Where Are You A Foreigner? El Puerto de Santa Maria/Rota, 1972

I had  been teaching at the bilingual school in El Puerto de Santa Maria for about two months and had been trying hard to learn Spanish with a private tutor, and slowly making progress. My background in French really helps with all these verb conjugations! I get to practise what I learn with my flat mates who are Spanish and who teach at the same school. I enjoy my students and I love watching them interact during el recreo, recess.

Everything seems to be going great, right?

Well, yes and no.  Want to know why?

Much as I love being immersed in the Spanish culture I find it frustrating. I'm sure people think I'm stupid and utterly weird. I speak Spanish, at best, like a two year old. In fact, if someone asks me the time, I can't figure out the numbers fast enough to answer. I end up shoving my arm out so that they can see my watch!

I don't particularly enjoy the food as I've never eaten garlic nor anything cooked in olive oil. I think it's growing on me, even just a little, so maybe I'll start to like both garlic and olive oil. I can't keep up with the late nights, unaccustomed am I to taking a siesta in the afternoon. I can't honestly say that I like the taste of sherry; certainly not Tio Pepe which is really dry.  At times, I'm afraid that I'll never be accepted, that I'll always be a foreigner.

Not only that, people stare at me whenever  I wear a loose-fitting blouse.

"Why are you wearing a smock?" They look disapprovingly at me, their eyes turning upwards.

"Smocks are for people who are pregnant." They stare at my belly as if to see if it's swollen.

I don't bother answering, not that I could, for I don't know enough Spanish. I just think that if they don't know what the latest fashion is, well, too bad. I know I'm not pregnant, and that's all that matters.

Now, that's not the only thing going on.

I've met several American military personnel  from the American Naval Base at Rota, not far from here.  I find it such a relief to be able to speak in English!  But, here's the thing. I don't identify myself with any of these people, either. The Americans look rather odd, I think, with their short military hair cuts. Most men have much longer hair.  Their conversation revolves around the same topic which runs along the lines of:

"I've got six months, two weeks and five days left." 

It took me a while to  figure out what they were talking about. It's the amount of time they have left in military service. You see, a lot of them joined the navy so that they won't be sent to Vietnam.

Even when I remark on something so mundane as the weather, "Gosh, isn't it hot today?"

They tend to reply, "Today is one less day that I'll be in the military!"

They have girlfriends back home, even fiancees. They open what they call billfolds to show me small photos of their loved ones. They beam with pride as they chew their gum and flash shiny, straight teeth. They have lots of L.P.s together with fancy stereo systems, and they hum to "Brandy" and "American Pie". They also have piles of Playboy magazines.

"I just read the articles, that's all."  

I find it funny that the articles in Playboy are so interesting. But, what do I know?

The American sailors seem genuinely nice, despite the odd haircuts. Like little boys on Christmas Day they eagerly open care packages sent from aunties, grannies and mammies.  Inside are favourite home-made cookies, local newspapers, Life and Mad magazines, photos, chewing gum, letters. Some even include recipes. That way they can prepare home-cooked meals which will make them feel as if they're not far away from their families, nor even in the Navy.

I suppose I'm lucky being able to meet people from two entirely different cultures. That's, after all, the whole reason for coming to Spain – to meet new people, learn a new language, and experience new cultures. I just feel at the moment that I don't belong with either the Spaniards or the Americans. And, I sometimes wonder if I'll ever be able to go back home and live my life the way I used to? Perhaps, after a while, I'll be not only a foreigner here in Spain, but also a foreigner when I go home?

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