Writing is kind of like a game of telephone. Things get lost in the process, meanings misinterpreted. In Stephen King's book "On Writing," he asked the reader, "What is writing? Writing is telepathy." If that's true, it makes since that your original intentions sometimes turn into purple-monkey-dishwasher.
Last week, my column got a lot of attention from various communities in Spain; American expats, Spanish locals, etc. I've been getting a lot of feedback about the piece, and the more I hear about it, the more I realize that something got lost in translation between my keyboard and some readers.
If you didn't see the piece, it was an illustration essay about the differences between Spain and America. Most of the comments were appreciative, but there was a sizable group that thought I was complaining about Spain.
Which was not what I was trying to do at all.
It’s fitting that the word alien gets thrown around when talking about immigrants. Because the truth is, in navigating another culture, it’s pretty easy to feel like a big green Martian. Things you think are universal get flipped, and the second you think you get it, a new confusion arises.
I get it. That’s just travel.
And truthfully, many of those differences are the reasons that so many Americans and I can’t seem to leave Spain. I like café con leche and canas. I like mixing eating and partying, and that clubs don’t close at 2 am. I like inexpensive doctors and high-speed trains.
Still, as good as things are, I still miss things from home, the good and the bad. I miss silly Bay Area slang like “cutty,” hearing Drake blasting from passing cars, and walking into literally any bar and buying an IPA.
It doesn’t mean that I need to embrace the culture here anymore than I have. It doesn’t mean that I expect everywhere around the world to be like America.
It doesn’t even mean that the stuff back home is any better (though I will never concede that a Madrid Burrito is better than California one).
It just means I know where I come from. As long that doesn’t close me off from experiencing Spain, I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.
That would be the end of the column except for we are missing a vital character in this plot: the local people. Wherever you’re a foreigner, whether it’s bustling Beijing or beautiful Paris, your cultural comparisons impact the locals, whether you were just venting or not.
Back in San Francisco, I used to get so irritated with visiting New Yorkers; all they could talk about was the Big Apple! That was so crazy to me! Why not learn about a new place instead of comparing it to a place you already know and love?
But I get it now. I don’t think they compared everything to home because they thought it was better.
Maybe that was just their way of taking things in.
Tune in every Friday for more missed connections and thoughtful, cultural ramblings.