When you’re learning to become integrated into a new culture, you don’t really realize you’re being boiled—like that frog metaphor—until you’re not surrounded by the hot water anymore. Going to Paris, I found out just how much of the Spanish culture I have absorbed.
After I felt I was comfortable here in Madrid and could handle my daily schedule without any bumps in the road, I decided it was time to try exploring the rest of Europe, starting with Paris. I mean, why on earth wouldn’t I? It’s so close and so easy.
And so expensive, especially when you’ve been living in Madrid for about two months and you’re spoiled by the lovely availability of el menu del dia that includes two plates, a drink and a dessert and can be found almost anywhere from €5-15. If you paid €15 in Paris you would get a small-ish quiche, an ice cream sized bowl of soup and half of a piece of “artisanal bread,” whatever that means.
But I thought, what’s a little extra to see the rest of the world? And once I was there, it was well worth it. I was gawking at everything – at how Parisian everything was. It was similar to Spain, yet it was not like Spain at all.
Seeing the Eiffel Tower lit up from afar was breathtaking. Walking down the steps of Montmartre made me feel like I was in a dreamy 1940s film. The street artists and their watercolors of Paris (some €15, which, for art, is nothing!) were so hard to resist. And, of course, the books at Shakespeare and Company were piled so cozily. They were marked up a couple of euros, but I love bookstores and supporting that industry in all facets, so I don’t regret that extra novelty fee.
I promise I’m not bashing Shakespeare and Company or anything with what I’m about to say next. I mean there was someone off the streets jamming on a piano upstairs, which was amazing, and there’s a lot of history just clogged into this store’s pores, but I honestly would say this place is comparable to Oklahoma City’s Full Circle Bookstore, 1900 Northwest Expressway. I get the same swoopy, warm-at-the-pit-of-my-stomach feeling in both places. Shakespeare and Company is nothing special in comparison to what we already have in Oklahoma, but definitely something to be treasured, valued and visited.
And like Shakespeare and company, after two and a half days in Paris and with one and a half left to go, the sparkly feelings started to wear off. The city was so much dirtier than Spain and only glamorous in the touristy areas. The food, like I said, was not all that affordable. And the metro in Paris? A complete and utter nightmare.
Add a language barrier to all of this, and you really start to miss what you had. This is especially true when your methods of coping with a fish-out-of-water situation, like trying to speak in your broken Spanish, don’t really get you anywhere like they used to.
I didn’t realize how much the Spanish culture had become a part of me until I was exhausted, ready to go home and, of course, struggling to shove my carry-on into the overhead bin. Then I heard two simple little words that two months ago would have filled me with panic:
“Do I need to help you?”
I was instantly flooded with relief, hearing Spanish. Granted, I didn’t hear him the first time and had to say, “huh?”
But once I realized what he was saying, it changed my entire mood. It felt so good to have Spanish directed at me, a concept that would have blown my mind two months ago, considering the fact that my English-oriented brain would put up walls and raise “red-alert” every time someone tried to speak to me in Spanish.
After three days of French, Spanish was something my brain knew what to do with, even if I am sometimes a little slow on the uptake.
It might have been fatigue from constant walking through Paris (because the metro was broken down two mornings in a row), but I felt such a strong connection to this Spaniard who was asking me if I needed his help. I said, “Sí, ¡muchas gracias!” so quickly from the excitement at the fact that I’d understood him and from the comfort of hearing something familiar.
I know it was a little thing, and perhaps not that big of a victory in my path toward fluency. The words necesitar and ayudar are more universally known by non-Spanish speakers. But I felt like I belonged to Spain in that moment. I felt like I was at home.