So You’re Dating a Spaniard—Chelsea

It seems I do a lot of interviews with girls named Chelsea who are dating Spaniards. This is number three! If you are named Chelsea and you are also dating a Spaniard, you know where to contact me.

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My name is Chelsea (apparently this name attracts Spanish men, according to this blog). I’m a 24 year old California native who has been living in Madrid for the past year working as an auxiliar de conversación. My story is fairly similar to others’ who have been featured here. I studied abroad during the spring of 2011 and found that a semester wasn’t enough time in Spain. Plus, there was a dashing Spaniard waiting for me. So I came back.

How did you meet your significant other?

Short version: at an intercambio. Long version: Álvaro and I had a mutual friend who introduced us at an intercambio on Saint Patrick’s Day. Unfortunately, the bar was so loud I couldn’t hear a thing he was saying, and he left fairly early to catch his train home. I didn’t see him again until about a month later, at the same place, but I didn’t recognize him (whoops). Thankfully, he remembered me and that time we hit it off instantly. Two weeks later I had to leave Spain, but we kept in touch almost every day through Skype. That August he flew to the States for the first time to visit me. Two and a half years later (one of which was long-distance) and here we are!

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Do you think Álvaro is a typical Spaniard?

I suppose I’m still not entirely sure what constitutes a “typical” Spaniard? Álvaro has habits that I consider very Spanish; he eats cookies for breakfast, arrives late to everything, has a short temper (without the tendency to hold a grudge), and is a complete momma’s boy. On the other hand, he is quieter than most Spaniards I’ve met and he doesn’t like football. He’s also probably more content to stay inside and watch a movie than go out and party until dawn.

In all honesty, he seems the most Spanish when he comes to California. Suddenly I start noticing these cultural quirks that seemed normal back in Madrid. That said, after spending this past year in Spain, I’ve started to see his personality in relation to his parents’, rather than to his country as a whole.

Which language do you speak when you’re together?

We speak mostly Spanish, which has been great in terms of improving my second-language acquisition. Álvaro knows he doesn’t need to speak English with me, so he tends to try less than with my parents or friends. There are times when I get lazy and tell him something in English, and he will respond in Spanish. Of course, then there are moments where we speak some sort of weird Spanglish. It is horribly wonderful.

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

I met his parents during our long-distance phase, when I came to visit for Reyes a.k.a. Spanish Christmas. So, I had to meet his whole family all at once. From the very beginning they have been great. At times they can be a bit overbearing (he comes from a large family, and everyone wants to give unsolicited advice), but they always mean well and want to help. They even included me in the family photos for a huge reunion last spring, which was both welcoming and surreal. His parents have also met my parents, and everyone got along despite the language barrier.

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

Free language classes! I get a lot of comments about my Spanish level, and although I normally chalk it up to years of studying and practicing, in reality I owe it to having a live-in intercambio partner.

It’s also been mentioned here before, dating a Spaniard gives you an insider’s look to Spanish life. I’ve been to Álvaro’s pueblo, celebrated holidays with his family, and eaten 12 grapes on New Year’s Eve. I’ve had some experiences that I wouldn’t have otherwise had if I was just here as a tourist/expat.

On another level, it helps me deal with feeling like a foreigner. I don’t look particularly Spanish, and in the past I was so concerned with “blending in.” Adapting is one thing, but I don’t think I could ever fully pass for a Spanish woman. Being with Álvaro has made me realize that I don’t have to; there’s someone who loves me in spite of (or perhaps due to) being a guiri.

What is the most difficult part?

The separation from home, absolutely. I may be here for the long-haul, which means I’ve had to leave my family and friends behind. You miss out on events: holidays, birthdays, weddings. When bad things happen, you are so far away and it can make you feel powerless. Plane tickets are expensive, and you can only visit—at best—a few times a year.

Loneliness has also been a bit difficult to deal with. It’s been easy to make American friends through the auxiliar program. However, most people leave after a few years. This year I’m going to deal with the reality that most of the people I know will be leaving, and I may have to start over again and make new friends.

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

At it’s essence, dating a Spaniard is like dating anybody else—there will be good people, bad people, and with a bit of luck you can find someone who’s right for you. However, dating a foreigner has a caveat: someone has to make a sacrifice. At least one person will have to leave their home country. For some people it may be an easy decision, but if at least one person isn’t willing then the relationship can’t work. I think, for that reason, dating a Spaniard should be taken a little more seriously than dating someone more local.

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

No idea! I’ve talked about this with Álvaro and he has no problem moving to the states. However, it really depends on where the job market takes us. Right now he’s studying and working, and moving abroad could disrupt that. Plus, I can easily find work as an English teacher here. However, we are both working through temporary government-issued “grants,” which doesn’t allow much in the way of upward mobility. So maybe the economy might eventually force us elsewhere. It depends.

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

Children are in the “very long-term” plans category. At the moment, we don’t even have enough job stability or space to get a cat. Anyway, they would be raised bilingual. I’ve spent 5-6 years struggling to learn Spanish. I wish I’d had someone to essentially hand that knowledge over at birth.

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

Aside from the obvious “family and friends” answer, I really miss places like Target or drug stores, where you could go and essentially find everything in one store. I’d also adopt American business hours (Everything here shuts down from 2:00-5:00. Banks close at 1:30. Nothing is open on Sundays. Why?). Lastly, a greater variety of ethnic foods. If someone knows a good pho place in Madrid, let me know.

From Spain, I’d bring public transit and the ability to walk just about everywhere. I’d also import their generous vacation time, and the tendency to celebrate the little things whenever possible. It seems like there is always some holiday or festival here, which people use as an excuse to get together and have fun or travel around. Food-wise, I’d bring jamón and bocadillos de calamares.

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

That’s a difficult one! I’m learning how to communicate and compromise, which isn’t so much a result of dating a Spaniard as it is a result of being in a healthy long-term relationship. That aside, I suppose I’m more willing to step out of my comfort zone. I feel like living abroad has changed me more than the relationship itself. Things may have turned out differently if we were in America. The biggest direct consequence of the relationship is my Spanish-speaking abilities. This past week I’ve had to deal with doctors and health insurance and phone calls—all in Spanish. I still don’t like it, but it makes it easier to deal with daily life.

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Thanks Chelsea! You can check out her blog here.

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

8 comments

  1. I love reading these stories :)

    A question for Chelsea: how do you deal with cultral differences? And how do you know if something’s cultural vs. just a part of that person’s personality?

    I dated a Spanish guy once and I’m an Eastern European girl, and we had a lot of misunderstandings based on our different cultures and upbringing (for example, Spanish parents are much more liberal and it seemed strange to me). I always wondered how much of it was Spain vs. him just expressing himself…

    1. Chelsea here! Sometimes the line between culture/personality is a bit blurred. For example, Álvaro is notoriously late to everything. It comes mostly from his dad’s side, since I’ve noticed his mom’s familiy is a bit more punctual. Then again, Spaniards in general are known for their “no pasa nada” attitude with respect to being on time.

      However, it seems like your question revolves more around overall worldviews and values. In that respect, I think we mostly agree on major issues. We see eye-to eye on things like religion, politics, marriage, family, etc. Then again, we both come from more liberal families. Our parents actually have a lot in common (other than the language barrier). i don’t really know how American culture differs from Eastern European, so it’s hard to compare. Most of our cultural differences are nitpicky, and just like with any minor quirks in a relationship, you learn to adapt or compromise. He sleeps in late, while I wake up early? I accept it and treat my mornings as “me time.”

      I don’t think our success (or at least, our lack of failure) stems from him being Spanish. Rather, he’s a good person who treats me with respect. When I have a tough day, he’s there to help me out.

    1. the Basque are hard to get as you say because they are cold and “secos” (this word in the sense that i mean is untranslatable), what i mean is that they are totally different to Andaluces and their never-ending happiness, their fun, their “solera” (another untranslatable word), etc

      the North and Mid-north of Spain is colder and their people are colder, whereas the south is sunny and people more open, but that doesn’t mean that one is better or worse than the other.

      by the way, i have just discovered your blog.

    1. it must have something to do as you say……and may i add that it is quite curious and fascinating that the name of a football team, Chelsea, also serves as a woman’s name….curious at least under a Spanish point of view..how is it?

      does anyone imagine a woman in Spain named Betis or Sporting? or in Germany named Bayer? or in France named Monaco? or in Italy named Juventus? or in North America named Huskers or Cardinals?

      you must be flattered and pleased if you come across some Chelsea supporters while walking down a street and they happen to shout “go Chelsea” :-)

      1. Growing up, it was just a normal name. I looked it up once and it said something about a wharf. I didn’t even hear about the football team until college. I know some of the kids I teach think its funny that I share the same name as a football team. I mostly just use it to my advantage when introducing myself, because otherwise I get called “Jessie” or for some reason “Chessie.” Also, it’s my go-to answer when my students ask “What’s your favorite football team?” (I don’t like football, but that answer is generally not accepted among kids).

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