Unusual culture shock

September 16, 2009

It has somehow become an regular occurrence in my life that at any party where there is at least one adult, I will always be asked: “So… what are you up to at the moment?”.  In response, I provide my much-rehearsed reply of “Well, I’m studying Spanish at Bristol University”.  Cue a follow-up question: “Oh really – why Spanish?”.  Now, to this I could maturely respond: “Because I love the lingo and think it is rapidly becoming a business necessity to have a modern language on your CV” – all very true.  But instead, the answer that I’ve embarrassingly found myself giving has actually been: “Because I get to spend a year working abroad acting like an adult, when really I’m still very much under the protective title of ‘student’!”.

In preparation for this year of faux-adulthood, Bristol organised a series of informative meetings and distributed leaflets, both warning of the social phenomenon that is a “culture shock” – an idea that I completely dismissed on the grounds that Madrid was but an easyJet flight away.  Nevertheless, they were right to warn us.  Luckily though, I didn’t suffer the normal symptoms: homesickness, disorientation, general awkwardness and depression.  Rather, for me, it was feelings of pleasant surprise, of glee and of never wanting to leave! 

I put these positive personal responses down to the fact that I already knew the Spanish clock functioned at least three hours behind ours and, similarly, that I was very much aware in advance that paella and jamón were the typical order of the Iberian day.

But what other subtle social differences spurred my unusually positive culture shock reactions?  Well, one was definitely the great Spanish belief in freedom of speech – or, in other words, swearing blindly in the office.  This practice caused great surprise, especially when a call from my temporary employers’ big bossman began with “Hey #*$^, what’s going on?!” (rough translation).  My delight was further fuelled by never having to tip in a restaurant (and no, that’s not just my true student colours shining through!). 

My unwillingness to return to England could also be attributed to six months’ experiencing the fiesta attitude.  That’s not to say I spent my whole time on sangria but, rather, that I learned that, for the Spanish, fiesta is actually a state of mind – one which basically decrees that everyone should relax because nothing is ever as bad as it seems – and, even if it is, it can always be sorted over a bottle of vino

So be warned: if like me, you fully embrace this fiesta attitude, and the Spanish lifestyle in general, then the Spanish will quite literally embrace you – making it very hard to leave!

Ginny Dale