Apr 30th, 2009
Everyone in Spain has a “significant other.” I’m serious. Either they’re married, widowed, in a relationship, or they’re younger than fourteen years old and therefore don’t count. Either that, or else they’re trying way too hard.
Take Juan*, for instance. A few weeks ago I participated in an “intercambio” (exchange), the University of Seville’s program which facilitates language learning by pairing up students who want to practice the other’s native language. I met up with Juan, a Spanish dentistry student, to have coffee and walk around the city for two hours while practicing Spanish/English. Though it felt sort of like an awkward first date, I thought that the intercambio went pretty well; there was little to no overt sketchiness on his part, and I got to spend time with a native speaker who let me ramble in grammatically incorrect Spanish. At the end of the intercambio, Juan asked me if I’d want to meet up again, and I said “sure” because, really, why not?
But then he started with the text messages. The first one invited me to come out with him and his friends to a discoteca on a Thursday night, to which I kindly responded “Thanks, but I already have plans” (and I really did!). The next week, I got another one:
“¿Quieres que quedemos esta semana? Tengo ganas de verte.”
[Do you want to hang out this week? I want to see you/I need to see you/I feel like seeing you]
As is obvious from my awkward translation of “tengo ganas de verte,” the expression just doesn’t transfer well to English. The important thing to note, however, is that “tengo ganas de verte” has a distinct romantic connotation, as confirmed by my señora’s 19 year old granddaughter who promptly raised her eyebrows and asked if I had a Spanish boyfriend after reading the text.
I didn’t really know how to respond to Juan, so I copped out and just ignored him. Another week went by, and I received yet another text from my new friend:
“¿Hola guapa, quetal estas? Quieres venir a cenar a mi casa? Tengo ganas de verte.”
(Hello beautiful, how are you? Do you want to come have dinner at my house? Tengo ganas de verte). Add this text to two more missed called from dear Juan.
I was all at once impressed by this guy’s audacity, disturbed that he invited me to his house for dinner after a mere two hours of superficial conversation, peeved that he wasn’t getting the hint from my utter lack of response, and rather curious as to whether his constant pursuit ever works out for him.
Maybe this machismo is due to the fact that most Spaniards (at least in Andalucía) live at home until they’re married and they are desperate to escape their parents (one of my friends lives with a family who has a 30-year old son who still lives at home, and that’s a perfectly acceptable situation). Maybe the pursuit is a relic of the not-too-long-ago Franco dictatorship when gender norms were rigid and the ruling doctrine “encouraged” early marriage and lots of babies. Maybe Spanish men are just naturally very aggressive. Regardless, I have resorted to all sorts of tactics to avoid the creepers.
I’ve pretended I don’t speak Spanish, and I’ve pretended I don’t speak English. I’ve walked really really fast with a group of friends and I’ve learned to ignore piropos (catcalls) on the street. I’ve grabbed a fellow American to dance and called him my boyfriend, hoping to provide “proof” that I am NOT AVAILABLE and do NOT want to accept any drinks bought in the hopes of wooing me for something other than polite conversation. But thanks.
Since being in Spain, I’ve learned what is and is not acceptable behavior (you should not react angrily to an innocent piropo, for instance, no matter how much it pisses you off that the same construction workers feel the need to shout lame pick-up lines on the sidewalk every day.) I know how to stay safe.
Now I just have to convince my señora’s granddaughter that I am not, in fact, in a relationship with a Spanish boy.
*Name changed to protect the creeper