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Monday, June 11, 2007

Castellanization: Fitting in and Sticking Out

Castellano is how Spaniards refer to the particular Spanish spoken in Castilla, the state that is home to Madrid. This is thought by some to be the purest form of the Spanish language. This is where the lisping Zs and C were born and where they use the familiar plural form of Vosotros not used in many Latin American countries or in the southern Spanish province of Andalucia. Castellanization—my clumsy coined word—is a lot more than just speaking the language, it is the whole process of trying to insinuate myself into the culture of where I now live.

Overall it is all very gradual, although some processes of Castellanization impose themselves on a willing ex-patriot American much faster than others. As soon as I stepped off the plane I decided that my name here would be Juan. It’s not like John is so difficult for Spanish people to pronounce but I just wanted to streamline my introductions and I thought that it would be easier to adopt a Spanish name than try to mispronounce my English name every time I meet someone.

If you look in my cupboards and my refrigerator you will see that my diet is completely Spanish. About the only thing an American would recognize in my fridge is the occasional diet coke but even that is a called coca cola light here. In most bars in Spain you will see hams which are entire pig legs swinging from the rafters with a little cup under them to catch the fat that drips off. I eat so much pork that I should probably have one of these drip cups of my own (Just where to put it presents an embarrassing problem I won’t discuss here). I have read accounts that the Viet Cong could smell the American soldiers in the jungle because of the American food there were still eating in Viet Nam. I can assure you that my BO is 100% Spanish.

I quickly made the pledge of allegiance to the local Valencia football club which is probably more important to people here than whatever country my passport says is my home. I have said before that talking about sports is sort of the Esperanto of knuckleheads. Screaming at the TV during a big match is the surest way to fit in to any crowd. There is a pretty large immigrant population here so in order to communicate with them I also need to be fluent in Eastern European, South American, Mexican, and African football teams. Casual remarks like, “How about them Boca Juniors (a club from Buenos Aires)!” or, “Do you really think Rumania has what it takes to go all the way in the Eurocopa?,” go a long way in establishing my street cred with the other illegals. All that this cost me was a quick glance at the sports page and now I can live off of this international goodwill for weeks. Who ever said that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing?

Some aspects of becoming Spanish seem to be taking forever. The most important among all of these assimilation factors is learning the #&!! language (Fuck off, spell-check; I didn’t want to curse in this essay). My struggles with the language have been well documented here in the past. You should expect to hear a lot more from me on this particular front in my war to blend in.

Something that is almost as difficult as the language is keeping up with the bewildering array of holidays and festivals. I never get the memo when most of the holidays spring up. I grew up Catholic and still the seemingly endless string of pseudo-religious festivals make me feel like I’m from another planet. I don’t get the feeling that Spaniards care much about the spiritual aspects of the church, they just love all of the pomp and circumstance (and paid holidays) that go along with Catholicism.

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