Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Anglophone Prejudice?

Something I've really noticed in the years I've been in Spain is that I get treated very differently by people in restaurants, shops, etc. depending on the company I keep.

When I'm with Spaniards, I get treated like just another person, usually. Occasionally I'll get a friendly "And what are you doing here? ... Oh, that's so cool!"

When I'm with other foreigners but we're speaking in Spanish or we all at least speak a decent amount of Spanish (enough to order or speak for ourselves and not seem foolish), the reaction isn't too dissimilar. Maybe slightly less curious and friendly, but more or less normal nonetheless.

When I'm alone, people tend to be very friendly (men in particular), probably because I'm blonde. I used to get pissed off about this, but now I just feel like it's a fact of life and I've come to deal with it and even occasionally appreciate it. I get asked all the time about what I'm doing here, where I'm from (they usually assume first that I'm German, because apparently I don't look American?), and usually get told about the person's experiences with English or their visit to America or whatever.

BUT, when I'm with friends who don't speak Spanish or don't speak enough to be able to communicate clearly, the reaction is completely different. People try to speak to us in horrible English and refuse to switch to Spanish even though my Spanish is clearly a million times better than their English. They (on purpose or not, I never know) misunderstand things I say in Spanish that no one has ever questioned me on before. They give me rude looks that seem to communicate "get out of my country, you English-speaker." They assume I don't understand their money. I even feel like the quality of the food I get served by them is poorer.

It feels horrible to be on the receiving end of that kind of treatment. It's truly awful to know that I may be treated poorly in Spain even though I speak perfectly good Spanish, simply because I deign to occasionally associate with those who don't.

So what's the solution? Well, I try, as snobby as this sounds, to not hang out in huge groups of Anglophones. And I recommend that to any other Anglophone coming to Spain to get an "authentic" experience. Besides, you don't learn half as much Spanish when you're speaking English all the time with your friends.

Of course, on occasion, it's inevitable that you'll find yourself out and about in the company of those who don't speak Spanish. And what to do then? I generally try to translate what the person wants to say so that I don't have to watch one of those awful scenarios in which an Anglophone comes up to someone in a foreign country and starts speaking to them really loudly and slowly in English and the other person is both confused and annoyed.

And I'm really not saying that this is Spaniards being prejudiced against Anglophones, or Americans, or anything. I've encountered that type of prejudice really rarely, which was a real relief after having heard for so many years about Americans who had to pretend they were Canadian while in a foreign country so as not to be in danger.

I think it's really just that it's plain annoying to be going about your job, having a normal day, and then have someone come up to you shouting things that you don't understand and then having to play the sign language game with them. People in America are always complaining about foreigners (particularly our neighbors to the south) not speaking English. But then they seem to be surprised when they go abroad and people who have to deal with them not speaking their language are annoyed too.

There's no real solution to any of this; I don't have any wisdom to's not like I'm going to learn Danish just to go to Denmark for the weekend, after all. But it's just something I think we should all keep in mind when traveling, that we are absolutely not entitled to have anyone speak our language, and we should count ourselves lucky when someone does. If they're cheerful about it, that's just icing on the cake.

Or I guess you could just never leave home at all...(not recommended).

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