Choque de Cultura

“We´re going to baptize her with a bottle of Cruzcampo beer!” Alfonso said, mimicking the action over his three-month old baby, Luna. I tried to keep quiet, letting out on of those awkward, “I feel reaaaaallly uncomfortable and the language barrier is ever-present” giggles.
Alfonso has not married his girlfriend, Susana. Both are good friends of Kike, and that’s why he’s been asked to be the padrino, or godfather.

In Spain, religion is taking seriously. Ceramic virgins grace every mantle, kids are given Catholic names and every bar is named Saint This or Saint That. Religion brings pilgrims to Sevilla to see the field where the Divine Pastor appeared to Saint Isidore, religion relegates that shops be closed Sundays (one of my biggest complaints about Spain) and this Catholic religion fills the streets of penitent worshippers during Holy Week, garnering money and providing scenes such as this one:

When I first started dating Kike, everyone at his base was abuzz with the sheer fact that I was NOT Spanish. The priest of the base’s chapel even asked, “Is she at least Catholic?” And recently, I had an interview with an Opus Dei kindergarten where the only question that followed, “Did you find the school alright?,  was “Are you a practicing Catholic?” Religion unites Spaniards in the same way that language and love of paella does.
I am Catholic, so seeing the crying virgins and bloody Christs is normal. Religious I am not – I haven´t been to mass in well over two years, mostly because I was overwhelmed and felt stupid for not knowing the prayers and hymns in Spanish, but I would dare not say I didn´t believe.

That’s why Alfonso´s comment rubbed me the wrong way. You don’t want to get married? It’s your life. You don’t want to formally baptize your daughter? Who am I to say anything?

I put the question to Kike, he with the opinion about everything. Turns out, Susana and Alfonso wanted to baptize Luna in a beautiful chapel in the Triana neighborhood, Santa Ana. The priest asked if they were married. They said no. He then asked if the godparents, Kike and Susana´s cousin, Ana, were confirmed. They responded that the godfather was, and the godmother not. Exit new parents.

On the contrary, religion is sometimes laughed at. It´s common to say, “Me cago en Díos,” which literally means, “I shit on God.” Tell me how something so sacred to 45 million people (ok, I´m generalizing), can be relinquished to such a vulgar way to say, oh, shit. It´s laughable, really.

Tradition is deep-rooted in Spain, and as a foreigner, I feel like I´ve had to navigate these subtle differences with a lot of grace and precaution. I have the luck of being of the same denomination, but imagine the darling Turkish girl who worked with me last year. She flat-out refused to try ham on her toast, garnering lots of heckles from our coworkers. But it´s her religion that doesn´t allow it! If Sevilla were to build a mosque within the city limits, Sevillanos would have a field day picketing, swearing and doing everything in their power to prevent the groundbreaking. It would be an abomination, they´d say.

And since Alfonso and Susana can’t baptize their baby as they wish, well, they´re just going to have lunch at the pool.

And it’s not just those big, heavy issues – it’s everyday little things that I feel are off-limits. Eating lentejas or cereal for dinner – no can do. Leaving the air on at night? Don’t tell me your Spanish abuelita never told you that doing so will give you a cold. And leave it to my friend Stacy to point out all the intricacy of having a baby as an American woman in Spain.

The Spanish culture, with all of its caveats and contrasts, amazes and amuses me. But don’t let me tell you I never thought it was weird.

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living among pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she wrangles babies at an English Language Academy and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.

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