Being a guiri means people in Spain find you curious at times, especially when you show up in unexpected places, like a bus stop in Vallecas. Here are some of my recent encounters with Spaniards who find me just a tiny bit interesting:
I am sitting at a bus stop. The bench is a bit wobbly, but at least there’s shade—Madrid’s temperatures are finally beginning to creep upward. An elderly man, of uncertain age, but certainly in his 80s approached. I happened to be wearing a skirt that day, a rare occurrence as Spanish schools do not require anything approaching formal attire.
“And where are you from, my pretty girl?” he asks amiably, a little too soft for me to hear the first time—my earphones get in the way.
“Me?” I stammer, unsure as to why he would be asking that. “From Estados Unidos.”
“Oh?” he questions, looking me over in a quizzical manner. “What would you be doing so far from home, my dear?” He leans in to hear me.
“My husband. My husband is from here.” I hope he leaves it at that: I’m tired and I have a headache and the sun is beating down on us.
He smiles to himself, and we return to waiting for the bus. I sigh, relieved.
I am walking to the metro station nearest to my house. It’s private lesson time. At midday the sun already burns bright in the sky, and as my sunglasses are broken, I have to squint to see him. He is a man my age, a backpack perched upon his shoulders, and he is undeniably lost.
I keep walking, with the faith that my guiri appearance will cause him not to ask me for help. If I’m bad at anything, it’s giving directions. Especially in Spanish.
He approaches. I realize I can no longer ignore him. Reluctantly, I turn off my music and look expectantly at him. “Where is the nearest metro?” he asks, wiping sweat from his brow. Just what I had hoped he wouldn’t ask. When I hesistate, he asks, “Are you going there?” Hoping that I am.
“Yes,” I reply. Much to my chagrin, I am able to accompany him. I’ll be his guide; I’ll lead him faithfully to the Arganzuela Planetario metro station. We walk along in awkward silence until he starts asking all the usual questions: where are you from, why are you here, how do you have a job?
I answer his questions and hope that perhaps he will start commenting on the weather like any normal Spaniard would. No such luck. “What do you think of Spain? Aren’t Spaniards so different from Americans? Which country do you prefer?”
I hate these questions, because there is no right answer and I cannot give him what he wants—a definite answer. Any long-term expat realizes that there is no good way to reply succinctly and honestly to this query. I respond that I like Spain, some Spaniards are quite different from Americans, and I don’t really prefer one to the other. I like some parts of Spain better; I like some parts of the US better.
I can tell he is disappointed, that what I have said will not make for any entertaining moments when he talks to his friends later that day. Nuanced opinions aren’t good conversation fodder.
As he stops to buy a ticket, I scurry down to the platform, hoping he’s going in the opposite direction.