“The two things Spain has to offer are the literature and the food,” an older man told me in his strong, Spanish accent. I have yet to read enough Spanish literature to comment on its worth, but Spain certainly has much to offer with its food. In Spain, or at least in Catalonia, people highly value bread and olive oil. In working as an Au pair for a family, I have had to prepare the children’s snack every morning. Each day, the host mom tells me to make the same snack for her children: a baguette with olive oil and sausage sandwich meat. Every afternoon, on the way home from school, the mom buys two fresh baguettes on the way home.
Instead of salad dressing, Spaniards eat their salads with olive oil, salt, and on occasion, vinegar. Whereas many Americans eat bread and butter for breakfast, my family does not even buy butter. Instead, my family eats bread with a chocolate spread similar to Nutella for breakfast. And, instead of using butter on bread for little sandwiches, called tapas, my family uses olive oil. A very common tapa which my family eats is a baguette with thinly sliced tomatoes, olive oil, and smoked ham.
My host mom, Maria, owns a restaurant in the neighboring town, Salou. Many days while the children are at school, I accompany her to the restaurant and spend my time either reading at the restaurant, or walking around the town. At lunch, the cooks prepare me a free meal. So far, I have eaten many dishes with rice, pasta, and salad. Recently, however, the cooks treated me to Paella – a well-known Spanish dish which includes rice and a mix of seafood.
So far, my food adventure in Spain has been great, although it has definitely come with a cost. Hopefully all of the bread, oil, and sugar will not add up to too much after my summer stay in Spain.
But, Spain has more to offer than just literature and food. From my first two weeks in Reus, I have discovered the beauty of the Mediterranean Sea, the tranquility in enjoying long meals, and the beauty in older buildings. I can use the bus system to get anywhere I want in town, and I have spent some of my days leisurely walking through the plazas downtown, window shopping and enjoying a tourist’s perspective of the old town. I have become enchanted with the sight of old church steeples in the background of a plaza filled with bakeries and cafes. And, I am not the only one. Many people come to the plaza to drink coffee and eat lunch, enjoying the company of friends during a long break from work. Many of the clothing stores close during the middle of the day, from around 1-5pm, so that the employees can also enjoy a longer lunch.
The only thing which makes it difficult for me to fully enjoy Reus is the discrimination of some people against any outsiders. Right now, Spain is suffering from the illegal immigration of mostly Moroccans and South Americans. Many of these people who enter illegally into Spain do not pay their share in the 30% tax rate, but have the ability to benefit from medical attention during emergencies. For this or other reasons, many Spaniards do not like outsiders. As a tall, blonde, American girl who speaks a highly accented Spanish, I have found it difficult to talk to some people. Some people immediately think I am not smart, or that I cannot understand what they are saying, just because of the way I look or dress. But there have also been people who have shown great kindness to me. My host family, for example, has made me feel as though I am a part of the family, opening me up to extended family and friends. In addition, at the gym, I have found basketball players to train with, and also to hang out with outside of practice. Hopefully by practicing my Spanish even more, I will be able to assimilate more in the culture and have more people open up their stories to me.
This past Monday afternoon, after travelling for fifteen straight hours, I landed in Barcelona. My host family met me at the airport and drove me to their house in Reus. When I arrived at their house, I was greeted by both of the grandmothers, many animals, and a very Spanish meal. The grandmothers were very kind to me, and made sure I ate as much and even more than I could handle. After I ate with the family, we all stayed seated around the table, enjoying the sobremesa, talking for a while more.
I expected that I would be submerged in the Spanish language and culture, that I would see many old, antique buildings, and that I would come back to the states with bronze skin and a broadened food palate. What I did not expect from my trip was to become fascinated with the political situations in Spain with an aftermath of Franco’s dictatorship and the present efforts of some Catalonians to separate from Spain.
So far, I have not had to do much as an Au pair. I have had to help out in the mornings and at night when they come home from school, but I have had free time in between. Maria Gonzalez, their mom, owns a seasonal restaurant which I have been staying at during the day. At the restaurant, and in the car rides, Maria has explained to me the political situation in Spain. She explained to me that there are some people in Spain who believe that since there are differences in language between regions in Spain, these regions, specifically Catalonia, should separate from Spain. If Catalonia separates from Spain and becomes its own country, Catalonia would have to start over as a new country. Catalonia would have to apply for entrance into the European Union, chose and manage a form of money, and control imports and exports, among other things. Although Catalonians would not have to pay taxes to upkeep other regions, they would still have to pay taxes to Catalonia for their new country.
Because a significant amount of people have voiced this opinion, people in Catalonia have been insecure in their future prosperity. People do not want to make big purchases in Catalonia because they do not know if their purchase will be honored by a new government. Married couples from different regions do not know if their spouses will have to apply for citizenship to stay in their country. Businesses and industries who have their bases in the Catalonia region, such as a Coca-Cola factory, have moved to other areas in Spain to avoid any future trouble. This demonstrates even more difficulties for Catalonia’s separation. Catalonia is already experiencing the affects which would result from their separation from Spain.
This apprehension and insecurity in the future of the country is a result of a form of Nationalism. Some people ignore the history of Spain as a country and believe that just because certain people in a region have different beliefs or a different culture than people in a different region, they should not be united as a country. They view diversity in these cultures as a bad thing, and they praise unity through an altogether impossible practice of a same exact culture. In addition, they fail to recognize the almost impossibility in creating a successful new country with a booming economy. The only thing which matters is the sentimentality in forming a new country with the same culture. This form of nationalism is dangerous because it fails to recognize the upcoming problems, and the importance of diversity in society for its functioning. For Catalonia to function, they need people who are diverse and can do many different things. For the whole country to function properly, people need to perform their respective roles. Catalonia, with its own unique language, is still very Spanish. Everybody in Catalonia learns Spanish along with Catalan in school, Catalonians pay taxes to Spain, and Catalonia shares the traditions and history with the other regions in Spain.
Jessica De Gree
Jessica teaches 5th grade English and History as well as 11th grade Spanish III at a Great Hearts Academy in Glendale, AZ. In addition to teaching, she coaches JV girls basketball and is a writing tutor for The Classical Historian Online Academy. Jessica recently played basketball professionally in Tarragona, Spain, where she taught English ESL and tutored Classical Historian writing students. In 2018, she received her Bachelor's degree in English and Spanish from Hillsdale College, MI.