Somebody, Please Tell Me Why / June 24, 2008

Even though Spain is similar to the U.S. in many ways, sometimes I see people or things that leave me utterly flabbergasted and confused not unlike my reaction to thong babies. This entry will stay loyal to the blogs title and address a few idiosyncrasies that, in a Spaniards eyes, are probably not strange at all.

For instance, this morning I ate breakfast at a café next to a pile of rocks that jut out into the sea. Along came a woman and her six or seven-year-old son with a bag of food and reading material. They climbed onto the rocks and sat down to eat fruit a perfectly normal activity. All the sudden, the mother took off her sons blue jeans to let him frolic on the rocks in nothing but a t-shirt and little green briefs. At first I thought he was going to go swimming, but no, he only climbed around the rocks in front of the crowded cafe. The mom kept his jeans on her lap for the duration of my breakfast (forty-five minutes) while intently reading a magazine was she cold? Long pants could reduce the risk of scrapes her child was bound to accumulate on this Sunday morning rock jaunt. Maybe she didnt want his jeans to get dirty; thats all I could think of. The next time Im hiking and don’t want to get my pants dirty, I might just do as this woman does and take em off!

Something else I don’t get: Why does my student Jesus bring his Simpsons suitcase to English class? I haven’t asked because I don’t want to embarrass him. This English class is an extracurricular activity and only requires a couple books and a pencil. Poor Jesus breaks a sweat every time he tries to roll it between the table and the wall of our closet-sized classroom. Rolling backpacks are pretty popular for kids in the states and in Spain, but this thing is big enough for a four day trip to Granada. Maybe he just really loves the Simpsons?

Coworkers and students told me that Halloween isnt a big deal in Spain, and that hardly anyone celebrates; therefore, it was up to me make sure my students got a taste of it. Last week I carried on the spirit in the form of innocent mummy-wrapping and mystery box games. I decided to go downtown on Halloween in normal clothes because supposedly hardly anyone would celebrate to find people dressed in legitimately frightening costumes. Little children were walking with their parents dressed as horrid zombies with blood running down their faces. Some kids even left their parents side to hiss and scream at strangers. Why would their parents allow this behavior? Little did I know the innocent fun in my classroom was so mundane. Each of the two bars I entered played old 1970s American horror films that were funny upon first glance, but too gory to watch. (Alamo Drafthouse Weird Wednesday style, to those of you who know what that means) Everyone who dressed up looked like they had just walked out of coffins or the butchers, and the whole night, I wondered, Where are all the creative, funny costumes?

According to one of my older students, Spanish Halloween consists of what people see in American Halloween movies throwing eggs, scaring the living daylights out of people, and dressing up in gory makeup and costumes. That explains the eggy mess on the front door of my school on Friday, but leaves me perplexed about something else. Why would a city so blatantly anti-American eagerly adopt a grossly commercial American holiday, and exactly the way they see it in our horror films? Ive had students turn non-political speaking activities into Bush-bashing sessions, and have encountered more anti-Bush/USA sentiment here than anywhere else. So why was Halloween so catchy this year?

On Friday night I went to an underground flamenco bar to watch an “authentic” performance. The show was intimate and incredible, but one peculiar audience member stole it from the performers and gave authenticity a new meaning. My friends and I referred to her as the bird lady because her pet parakeet sat on her shoulder for the whole three hours. This woman was old and burly, and with a throaty voice she shouted obnoxious applauses while the bird teetered on her shoulder. She clapped along with the flamenco performers and caused at least one old man to roll his eyes in disgust. She kissed her birds beak between sets, and hid it underneath her shawl every time she got up to fight the crowds for the bathroom or bar. If I hadn´t known here was a live bird under her shawl, I´d have thought she had a pulsating tumor on her shoulder. To nobodys surprise, the bird left evidence of its nervousness all over this ladys back. Is washing her parakeets poop out of her clothes as commonplace as washing her clothes? I don’t understand why she totes around her jittery bird, but Id be very disappointed to see her again without it. Maybe she just wants to be the center of attention.

Im sure if I asked these people why they do what they do, they’d give me a rational answer. Of course, these and other Spaniards probably think Im quite strange, with my quick American walking pace and thick accent.

Annie Billups
Austin, Texas

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