|I'm going to preface this blog entry by saying that this is a topic I've been pondering for a while now, and I wasn't sure that I was ever going to write it due to how I might come across in this entry. After thinking it over, I've decided that these are my thoughts and observations, and there's validity in writing about them regardless of how I might be perceived through my words. The topic of today is the American tourist. Of course, that's me, and I'll talk about how I am as a tourist, but also I want to share my observations of other Americans while I've been abroad. I'll try my best to be sensitive to the American culture while writing this...
I don't know if there's a proper protocol for how people should behave while traveling in other countries, but my instinct and experiences tell me that we should try to assimilate to the culture in some manner. For example, one cultural aspect that I've been struggling with is how people greet one another. The standard for meeting up with people you know is that you give two 'kisses'—one on the right cheek and then one on the left. Kissing the other person isn't necessary, but it's more like pressing your check to theirs and kissing the air. It seems ridiculous at first, especially to someone who is used to a firm handshake and not having others enter my spacial bubble of comfortability. When meeting people, I've stuck out my hand just as I would anyone else, and I've been told by others with me to give this person dos besos ('two kisses') instead because that's how it's done. Since the dos besos is the expectation, I have come across as cold or rude a few times because of the handshake gesture. I'm still not entirely comfortable with it, but I've come along way since I first arrived.
That's the main cultural difference that I've had to deal with. Naturally, I've had to learn a lot of new vocabulary to communicate more effectively, but that hasn't been a challenge since I already have a grasp on the language. I've been listening intently, and people have actually made comments of surprise that I catch on to certain words and phrases. For me, picking up these words is extremely important for me to feel comfortable with communicating, because ultimately I don't want to say the wrong thing.
So that's my experience. While I can't speak for other Americans, here's what I've noticed from my observations. To say it as sensitively as I can, it seems that Americans don't make good tourists. Refering back to my June 7 entry, I remember the two teenagers on the train seeming so disinterested in heading to Paris, and while they were trying to figure out things to say in Spanish to the man in the food car, they just sounded ignorant. Of course, I have no idea if this is really the case, but again, it's just an observation.
This past Saturday I was waiting on a park bench while Paul was finishing rehearsal, and while I was sitting there a group of four American women walked by in a straight line. I know I stand out as American because of my clothes and my looks, but these women were undoubtedly American simply by their body language and what they were wearing (loose, flowy day dresses). I heard one of the women say "Oh, and I think that this over here is a dog park," to which another woman—I assume she was someone's mother because she appeared older—said in a very holier-than-though tone "Every park here is a dog park." What does that mean!? I don't know her intention with what she said, but it came across as a little pompous and not very nice. I felt offended, but maybe I was interpretting it incorrectly.
As the women kept walking and were about to cross a street, a little boy had broken away from his dad and started to run towards them—towards the street. The dad left the stroller he was pushing and started after the boy who ran out into the middle of the road. The dad eventually caught up to his son, picked him up, and started to yell at the American women. They saw the boy running towards the road, and yet they did nothing to stop it, and they easily could have. In response to the man's rant, the women just kept walking, oblivious that he was upset that none of them tried to stop his son from running out into the street. It was extremely uncomfortable to watch, and I felt so sad for the father, but I also felt so sad for the four women who were just as oblivious as they could be. There are always two sides to every story, and that was what I saw.
I love my Starbucks. That's not a surprise. It's also no surprise that if I want to find other Americans, I can simply go to a Starbucks. Now I've had my fair share of cortados and café con leche, and they've been amazing. But I also love an iced white mocha, and it's something familiar to me, so that's why I still go to Starbucks while abroad. To segue into a story relating to Americans loving their Starbucks, the other day after Paul and Marianne finished their callos, I decided I wanted to grab a quick ice cream from a nearby alimentación (a mini-market). I purchased my vanilla Cornetto, and this is what I heard from the next customer: "Where's the nearest Starbucks?" She popped into the store not to buy anything, but to ask where the nearest Starbucks is. Not even in Spanish. I hung my head in shame as I left, and then I had to laugh. I didn't know what else to do.
To restore faith in Americans, I did see a group of young kids at an ice cream stand in El Retiro who were bombarding this woman with orders for ice cream. She handled the kids very well, and as the kids were finishing up their orders, one of them asked the woman "Dónde es el Palacio de Cristal?" The woman pointed and gave the young girl directions, to which she said "Gracias." That was a good moment to see a young person attempting the language and communicating. I ordered a water from the woman, and she said she needed a second to catch her breath since the kids basically drained her, but she said this in a laughing manner, so I assume she was alright with it.
I don't really know my point for writing all of this, but I do feel that it's something I wanted to write down. If anything, maybe it's a good lesson to those reading about how not to act while in another country. It is so important to be culturally aware of practices and customs and to simply know how to behave when among others. There's a reason why stereotypes exist, and I now see where they come from. All of this has made me very, very aware of how I portray myself when out in public while I'm in Spain. Of course, it doesn't help that I always have a camera on my shoulder, but that's because this is what I came to do. I'm learning the culture, and I'm immersing myself in practices and speaking the language. I hope I'm doing it the right way.
In other news, this morning I headed to Sevilla via train. I left the Atocha Train Station at 12:00pm and arrived in Sevilla at 2:24pm. It was a pleasant ride aside from the man sitting across the aisle who would talk on his phone, and then whistle to music, and then randomly snap his fingers to music—just a tad noisy, he was. Luckily, no one showed up to sit in the seat next to me, so I was able to slide over and enjoy the view out the window. The landscape of Spain was pretty much what I've seen before, and I figured it would be a good time to write the paragraphs you just read above. And I played a few games of FreeCell on my phone.
The taxi took me to my apartment in Sevilla without any problems. It wasn't a long drive from the train station, and what I noticed about the streets of Sevilla is that they're as random as the streets in Madrid, but probably worse. You can see on the map below just how unparallel the streets are, which seems to be Spain's charm as far as street design goes. The apartment in which I'm staying is very nice. It's a full-sized, fully furnished apartment with all the charm of Spanish living. There are pictures below, so be sure to check them out.
The blue dot is where I'm staying.
After taking a quick catnap upon arriving to the apartment, I headed out into the streets of Sevilla to explore. My first stop was the Alameda de Hercules, which is a central area near my apartment that offers a lot of outdoor seating and a few small playgrounds for kids to enjoy. I did a quick walk around, grabbed a drink from Los Leones, and then proceeded to head into the labyrinth of streets once again to head to my destination. I had discovered the Metropol Parasol as a point of interest while doing some research on Sevilla, and I knew I had to see it. One thing I haven't mentioned in any of my blogs is that while I have no data to my phone while I'm out in the cities, I do, however, have access to my maps application. This means I can always see where I am in the streets and where I'm heading, so it makes getting lost virtually impossible. I was relying on the maps app to lead me to the Metropol Paraol, and I almost doubted it because as I was getting closer, I was still very much in between buildings. Sure enough, as I turned a corner to the left, there it was.
It's a giant wooden structure that is placed in the Plaza Mayor of Sevilla, and it's quite incredible. Construction started in 2007 and was completed in 2011 by a German architect named Jürgen Mayer-Hermann. I got in some quick pictures of the structure before I sat down and had dinner nearby. After devouring my 3,30 € pizza, I headed to the base of the Metropol Parasol so I could take the elevator to the top portion and get a good view of Sevilla. I timed this visit just right so that I could watch the sunset...
A view from the Metropol Parasol as the sun sets on Sevilla.
And it was beautiful!! I got a bunch of pictures while I was up there, and I might have even had an impromptu Glamour Shots session. As sunset quickly approached, so did the crowd who wanted to get the same view. There was hardly anyone up top when I got there at 9:20ish, and by the time the sun was down, a lot of people had arrived, most of whom were couples that wanted a romantic view of the sun setting on Sevilla. I can't blame them for that! I made my way back through the streets, all the way consulting my maps app to make sure I was heading in the right direction. I had checked out a cupcake/gelato shop earlier when I was making my way through Alameda de Hercules, and I made a visit to get a scoop of banana and white chocolate. Gelato is always a great way to end any evening in Spain!