Part of getting to know people that live in another country is learning the basic interactions that friends and acquaintances use. In this column and on my blog, I am trying to focus on the differences between visiting a country and really getting to know what people and culture are like beyond the presentation. One of the things that has been a joy to learn, is how emotional and affectionate most Spaniards tend to be to those they know.
Of course, I had the expected mishaps of accidentally kissing people or knocking heads when they came in to give me a kiss on both cheeks. Now, I have gotten used to it and it is natural to greet everyone with a left, then right kiss (you have to get the order down so you aren't going for the same side). It is an automatic greeting between women, even those you just meet. But, it is also a greeting between men and women that are either being introduced, or that you have met before. As an American woman, it feels very charming and romantic to be formally kissed as a matter of good manners. However, it did throw me off guard at first when Carson's 16 year old friends also greeted me this way. You have to push through your preconceived notions of propriety and look at it like shaking hands in the United States. In Spain, mothers would be very proud to know that their sons had kissed me upon being introduced.
My kids, in 3rd and 10th grade, have learned to expect different physical contact as well. When asking my kids how Spanish kids appear to them at school, they both always answer, "Well, they have a lot of energy." That's a generous way to put it. Being a school that tries to bring an international focus to mostly Spanish kids, the American School of Valencia (ASV) has tried many things to settle people down. They have brought in consultants, tried a "no speaking outside of class" policy, as well as an "ASV buck" incentive policy. You name it. But nothing seems to work. The reason being that the Spanish culture includes lots of physical contact and its just impossible to be a Spanish kid without it. Spanish kids hang on each other A LOT. When walking in the hall, it is expected to hug or kiss people that you are friends with (or wrestle, jump on, mess up their hair, pick up.....). Carson, my 10th grader, says every time he tries to give a kid a high five or a handshake, they pull him in for a hug. The third graders are like puppies, always in clumps hugging and climbing on each other. They play a game called "Catch." It is different from tag in that the goal isn't to touch someone, but to physically catch them, hug them, and bring them to the ground. I asked Carson if he got hugged or kissed a lot. He said, "Put it this way, I've been hugged or kissed more in the past 4 months than in the rest of my school years combined."
As a mother of a teenage boy, I jokingly said that there is one tradition I want Carson to bring back with him. He is playing on the only American Football team in Valencia (the Valencia Firebats). All of these boys love American Football and try to imitate what they think American football players act like. So, they are VERY emotional on the field. I have seen wailing, helmet throwing, banging the ground with fists, and of course lots of hugs and kisses. But, after the game, when they won 58 to 32 (they still haven't gotten defense down), the first thing these 16 to 18 year old boys did was line up along the fence so that their mothers could come down and kiss them. I joyously joined in, telling Carson that this will be our new tradition when he gets back to the United States. He gamely let me do it, but then responded with, Enjoy it while you can."
Sally and her family moved to Spain for a year from July 2017 - July 2018. They lived in a little town called Puzol, which is about 20km north of Valencia. Her kids, Carson and Celia, attended the American School of Valencia, an International School located in Puzol. The goal for the whole family was to experience another way of life, and learn Spanish.