“Llevo 6 meses”: Letting Go of The American

It’s the classic mundane phrase you learn your first week of Spanish class:

Pregunta: ¿Cuanto tiempo llevas aqui en Barcelona?

Respuesta: Llevo __ semanas/meses.

(Translation: How long have you been in Barcelona? I have been here (blank) weeks/ months).

Imagine my surprise when a new girl in one of my classes prompted this question, and I started to say, “Llevo 5…pero no, espera, hoy es el veintidos de marzo, llevo 6 meses.” The 6 month mark has come in the flash of an eye, it seems like just yesterday I was describing my little pueblo and new Spanish family, and the adjustment period as an “extranjera.” Although I am, well…myself, and I can’t notice or see all of the subtle and even some major changes while I am living this life, there are still a few things that are rather obvious:
The non-existent use of personal care products and service: So, here is the girl, obsessed with the newest ORGANIC hair-care and skin-care products – I would spend ungodly amounts of money on Origins and Bare Essential products. You can ask my mom, my whole cabinet in my bathroom was stocked with barely used bottles of crap. Always wanting more more more, the next best thing! Well, aside from my most consistent or regular purchase, toothpaste, I can’t remember the last time I bought things like shampoo, face-wash and lotion, body-wash (all of which the massive 3-5 bottles I bought in September have lasted me). My small “make-up” supply that I rarely use should last me another year at least at the rate I’m using it (usually something I would burn through every 3 months or so). Not to mention that my blow-dryer and straightener that I neatly crammed into my luggage from CA have been gathering dust on my shelf since September. It was a big event when I finally got a hair-cut after 7 months! Although a lot of this controlled usage of personal care products has a lot to with my tight budget of 70€ per week, my attitude has changed immensely on how to live simply and how and where to spend my money, on the things that really matter (like 50 euro flights on Ryanair!)
Clothing: No desire to buy new clothes except for purpose and a new found hobby in making creative combinations out of the few pieces I do have: The Spanish have this great attitude, “this is me, this is what I look like, if you like me that’s great, if not, no problem. That’s your loss.” Yes, people from all over the world come here to shop, the French, the German, the Indian, the British, etc, but you can pick out the true Españoles in any crowd. They glow with their sun-kissed skin and natural untouched faces and big brown almond eyes. Unlike Americans who are so preoccupied with how they match, these very bohemian, edgy Españoles, with the ingenious color combinations and creative layering techniques go barreling around Barcelona like they have much more important things to do that worry about what you think about them. I have noticed that change in myself, subtly with the way I dress, and more in my confidence level and the whole, “this is me…to know me is to love me” attitude.
I can’t stop kissing people: Ok, not literally. But if anybody knows anything about the Spanish (and the Italian for that matter…not sure about the French) we kiss each other, a lot. I remember in the beginning, when meeting new people the first couple weeks, I proudly stuck out my hand for a good ol’ American handshake, and more than once I was grabbed by the perfect stranger (man or woman) and kissed on both cheeks. Rather than feeling uncomfortable, I felt this incredible sensation of warmth, love and compassion. Now, I kiss everybody! To say hello, to say goodbye, to wish someone happy birthday or congratulations for something, and of course, I just kiss my little girls for no reason at all (they are just so darn cute sometimes!)
The smaller the car, the better: I love the European motto, “Drive small, manual cars with good gas mileage, preferably at least 5-10 years old…the older, the more reliable.” You will rarely see a sports car or a mini-van…as for a pick-up-truck, I think I have maybe seen one…I remember it looking so strange. Nobody here slaves over or prides themselves on their cars like they do in the U.S. – the car is simply a tool, not a status symbol, that gets your family from point A to point B. As some of you may know, the family has an extra car for the Au Pair to use, a nice little 1987 manual transmission Citroen hatchback with 225,000 miles. After the month long adjustment to driving a stick-shift (oh the joys of stalling in a round-about with everyone honking behind you), I mastered it and I zoom around in that little thing all over the place. I can’t ever see myself taking out another car loan again in my life – $4,000, manual transmission, 10+ year old coupe with great gas-mileage and 150,000 miles…DREAM CAR!
I’ve gained weight!: After the long winter months, full of cakes and sweets and massive family dinners (not to mention Italy), I affectionately pat the extra 5-7 pounds on my belly and thighs. I am calling it my “happy weight.” Before I came to Spain, I remember how much I over-worked myself, focusing on the goal of getting here rather than taking care of myself – the full days at the law office followed by the long shifts at the restaurant, eating what I could, when I could. These days, I have normal balanced Mediterranean meals. My diet mostly consists of: fish and poultry, rice, couscous vegetables, fruit, fresh yogurt, cereal and homemade bread, and of-course, olive oil with everything. As for exercise, I go for runs every now and then, maybe play volleyball once a week, yoga in the living-room while the girls are doing homework, dance when I can, and of course travel adventures!
The Language: So, you may all be wondering how the Spanish coming along? Well, again…I am “myself” so I can’t really notice or see all the improvements, but after 6 months, the language is beginning to “flow” naturally. My vocabulary that I actually use in my daily speech has probably quadrupled since September and the vocabulary, grammatical structures, and colloquial phrases that I understand from native speakers (my teacher, friends, and Spanish family) is tremendous. Five or six months ago, when somebody would speak to me, the Spanish just wouldn’t register, wouldn’t produce meaning in my brain fast enough for me to respond, so, I would either, 1.) freeze, 2.) use my favorite get-me-out-of-this-situation catch phrase, “No lo sé” (I don’t know), 3.) and if I was really feeling overwhelmed, “No hablo español.” But those days are far behind me. I don’t know when the change happened, but there has been a notable increase in my confidence level in my Spanish capabilities. Basically, when somebody speaks to me or asks me a question…I understand them and can answer back, or ask them to rephrase or repeat if I don’t understand. I can tell stories about my childhood, about my plans for the future, what I did at school that day, feelings and emotions, commands – the list goes on and on. I also have noticed that I am using dictionaries and my best friend, google translate, far less frequently and rather, more as tools for proof-reading and discovering various meanings and uses for verbs, nouns and adjectives that I already know. I have stopped using google translate to translate entire sentences to chat online with my native speaking Spanish friends or to write short papers for school – I just don’t need it anymore, I know what I want to say and how to say it properly. Although I still have 6 months left on my VISA here in Spain, and thus 6 more months of Spanish language school, I will still need at least another year of immersion and schooling to be at a mastery level of the Spanish language. Unlike learning English, which they say is shaped like a triangle (in the beginning, there is a lot to learn…grammar, vocabulary etc and thus difficult to speak properly in the beginning, but as you move up, the higher levels become easier as there is less material to learn), Spanish is shaped like an inverted triangle, (at the lower levels, you can easily learn a variety of basic verbs and basic grammar, but as you move up in level, Spanish actually get’s more complicated and more time-consuming as you learn very complex grammatical structures and ideas…not present in English). So basically, as a non-native speaker, to be able to use the Spanish language at any kind of professional or higher educational level, you must allocate the most time and energy to the higher level courses. I guess I’ve got my work cut out for me!
The Spanish Learning Curve
All in all, moving to Spain and everything that has come with it (the exposure to a new culture, the understanding and retention of a language other than English, the travel, the “putting me out of my element” and comfort zone) has been one of the best choices I have ever made and will continue to be one of the best things I have ever done for myself – personally, emotionally, for my future job prospects, my future children. I have never felt more like “myself” then I do here – being here brings out every positive, good side of me, evoking the change and development that I want to continue exploring and seeing in myself. 

The butterfly is a reminder to make changes when the opportunity arises. Change and transformation are inevitable for us all, but it does not have to be traumatic. The symbol of the butterfly stands for freedom, fun and joyous times – a state of naturalness and purity.”

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