Sunday, September 9, 2012

Random first impressions

It's weird to think I've been here in San Sebastian for a week now. I've been gone from the US for maybe two weeks? Already it seems like my life in the States was years ago. I'm adjusting decently well to life here in Spain. Food is so yummy and the place is so beautiful. I haven't quite adjusted my sleep schedule yet. It's not jet lag. It's just that I'm normally a morning person so I wake up horrendously early and then stay in bed because there's nothing to do in the morning. Shops don't open until 10am and I don't start class until 11 am.

I found out that one of the guys in my program is also from my hometown. We both noted how weird it is to tell each other that I went to Wash and he went to S.I. Out of the context of our city, no one really knows what those abbreviations mean. Back home, everyone does. Here, it just seems so out of place. Distant. Removed.

On a similar note, I always pick up on the people speaking English. It's almost funny hearing it outside of hanging out with other Americans. I live with a Spanish family so I don't hear English unless I'm out with friends.

People in touristy areas speak English, especially if they are young. If you stumble on Spanish, they'll correct you, like in the restaurant I had dinner in last night. I also went shopping and paid with my credit card. Once the cashier asked for my ID and saw it was from California she just switched to English even though my Spanish was perfectly passable up to that point. Oh well.

It's interesting just to sit and take everything in. I can sit on a bench in a public place by myself while I'm waiting for a friend and no one will bother me or even really look twice at me. It gives me nice time to just look at everything. I love looking at the fashions and the people and the pets and everything. It's quite common to see people on bikes with a surfboard under one arm. It's quite normal to see young children out with their parents after 11pm. It's not very common to see dogs on leashes because they are so well behaved.

Before I left I had an assignment from my pre study abroad class where we had to pretend we were Martians observing earthling culture. I feel a bit like that every time I take the bus. I'm used to city buses. It's not terribly different. My host parents got me a bus card, which functions similarly to my bus card back home. You go in the front door, put your card in the reader, wait for the green light, take it and go find a seat or place to stand. After a few rides, I began to notice where the seats reserved for the elderly, disabled or pregnant are. (that's another thing! I swear I've seen more babies in a week here than I do in a month back in the States.) Some newer buses are color coded so you can see more easily which seats are reserved. There's also an area for wheelchairs and strollers that other passengers can stand in if there aren't any. Oh and waiting for the bus is an art form. You basically wait in line, except it doesn't appear to be one. You only get on the bus once everyone who was already at the bus stop when you arrived gets on. You should also stand more or less in your place in line when you are just waiting.

I also feel like people have a lot more respect for the handicapped here. Like with the seats on the bus, it appears to me that there are places in society for everyone. It's not uncommon to see handicapped cashiers here. I've also seen a bank ad where a woman who appears to be on the autism spectrum is depicted as part of the banks family. I feel like in the US we have ADA and laws to not exclude handicapped people but we don't really include them either. In the US I almost feel as if we ignore handicapped people because we don't want to be politically incorrect but we end up isolating them. Here I feel like they're far more active members of society than they are in the US. They go out with friends and family, they have jobs, and they aren't hidden away as embarrassments to the family. People here don't laugh at them or make fun of them. In fact I'd say they respect them.

I saw a man with the kind of crutches to help walk with a leg problem rather than an injury get on a crowded bus. A bunch of girls, maybe 10 years old, were sitting in the reserved seats. The man wasn't going to bother the girls so he stood. Another man on the bus went up to the girls and told them to have respect for the man with crutches. They moved and the whole bus seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief. A fascinating look at the norms and values of a culture if I've ever seen.

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