After you’ve been in a foreign country even for a few days, it’s pretty easy to notice subtle differences in the way people act. An observation that I have repeatedly made in the last week or so is how different Spaniards’ awareness of space is from Americans’. What I mean is that in the United States, if two people are walking towards each other on a sidewalk, both people normally would try to move out of the way to avoid any contact whatsoever. Or if you are in a store in the U.S., you try to keep a little space between yourself and other customers around you. You have some kind of perception of where you are in relation to other people.
But here in Spain, I feel like I’m constantly bumping into other people who are seemingly oblivious to my presence. The sidewalk is the most common place for this to happen. Normally it involves an elderly person who is walking towards me. Even though I make eye contact with the senior citizen well in advance and know they have sensed my presence, they refuse to move evenly slightly to one side. Either I have to totally step out into the street, or we have the inevitable shoulder bump. However, this doesn’t only happen on sidewalks and with seniors, it also always happens in stores, such as the grocery. Granted, the aisles are narrow, but it’s like the middle-aged women don’t give a care that I’m trying to get around them. They ignore me and hold their ground, resulting in the awkward bump that they don’t seem to notice. In the United States, it would be natural to utter “sorry” if you had just run in to someone, but in Spain you just go on like nothing happened.
I’m not sure the cause of this behavior in Spain. Maybe it’s because they are just naturally more of a touchy people (two kisses when you greet someone kind of place), or if it’s just that Americans have adapted to a continent-sized country with lots of room.
My other observation from the last few weeks has to do with my languages. It really seems like my Spanish isn’t getting much better, and yet my English is getting worse. I’m sure many other people could confirm their experience of this phenomenon, but it seems to be very true in my case. It’s amazing how much Spanish I still don’t fully comprehend and how tongue-twisted I can be when trying to respond to certain people. It’s almost like I don’t know what to say sometimes. And yet on the other hand, my English, particularly my spelling, seems like it has deteriorated since being here. The other day in class I was struggling to spell a couple of basic words on the board. It’s never good to be the native English-speaker who misspells in front of the class.
All in all, I think my Spanish is probably slowly improving; it’s just at this point it’s really tough to grasp the idiomatic nuances of the language. When you first start out studying a language, the learning curve is really steep and it seems like you are picking up new things all the time. But for me at least, I feel like I’m on a gradual plateau, where the improvement is slow and almost unnoticeable. We’ll see what I think after a few more months.