Learning The Local Spanish Culture: Connect, Connect, Connect




American Sign Language Version

English version:

Delving into the local Spanish culture has been a wonderful experience for me. I have learned so much that I could share in length but I’m going to select a few noteworthy experiences to share. The first one relates to personal space, the second one relates to Spain’s national dish, the paella, and the third one relates to the local Spanish DeafBlind culture.

In Spain, people are in more close, intimate contact with one another often touching one another whether on the arm or shoulder, while sitting or standing. Furthermore, during my LSE (Spanish Sign Language) class, my teacher called on me and I went to her with my Protactile interpreter. She signed and I didn’t quite catch what she said. Without hesitation, the teacher tactile signed directly with me instead of relying on my interpreter to relay information. I didn’t even have to ask.

Nonetheless, I am accustomed to more intimate touch as I’m DeafBlind. Similarly, with my Mexican background, more intimate contact is valued. Also, in Spain, people tend to greet one another by kissing once on each cheek. This is generally more true for women than men.  In Mexico, people tend to greet by kissing once on the cheek. In the USA, there is generally greater personal space between people, less intimate contact and the kissing-on-the-cheek greeting rarely happens [unless you are from a cultural background that practices it]. 

Seafood paella (photo credit: Tapería de Malasaña where I ate)
Seafood paella (photo credit: Tapería de Malasaña where I ate)

Now, let me tell you about my experience with paella. You see, I love to eat and enjoy the exquisite tastes of a variety of local Spanish fast foods. During one occasion, a group of us shared an enormous paella at a restaurant which included rice and a variety of vegetables as well as a choice of meat: rabbit, seafood, or chicken. It was so delicious that on another occasion, I decided to go back to that restaurant and order one for myself; no one else joined me. As the waiter was ready to take my order, I ordered a paella all to myself. The waiter regrettably informed me that they couldn’t serve it as a paella is to be shared with two or more people. To elaborate, in Spain, a delicious paella takes more time, care and preparation to make so much that it’s meant to be shared with families and/or friends during special occasions or other times of fellowship. 

Now about the local Spanish DeafBlind community, my two theater instructors and I visited the local DeafBlind organization. DeafBlind people were seated in a circle while paired up with their SSPs (Support Service Providers), They were smelling various fragrances or essential oils. Meanwhile, I mingled with the other locals and learned that the local DeafBlind people tend to congregate once per week, sometimes more. At the time, there was an upcoming larger scale DeafBlind event, an expo, with over six hundred DeafBlind people from all over Spain expected to attend.

Oh and one more thing, the local DeafBlind folks also meet up at a local bar once per month. Wow, these folks really get out and gather more often to socialize. In the USA, DeafBlind people tend to congregate once per month and once a year for larger scale events like DeafBlind camps. That’s all. Wow, I really like how the local Spanish DeafBlind folks get out and congregate more frequently. I wish USA was more like Spain in that regards.

Overall, I was fascinated with the local Spanish culture. It really made me reflect on the diversity of cultures and people  around the world, including the local Spanish culture. The more I learned and understood their way of life, the more I internalized it and grown to appreciate it,  the more I expanded my global awareness.

Author’s Note: This intensive study abroad program was from June 1st-30th, 2019.

photo of 3 individuals smiling: Felix in the center wearing yellow polo shirt, with local DeafBlind, Jesus Sanchez (left), bald white Spaniard wearing lime green striped shirt and glasses, & Alberto Sifuentes (right), light skinned Chicano wearing a white button-up sleeveless shirt and hair pulled back
Felix (center) with local DeafBlind Spaniard, Jesus Sanchez (left), and Alberto Sifuentes (right), a classmate experienced with DeafBlind people.