While discussing ways the media industry could improve safe television viewing for children in Communication 3300: Media and Human Development, the issue of sex and nudity arose. The American notion for near elimination of sex and nudity on television and in the media quickly arose.
I recall waiting for the bus outside my apartment in Spain to visit El Prado, an art museum. I was sitting next to a little girl. And the little girl was seated next to a large advertisement in the bus kiosk, selling body wash. Pictured was beautiful woman, soaped up, and utterly naked. The woman’s breasts were about eye level with the girl. And she did not even bat an eyelash.
My stereotypical idea of a “Spanish breakfast” is black coffee and cigarettes. Instead of nervously twiddling with their cell phones, Spainards nervously fiddle with half-lit cigarillos. Estancos, or combination tobacco and convenience stores are nearly 3 to every block. “Lucky Strikes” are a Spanish favorite. I was nearly embarrassed to admit that I in fact, did not smoke, when offered cigarettes by potentially eligible bachelors at the discoteques.
On January 1, 2006, a smoking ban came to force in public places in Spain. And while researchers from the Catalan Institute of Oncology say the impact of the law banning smoking in public places such as bars and restaurants aids people to quit smoking, I have seen otherwise. For every bar that bans smoking, there are ten more proudly displaying their “Fumadores” (smokers) are welcome signs.
Tortilla española, or a Spanish omlete, is just about the most quintessential common Spanish fare. It can be found in the most grimy cervecería (bar) or upscale restaurant. History documents la tortilla española as dating back to the discovery of the Americas, although it was initially only made with eggs. In a letter from the conquistador Hernán Cortés to the emperor Carlos V, Cortés explains how the Aztecs sold omelets of cooked eggs in the markets of Tenochtitlan. The potato, native to South America, was later added to the recipe.
The most traditional recipe simply calls for eggs, olive oil, salt and potatoes, although just about any other ingredient may be added to make it one’s own. This is a classic preparation of tortilla española, as I learned it from my host mother or Señora, Cota.
I used to believe olives only had a place in martinis. Vinegar and olive oil salad dressing meant you wanted to lose weight. Fish was to be avoided for fear of mercury poisoning. Beans meant the equivalent of flatulence while wine used to alter one’s state of mind. Every day, my Señora cooks me wonderfully quick healthy meals that I previously believed consumed too much time and money, judging by the high price of fruits and vegetables in the United States.
The adjustment to a Mediterranean diet of fish, olive oil and legumes from red meat, dairy and frozen food was a fluid, easy and a delicious change. Fortunately, Madrid is privy to the best and widest variety of fish, coming from the Cantabrian coast. Madrid is also known for gastronomía, or more simply put, according to the Royal Academy of Language: the art of preparing good food. La gastronomía española is based on the trilogy of wheat, olives and wine, supported by other notables such as rice, legumes, garlic, cheese, fish and eggs.
The pro-life/ pro-choice debate is a very hot button cultural issue in modern day America. January 22, 1973, the ruling of Roe v. Wade made abortion legal. President Obama recently overturned the Mexico City Policy, and the U.S. now funds abortions internationally. Most recently, one of the most contentious issues regarding the future of public American health care system is government funding of abortion.
The abortion issue touches many countries is not only a hot issue in America, but also here in Spain. While largely Catholic, abortion is still legal in the case of harm to the mother, rape, and fetal deformities. However, the law is interpreted liberally, and private clinics perform over 100,000 abortions a year. Additionally, Spanish president Zapatero has allowed scientists to conduct research on embryonic stem cells.
I am getting ready to leave the apartment building where I teach English. The mother of the little boy who I teach English to hands me a green envelope with my money.
“Gracias” I say.
“De nada” she replies, “ or as you say it in English, bienvenidos?”
“ Do you mean ‘ your welcome’?”
“Both my wife and my daughter think I am this gigantic loser. And they’re right. I’ve lost something very important. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but I know I did not always feel this…sedated. But you know what? It’s never too late to get it back.”
-Lester Burnham, American Beauty
My translation class involves translating American film scripts into colloquial Spanish, such as American Beauty. However, during our many segways where we find ourselves not necessarily translating the script, we “translate” cultural norms from one country to another.
Among other cultural differences between Spain and America, the most difficult one for me to get accustomed to is the time of day to eat. Generally, the Spanish take 5 small meals a day: a very light breakfast, a mid morning snack, lunch, a mid afternoon/evening snack, and dinner at a time when most of us are ready for bed. Below is my general thought process surrounding food:
My stomach is rumbling. The cup of coffee and sabao, a lightly sweetened Spanish breakfast bread, I had at 8 in the morning are long gone. Breakfast in Spain is very light, consisting of little more than coffee and a pastry. In America, I would definitely fill up on scrambled eggs, toast, orange juice, and some fruit to go. Lunch, at its earliest, is at 2 PM. How am I going to concentrate in class when my stomach is participating in our discussion more than my mouth?
At my first lunch with my homestay mother in an outdoor café, I asked our waiter if I could take my sandwich to go. My homestay mother looked at me in horror. “Marisel, never ask that.” Never ask to take my food to go? “ You must finish the sandwich here-in Spain, it is considered grosera–rude-to take food to go. ” I was embarrassed that I had made such an ignorant first impression to my homestay mother. I stayed and finished my sandwich. A few days later, while sitting down for a cup of coffee with some people from my program, I knew that there was no way that I could ask for a cup of coffee to go-they would not even have paper cups but ceramic mugs. Who knew that coffee could be served in anything else but Styrofoam?
Spain does not believe in “to-go.” Quite the contrary, she believes in “let’s stay, chat and lounge at this café for a few hours or so.” Although madrileños have been ranked the third fastest walkers in the world, everything else in Madrid is anything but fast.
Men and women in Madrid take great pride in their footwear. For the tremendous amount of walking done in this city, high heels are very popular. I noticed a specific shoe model that every woman, regardless of age, appeared to don: espadrilles. I stopped in at Hernandes, a zapateria (shoes store) in Madrid that exclusively sold espadrilles. It was quite busy, with customers buying multiple pairs of candy colored espadrilles.
Espadrilles, or alpargatas, as they are known in Spain, are sandals made from canvas and jute. The upper part is made of canvas in a rainbow of colors and patterns, while the rope soles are strengthened with rubber. Once in a millenium, I will find a pair of espadrilles at home in the United States. In Spain, they are just as common as coffee, cigarettes and 2 euro wine.
According to AbsoluteAstronomy.com, espadrille is derived from the Catalan word espardenya and consequently esparto, referring to grass used to make rope. This particular style of shoe, with laces wrapped around the ankle, has been made since the 14th century in Catalunia. Espadrilles were worn by both men and women.
Apparently, espadrilles were once peasant footwear. Now, they protect the feet of the most fashionable ladies (and gentlemen) in Madrid. Thanks to the French designer Yves St-Laurent for reinventing the espadrille during the 1960s and adding on a high heel. His addition made espadrilles all the rage with fashionistas. Today, espadrilles are just as comfortable and stylish as ever. They mold to the feet and allow them to breath, which is especially necessary since Spain decides to have a second summer season towards the end of September, el veranillo de San Miguel, or the little summer of Saint Michael. I suppose this is a suitable excuse to go buy a pair.