A Beautiful Strange Place

Granada is beautiful, yet it is a very strange place to me. I adore the sun that glows bright on Granada, the tall vibrant green trees, and the sandy orange-colored rooftops. Every day has felt like summer and I enjoy every minute of each day. However, as beautiful as Granada is I cannot shake how peculiar the city, people, and customs are to me. There is so much I don’t understand and I realize that this place is more than just a pretty city.

When I arrived in Granada I realized that the city is a lot bigger and much different than I expected. I recall googling pictures of Granada and I got the impression that the city would only have a Moorish aesthetic. Granada does have this Moorish aesthetic, but also has blends of different styles of architecture. At the center of the city it looks very similar to Columbus Circle in New York. However, the streets are made with cobblestones and the buildings decorated with tiny balconies on the sides of buildings. When I pass the city center towards Albaicin, I enter a region heavily influenced by a Moorish aesthetic. The buildings in Albaicin look like they have been built with sand and brick. The outside is worn down by erosion which make the buildings look even better. Whenever I am near the area of San Anton, I enter a shopping area very similar to what I see in SoHo, New York. The city has its own unique blend which is strange to me only because I have never seen it before.

What I also thought was strange is how small everything is in Granada (or Spain generally). I was surprised that many “tiendas” or shops are about the size of two and halve typical New York City news stands. I laughed when I rode an elevator because it was as narrow and tall as a coffin. I chuckle when I see trash cans in the street because it’s fun-size. I am used to elevators as big as rooms, shops that are the size of buildings, and trash cans as tall as people. Although I think the square footage in Spain is adorable, I am curious about how and why things are so small. I assumed Spaniards would make their shops as big as they are in America.

Narrow elevator in Spain

Spaniards in Granada are also a bit strange to me. Spaniards do not spend a lot of time inside these fun-size shops and restaurants. Whenever I walk past a shop or restaurant, they are usually empty. In America, I am used to seeing these places filled with people shopping and eating until they run out of cash. Americans typically make consumerism a big part of their daily life and I thought Spaniards would as well. I realize that when Spaniards shop they only get what they need. In addition, whenever Spaniards eat at restaurants they sit outside and eat with friends and family. At night, Spaniards fill the bars and talk for hours. I think in Granada, Spaniards value spending more time with their friends and family than buying clothes. I’m not entirely sure, but these are my observations thus far.

Another interesting practice is the purchasing of plastic bags. Spaniards must either buy plastic bags or bring a bag when they purchase goods. I am so used to getting plastic bags for free with each purchase. I often confuse sales clerks when I ask for a bag because it’s uncommon. I also forget that I need to pay for it so there is an awkward pause at the end of each purchase.

I have also noticed that Spaniards walk really slow. I’m from New York City so I tend to walk fast and I am often frustrated with Spaniards. Typically, a lot of Spaniards stroll and take their time smoking their cigarettes. As I walk behind them a huge cloud of smoke hits my face. I gasp for air and I try to make my way around smoking Spaniards. However, I have trouble getting around them because the sidewalks and streets in Granada are so narrow. Thus, I wait about a minute until I have just enough time and space to scurry past a smoking Spaniard. I am used to these kinds of situations, but I am doing this at least twenty times a day on my way to class, a meeting, or the store. I find these circumstances strange and unique because, in my experience, most people walk fast in cities. However, I remind myself that I’m not in New York anymore. People here have a different way of moving through the city. Carmen, one of my program coordinators, has mentioned that there are reasons, but hasn’t explained why as of yet.

Spaniards also don’t smile for the same reasons Americans do. Whenever I glance at a Spaniard and smile in the streets they look away.  At first, I thought it was because I was black (in fact that theory still stands) or Spaniards are just rude. However, I talked to my program coordinators and they say Spaniards usually only smile when they mean it. In addition, smiling has different connotations here. Smiling could mean that a person wants to something from you. I also learned that when a woman smiles at a man it means she’s sexually interested. I was intrigued by how Spaniards interpret smiles and now questioning why Americans smile all the time. Were all those times I gave a smiling American stranger a flash of my pearly whites’ phony? I often ask myself this question before smiling here in Spain. I’m also conflicted because I usually smile when I’m nervous, excited, or I want to be polite.

Another strange phenomenon is the eating habits in Granada/Spain. Spaniards have what is called a siesta in which businesses close between 2pm and 9pm. As a result, Spaniards spend 6 hours without food. Why? Currently, I do not know. I also do not understand why Spaniards eat extremely light breakfasts. For instance, I live with a host mother and I usually eat toast and drink milk for breakfast at 8:30 am. Two hours later, I have a headache and my stomach is growling because I haven’t had enough to eat. I usually find myself running to a cafe for a muffin or something to keep myself alive. Apparently, I’m not alone in this because Spaniards have breakfast twice.  I don’t understand why at this moment. To me, As an American, I have been told all my life that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. So why eat twice instead of eating a big breakfast? Moreover, as I mentioned before, Spaniards have siesta at 2pm, so I must get my lunch before this time to eat. I think it’s strange considering that in America I can eat anytime I want, especially in New York City. Nevertheless, I am very curious as to why Spaniards have such an interesting (yet painful, in my opinion) practice.

A small store in Spain

I love the city of Granada, but there is so much I don’t understand. I get lost in the beauty of city, but I often wonder why the aesthetics of buildings change. I think the small garbage bins, tiendas, and elevators are cute but unsure why they’re small. The customs at the stores, restaurants, and streets are different and now I’m curious to learn why. I also realize that what I find strange the Spaniards here will tell me is normal. In Granada, I am the stranger because I’m projecting my values onto a completely different culture. I’m learning that there is another way to live life and I will put my values aside to see what that looks like here. After all, that is one of the reasons why I came here.

Leave a Reply