We come, wearing backpacks and North Face jackets. We come, sporting tennis shoes and jeans, talking loudly in our distinguishable American accents. We come to learn Spanish, to party, to travel. And we come in droves.
In Salamanca, we are many. In Zamora, we are few. Nevertheless, we are here. Our presence is felt. The only part we’ve yet to really penetrate are the villages with 50 or fewer residents, yet slowly but surely we are conquering those, too. We come with expectations; we’ve been told by study abroad coordinators or friends or Internet websites how to not act like a dumb American. Tips include not wearing gym shoes/fanny packs (for the love of God, who wears fanny packs in 2010?), not assuming everyone speaks English, speaking quietly in public, etc. Generally, it has a lot to do with clothes. For the most part, Spaniards are a bit more concerned with appearance when they step out the door, but I’ve also seen them wearing sweatpants outside the house. Horror of all horrors.
So, our preconceptions about Spain exist and we arrive here, waiting to be knocked off our feet by Europe’s awesomeness. We take photos of cathedral after cathedral, walk on cobblestone streets, and take kazillions of pictures to show off to our friends on Facebook. “Look how cool I am,” we shout electronically. “I am in EUROPE! And you, my friend, are in Podunk, Indiana.” (Podunk exists. Really.)
I wrote about this previously, but many Americans come here and don’t ever really meet any Spaniards. It was like that for me when I studied abroad in Toledo in 2008. Nowadays, things have changed. I am often the only American. I stand out from all the females because I am tall. I falter over my words and often speak very little due to shyness and general unwillingness to slow down a conversation’s seemingly frenetic pace. Of course, there are those Americans who try and try to meet Spaniards, to speak Spanish, to avoid Americans. It’s weird to me because I never tried to avoid Americans. I met my boyfriend accidentally. I flirted without really meaning to. Best non-decision I ever made, by the way. Now, I’m here and I don’t know any of the Americans living in my city. I hang out with Spaniards, not because I am trying but because, um, I’m in Spain and there are more of them!
I really don’t know what’s better – the Americans who come here, loud and proud, and party with other Americans all semester or those who snobbishly refuse to make friends with other Americans based on fear of having an unauthentic experience. All I know is that somehow, by not choosing, I ended up being able to get to know the authentic part of Spain, a Spanish family, and most of all one Spanish man.