Your love affair with Spain started when you were in college, right?
Yes. I’d always enjoyed reading Spanish and my goal was to immerse myself in the culture and learn how to speak the language. So in my junior year I jumped on a plane to Madrid, along with 49 other students. I met my future husband, from Granada, the very next day, changing the course of my life. I fell in love in all sorts of ways.
You racked up a lot of miles during your courtship.
Sure did. I spent seven years shuttling between the U.S. and Spain, trying to figure out who and where I wanted to be. I decided that love should prevail so Paco and I got married. My grandfather took his first trans-Atlantic flight to attend the wedding! I officially relocated in ’92, with my family’s blessing and good wishes. It was a good decision. We’re blessed with three beautiful children and what I consider a happy life, with lots of extra adventure.
After all these years in Spain do you consider yourself an expat?
I like to think that I’ve acculturated to the point where I can pass for Spanish when I’m going about my daily business and interacting with family, friends, colleagues, and other parents at school. But I’m still a Midwesterner at heart and I have the Minnesota accent to prove it! But, in all seriousness, we are definitely a bi-cultural family; we speak two languages at home, and embrace values, celebrations and ways of doing things from both American and Spanish culture.
What do you like most about raising kids in a two-culture family?
For me, the most gratifying aspect is the bilingualism. I speak to my kids in English, and Dad speaks to them in Spanish. However, except in one-to-one situations, my children talk to me in Spanish while I ramble on in English. I love watching my children seamlessly switch back and forth. Having this linguistic base has also helped my kids learn a third and even a fourth language.
Any downsides to the bi-cultural life?
We’ve managed to work out most of the wrinkles. There are minor issues like making sure your kids say please and thank you at all the right times in English. Spanish has some built-in mechanisms for taking care of that and if you go overboard on “please” and “thank you”, you can sound sort of flaky or even insincere.
Ever get homesick?
Definitely. The big problem for me is missing my family so very much. Sometimes I find myself winging it when I’d love for my kids to see how and why I do some of the stuff that I try hard to pass on to them, and that’s the stuff I’m made of, my roots, my family history, if you will. Today’s technologies help with some of that. This summer, in fact, we accompanied my “little” brother during the birth of his son in real time via my BlackBerry! I cherish these experiences because my kids are growing up without a closer point of reference from my side of the family. And, now that you’ve mentioned downsides, I believe we’re heading into unexplored territory.
Let me guess. Does it have anything to do with raising teenagers?
Exactly! Teenagers and autonomy. I grew up babysitting, working during the summer, driving at the age of sixteen, and I went away to college right after high school. This is definitely not how things work here. I find myself getting frustrated with my teenagers for their lack of resourcefulness and try to apply practical American-type approaches that simply don’t work here.
Tell us one of the things you love most about Spanish culture.
One aspect I like to share with other people is the importance of a good meal and conversation. On weekends or special occasions, getting together with friends and family can last for hours, and I love it. There’s a word in Spanish for the time spent just talking, listening, and hanging out after a meal: “sobremesa”. It’s made up of the preposition “sobre”, meaning on, upon, over, around, sort of, and “mesa” for table. Dictionaries translate it as “table talk” or “after-lunch/dinner conversation”, but those words don’t capture the essence of the ritual. It’s more of a transition from a nice meal, to more relaxed conversation and whatever you choose to drink… coffee, tea, an after-dinner drink, or nothing. It’s a time to really talk and listen. Every once in a while, a “sobremesa” melts right into the next meal time!
Sounds fun. I know Spain has lot of cultural and religious holidays. Does your family celebrate the American ones too?
We make an effort to celebrate all holidays around here. Sometimes things are a bit off. Thanksgiving, for example, usually takes place on a Saturday. At one time it was hard to get Halloween pumpkins that were actually orange, and we’d have fun with that. The best thing around here as far as my kids are concerned is that you get to believe in both Santa Claus and Los Reyes Magos. So we celebrate on Christmas Day and then do it all over again on the day of Epiphany, January 6th, in this case leaving carrots, water, and glasses of anisette for the wise men and their camels.
Any words of wisdom for other bi-cultural couples?
Just two tips — be yourself, and enjoy the laughter.