You never know just how humiliated you can become until you go to another country where you don't know the language, and are trying to learn. Trust me; if you've never had this experience, it's beyond humbling, and it really teaches you a lesson in kindness.
I was talking with my friend and former roommate, Caitlyn, about feeling like a small child when you need to express yourself here in Madrid. The difference is that Caitlyn came to the culture with a relatively good base to learn Spanish, whereas I have never learnt Spanish before in my life (other than the odd Shakira/Selena song). With only bits of Italian and my French ability to draw on, after about three weeks it's difficult not to feel frustrated when I am searching for simple words and phrases. I am a communicator, so to feel like you've had your vocal chords amputated is a very difficult thing to deal with. Though, I have to say, for three weeks and never having learnt any of these things previously, I suppose I'm truly not doing too badly. It's just putting everything together that's really the tough part, and learning past and future tenses of verbs. Even all of my experience as an English teacher couldn't have prepared me for this feeling of helplessness...before, I could sympathize with my students, but not empathize.
It reminds me of a particular phrase from the book "Me Talk Pretty One Day" (sorry, don't have underline option) by David Sedaris, the humorist writer. In it, he talks about his experience going to France and learning the language:
“On my fifth trip to France I limited myself to the words and phrases that people actually use. From the dog owners I learned "Lie down," "Shut up," and "Who shit on this carpet?" The couple across the road taught me to ask questions correctly, and the grocer taught me to count. Things began to come together, and I went from speaking like an evil baby to speaking like a hillbilly. "Is thems the thoughts of cows?" I'd ask the butcher, pointing to the calves' brains displayed in the front window. "I want me some lamb chop with handles on 'em.”
All I can say is, Amen brother.
Yesterday was the most interesting/awful day I have had in Madrid thus far. Thus far, things have been relatively great, as I've had another American around to help me out when I am lost/confused/completely and totally don't have a clue.
Ok, let me start further back. The past two weeks I have been working but building up my hours slowly. I specifically told my boss that I didn't want too many hours, as I want to spend some time learning Spanish. Then his boss (who is my big boss, apparently) came in and explains to me that I have priority on getting as many hours as possible because I displaced my life from Oxford to Madrid...and as I try to interrupt him to tell him it's okay, I don't intend to horde hours, nor do I really want so many...I see that it is a futile attempt and give up. So, whether or not I want it to, my schedule has been filling up more and more. However, two days ago (Friday) my boss tells me that I will now have a class on Saturday. That was the final straw. I told him that it's necessary for my mental health to have some time to get used to all of this and to take some time off on the weekends, and that even though I'm a trooper, I really would prefer not to work 6 days a week. I mean, I know we Americans have a reputation for being workaholics, but even most of us take two days off per week.
At the time, he was unable to change anything (of course). So, Friday night I rebelled by going out with my American roommate for her final farewell dinner. "Screw getting up at 7am! I'll show them," I cried with maniacal glee. Then I got up at 7am, feeling like shit. I showed them.
Luckily, I managed to make it the 1.5 hours on the train to teach this poor girl for 1.5 hours, then my boss came by the center to answer some questions for me, and we had a chat and he kindly managed to move the morning lesson after all. So, I was very glad about that, but the fact remained that I was feeling a bit disoriented from the night before. Carrying this feeling with me into the day turned out to be a very not good thing when I then had to say goodbye to my roommate, Caitlyn.
Caitlyn has been such a wonderful friend to me here. She's not only hilarious, but she understands the value of handmade birthday cards with Spanish cartoon fruit flies on them. That's a keeper, for sure. She helped me acclimate myself to this city and communicate with the people around me, and she helped me find any resources I needed. She also lent me a large sum of money when I first arrived to Spain to help me pay for my rent without even knowing me very well. I'm fairly certain after having put up with me for that long that she deserves some kind of medal.
In any case, it was such a bummer to say goodbye to her. For the first time here, I really felt alone, lost, scared, helpless...the list of negative adjectives running through my mind went on and on. So, needless to say, I felt pretty bad when I came back but (true to my nature) tried to see the positive side of it. I will be forced to learn Spanish now, okay! I will have to explore more by myself, okay! I will have to learn to be self-sufficient here...okay.
To make myself feel better, I took an offer from one of my former students here to go out and have a "relaxed night with a beer", even though I already somewhere in my mentality knew deep down that a "relaxed night" in Spain still doesn't start until 10pm and lasts until at least 3. I also had a bad feeling about the evening, which I attributed to Caitlyn's leaving and thus shrugged it off. Still, I thought, better that than sitting around in my room moping by myself...right?
I met Oscar, my friend/former student, in Plaza del Sol. I made the wrong choice of wearing a leopard print skirt here, which I'm still not really sure if people wear here or not. It seems to be a bit hit and miss in different countries-for example, in England, leopard print is popular and totally acceptable in accent pieces, in the U.S. it would have been fine, Korea fine, in Paris never (people think you're a prostitute), and I'm not sure on which end of the spectrum it falls in Spain. I only know that I arrived at Sol too early (about 1/2 hour) and spent the first 20 minutes people watching, and in the following 2 minutes I think (still not sure) I was propositioned by some creepy guy who came up and murmured something in Spanish, then just stared at me like I owed him something (which I'm pretty sure I didn't). I told him I didn't speak Spanish, he confirmed to me that I don't speak Spanish, and then walked off. I didn't know exactly what transpired except that I felt slightly more ashamed than I had before.
Anyway, I met Oscar and we headed off to the pub which was nearby, and that was by far the best part of the evening, from 10-12 or so. In hindsight I should have called it a night, as I explained I was exhausted from the night before and not in the mood to be social, but he told me he had a surprise for me-that we were going to meet his friend. I thought, okay, fine, we will meet his friend (who is a girl) and maybe I'll make a new friend. YAY! First he tells me we are going to take a cab there, and I explained to him that as the metro stops at 1:30, I was a bit worried about getting back okay as I still don't know my way around very well yet. He said not to worry, he would help me. So, we headed out and arrived at a small cerveceria (bar), and when we walked up I saw not one girl but four. If this were the U.S. or England or some other English speaking country, I would not feel intimidated in the least, I'd be excited by the prospect of meeting other people. This, however, to me seemed daunting (especially given the way I was feeling). So, the first announcement I make after awkward kissing is that I speak really poor Spanish, and I'm trying to learn, so lo siento.
I think that women in every culture have certain tendencies, and I will say that I still haven't quite figured out Spanish women yet. I, for one, feel that it's really important when you meet new people to talk to them and make them feel comfortable, even if they don't speak your language. Clearly, I spoke enough Spanish to carry on small and polite conversation, so prodding me for more questions would have eventually yielded some kind of result. However, they proceeded to speak as quickly as possible in Spanish and completely ignore me, which made me feel worse and more sorry for myself by the minute. I was glad they were having a good time, but felt really bad for myself and decided after sitting there like some kind of lamp post for two hours with an idiotic grin slapped on my face that I needed to get away from the situation. Clearly, this wasn't the time for me to make best friends, and I sincerely doubted that they would miss me much. Just as I decided this the restaurant closed and everyone needed to vacate the premises anyway, giving me the perfect opportunity to bow out. The funny thing is that as soon as I mentioned leaving, all five girls were on me like flypaper asking why I was going, as if I had committed some kind of heinous and unforgivable crime. For all of the time these people could have talked to me and gotten to know me better, the two hours of stick-up-the-behind awkwardness that occurred, I felt it a bit ironic that at that moment they wanted to get to know me. I really don't get Spanish women.
With Oscar's "help" I managed to get to a bus stop on the corner and onto a bus headed back to Plaza de Cibeles, where there is a bigger bus station that runs night buses around the city. By now it was approximately 2:15 am, more or less. When I got on the bus, I used a ticket which is a monthly pass that Caitlyn had given me. I knew that I wasn't really supposed to use this ticket, because it was hers, but figured, how the hell will they know if it's not mine, and who cares? What's the worst that can happen? (I have since learned not to ask this question). The ticket looks like a metro ticket but it comes in a pouch with the person's information on it, including their picture. I saw Cait using the pass for two weeks without anyone giving her a second glance, so I figured I would be fine-and also, so as not to risk suspicion, I took the ticket out of the pouch to use by itself. Ohhh, naive Anna.
Of all of the buses in all of the city, my bus had the honor of being one of the select few chosen by ticket inspectors for a pop inspection. I fumbled for my ticket and showed them, and immediately they started to puff up-"where is your identification?" one demanded in Spanish. I feigned ignorance at first and told them that my Spanish was very bad, and that I didn't carry identification with me. After a moment of trying to be brave, I stuck my tail between my legs and admitted that it was my friend's, and that she had given it to me when she left the country. They said "your friend has a problem, you can't use this ticket. You have 30 euros?" I told them I would be happy to pay for a ticket and that I didn't have 30 euros. I also told them that I don't usually carry much cash (which is true), but that if they brought me to the nearest ATM I'd be happy to pay them whatever they needed. At that point, I was incredulous at the situation, not to mention really overwhelmed and scared, and would have probably done anything just for them to leave me alone. We got off the bus and I asked where the nearest ATM was, and they said it was about 10 minutes down the road and that they would walk with me. Along the walk, one of the inspectors was being rude and said in a slightly joking manner, in Spanish, "yea she doesn't understand anything"--implying that I was stupid. I said "si, entiendo, pero llegue aqui hace tres semanas..." Which means something along the lines of "actually, I understand, but I just arrived here three weeks ago." If I would have known the word for "dickwad" I would have added it at the end, just for good measure. Then he proceeded to ask me inane questions in Spanish like "do you like ham? What do you eat in the United States?" I'm fairly certain he was just messing with me. Clearly, if 5 of these "ticket inspectors" could come with me all the way to the ATM and didn't have more important things to do, it shows what difficult work being a ticket inspector is.
Anyway, humiliated after being marched through Seoul like a prostitute caught for working the streets (which clearly I was because I was wearing a leopard print skirt), I compromised myself by taking out 40 Euro from the cash machine (hey, might as well get some extra if I gotta do it) and giving them 30 of them. With that, they wrote me a receipt (how nice)-I'm sure it wasn't a ticket, I asked- and gave me back the illegal pass, which I explained to them I didn't need if I couldn't use it, but they gave it back anyway. They then asked me if I knew where to go to catch my bus and told me directions, and seemed genuinely concerned about me getting there. I apologized and played the innocent foreigner card, and they said "it's okay, and thank you." After that all that was left was for me to lick my wounds.
When I got back to my place I realized that my landlady was coming in the morning, because there is a new flatmate moving in today, and I didn't know what time she (the landlady) would arrive. I set my alarm for 12 and called it a night.
This morning at 10am, I got a call and it was my landlady, who is here now, invading the space. I know it may seem politically incorrect to be annoyed by one's landlady when that person actually owns the apartment, so technically you're the one invading their space. However, I'm paying, so it's still my space, and I hate having her here because even though she's sweet she is a bit nosy, as most landladies are traditionally (in my experience-though nothing was worse than the landlady in Korea). However, as I am writing this my landlady has come into my room and is cleaning my floor, which is very nice but which I did not ask her to do (nor have I any desire for her to do), especially because that means she's even more in my space, not to mention she's cleaning with something that smells like almost straight ammonia and my eyes are beginning to water. Joder.
So...today, I'm exhausted, overwhelmed, upset, anxious, again those negative feelings. I also stupidly signed myself up for an intensive Spanish course next week, which means that I will have no time in the day or evenings for teaching prep, so I need to do it all today AND I have a new roommate coming and I have no idea what time, so I will have to be slightly antisocial.
I know in my positive self that it could have been worse last night, and if they didn't catch me that time maybe they would have caught me at another even more embarrassing or inconvenient time. I knew I wasn't supposed to use the pass, so that was my risk...and I take it as a sign from God that I am totally and completely incapable of lying or being an unethical person. Every time in my life that I try to get away with something, no matter how small, I'm put in check...so, thanks God, I guess ;). haha.
I also know that this coming week will be tough, but I can see positivity in the future. I know that I'm not really alone here, even if it seems that way, and this is all part of the experience. Still, I haven't let loose crying yet, and I'm feeling like that may be the thing to do-just wish I could, to relieve some stress. It's like being emotionally constipated.
As I've mentioned before, I think that people don't always know the challenges that come along with traveling or living in new countries. Don't get me wrong-I chose this lifestyle for myself and I am fully conscious of that, and I appreciate the positive aspects of it. I think, though, that sometime in the near future this kind of lifestyle will not be for me anymore. It's too stressful. I really need support of other people that I care about around. So, I am grateful for the support I have from my friends and family back in St. Louis, Florida and around the world, and I'm grateful for the people who have made themselves available to me here.
I just pray it gets easier, and that my hillbilly talk progresses into slightly uneducated adult talk.
In any case...prayers/wishes for well-being are always appreciated, as usual.
Love and miss you all,
<3 <3 <3,