It was recently Sant Jordi in Catalunya. The day of lovers and literature, tradition holds that the man gives the woman a rose in return for a book. Not a public holiday, it seems to be as the streets come alive with people strolling amid the colorful book and flower stands.
Watching the day unfold over a coffee and cigarette, I recalled past girlfriends I’d had in the states and some flames from my first year in Barcelona, but mostly I thought about my Spanish wife. Love and relationships are complex topics, which like dark matter, I only vaguely understand. I will say, though, being with a person from a foreign country definitely adds an element of unpredictability to the equation.
First, there’s the question of which language to communicate in. When we met I spoke no Spanish while she spoke English like an Essex girl. We lived in Spain, so the decision was Spanish. My wife, being the native, had the upper hand in terms of command and linguistic dexterity. I, however, always had the ready excuse of, “I didn’t understand,” which was used frequently, especially during the first months. This required a patience at which I still marvel.
But even when we reached near equality with the language, the way it’s spoken can bring about all types of problems. My wife, like many Spaniards I’ve found, likes to explain everything, at times to the minutest detail, before beginning. I, on the other hand, tend to subscribe to the American belief of keeping it brief, answering questions as they pop up but first let’s get started. This can still sometimes be a source of consternation, but that isn’t always the case. At first her Spanish directness offended my polite sensibilities, but now she’s the one reminding me to say please and thank you.
Then there’s the question of her fiery Latin temper and my disposition mellowed by too much sun and Hollywood in my twenties. So like any couple, we squabble from time to time. How much is due to personality differences and how much is cultural, I don’t know. I have, however, discovered a side benefit to being admonished in a language that isn’t mine: the intended impact of the words is dulled by the time my brain translates them and registers an emotional response. At the same time, it’s also a great way to learn some Spanish expressions like me cago en la leche.
Jeremy Holland is an American expat in Barcelona and author of “From Barcelona Vol. 1”. He writes about the city, the life and the people in his blog From Barcelona. Adapted from a post originally published on Jeremy’s blog. Read the original here.
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