"People from Vancouver are lista, inteligente, perfecta, guapa y tiento talento, besides gorgeous."
I recieved this text from Xavier via Peter's mobile last Saturday night. Tipsy on several glasses of sangria, I read it while walking unsteadly through the La Latina quarter of Madrid, beaming at the message and frantically trying to text back. For the first time in Spain, the translation wasn't lost on me. I actually understood what was being said. And what was better was that I was able to respond. Por que no? I replied. Why not?
To be fair, I had texted him earliar, saying "Los Espanols son unos tocapelotas. Vete a la mierda," which roughly translated into "The Spaniards like to touch the balls. Go to the shit." Not the nicest thing to say to someone from Barcelona, but considering he taught me those phrases the other day, my dirty Spanish mouth only made him proud.
When I first arrived in Madrid, everything seemed completely different. My view on life and on Spain was completely different. For one thing, I didn't speak any Spanish. And, of course, no one spoke any English. So all hopes of conversing and being welcomed into the culture were lost on me. I felt like a ghost wandering through the narrow, cobblestoned streets that were constantly being swept by street cleaners and pooped on by pigeons. It wasn't that I wasn't exactly invisble like a ghost, after all, no one could accuse me of looking like a Spaniard. But while I stuck out like a sore thumb, people couldn't really see "me." And I definetly couldn't see them.
Then, on a sunny Friday morning, after being packed with my gigantic backpack onto the crowded metro, I boarded the bus for La Alberca. I glanced warily at the crowd of people, some I knew from the night before, the others were the "Spaniards." Then we all found out that we had to sit with a Spaniard for the entire four hour journey to the town (which was located west of the city, by the border with Portugal). Aprehension and horror filled the faces of everyone on the bus, including me, including the Spaniards and including the Anglos.
But by happy accident, I got seated next to Elena. Pretty, with a cherubic round face and a gregarious personality, Elena eased me into the Spanish culture and a feeling of understanding. She kept apologizing for her bad English, although in all fairness, she was pretty much fluent. The fear of having to try and talkto and understand the Spaniards and having them try and understand us was suddenly erased. Elena understood me and I understood her. In fact, she wasn't much different from anyone else in the world. She worked in advertising but didn't like the cuthroat nature of the business, her boss sent her out to Pueblo Ingles to improve her business and conversational English, she's 30 and lives tax free in a historic Madrid flat that she up keeps in exchange and she has a "kind of boyfriend" an American who is leaving Spain in June to move back to Seattle.
By the time we had passed Salamanca and fields dotted with sun-coloured flowers and black bull signs, the four hours had flown by and we had arrived in La Alberca. My confidence level was up, as was Elena's. She had been just as nervous about this whole experience as I had been, and by being able to clearly express ourselves, we were able to see that despite the language barrier, we were very much the same. Of course, I don't live in a historic flat in Madrid (yet, anyway) or work in advertising. But really what we had found was that the human condition, our loves, lives and feelings, are all really the same. And only when we find out how to communicate these desires to each other, do we really discover how small a world it really is. Even if it's a dirty message via text.