There are many things I enjoy about travel, but one of the things I enjoy most is getting out of my culture in order to experience life from a different perspective. It is a great exercise in breaking down preconceived notions about people, and hopefully it makes me less judgemental and more accepting of people who don´t eat, or work, or play, or think, or live like me.
Sometimes it can be overwhelming, and also frustrating, to adapt to a different culture. But I also find myself getting past all the differences to arrive at the same place over and over again … and I would describe that “same place” as the realization that deep down all people are the same everywhere and for all time. We all want to be loved, we all have hopes and fears, and we all want to feel that our life matters.
Yesterday I broke one of the social rules in this society, and I did so because I was frustrated and in a hurry and just not paying attention. And it is a little embarrassing to admit that I broke this social rule in pursuit of cottage cheese – I never knew that cottage cheese could be so important! Let me explain.
During my very first week here the Spanish language school took a group of us students to the local city market, but before going they explained to us how to form a line in Málaga. At the market there are many vendors, and there are also many people at the market who want to buy goods from the various vendors. So, how does a vendor know who to help next? When the people here show up at a particular vendor´s booth, they know to ask out loud, “Quién es el ultimo?” Translated this is “Who is the last one?” … in line. When the last one acknowledges that they are last, you will know who to follow. And if someone shows up after you and asks the same question, you are supposed to say “Soy yo” so that the new person knows that they follow you.
Well … it seems that yesterday I was at the grocery store (where the same line forming process is understood), and I was looking for cottage cheese. The cheese aisle was enormous, they had every kind of cheese that you can imagine, from about every country in the world, and after looking and looking and looking, I could not find the cottage cheese. I wondered, “What kind of cheese aisle does not have cottage cheese?” So I asked the young girl who was carrying a plate of sample snacks where to find the cottage cheese, but she did not understand my Spanish (or perhaps had never heard the words “cottage cheese”), and went to find someone who speaks English. Her fellow sample snack distributor showed up, and the new girl did know a little English, but she also had never heard of cottage cheese. So after looking for what must have been 20 minutes, back and forth among all the cheeses of the world, I headed to the meat and cheese counter to talk with the experts. And it was there that I flubbed up big time.
Although there were several people who were in the counter area, I went directly to an older gentleman who did not seem to be waiting on anyone, and I asked him in my best Spanish where to find the cottage cheese. He looked at me perplexed, and then hollered down the line at José because evidently José knew a little English (although I was in fact speaking Spanish, or at least I was attempting to). So José turned to look at me, seemingly startled, and I went directly to him while switching to English in order to ask him about the exact location of the cottage cheese in their fine store … and in the process, I cut right in front of all the other people who had been patiently waiting in line to be helped, the order of said line surely known to everyone but me. You know this situation, right? You are just looking for a small bit of information, and you think it will only take a microsecond, so you feel justified in talking with the clerk directly even though they may be waiting on someone else at the moment. So José mumbled what sounded like the words “cottage cheese,” and the older lady he was waiting on (who was “primera,” meaning first) gave me a look that I would describe as a mixture of shock and scorn. So I tried to soften the blow by gently touching her shoulder while continuing to seek the location of the cottage cheese from José. It was at that point that I had my ephiphany, and everything became clear to me, painfully clear, and I realized that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time doing the wrong thing. Immediately I tried to crawl away without being noticed in order to find the nearest rock to crawl under. And I never did find any BLOOMING cottage cheese in that store!
So … cultures are different, and customs are different, but in truth I believe that people are the same everywhere deep down in their heart-of-hearts. And before I finish this week´s update, I would like to tell you about one more cultural discovery I made this week.
There are some interesting fusions of musical styles here, which involve taking the old and blending it with the new. Honestly, I don´t know much about classical music, but it seems that all of the giants of classical music originated here in Europe. The same seems to be true of the music used in opera, which I believe is much more entrenched here in Europe than in any other place in the world. So I was intrigued to see on Spanish television an opera singer accompanied by a jazz band playing what I will call Operatic Jazz. Similarly, I have seen on television a rock guitarist playing along with a classical music orchestra, or perhaps it was the rock guitarist who was accompanied by an orchestra … it was a really cool fusion of rock with classical music overtones, or Orchestral Rock as it were. Finally, I have also seen a pianist and cello player playing classical music accompanied by a bunch of guys who looked and sounded like they had just arrived from some island in the carribean, it was classical music with an island vibe.
So sometimes cultures clash … and sometimes cultures blend … and I much prefer to blend and harmonize than clash, don´t you too?