, siempre vas a encontrar personas con educación y sin educacion, intolerantes e ignorantes de la vida. Puedes estar en tu pais natal y te pasa, ya se por religión, posición social, etc., siempre existen los estereotipos ridículos. Muchas de estas personas no han visto fuera de la caja y se niegan vivir fuera de ella. Lo importante es no permitir que las mentes cerradas de estas personas NO afecten negativamente tu vida.

    • Thank you, Ma. I won’t let closed-minded individuals affect me negatively. You’re right, this sort of discrimination is found everywhere, and at least there are good people with open minds out there to help keep some sort of balance!! I think that all of this is happening for a reason and I deeply, deeply hope that it is all meant to teach me something and make me a better person for it. I love you. :)

    • Unfortunately, the greed for power and the abuse of it happens everyday, and it happens everywhere. I did wonder later whether the teacher ended up feeling more humiliated than I did? She seems to be a very confrontational person, and I wondered what sort of reaction she was expecting from me.

  9. you know the case for americans are much better than asians. it’s fucking hard for chinese to get work permit in europe, especially switzerland and germany. i was turned down last year once just cuz of work permit. the potential boss told me even i could get a swiss work permit, i can not get it longer than 2 years, and for sure nobody wants a coworker just for 2 years. one of my peers, he got a short assignment in madrid for 6 months. after this 6 months, he will come back to china. but he spent 5 months to try to fix work permit, but finally failed. he has to change to another assignment.

  10. besides work permit, it’s damn damn damn hard for chinese to get travelling visa to europe and US, probably everywhere. if i wanna have a private trip to europe, the only way i can choose is to go for a tour together. i can not get a peronsal travelling visa without joining in a tour. cuz joining in a tour is the best evidence that chinese will come back to China instead of keep staying in europe. that’s the image of chinese to the world. so you see, life is never fair :D just face it, try your best, and fight back if you want :)

    • Work permits and visas are the most difficult to obtain, especially if you have not been hired by the actual country’s government for specific purposes (such as education, etc). Though I agree that perhaps Americans might have it easier in regards to travel access into other countries. However, in my case, I do not physically portray the “stereotypical” American woman people here have envisioned from the media, and it sometimes presents a lot of confusion and, as in this teacher’s case, animosity. But you are completely right, life is never fair – we must face the reality of it and try our absolute best to achieve our goals. :)

  11. I am so sorry this happened to you. It hurts my heart to read it. I wish there was something I could say or do to ease the pain of the experience but all I have is my sympathies and support. xoxo

  12. I’m so sorry to read this. I know the feeling well of a language that fails you, it makes you feel so weak. And I really have no words to describe how indignant this story made me feel!
    I work with smart people from all over the world on a daily basis, so I almost forgot that dumb, racist people even exist…

    • Thanks, Len. It can get very frustrating at times, but I would say the worst part is turning it over in my head afterwards and wishing I had understood at the time, wishing I had been able to say something (inoffensively) to alleviate the situation at the moment it occurred. C’est la vie, I suppose.

  13. Wow, I just read your story. I am very impressed, not only by your ability to express yourself in such a clear way, but by your decision to live in Spain. I am sorry that this happened to you, but as an immigrant (I have traveled back and forth to Italy), people are always going to be stuck “in their ways”. Don’t let it put you down, instead send them love because you CAN, and just know that they are going through a struggle- which is the inability to accept things with an open mind. Keep on keeping on. I’m not really a blog reader, but this was very inspiring. The best to you. Stephanie

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