March 31, 2009
It’s really a simple day; nothing unusual at all to the common Barcelona university student. But to me, a lot has changed with the inclusion of a few tiny differences in my day. I met a really nice girl in my Literature and Cinema class today– more friendly than the Catalans had me accustomed to. And I was so excited about having spoken to a Spanish student (in the classroom setting) for more than 1 minute that I felt emboldened to explore the building more. Usually I just go straight out to eat after my class (partly for hunger and partly because the building is hard to navigate and I’m afraid of embarrassing myself), and then bike across the city to my next class. But today, it was raining– a fairly rare ocurrence in Barcelona– something I didn’t really notice until I came outside and realized my own shock. It hadn’t even ocurred to me that sitting outside to eat lunch was a plan that could ever be deterred.
So that meant I had to stay in the building for a while. With the warm pleasure of having conducted a conversation in Spanish with absolutely no flaws or hesitation (for the first time ever!), I sat down outside the cafeteria on the basement level, next to all the other students I was pleasantly surprised to see eating and chatting in the hallway as well. I hadn’t expected this as I turned the corner past the cafeteria– eating is serious business here, and you don’t do it in public or ‘on the go’. Only “tranquilo”. How nice to encounter this casualness. And I thought, “casualness is the key, isn’t it?” Why was I able to speak so well in Spanish all of a sudden? Because for once I didn’t get nervous. That’s always what messes you up: I think my pronunciation always falters when I’m a bit on edge. Even understanding the professor (in Catalan) was easier today! Your brain just benefits from a calmer disposition. Of course, you can only get to this point by having spent time in the “adaptation” phase, during which I compulsively tried to record every new word I heard in my brain; but it’s important to keep this advantage of demeanor in mind. And I thought to myself, maybe the Spaniards really are onto something with this “tranquilo” attitude, that all of us Americans attribute to the inefficient bureaucracy and long waits at restaurants. (Ariel commented on this phenomenon in Latin America as well.) But it just makes everything easier. It’s amazing. Not only have I made my language acquisition smoother, but I made a friend!
With the same casual attitude a Spaniard in Barcelona would have answered a Catalan question in Spanish, I simply told the girl when the paper was due, not even flinching at the switch in language. I told her how the teacher didn’t care about the exact date, and Estèr commented that the she was maja, a slang word I internally rejoiced at having recognized. I agreed, and she asked me where I was from. For some strange reason, Barcelonans are always really impressed when i say I’m from New York City: “Qué guay!” (“How cool!”) It’s as if the greatest aspiration of any place is to be as urban as the city of cities– an interesting attitude as well, which I find quite different from the US. A lot of Americans would be proud of their rural origins, might even detest the noise and grime of “the city”. But Europe is an urban continent; its history is the development of cities, and the country is where you go for summer vacation. There’s no suburban in-between; the city is where you find life. And life is what the Spanish seem to enjoy.
Estèr told me that if I ever needed anything, I should let her know. And I thought “Tranquila. There’s nothing I need now.”