Last Sunday rolled around much more quickly than anticipated, especially after the USAC trip to Toledo and my “Day of Self.” Gratefully, I was feeling in much better spirits: I felt well rested, grounded, and mighty happy because I had just found out that the Chinese restaurant around the corner is actually pretty tasty! As the evening closed in, it was finally time for the much anticipated fiesta with my Spanish family.
This fiesta was to be a belated birthday celebration for Leo and Sonsoles, since Leo was sick with the flu over their birthday weekend. Around 6pm, the guests started showing up. Sonsoles’ parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, sisters, brothers, nephews, and in-laws were all in attendance. At first, I felt a little like the odd man out, as I was the only non-native speaker in the house. Everyone seemed to talk so fast! All I could do was stand aside, watching and listening the family interact with one another, and greeting the new guests warmly as they arrived. Not too long into the party, I started talking to some of Sonsoles’ family. I started out asking about basic things that I was curious about; specifically, I was asking people to identify some of the wide array of appetizers that had been set out for the party. Veggie platters were a given, but there were also small dishes with aceitunas y ajos (olives and garlic), mejilliónes (mussels), pulpo (octopus) and a cheese dip that was to die for!! I tried to find out the ingredients so I could attempt to make it in the future, but Sonsoles’ mom, the creator of the appetizer, said that it contained mayonaise and a variety of cheeses…not a lot of help, but I’m sure that I will be able to ask Sonsoles for a more detailed recipe when I get the chance. But, I digress…it was a lot of fun learning the names and ingredients of the various items, and even more fun trying all of them! I was surprised at how much I actually enjoyed the octopus–it was a little on the chewy side, but the meat of it was very tender, and the flavor was, for lack of a better term, oceanic.
Other than Sonsoles, there were only a few people visiting who spoke English: Sonsoles’ brother-in-law as well as her cousin, Ana. Talking to both of them was a nice change of pace, because it’s really exhausting being completely immersed in a language and trying to communicate what you want to say when you don’t have the right words. Ana was nice enough to play translator for me a couple of times when I was listening to conversations where the speakers addressed each other very rapidly (a common trait in Spain, I’ve come to notice; luckily for me, the person with the most rapid speech patterns, Ana, was very aware of how fast she speaks and would slow down significantly if we were speaking in Spanish). When I wasn’t listening or speaking in English, the topic of discussion often veered toward how exhausting learning a new language can be, or about smoking versus non-smoking in Spain and the United States. Most of the older folks were quite proud that I had quit smoking long ago, and we talked about the new laws that had passed here in Spain against smoking in public areas (mostly regarding the before/after aspects, as well as comparing it to the laws passed in the United States). I was really grateful that the family was taking the time to have a conversation with me, even though when I speak Spanish, I am still very slow when choosing my words. They were also really helpful in explaining things that I didn’t understand; even though most of the family only spoke Spanish, they explained themselves concisely enough for me to understand what they were talking about. Yet another brief digression, because yay interesting facts: I learned that the reason that most of the older Spaniards don’t speak English is because when they were young, they were taught French. Today, English–not French–is the more important/prominent global language, so the young people are being taught it instead!
The highlight of my evening was when I asked some of the family for their help with one of my homework assignments. For my conversational Spanish class, I needed to find a trabalengua (tongue-twister), and who better to ask than my Spanish family? Sonsoles, her mother, and her aunt were eager to help me, and though I was only required to have one, they presented and wrote down three for me. As she wrote in my notebook, Sonsoles’ aunt would read aloud the words so I could repeat them, explaining the meanings of words in Spanish if I didn’t know them. Needless to say, it was a blast stumbling over the words and receiving such warm, positive feedback. Not once did I feel self-conscious or worried that they would find me a bother because I’m not fluent…it was actually really refreshing. And though at times I became frustrated with my lack of vocabulary, the family was very patient and encouraging while I searched for my words.
By the end of the evening, I was entirely exhausted. Listening, speaking, thinking, translating…you never realize how much it wears you out until you’ve spent four hours completely immersed in a conversational setting. But, in all honesty, I couldn’t have enjoyed it more. I had never been so happy that I made the decision to be living with a Spanish family!! I just really hope that I continue to have experiences like that one in the months to come.
– xo –