Assimilating Spanish Style?

Published on 18/08/2011 in Holidays in Spain

John just about scraped through his finals but to get his degree he had to spend some time in Spain. He persuaded his parents to subsidise him and after much swearing of undying love and ‘of course I will still love you in the morning’ oaths, he duly accepted the offer of a job in a summer camp at the foot of the Pyrenees for four weeks in a place called Villa Mayor de Monjardin with pocket money and board as a youth leader. Virtually all the so-called students were in fact school children from Nordic countries and were blond and blue eyed and had to communicate with each other in English. “So much for Spanish culture” he thought to himself.

He knew only after he made the phone call home to tell them what was going on he should have kept his mouth shut. On hearing that he was only camping in a tent in a field in deepest rural Spain with Nordic children, his parents gleefully informed him that they had arranged for him to stay with old friends of theirs, who had lived in Spain for 30 years, on the Costa del Sol.

Between hiking up mountains, swimming in a freezing river and early mornings and early nights with a near vegetarian diet, he certainly became a lean fit fighting machine, though a very bored, scruffy and dirty one. The day to fulfil his promise to his parents dawned and he caught a flight to Madrid, which after a long sweaty wait of a couple of hours connected him with a flight to Malaga.

Puerto BanusHe staggered off the plane and was met by his parent’s friends at the airport. After what he called “PWHooww air kissing, not only with the wife but the man as well had to hug him, he was duly bundled into a large car. All this intimate physicality was starting to get to him, but he was grateful to get out of the sun and sit in the cool car. They bounced off along the motorway out of Malaga towards some place he had never heard of called Puerto Banus. He just sat in a crumpled smelly mess in the back.

They eventually pulled into a dusty driveway with stone entrance pillars and parked under a portico overlooked by a large black shiny door. The heavy door swung open and what he could only describe as a bundle of high-powered energy tore out and hurled herself at his host. The mother also got a huge hug and she then turned to scruffy, smelly, sweaty John.

He saw before him a young, tall black haired beauty with, unusually for Spain, piercing blue eyes. She did not have the usual hourglass female figure but was quite slim hipped and long legged. She had her father’s height and blue eyes and her mother’s Spanish hair. She was beautifully dressed. She had on a brilliant white gleaming blouse tied at the waist, a pair of khaki figure hugging, or should he say, thigh hugging slacks and a pair of hand made soft leather sandals.

For the first time in his life he felt inadequately dressed. He had a pair of worn dirty flip-flops, dirty toenails and rough skin around his feet. A pair of cut down, dirty, stained, grey flannels with the crotch being fashionably below his knees. An “Iron Maiden” tee shirt with the bottom half torn off and some obscure statement about women sitting down to do it but men can stand.

He had topped off his sartorial look with four days stubble on his face. The whole ensemble was finished off with dark, stale, sweat stains. She coolly looked him up and down disdainfully and did not even smile. He felt about one foot high.

Her mother summed up the situation in a moment and smiling suggested that her husband show him to his room to clean up after his long journey.

Together they walked through the dark interior of the house towards what he presumed would be the back garden. When the double doors were pushed open John’s breath was taken away. First the light flooded into the rear hallway emphasising its size and the blue sky became the backdrop for an L S Lowry type painting of a little port spread out below them in a predominantly white colour, which emphasised the lush greenery of palm trees and rich vegetation with the mountains towering in the background. It only needed match stick men to complete the scene.

He followed his host along a little shrub lined path smelling of a delicate perfume to what appeared to be a granny flat but was I fact a little separate guesthouse. It was lovely and cool and the harsh bright light of the Costa del Sol was filtered through the green shrubbery overhanging its little furnished sun terrace and patio.

“I will leave you to it. Everything you need should be here for you. Please treat it like your own home. We are having a few friends over tonight for dinner to meet you. We hope you don’t mind?” He was the politest man John had ever met but now seemed very formal and correct. He even shook his hand before he left.

John looked around cautiously and realised that it had been literally years since he had interacted with educated civilised people. The students in Dundee University did not count and neither did the little feral children at the summer camp. He realised that he had been living like one of them for nearly five years.

It also occurred to him that apart form trying unsuccessfully to speak in Catalan in Pamplona, he had not spoken any proper Spanish or even met any real Spanish people in their own environment ever. He felt his cheeks redden in embarrassment as he thought of it. What a prat he was he decided.

He explored the little apartment. It was perfect. He was nearly frightened to open doors or cupboards everything was so complete. Stripping off he went to the shower. He had it running to his satisfaction when he remembered he had no shampoo, soap, toothpaste or razor. He soon found what had been efficiently left in the bathroom cupboard together with massive white fluffy towels.

As he stood under the hot shower a male voice shouted in from the bedroom that he had left a few things on the bed for him. On wandering back out John discovered that a complete change of underwear, a shirt and a pair of trousers had been thoughtfully left for him on the bed. What a relief he thought. However he realised that they must have belonged to his host, as they were about two sizes too large for him. At least they were clean.

John cringed with embarrassment during the ensuing meal. He was seated between his hosts, badly dressed and hardly understanding a word anyone said. The only consolation was that he had taken a shower so he did not smell too bad. Otherwise he would even have been an embarrassment to himself.

Everything he did seemed wrong. He sat down and started before everyone else not realising that it was polite to wait until the hostess was seated as well. When offered red wine he complained that it was very cold. The courses were very small and he nearly mentioned that fact until he discovered that they were going to have about seven courses. He later learned that in fact he was eating Tapas.

And so it went on. When it was suggested that their beautiful daughter, Annette, should take him into town to get some new clothes he realised gratefully that he was in sore need of them. He had not behaved in a civilised way for nearly four years and had a lot of catching up to do. On top of that he had no real idea of how Spanish people actually behaved and interacted with each other particularly within a family setting. As for his Spanish he was totally out of his depth as the family all spoke Spanish very quickly.

Annette silently took him into town the next morning and he had to part with a lot of his “Pocket money” but he had not been able to spend it at the time anyway. Afterwards she took him to a little café in the shade and pushing him roughly into the usual ubiquitous plastic chair looked him squarely in the eye.

“Listen!” she growled at him waving a finger sternly in his face. “I think you have the manners of a pig as well as the hygiene. I am stuck with you for the next four weeks so let’s have some rules. I have dressed you suitably for your visit to our house. I will guide you the best I can to stop you, not only embarrassing yourself with your lack of style and manners, but my mother and father’s friends as well.

If you are in doubt about anything give me a gentle nudge and I will tell you what you are doing wrong. If I kick you in the shins stop whatever you are doing or saying because you are making a mess of it”.

With this agreed they seemed to nudge and kick each other a lot for the next two or three days. However John began to relax and learn the subtle difference between Spanish formality and family and friends intimacy, which seemed to include a lot of touching and gesticulating.

After a week of this intensive training he began to relax and even Annette seemed to enjoy his company. That night John’s host announced that they would throw a Bar-B-Q for Annette and her friends in the garden to let them meet John. The deal was that Annette’s party would adjourn to the private pool area before midnight to allow the parents to have their own quieter party in the house after their return from the restaurant.

The night was great and John did not get too many kicks on the shins as he followed Annette about chatting to her friends. At about half past midnight they said good night to all the guests and returned to the pool to sit quietly and reflect for a little while as the air cooled down.

Annette reached out and took his hand. “John, you have worked hard trying to understand our traditions and become assimilated into our family. Well done. Now there is one more thing you have to learn. I do not know what it is called back in the UK so I suppose I will have to show you.”

She stood up and walking towards the pool dropped her dress and sandals on the path and with a splash she disappeared under the water. John just stood with his mouth open in shock.

On his way to the pool to join her he saw her underwear floating in the deep end. Hardly pausing to remove his own clothes he jumped into the cool water as Annette swam up to him she said

“This is the last bit of Spanish assimilation you will need to learn on this trip”.

Written by: Stephen Reid

About the author:

I am an Irish story teller but not the type that would immediately spring to mind. Whist I tell Gaelic stories as part of my repertoire I also tell contemporary stories and short funny stories. I have been doing it now for nearly 7.  See my website at www.storytellerman.com




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