Living in the land of guapa

23 Aug

Greetings from Menorca!

You may not have heard of the island of Menorca. Its a small island, part of the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean — most people probably heard of Mallorca, the literal larger sister island to Menorca. In Menorca they speak a dialect of Catalan called Menorquí and in a lot of senses we didn’t really leave home. Yes, we flew 30 minutes to a tiny island we’ve never seen before, but really they drink the same Barcelonan beer, speak mostly the same language and eat mostly the same food. Is it really a vacation when you didn’t really leave home?

Yes, for the most part it is. We’ve been on “vacation” for the last 5 months, in the sense that few things are natural or 100% comfortable to us. I will look out the window on my way to the bathroom at sunrise and look towards the Palau de la Justica and see an amazing splendor of sunrise colors. I’ll exclaim, “hellz, yes, we live in Barcelona”, then I’ll go to the bathroom and pass out again for a few more hours of sleep.

Everything you can imagine is just slightly off and slightly weird, while at the same time starting to get comfortable and “normal”. We don’t speak the local language, which is Catalan. Aleta and I are learning Castellano (Spanish) and randomly picking up bits of Catalan as we go. So, we’re learning the wrong language, if you think of it that way, but everyone is fully willing to deal with our halting Castellano and work with us. We’ve been welcomed left and right and we’ve established a routine with our favorite food vendors and favorite restaurants. But once we get outside of that usual circle, we’re treated as tourists and everyone will speak english with us. While we appreciate the friendliness, we are trying to learn Castellano and they are likely trying to practice their english. In the end we’re all somewhat at odds. Its, well, somewhat.. odd.

So, when we turned up in Menorca things are remarkably similar to Barcelona. But in a sense, we’re cheating, since we’re not immersing ourselves in a foreign culture trying to communicate with the locals. But really, we’re still working with the same challenges we have at home. It does feel like a vacation, since we don’t have daily chores or work to attend to; we’re staying in a hotel, going to amazing beaches, having amazing drinks, so it is a vacation.

So, for our vacation, we didn’t step outside our host culture and instead we’re just continuing to learn more about it. And we’re comparing and contrasting to life in Barcelona and there are loads of similarities. One that we just noticed was the prevalence of the locals to refer to people as guapa (beautiful). For instance when Aleta just bought two bottled of water, the salesperson thanked her with: “Muchas gracias, guapa”. This is very common in Barcelona too, and we’ve still to figure out the exact nuances of this. First, lets consider the what it says about a culture where people frequently call each other guapa! I find it refreshing that the standard is to compliment each other and to push each other up, rather than tear each other down. Then, we’ve noticed that women speaking to other women frequently call each other guapa, but we’ve noticed it far less to have men call women guapa. Or for people to call men guapo — we suspect that the differences between the sexes play some heavy roles here. So, while two women calling each other guapa, is very casual, having a male call a women guapa in an innocent sense, implies a lot more familiarity and comfort.

I don’t think that Aleta or I really have a good grasp on the nuances at play here, but I wanted to take a minute to highlight just one nuance that we’re exposed to on a daily basis. When you move to a different culture with a different language, you’re going to have to learn about dozens of these types of nuances.

We’re ok with that. We’re happy that people are accepting us, even if only into their informal/commercial circles and that we’re making progress understanding our new culture.

2 Responses to “Living in the land of guapa”

  1. Joanne ruggles 2013/09/05 at 16:56 #

    San Luis Obispo residents coming to Barcelona in Oct. We met through Shoosh and Enhancement activities. Any chance we could get some tips on food and spots to visit? Shoosh suggested we write. Thanks!

    • Aleta 2013/09/08 at 07:26 #

      hi Joanne – I believe Rob already sent you some recommendations. Our top 3 on that list for food are:
      Bodega la Palma
      La Alcoba Azul

      Re: spots to visit, anything by Gaudi, especially La Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell. Buy your tickets for La Sagrada Familia online a couple days in advance and you’ll save yourself HOURS of standing in line to see it!