Which of the following is not true?
· There is a dish in Spain called black rice which is rice cooked in squid ink
· At Easter in Valencia, people crack boiled eggs on each other’s foreheads
· The Spanish for fingers and toes is the same word, so you have to say fingers of your hand or fingers of your feet to differentiate
· The Spanish word for clock and watch are the same
When you’re foreign in a foreign land, particularly one where they speak a different language, your credulity levels suddenly become that of a ten year old. Everything is new, many things are different. Cultural differences may be significant or minor. The way that people interact can be totally alien to what you’re used to. Even same language cultures have many diffrerences, my friend Diane is American and she spent a year studying with us at University. She encoutered so many differences (and was teased about many, including being told terrible lies about lots of things!) that six months into her year, she flatly refused to believe us when we told her the seemingly innocent and simple fact that the British z is pronounced zed , not zeee. I'm still not sure she believes us now, more than twenty years on.....sorry Diane...we love you!
It’s sad but true that HSBC covered this quite well in their adverts for their International Banking, promoting the way that they could help you to overcome the prejudices and assumptions of the business market overseas. It’s true that banks and workplaces do help, but sometimes, when your child has been invited to a birthday party on the third day at his new school...you've been in the country about two weeks and you're still getting used to driving your new car on the wrong side of the road and all the other parents are Spanish and it’s in a place that you are unfamiliar with and you're not sure how to get there…you’re on your own.
There are still cultural surprises though. In many respects, you rely on people around you to explain traditions, cultural norms, how to behave. Obviously you watch and observe, you listen, and you follow the lead. Sometimes though, listening and watching and observing do not help you to understand, particularly when you don’t speak the same verbal and physical language.
Evidently, language is a factor, but also culture too. Lord help you when both come together to create slang or counter culture that make not make any sense to you at all.
Imagine explaining Guy Fawkes night* to a foreigner...it’s something we completely take for granted in the UK, but if you tried to explain it to someone abroad it probably would not make a great deal of sense (penny for the guy anyone?)
We have discovered, sometimes by accident, a range of strange and lovely Spanish traditions since being here. On of my favourite that we adopted this year, was leaving shoes on the balcony on the night before the 6th January so that the three kings can leave gifts for the children. We also left the kings a glass of wine and some biscuits.
*Explanation of Guy FawkesGuy Fawkes Night, also known as Guy Fawkes Day and Bonfire Night, is an annual commemoration observed on or about 5 November, primarily in Great Britain. Its history begins with the events of 5 November 1605, when Guy Fawkes, a member of the Gunpowder Plot, was caught guarding explosives placed beneath the House of Lords and arrested. Celebrating the fact that King James I had survived the attempt on his life, people lit bonfires around London, and months later the introduction of the Observance of 5th November Act enforced an annual public day of thanksgiving for the plot's failure.
Within a few decades Gunpowder Treason Day became the predominant English state commemoration, but as it carried strong religious overtones it also became a focus for anti-Catholic sentiment. Puritans delivered sermons regarding the perceived dangers of popery, while during increasingly raucous celebrations common folk burnt effigies of popular hate-figures, such as the Pope. Towards the end of the 18th century reports appear of children begging for money with effigies of Guy Fawkes and 5 November gradually became known as Guy Fawkes Day. By the 20th century Guy Fawkes Day had become an enjoyable social commemoration, although lacking much of its original focus. The present-day Guy Fawkes Night is usually celebrated at large organised events, centred around a bonfire and extravagant firework displays.
Settlers exported Guy Fawkes Night to overseas colonies, including some in North America, where it was known as Pope Day. Those festivities died out with the onset of the American Revolution, although celebrations continue in some Commonwealth nations. Claims that Guy Fawkes Night was a Protestant replacement for older customs like Samhain are disputed, although another old celebration, Halloween has lately increased in popularity and according to some writers may threaten the continued observance of 5 November.