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The salty spray with Diamant Rae The salty spray with Diamant Rae. The Sole of the Matter. Setting foot in cultural oddities.

Diamant Shaw

"Here they are comfortable with being human - elderly folk inching about (many of the women still in high heels!), people with deformities or groups of Downs-syndrome teenagers, women perusing the beaches without tops, gothic punk fashion statements hopping on the bus, not to mention the famous Spanish mullet - all perfectly normal sights on a daily basis."


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The Sole of the Matter ..setting foot into cultural oddities JettyGirl Surf Travel Feature

By Diamant Shaw

Nothing beats stepping out my doorstep into the cool wet morning air, bundled up in 3 layers, a rain jacket, scarf, and of course, my flip-flops. My Spanish neighbors all have their high heeled boots and rain galoshes on as I continue to relish in my free-footed fashion statement. Or really just flaunt the fact that I came to one of the rainiest places in Europe a little unprepared. My indulgence came to an end this past week however, when the torrential downpour for six days straight convinced me that my fashion faux-pas was not happening.

But my wrong footedness and poor packing skills have really only scratched the surface of my experience here in Spain. I can say that it has not been what I brought with me, but rather more of what I have discovered here that has enhanced by knowledge of the world and helped me dive into my wanderings about the word.

The fall has dropped me in my niche here in San Sebastian, where just under two months ago I was trying to find my way around in the sunshine and crowds of beach bound tourists. That was when the water was still warm, the blackberries were still ripe, the night-life was bustling, and if you were lucky, you might find a couple square inches of empty sand on the beach. Come September's end, the people dropped off rather quickly, and the Basque people became more recognizable. I was amazed to see the city transform…like a Christmas tree when the decorations have been lost, but the lights are still on. Beautiful lit up bridges, long beach strand walkways, spectacular views from both Monte Urgull and Igueldo, a thriving harbor full of colorful boats and houses, some of the richest tapas in all of Spain, and a small-town feeling that makes everything accessible and inviting. You can read it in any travel guide, but take it from me, San Sebastian is one of the most gorgeous places in Spain!

From my summer visit to Madrid and a few other excursions to local cities and Barcelona, my most favorable attraction has been the people of Spain, and of San Sebastian on a daily basis. Most noticeable here is the lack of emotion they show on their faces, which was startling to me in contrast to Americans who generally will share casual smiles or give recognition to those around them. Here, smiling feels as sinful as flirting! - whether you are in a bus or the subway, people tend to give you the blank stare instead of a friendly consolation in their glances. I have had to restrain myself from sharing my joy unless I have been spoken to, in which cases the language barrier makes smiling my key to success! I can't say I haven't been hit on by a few old Spanish men who took my instinctual happy expression to mean a little something more, but I can say that my first few days in the capitol city were a cultural eye-opener!

The Basque people in San Sebastian have similar patterns, but I have seen how this sense of seriousness can be interpreted as something beautiful. Their autonomous state which sets them apart from the rest of Spain is also reflected in their daily interactions. They are silent and pensive when alone, jovial only when within a tight-knit group of friends, and closed off to anyone they don't really know. The presence of their closest friends brings out their inner emotions making it so much more special – because in a way, they have been saving up smiles for the people who will truly appreciate them.

This appreciation for close friends and family carries into daily cultural patterns, such as the closing of stores between the hours of 2-5ish. Lunch is the main meal and people prefer to spend as much time as possible with family and in leisure than working straight through the afternoon. I had to adjust to this cultural tradition because you cannot expect to get a late lunch or run an errand in the afternoon. Weekends are especially sacred, with special hours, mostly completely closed on Sundays, and all the town is out with their families walking, going to a concert at the Kursall, or watching their kids on one of the many public playgrounds and game courts. The city is designed for this kind of leisurely enjoyment, and while tourists may think it is a perfect spot for a vacation, the locals get to enjoy it every week out of the year.

So despite their seemingly emotionless condition, I have learned from the Basque people that they are simply down to business when not in intimate communication with friends and family. It is merely that you have to put in a little effort to break the barriers between not only how you are used to communicating, but how their withholding of emotion can really be quite educational. Many people take their silence and standoffishness as "cold" but I prefer to differ. What I see is honesty. The Basque people are simply working hard to get through the day in order to get to those precious moments with their friends and family. And their culture does not necessitate appearing to feel something or express some emotion when they honestly don't.

I realized this when I saw how comfortable Spain is with the human image. Nudity and the human body don't make people hesitate. They are displayed on television, in advertisements, even posters in store windows at a child's level! Here, they are comfortable with being human - elderly folk inching about (many of the women still in high heels!), people with deformities or groups of Downs-syndrome teenagers, women perusing the beaches without tops, gothic punk fashion statements hopping on the bus, not to mention the famous Spanish mullet - all perfectly normal sights on a daily basis. There is a sense that if you don't feel like smiling, if you are not quite perfect everyday, if you're not the best looking or the greatest Spanish speaker or a real ripper out in the water, it's ok.

I am not denying however, that sometimes this culture can make it hard for an outsider to find a niche, make friends, or become localized. But I do think that as foreigners, it is important to respect this attitude, and perhaps learn something from it. Here they do not hide behind false smiles, keep their mentally challenged or disabled inside, or send their elderly to live in homes. They may seem distant towards strangers but they are fiercely attached to family and they keep their friends close. Maybe it is simply our culture, which shares smiles with most everyone, but demands independence away from loved ones and isolates minorities, that is somehow misunderstanding the soul of the matter. If smiles weren’t so freely given away, and people harder to connect with, how much better would we treat our close friends and relatives? How much more time would we spend in leisure and enjoying our loved ones, if we had inner security about our figures and felt accepted by the culture?

These are just a few of the shoes I have been trying to fit into for the past few months. And I’m thoroughly enjoying setting my flip-flops aside to take up stride with the Spanish culture.

Saving up smiles for my San Diego loves,

Diamant

 

diamant shaw

diamant shaw

Parte Vieja

Monte Igueldo

clouds and Jesus in spain

Diamant Shaw surfing near Biarritz

Diamant Shaw and her castle

Diamant Shaw and some huge croissants

small waves at La Playa Zuriola

 


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