So You’re Dating a Spaniard—Katie

Yes, more americanas dating Spaniards. Every time I feel like I’m the only one, I only have to browse through Facebook and see I’m not alone. I’m very lucky to have access to these kinds of women, who—like me—have chosen a different sort of life (consciously or unconsciously). My next interview is with Katie, who is blogless. (My spell checker says that’s not a word, but let’s make it one!) Anyway, here’s Katie.

Semana Santa 2011 035

Please introduce yourself (name, age, why you’re in Spain, etc.).

I’m Katie, Queidi as I have to explain to Spaniards or else they pronounce it Kitty. It was very funny the first hundred times the niños said “HELLO KITTY” but has since gotten old. I’m 24 and have been in Spain for the past two years as a Language Assistant. I fell in love with Spain, Madrid specifically, during two study abroad programs while in college, a summer in 2007 and a semester in 2009.

That’s hilarious because I also tell people how to say my name by writing “Queili”! So, tell me, how did you meet your significant other and how long have you been together?

I met Juan through my Spanish friends, whom I met through one of them who’s half-American and happened to be moving out of the apartment my friends moved into. Juan was just one of the group. We were friends for a while and a few months after meeting (at one crazy New Year’s Eve party) there was a spark and we started dating. We’re going on a year and a half together as of right now.

Do you feel that your significant other is a “typical” Spaniard? If not, why?

I do and I don’t. He is the first to tell me I’m crazy for not being head over heels about jamón, loves to go out until the sun comes up, and is family-oriented. But in many ways he’s more open than I find many Spaniards to be. That’s not to say they’re not friendly, it’s just that most tend to be very set in their ways with food and other things.

Juan, on the other hand, moved out of his house very young for a Spaniard, to start college in Madrid (he’s from Bilbao). He also studied for two years in Germany and has lived in the Canary Islands as well. He loves to travel and experience new foods and adventures. Of the three serious relationships he’s been in, they’ve all been with foreigners (a Turkish girl, an Italian, and me, an American). He’s also punctual, something for which I am eternally grateful!

I guess it in some ways can almost be assumed that anyone from any culture willing to be in a serious relationship—or even close friends with—a foreigner, especially a native speaker of a different language, is by nature more open than many.

Very true. It’s not always easy, and it takes a special kind of person to go outside of his/her comfort zone. So, which language do you speak when you’re together? Why?

When we began dating, I was very gung-ho about bettering my Spanish, and so I made a big effort to always speak Spanish with my local friends, Juan included. I knew that he spoke German but didn’t know how his English was, and frankly, didn’t want to know, so that I wouldn’t be tempted. I started to realize that he had a good level when we hung out one night with just two other Americans and he was more quiet than usual but at least able to somewhat follow the conversation, though his contributions were often in Spanish. Also, in situations where I have been upset or angry and been frustrated by my stumbling to express to him why, he’s told me, “Tell me in English!”

As time has passed and I’ve gotten lazier with practicing Spanish and more comfortable with him, I speak a mix. It depends on how tired I am, how guilty I feel about wasting a learning opportunity, or even the topic itself. He used to respond in Spanish most of the time regardless of what I was saying, but now that he often uses English at work, there have been times where I say something in Spanish and he responds in English! Now it’s a jumbled mess that confuses the heck out of anyone listening but that seems natural to us. I usually don’t even notice which language he uses, because it’s not “Spanish”, it’s just “how Juan talks” and so it doesn’t strike me as strange even in the middle of an English group conversation.

How do you deal with the “in-law” issue? Have you met them? Do you get along?

It was quite a while before I met Juan’s family. He moved home a few years ago to finish up his degree after living alone for years, and so we only went to his house when his parents were out of town. He doesn’t mind if his siblings are home, but he still is reluctant to have me over around his parents despite the fact that I have now been to many family events. I first met them at a lunch at his aunt’s house after having been together about nine months. He asked his mother to invite me for the holidays this past winter, because I would otherwise be alone. The family welcomed me to all of the holiday meals and events, and since then they assume that I’m coming to most gatherings and ask him where I am if I don’t!

I don’t have too much interaction with his parents’ generation, though they’re always pleasant. His siblings, their spouses, and the cousins are the ones that make an effort to ask me questions. I feel a bit out of place at times, honestly not for being a foreigner (his sister is married to a Canadian whom they all love, his cousin is married to an Argentinian, and another cousin is dating a Portuguese girl) but rather for being young. Juan is seven years older than me, and he’s the youngest of five siblings, making the oldest forty with two kids! The older generation is very traditional, but thankfully his Canadian brother-in-law has broken them in on the idea of guiris in the family and so it’s less of a shock for them than it would be for most families.

My boyfriend is the youngest in an older family too, so some of his aunts/uncles are older than my grandparents! What is the best part about dating/being married to a foreigner (and especially a Spaniard)?

I feel like there’s always something to talk about, learn, or experience, whether with language, food, traditions, or more. If living somewhere is a way to experience a place more deeply than a tourist would, then being accepted into the inner circle of a Spanish family is definitely taking it to the next level.

There is no end to conversation, as we can always make observations or ask about differences in culture and language. It’s constantly entertaining for me to listen to Juan speak English (and surely my Spanish can be funny at times too), and the errors that he sometimes makes are so endearing.

We have taught each other how to cook a variety of different foods, and so mealtime is always fun.

It’s a constant opportunity to speak Spanish if I want it.

I like having “ins” to friends’ events that I normally wouldn’t if I were just a random new foreigner friend, such as weddings or trips.

I totally agree, especially about the opportunity to speak Spanish if I want it. My problem is not always wanting it! What is the most difficult part?

At times we have some miscommunication, whether for language or cultural reasons. He had no idea why I was angry when he said at 2 p.m. that he’d come over that afternoon and eventually came at 8:30 (because for him, that WAS the afternoon still, whereas for me, afternoon means until 5 or 6ish!).

There are also times where he has rejected meeting up with my friends because he was too tired to try to follow an English conversation, and times where I feel like I am just a quiet observer when we’re with our Spanish friends a lot.

I’m often unintentionally funny, with my less-than-perfect Spanish, but it’s hard for me to be actually funny, since there are pop cultural references I want to make and he’ll miss or a play on words he won’t get.

Sometimes I wonder whether he feels frustrated with having a girlfriend who speaks slowly, asks him occasionally to repeat things (especially on the phone!), and doesn’t get some of his jokes.

Occasionally there are silly small problems, like when there have been films or TV episodes we wanted to watch together online but we couldn’t because we couldn’t find them with subtitles.

I’m always the quiet observer in a group full of Spaniards. Sometimes I wish it weren’t so. What advice would you give someone who is considering starting a relationship with a Spaniard?

I am lucky that Juan speaks and more importantly, understands English, because there are moments when I’ve been tired or frustrated and can’t imagine not being able to express myself effortlessly. Especially in a romantic relationship, where communication is so important. Make sure that you are okay with the consequences if the potential partner doesn’t have at least some competency in your language, especially if you’re thinking long-term and will eventually be potentially making him a part of your family, too, if your family is like mine and speaks no Spanish whatsoever!

Also, realize that even for the most open Spaniards like Juan, the family and the home are pretty private places and you may not be meeting the in-laws or coming over as soon as would be more standard by American ways. I have a friend who had serious arguments with her serious and devoted boyfriend of a year because he was still hesitant to bring her home to meet his parents. However, once you are accepted by the family, they are very welcoming and take your relationship seriously, almost too seriously at times! (I’ve had Juan’s sisters ask me if we’re getting engaged any time soon!)

Make sure you like Spain and the city you’re living in, because if things go well, you may be tempted to stay for a long time!

Do you plan on living in the US or in Spain long term? Why?

I’m not sure. It depends on how things go with Juan and also with our job situations, among other things. In some ways I would miss Spain so much if I went back to the US, and other times it kills me to think that my relationship with friends and family will be based on once-a-year visits and that for the rest of my life I’ll be “la americana”. If we do stay together, then one of us will always feel that way and so it will be something to think about.

Do you plan on having children? If so, do you plan on raising them bilingual?

Yes, I do. I will raise them bilingually, as much as possible, through each of us speaking to them in our native tongues, a bilingual school, play dates with the children of other ex-pats, and lengthy summer visits to the family in the other country.

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

I’d import my friends and family. Why doesn’t Ryan Air fly to the States for cheap?? I’d also import cultural norms like punctuality and the idea of going out earlier to be able to go to bed at a more normal hour while still having a fulfilling night.

I’d take a few things back to the US too. The metric system, for one. The relaxed attitude of working to live and not living to work. 1 euro bottles of wine. Larger lunches and smaller dinners. The way that the center of a city is the most lively, sought-after place to live and isn’t a ghost town after 6pm like in many cities in the States.

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

I’d like to think that I’m more patient now. Unfortunately I feel like I’m more clingy with Juan than I have been with past boyfriends, because here I don’t have family and a million close friends that I’ve had for years, so more of my having a social life depends on or at least involves him because my Spanish friends are his friends too. I’ve also tried to be more relaxed and roll with the various surprises and frustrations that living in a foreign country and having a close relationship with someone from a different background can pose.

one i love

How cute! Thanks again, Katie. 

Interested in being a part of my Dating a Spaniard series? Email me; I’d love to have you!

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14 comments

  1. I love how being “blogless” almost sounds like an affliction or ailment — something rare and unimaginable. Ha! Great interview!

  2. Really interesting reading about other English-speaking women’s relationships with Spanish men, what a great idea for a series of posts. I can recognise plenty of my Spaniard’s characteristics in Juan, though he introduced me to his mum very early on – but then were older. The bilingual kids thing is great – mine (aged 5 and 3) have both got it sussed. No bilingual school, though, sadly. Just lots of English games, books and DVDs at home. Look forward to reading the next post!

  3. That was really interesting, I loved the part about how you have to “re-spell” your names so to speak so that Spanish-speakers will know how to pronounce them, that’s funny.

    With regards to your Spanish and his English: do you ever think that either one will improve to the point where there just aren’t any communication problems like you described above? A lot of people ask me if it’s possible to attain native fluency (that is, to have the same level of competency with Spanish as a native speaker) and my answer is usually “yes, but you better be prepared to spend the better part of a decade working on it, plus it will absolutely require at least a few years of immersion in a Spanish-speaking country”. For what it’s worth I have known someone who attained perfect native fluency in a 2nd language (a Japanese girl I knew in University who spoke English with an absolutely perfect American accent and with the same level of competency as a native speaker despite having only started studying English around 6th or 7th grade).

    Cheers,
    Andrew

    1. I’m note Katie, but I think it *is *possible, but not for everyone. Some people are born with the ability to imitate and pick up accents; others weren’t. I don’t think having an accent is bad, per se, but I like sounding more Spanish. However, it is much easier to actually speak with perfect fluency than sound like a native speaker, which I find extremely difficult. A lot of people tell me I have “poco acento,” but I’m not sure I’ll ever get to the point where I have “ningún acento.” You know?

      1. Oh sure, and frankly it’s not something that I think is worth doing. I don’t understand some people’s (usually beginning language learners) obsessions with being able to speak with a perfect native accent so that no one can tell they’re a foreigner just by listening to them, it’s weird and kind of pointless. I’ve thought about this before and the only people I can possibly think of who would have a genuine need for that would be intelligence operatives, spies, who need to be mistaken for natives of the country they’re in. Of course, the way that intelligence agencies get people like that is by hiring people who already are native speakers of the language in question (e.g. they hire a U.S.-born person of Afghani descent who grew up speaking Pashto in addition to English if they want someone who can be mistaken for Afghani by other Afghans).

        There’s really no point in doing it, plus as a guy I’ve found that you don’t want to lose your accent when in a foreign country if you know what I mean ;)

        Cheers,
        Andrew

        1. This is such an interesting topic for me . (I’m Katie, btw.) I tend to be a perfectionist and at times it bothers me to not sound like a native, though I’ve realized that for me it’s something that will just never happen. As Kaley says, some people are great with accents, but I can’t even do a halfway realistic accent in my own language if I try, be it British, Southern, New York, whatever! I try to remind myself how valuable it is in today’s world to be a native English speaker more than anything else, and how no one expects me to sound native. Sometimes it’s hard to keep that in mind, though. Once I was with friends and a friend of a friend was asking me about my plans for the future and asked if I were going to get a master’s in Spanish. I replied that I would continue studying something, but maybe not Spanish language because with an undergraduate degree it was considered enough to get a job of some sort already and a master’s wouldn’t do much more to help me in the fields I was looking into. His reply (in Spanish)? “Really? Cause you’ve got one hell of an accent…” (not in the positive sense).

          In moments like that it’s hard not to get upset, but that’s my personal insecurity coming through. I can say that even if my production of Spanish is less than perfect, I take pride in understanding 99% of even quick-paced, large-group conversations, obscure cultural references aside. However, the one I listen to and understand most (the dear novio) still at times manages to frustrate both of us by mumbling over the phone, speaking without taking the cigarette out of his mouth, or countless other situations that just provoke a string of “What?”s on my end. Hopefully with time this will get better, whether through language improvement on my part or him being more aware of the fact that at times, he’s not helping me out.

          Most of our communication issues stem from cultural differences rather than language. And I’m not only referring to Spanish/American culture, as those misunderstandings have lessened as we learn about each other. We now more often have the typical male/female cultural difference issues! His English has vastly improved over the year and a half, helping a lot so that I can fully express myself just like he always has. Now we’re to the point where our communication barriers are (mostly) not that different from those of most couples from the same place!

          1. Thanks for your input Katie. I too take pride in understanding quite a bit, even in groups, although my problem is I have to be very focused. If I drift off into space (who me?), I don’t hear/understanding anything, whereas I might pick up a bit in English. My boyfriend’s brother mumbles *all the time*, so I struggle to understand him, although I’m getting better.

            That accent comment was just rude! I would feel insecure after that too!

          2. Ehh, for what it’s worth the person who commented on your accent was just being an ass, every country and culture has them, you spend enough time in one place and inevitably you’ll meet one, don’t worry about that.

            Cheers,
            Andrew

  4. Ha, I never thought about how Katie could be turned into Kitty, or, better yet, “Hello Kitty!” (A small student of mine was recently trying to convince me that my name did, in fact, begin with the letter K.)

    I loved reading this interview, especially the best and worst aspects of dating someone from a different background. Katie summed up the pros so well with the quote, “I feel like there’s always something to talk about, learn, or experience, whether with language, food, traditions, or more.” Hear hear!

  5. Hi, I´m from spain and would like to say you: don´t worry if you don´t know fluent spanish and want to meet spaniards. Since 1980, all spanish children are learning english at school. The times are changing and nowadays spaniards are open and we love meeting new people, don´t forget american girls that spanish heart is united with adventure and we like travelling to another countries.
    I´m 26 years old, I speak Spanish, Basque, English and French and I´ve lived in United Kingdom two summers and it was a great experience for me. Now I´m finishing my studies at university and I think that, in the future, with the problems we have to find job, I will have to find it in another country.

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