By Will Newton, Williams College Class of 2020
Family meals are one of the most important parts of Spanish culture. Fittingly, it was during the first three meals with my host family in Granada, Spain, that I had some of my most shocking and confusing immersion experiences so far.
After a two-day orientation in Granada, I met my petite, smiling host mother and was greeted with a warm hug. We walked to her house, and I had a bit of time to unpack before our first family lunch, which we’d eat around 3 p.m.
The food was incredible, but the conversation was somewhat awkward at first. At one point my host mom asked me what I knew about Spain. I had just taken a college course on Spanish life under the fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco. So, I figured talking about the substantial progress Spain has made since Franco’s death roughly 40 years ago would be a safe topic.
I could not have been more wrong. As it turns out, my host mother is one of a large number of Spaniards who believe that Franco was not nearly as bad as historians and the media tried to make him look. Under his leadership, she told me, the country was much more stable and well-off than it is now. I decided to mention the 200,000 political prisoners who were killed during his 36-year dictatorship, but that was an even bigger mistake. I was treated to a very impassioned defense of Franco and fascism, and I learned about how colleges across the world use propaganda and inaccurate, manipulated data to make him look bad. Unsure how to respond, I told her I agreed and apologized for bringing it up.
After a relaxing siesta and walk around the area following lunch, my host mom called me out for dinner, a lighter and much less formal meal usually eaten around 10 or 11 p.m. The news was playing quietly on the radio on the table, so my host mom told me I could turn it off. It was an older radio with A LOT of buttons. When I asked her where the power button was, she gave me a flurry of instructions in Spanish that I struggled to understand. I ended up pressing every wrong button, eventually turning the radio up to near full volume. Unable to figure out how to reverse the volume change, I was caught in the middle of a Spanish news commentator blasting in one ear and my host mother yelling more instructions at me in the other. After a few more wrong buttons, I finally managed to turn it off. Though I was drenched in sweat from those very tense few minutes, I did manage to have a very pleasant conversation with my host mom over the meal. I survived my first day.
Then, the most startling moment happened the next morning, right as I was getting ready to leave for my first class. While I was finishing up breakfast, my host mom bent down in my direction and said in a very slow and condescending voice: “Quieres salir de la casa ahora, pero no puedes. Puedes salir en una hora y media.” (You want to leave the house right now, but you can’t. You can only leave in an hour and a half).
Shocked and at almost a complete loss for words (my class started in 25 minutes), I managed to mutter “¿Qué?” (What?). She then smiled and explained that she was talking to her eight-month-old French bulldog Boli, who was lying near the table waiting to go for a walk.
Since the strange and unnerving first few days, I’ve grown much more comfortable with my host family, and it’s turned into one of the more rewarding parts of my experience in Spain so far.
I’ll tell you about my first day of classes at the University of Granada in my next post.