Before beginning my studies in the beautiful city of Madrid, my university gave us international students a two-hour presentation on adapting to the lifestyle. ¨Sweet,¨I thought, ¨Two full hours to not pay attention and check my phone¨–which is exactly what I did. Therefore, when I moved in with my host mom, I was a little freaked out when she didn’t immediately smile at me. And I immediately turned to the stereotypes I had heard before arriving here: Spaniards don´t smile, and Spaniards hate Americans.
In my various moments of internal panic during my first week, these stereotypes kept returning to my head. And if I would have paid attention during my university’s presentation, my first thought upon meeting my host mom (who, by the way, is amazing and does not hate me) would have been ¨Oh, this is what they were talking about.¨
For example, she wouldn’t add a “please” when she asked for the salt. If I accidentally woke her up coming home from a night of clubbing, she would tell me without beating around the bush. And while in the U.S., we sometimes add an unnecessary preamble to our sentences to “soften” them up, that’s not as common here.
Too often, cultural differences can be misconstrued upon first impressions. With any kind of culture shock comes misconceptions, anxiety, stereotypes, etc. Sure, there are some Spaniards who hate Americans. There are Americans who hate other Americans. There are Americans who hate Spaniards. There are Spaniards who hate other Spaniards. See the pattern? More importantly, the lack of an initial smile doesn’t mean dislike.
It might be the oldest anecdote in the book, but good things take time–as do adjustments in a foreign country. And it´s important to create your own anecdotes; for example, ¨Your Host Mom Doesn’t Hate You,¨ and one to never forget: Always Pay Attention to Presentations in a Foreign Country.¨
Happy abroad vibes to all!