Sara Ann Levine
Sara Ann Levine graduated from Georgetown's School Foreign Service in 2011 with an International Politics major. Originally from Huntington Woods, Michigan, she participated in the Berkley Center's Junior Year Abroad Network from Madrid, Spain during the spring of 2010.
March 15, 2010
Before coming to Madrid, the directors and coordinators of the Georgetown program in Spain talked to us about what to expect culturally when we arrived. The Spanish culture is extremely different from the culture Ive grown up in. In the United States, we are taught from a young age that productiveness and efficiency are what we should strive for. Spains culture focuses much more on relating to people and spending time with others, instead of spending time with your desk. Rarely would you be given the brush off, even if the person you are talking to has an appointment or class to get to. The Spanish legitimately want to know how you are when they ask at the beginning of a conversation; it isnt just a pleasantry here.
Keeping that in mind, there are also things that I was not fully prepared for when I arrived in Madrid this past January. It was mentioned to us that political correctness is not a common concept in Spain. There are not certain terms or ideas that are avoided because they might be impolite to discuss or could be construed as rude. For the most part, people are very blunt with the things they say and who they say them to. The most noticeable instance in which this has been a somewhat negative experience has been through the relationship many Spaniards (not all) have with the Asian population in Madrid.
Recently, there has been a large increase of Asian immigrants to Spain. Many Spaniards do not like this fact and are upset about the number of jobs the immigrants are taking away from the Spanish people. Especially with the current economic crisis in Spain, with Greeces crash and the enormous effect it is having on the Spanish economy, many harbor resentment towards the Asian population in Madrid. In addition to this, Madrid does not seem to be as ethnically and culturally diverse as many other major cities seem to be. In comparison to Paris, there is a definite difference in the quantity of culturally distinctive groups and individuals.
Everyone who is Asian in Madrid is called a chino. There is no differentiation between Koreans, Japanese, or Chinese. Everyone is chino, which is offensive in itself. There is no reason to get to find out if they are, in fact, of Chinese descent. Many times, I have heard madrileños talking about los chinos in a very negative and dismissive context. Asian people are also stared at more than other foreigners in Madrid. One of my best friends here happens to be Asian and the amount of time she has been stared at since arriving in Madrid is confounding, especially since the appropriate length of time during which someone can stare at you before having to look away out of politeness is much longer in Spain than it is in the U.S.
Before coming to Madrid, I did not even stop to think that I might be in a place where everyone isnt respected, as they are where I am from. Granted, there is not as much respect for personal differences as there should be in the United States, but it seems to me that there is a general knowledge that there should be respect. People who dont respect others are partially aware that their attitudes are not universal. In Madrid, especially in relation to the Asian population here, Spaniards do not seem to realize that there is such a thing as political correctness. There is a certain level of respect that everyone is entitled to.
May 6, 2010
Spain has a strong Catholic tradition. Religion is splattered across her history, ranging from the Inquisition to the forced conversions of conquered civilizations in Latin America. Religion, particularly Catholicism, has taken on a representative role of the Spanish culture. While studying in Madrid, I have come in close contract with the relationship Spaniards have with religion. Looking in any guidebook, many of the must-see tourist attractions in Spain are churches and cathedrals. Spain has tons of them, some more famous than others. In fact, I have not been to a city in Madrid where I havent visited at least one.
This environment is representative of the attitude towards religion that I have come into contact with in Spain. From the people I have met, religion is more for appearance and history than anything else. The Spanish people are very proud of their religious heritage, and equally as proud of their monumental Cathedrals. The Cathedrals and churches are well preserved as well as extremely popular attractions. Many of them house famous works of art as well. In addition to this, there seems to be a fairly regular attendance rate at masses. The services that I have been to have been well attended, but mostly by the older generations.
However, when it comes down to actually practicing religion, I find that the community in Madrid is not as dedicated as I had previously thought. Many of the people I have met, who identify themselves as Catholic, do not attend church services. They speak very reverently about religion, but there is no action to follow it up with. The impression I have been getting is that religion is simply for show to many. Religion is a sacred subject to Spaniards but many of them do not seem to take their devotion as something that should instigate action.
It has also been interesting to note that, for a fairly religious community, there is more prejudice than anticipated. Mainly in the older generations, there is a distinct attitude of disrespect towards people of different races, mainly those of Asian descent. It is a very different way of looking at things as a Catholic in Spain. Growing up Catholic, you are taught to respect and embrace everyone; treat people as you would wish to be treated. In many cases in Madrid, that is not the case.
I have come to understand that religion is not exactly something that people practice in Spain. It is more like religion is simply a part of the Spanish heritage and therefore a part of the people. The pride for their history can be perceived as a pride for religion when the real reason behind that perception is the connection that religion and history has had in Spain. This doesnt make Spaniards an unreligious people. On the contrary, there are devout Catholics in Madrid, however it has been my experience that the number is slowly diminishing. With the younger generations you are more likely to meet someone who identifies as a member of the Catholic Church, but isnt practicing. It is a part of their identity, but not a defining part.