Columnist: A Skoosh of Espanya by Kathleen Speirs

Crossing the halfway point of my year abroad, I have spent some time reflecting on the cultural immersion I have experienced since September and all that I have gained from it.

Consequently I have come to the sound conclusion that foreigners, at times, still are (and always will be) just, plain, weird.

In the space of a month I’ve witnessed Primark fitting rooms with no curtains; girls holding hands with their boyfriend on the left, and their friend-who’s-a-girl on the right; and a family buying a live pig from the butcher for the same price as a butchered one, just so they could get the pleasure of doing it themselves – all true, no exaggeration!

Contrarily we Britons must acknowledge that we can be far too reserved for our own good. It has become so apparent that whilst Peter from Peebles misses the boat, waiting patiently till everyone has had their turn, Pablo from Palma Nova has pushed in, got what he wanted quickly, efficiently and uninhibited by the opinions of all the Peters timidly tutting in absolute disgust behind him.

Pablo doesn’t mean to be rude it’s just his way of doing things. And when Peter is living on Pablo’s home turf for nine months, he is as well getting used to it!

Such forwardness transcends throughout everyday southern Spanish life and quite frankly as the ‘lonely foreigner’, I feel I have been on the receiving end of such behaviour. Lunchtime for example is an event that has aroused feelings of embarrassment that before I never knew existed. Take Cristina, a teacher at my school who kindly invited me to her house for some Spanish home-cooking. Excited by the prospect of sampling some real Murcian specialties, I looked forward to the lunch date with eager anticipation.

But then of course I had forgotten that this wasn’t going to be a quick jovial chit-chat over a sandwich and a soft drink. This was Spain; and in Spain they love a long, dare I say it, laborious lunch with every single family member in attendance for the ride.

I have never been ungrateful or unappreciative of how other people like to do things. This is especially true when I’m getting copious amounts of free food of an afternoon; I may be on Spanish time, but I’m still on a Strathy budget! However, when each course (there were seven) has been hand made especially for the one ‘special’ guest (that was me) down to the dessert made by the sick mother in law,who sent her apologies and sincerely hopes to meet me very, ‘pronto’, the plethora of it all was a little humiliating.

This awkwardness was then only amplified when, strategically placed across from her single son of a similar age to me, I was probed regarding my relationship status; we are in Spain remember, this is the no holds barred homeland! On discovering I was a single pringle, minus a ‘novio’ Cristina & Co could not contain their excitement. In all fairness, my sympathy went out to 22 year old Jose at this point; at least I had opted for wine as opposed to the old agua to get me through, a decision I’m positive he would have later regretted.

Most probably since Jose Senior insisted that I was driven home by Jose Junior despite living a mere five minute walk away from their humble abode. Yet like clockwork, in Murcia, where on average it rains five times a year, it started raining. Not a moment before everyone had made sure that we had exchanged numbers and discussed potential places where all of our friends could come together and we could get to know one another a little better, I had to get in the family car and be driven home by the son, yaass.

I hate to generalize, but at home I know that this just wouldnot happen. It wis jist pure heavy awkies!

The people I’ve met these past few weeks including Cristina are exemplary of the many Mercian’s with whom I have come into contact over these past five months and yes their assertiveness and lack of inhibitions have made me feel slightly uncomfortable at time – to say the least.

Although as contradictory as it sounds, I feel truly grateful and forever indebted to these people. They have not only welcomed me into their homes, families and social circles, trying to make me feel as at home in Spain as I possibly can, but they have also realised that in order to improve my Spanish, I need to be with Spanish people, a lot. And so far, apart from the odd complete mortification, I have no complaints . . .!}