In Spanish, gracias means thank you. In school, they teach you that the response is de nada, you’re welcome. Grant and I kept saying gracias to people, but we weren’t quite catching what they were saying back. We just knew it wasn’t de nada. As it turns out, they were saying a usted. This roughly translates to no, thank YOU.
A usted sums up my experience in BCN so far. As I am filled with so much gratitude in response to our new home, it’s like the whole city is saying no, thank YOU back.
I went to a modern dance class yesterday by myself. I was so nervous to go and meet people – plus, I’ve never tried modern dance. Plus, once I got there I learned that the whole class is conducted in Catalan.
I’m going to pause a second and explain the Catalan/Spanish thing here. It’s a very unique situation in the Catalonia region. Catalonia sees itself as a separate culture from the rest of Spain – as such, they even have their own language. It’s not a dialect, it’s actually a whole separate language. It’s called Catalan. The best I can explain it is that it sounds somewhere between Spanish and French to me. Confusingly, people call Spanish here castilian. Anyway, it is mandated that people learn Catalan here in school and Spanish as a second language. Many people also speak English as a third language. All the official signage in Barcelona is in Catalan. That being said, I haven’t met anyone here who doesn’t speak Spanish, but it technically isn’t the preferred language. I only know Spanish.
Back to the modern dance class. So, of course the class starts with all of us sitting in a circle doing a roll call and talking about our dance experience. This is when it became clear to me that: 1) Everyone was speaking Catalan 2) I was the only foreigner and 3) I clearly had not registered correctly for the class – there was a whole Excel spreadsheet with everyone’s name on it already. Whoops.
Thankfully, the teacher and all the students were so welcoming. The teacher of the class had studied in New York for a Fullbright Scholarship. I’m pretty sure she’s been in a very similar situation to me before, in reverse, so she had a lot of empathy for me. Throughout class, if I wasn’t understanding what was going on, she would tell me in English (only after trying several times explaining in Catalan). We had to work in pairs, and the other students would repeat things to me in Spanish for clarity. At some point in the middle of class, I paused and thought to myself people really are the same everywhere. Different language, different country, different type of dance, but really the same dance class. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be here and dance with these people, but they are all a usted a million times back to me.
I’ll leave you with some old school Shakira that reminds me of how small we are. How we are all passing dust on this Earth and yet how that gives comfort – we are all fleeting dust together. If we can only learn to express gracias and a usted to each other more.
Perteneciste a una raza antigua / You belonged to an ancient race
de pies descalzos / of bare feet
y de sueños blancos / and white dreams.
fuiste polvo polvo eres / You were dust, dust you are
piensa que el hierro / Think, because iron
siempre al calor es blando / that remains under the heat is weak.