Friday, May 20, 2011

Lost in Translation

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'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.
Thankfully, we have been fortunate in that the Spanish people that we have encountered have welcomed us wholeheartedly into their lives and communities. I have been kissed on both cheeks by warm welcoming women who I have never met before. I have been spoken to in rapid Spanish by a mum whose son was so excited by my son’s arrival at school because they both love football, her effusive happiness was catching and she still speaks to me as if I am a native Spaniard and I have to keep reminding her to slow down for me.
My husband and I sat down for lunch yesterday and happily tucked into black rice, which is cooked in squid ink to give it the black colour and flavour (initially my husband did not believe that there was such a thing as rice cooked in squid ink).
I have sat at so many children’s parties that it no longer surprises me that the parents stay too and have a chat and a drink. It no longer surprises me that Spanish children’s parties go on way longer than what I would consider a ‘normal’ children’s bed time! Gradually you can become used to the expectations, I now kiss lovely Spanish women and men on both cheeks when we meet and I enjoy  the fact that children are adored, stay up late and spend a great deal of time with their families eating.
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’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.
I have also learned about a drink traditionally served at weddings, christenings and other celebrations here in Spain. My neighbour has even shared her own recipe with me and we made it together last weekend…it’s a fiery brew, lovely and smooth and sweet and guaranteed to get you absolutely legless drunk if you drink too much..hence it is usually served in teenie tiny shot glasses!
My Spanish teacher told me a story about Easter in Valencia that I found so silly that I had to immediately verify with some other sources (kids at my school) to make sure it was true...there are variations on the theme but it does actually happen (In the Valencia region). If we are to become true Valencianos, our new custom at Easter, therefore, is going to be this. Over the Easter period (Easter Sunday or Monday) we will do our usual Easter egg hunt, in addition to chocolate eggs, there will be boiled eggs. The children and adults should end up with a boiled egg each. At any stage during the day, the children or adults can smash the egg against another, unsuspecting person’s forehead! I can imagine this leading to utter chaos and tears but also lots of fun and plenty of children have told me about their parents (fathers in particular it seems) smashing raw eggs on people’s foreheads. This has set a precedent we must follow at home!  So, anyone coming for a visit at Easter? Please come so that you can be Valenciano with us and join in the egg cracking game.
All of the things at the beginning of the article are true! I’m waiting to find the first mischievous person in Spain who makes up a ‘Spanish tradition’ for me. At the moment I think the people I have met have been too kind and generous and respectful to play any tricks on us (teachers are a taken a bit more seriously here)....but I’m sure that as they get to know us (and my credulity levels) a bit better, they will perhaps see an opportunity for fun that they cannot this space...

*Explanation of Guy Fawkes
Guy 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.

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