So You Were Dating a Spaniard—Serena

Hey guys. Long time; no see. Life’s been full of changes since we moved here in March. Mainly I’ve been working, having a life, and also pursuing a certification in education as well as applying to do a master’s. You know: life’s been keeping me on my toes. But I thought I’d try to bring it back with this interview with Serena … a very atypical interview for this series (So You’re Dating a Spaniard).

My name is Serena, I’m Canadian and I’ve been living in Spain for over 15 years. I was married with, not one but two, Spaniards (not at the same time, of course!). However, now I’m divorced and a single mother. Sorry to put on the dampener with all these beautiful love stories that you have on your blog (that actually work!) and I’m not saying that love stories with Spaniards don’t work in the long run. The reason we broke up had nothing to do with my husband’s being Spanish, and I’m sure if they had been Canadian, our marriages still wouldn’t have worked out.

I used to be very naïve, and, coming from a dysfunctional home, I actually used to believe that if a person didn’t abuse me, it meant that he didn’t love me. I thought that the way a person was supposed to show love was by insulting me and telling me all the things that were horrible about me. And if he didn’t do that, it meant that he didn’t care about me.

In my mind, I felt that a person who loves you insults you so that you know what is wrong with you and you can improve that and become a better person. And if a person is being nice to you, he really doesn’t care about you, because he isn’t doing anything to try and help you become a good person. So I only went out with men who insulted me and treated me badly. If a man was nice to me, I immediately mistrusted him and ran away from him. After learning what was so dysfunctional about this sort of thinking, I was able to walk away from this sort of relationship … which is why I’m not with anyone today. However, now I’m ready to look for love again!

My two exes and I actually have a really great, really cool relationship. I’m good friends with both of them and if I really need something, I know that I can count on both of them, and they will be there for me. I consider myself blessed to enjoy such a precious friendship with them.

Moving on, I live in Málaga and I have two sons, one with each of my ex-husbands. I’m over 30 so I’m old enough to keep my age a secret! I guess like most people from English speaking countries, we’re “labelled” and stereotyped into teaching English, so that is my main activity and I’m extremely thankful to have a job. At any rate, I never studied any other profession.

I came to Spain because I signed up for a Spanish course at university. I’d always heard Mexicans speaking and I thought their language was the most beautiful I’d ever heard, and I wanted to understand what they were saying.

The university offered a study Spanish abroad programme, so I jumped at the opportunity to take Spanish courses in Madrid. Anyway, to keep the interview from getting too long, I’ll just talk about my first husband. He was my first love, and you know what that means!

How did you meet your ex significant other?

I was singing in a choir in Madrid, and a girl I met there became my best friend. She had lived in Granada so we went to Granada together on holiday. While we were in Granada she introduced me to her friends, and David was one of them.

The first day I met him, I thought David was sweet but very pesky. We went bar hopping, and he kept following me about all over the place and wouldn’t stop bombarding me with questions! I found that pretty tiresome. Then it turned out that we had to find a place to crash for the night because it was so late, we couldn’t go back to my friend’s brother’s house, because he was already in bed. So we ended up bedding down at David’s apartment.

I didn’t keep in touch with David. But one day he came to Madrid and we bumped into each other. He told me later that he had been dreaming that he would bump into me and willing it to happen! He moved to Madrid for a year to take a course, and we started going out.

Do you feel that your ex significant other is a “typical” Spaniard?

I don’t really think there’s a “typical” Spaniard. He doesn’t care about soccer or sports in general at all. But he’s from Andalucía so he likes many of the things that I suppose people stereotypically associate with Spain, such as flamenco, bar-hopping and tapeando and going to parties.

His attitudes at that time were also fairly machista, one of the reasons why our relationship didn’t work out. But I don’t believe that all Spanish men are machista. I think it’s like everywhere else. In Canada there are also men with chauvinistic or sexist attitudes, and men who don’t have such attitudes.

Which language do you speak when you’re together?

We always spoke Spanish. He knows a little bit of English, but I’d already been living and working in Spain for a few years so I spoke Spanish quite well. It did take a little getting used to his “andaluz” accent though.

How did you deal with the “in-law” issue?

I used to get along well with his parents. I got along better with his father than with his mother. She was a lovely lady too, what you could consider typical andaluza, superb in the kitchen and a madraza (a great mama). But I found her ideas a bit “antiquated” for the times, and I didn’t always agree with them. For example, she thought that a woman was supposed to be for the house and for her man and giving her man whatever he wanted.

My ex father-in-law was a famous artist, and I dedicated an article to him, which you can read on my blog. He was very kind and friendly and open-minded. He was such a sweet person. He used to tell me many stories and anecdotes about his youth and life during the Spanish Civil War. One day I might write them down on the blog in order not to forget them. He’s passed away now, and I actually do miss him.

What was the best part about dating a foreigner (and especially a Spaniard)?

Being with David let me meet people, go to places and learn about all sorts of customs, traditions and history that normally a foreigner would simply never find out about, I think. I made a lot of Spanish friends through him and enjoyed a lot of experiences that I would never have had the opportunity to have if I had been alone.

What was the most difficult part?

Definitely the language barrier and also different customs. Like any language, Spanish has a lot of nuances and even more so Andalusian Spanish (which some people don’t even consider Spanish). And as a foreigner, a lot of times these nuances escape you.
David was also a bit of an anti-American and even though I’m not American, he thought Canadians had a lot in common with them, and he didn’t understand these customs nor have any interest in learning about them.

For example, he said Canadians walk funny. Spanish people are very direct and they don’t consider it rude to stare directly at people. But in Canada, that’s very rude. People are always telling their kids, “Don’t stare at that man/woman!” So in order to avoid staring at people, we learn to look demurely at the ground.

Another thing he thought was creepy was the way North Americans put their hands in their laps when they’re eating. He thought that was just plain rude, he’d say, “What are you doing down there? Put your hand where I can see it!” I, on the other hand, thought it was rude that he kept poking me with his elbow!

What advice would you give someone who is considering starting a relationship with a Spaniard?

Well, I’d give the same advice I’d give to anyone starting a relationship with any person, no matter what country that person is from. Love yourself first, respect yourself enough to not let yourself be with anyone who doesn’t respect you. Or who treats you like %&(* or is tyrannical or demands absolute obedience from you. Probably most people reading this blog know this, but I didn’t. I was used to this sort of treatment at home, and I thought it was the right way to be treated by people who loved you.

Do you plan on living in Canada or in Spain long term?

I have no one left at “home” to “go home” to anymore anyways, so I’m staying in Spain for good. Besides which I HATED, absolutely couldn’t stand, the harsh Canadian winters! Although I wouldn’t mind spending some time living in other countries, for the adventure. But I think I’d always come back to Spain.

If you could import something from Canada to Spain (and vice versa), what would it be?

I know maybe it sounds weird, but I miss a lot of the foods from there. I miss too many foods to name them all, but I think flavoured instant oatmeal, cream of wheat and blueberry Eggo waffles are near the top of the list! And unexpected afternoon thunderstorms in the middle of summer!

If I could import something from Spain to Canada? Oh definitely without a doubt the hot Andalusian sun, palm trees and warm beaches. And also the much more relaxed lifestyle. I know here in Spain people work long hours. But when they get off work, they know how to relax. In Canada people live with their jobs 24 hours a day.

How has being in a relationship with a Spaniard changed you?

I think being in a relationship changes you, it doesn’t matter whether the person you are in a relationship with is from another country or from your own country. I learnt what was acceptable and what I wouldn’t accept any more from someone I was in a relationship with. I discovered that when people love you, they do NOT show it by shouting at you and insulting you all the time.

I’d rather not include any photos of my ex as I don’t have his permission. But here is a picture of myself with my two children.

Dating a Spaniard Series - Serena

Thank you, Serena, for such an interesting perspective! You can see her blog at The Seas of Mintaka.

Summer Update

I have largely abandoned my blog since moving home from Spain in March, and I don’t really have anything to say about this, except … Oops! I never imagined how fast life could change. We left Spain on March 10, with two overloaded suitcases apiece and crossed our fingers we’d get a nice ticketing agent, which—miracle of miracles—indeed we did! There were no extra fees for out slightly overweight suitcases, and we arrived safely on U.S. soil, full of hopes and expectations and uncertain ideas of how our lives would pan out. Okay, we were really just anxious about the next month or so and if it would take forever to find a job. For the moment, we’d be living with my parents.

It’s interesting to think about the whole “living with your parents” thing, because Spaniards would not blink at an eye at this scenario. It’s only natural, of course, that we would choose to shack up with my mom and dad until we find jobs and, subsequently, a place of our own! Claro! But, upon talking to a former-classmate-turned-restaurant-server at a local watering hole, I found that my fellow Americans (ahem) were far more likely to reassure us that, yeah, it’s odd and it kind of sucks, but we’d find something soon, and we’d be out of there quick! It was almost as if they expected us to feel ashamed of living with my parents, when I felt nothing of the sort, having just lugged my whole life in four suitcases, two backpacks that weighed as though we’d packed them with bricks, and a pair of “personal items” that were frankly too large to be considered personal by anyone’s standards. I brushed off this condescension (unintentional as it might have been) and tried to think positive thoughts.

As our luck and gumption would have it, Mario soon found a job in Indiana’s capital, not far from my hometown. Once we ascertained where we’d be living, I started to look for jobs in the area … And again, I was lucky enough to find a position within a few weeks! I have to admit that it felt, again, like nothing short of a miracle.

By June, we were moved into a new apartment, and it felt as though we’d had a joint midlife crisis, as we purchased new everything: a sofa, a dining room table, a computer, a desk, a bookshelf, a king-size lovely comfortable bed set, and even a new car.

New Car Kaley MarioAnd life the last few weeks (how it it August already?!) has been full of summer fun: outdoor concerts, picnics, beer drinking under the stars, trying new restaurants, and just generally enjoying all the things Indiana summers have to offer, mosquitoes included. Some pictures for the two of you still reading … Oh yeah, and a visit to see our good Spanish-American couple friends in Chicago!

Kaley Mario Sears Tower Willis Tower Chicago Hilary Kaley Union Brewing Company Carmel Kaley Mario Conner Prairie Symphony on the PrairieAs you can see, Mario has adapted quite well to the culture, though we failed at getting him the traditional Old Navy American Flag shirt. The Target knockoff had to do in a pinch.

How are your summers? If you’re in Spain, please refrain from talking about tinto de verano or tapas or anything of the sort, and don’t even think the words jamón or salchichón, okay?

Visa Woes—Part 3

When we last left off my tale of our struggle to get Mario a green card, we had sent in all our documents to the NVC (National Visa Center), and we were waiting. Again. The NVC tells you that you will have to wait at least 60 days. If there is any error in the mountains of paperwork, you will have to fix them, and wait for another 60 days. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

I decided to call the NVC on December 13, after about 90 days, to get an update on Mario’s status. I was dreading the phone call, in a way, because I knew there was a chance they would tell me I had committed some mistake, and there would be another 60-day waiting period. So it was with a bit of trepidation that I punched in the number and put the phone to my ear. I had a chance to calm myself, though, due to the 40-minute wait I went through! Is there anything worse than the music when you’re waiting to speak to someone at a call center? I wish there would just be … well, anything besides what they normally put out! The worst are the repeated messages that your call is important to them, blah, blah, blah. I get it!

Finally, though, a nice lady picked up the phone. I gave her our Case Number, and she informed that it was, and I quote, “Done.” Done? What did that mean, done? Complete? Everything’s okay? I think my rapid-fire style of questioning made her laugh, because she told me that, yes, we were approved.

We did it!

I asked her about the next step, the interview with a consular officer at the embassy. She told me that Mario would be scheduled for his interview in January, meaning the interview would be in February.

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Out West, Visiting Nevada and Tahoe

Before Mario got a job (update on that soon, and yes, he is amazing!), we decided to head out west to visit my brother and sister-in-law, who live in Nevada, close to Lake Tahoe, wine country, and Yosemite National Park. You know, no big deal. It’s not gorgeous out there or anything.

Mario was excited, as he’d never ventured farther west than Chicago. So naturally, he asked me if we would be flying over the Grand Canyon (known as El Cañon de Colorado, The Canyon of Colorado, in Spanish). We were flying to Reno, with a layover in Dallas, so naturallyl I had no idea. I’m not as terrible as the average person at geography, but still. The U.S. is a big place. We never got a clear-cut answer, but is this or is this not it?

Grand Canyon InstagramInstagram

On our way home from Reno, we stopped in Virginia City, a 19th-century boomtown that is now as touristy as a town can get, but it was fun to take Mario there. At one time, the town had 25,000 residents, but nowadays there are only about 855.

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