At midnight the city streets of Madrid, Spain are packed as tightly as chorizo with people. While studying here, I know sleep will never be an option, especially when there are people awake at this hour that are either less than half or four times my age. Sometimes I want to cry from sheer exhaustion – consistently staying up late can be draining – but then I glance at the infants with their parents who smile and enjoy their time out. I haven’t craved a stroller in years, but sometimes I think it would be nice to hire someone that could haul me around town. For those extremely late nights out, however, I might need a wheelbarrow. Instead, I have embraced the power of triple shot espresso and remember everyday that I can catch up on sleep when I am dead.
Spending time in the city has become one of my favorite activities. I have exercised sufficiently running away from groups of Spanish men yelling, “Rubia, rubia,” or “Blondie, blondie.” I have been mocked in a park by a family during the summer for accidentally saying, “Estoy caliente,” which means I am hot… sexually. And I have witnessed the come back of a once famous hairstyle – the mullet. It has been three years since I have seen such a high concentration of mullets. The last occasion was at the California Strawberry Festival – an annual fair that draws all local mullet-wearing trolls out from under bridges.
In Spain, however, men and women wear mullets like Liz Taylor wears white diamonds. This hairstyle also takes on multiple forms. I have seen dreadlock mullets, braided mullets, curly mullets, flat-ironed mullets, and my personal favorite, mullets with lightning bullets and swirls intricately shaved along the side of the head. Apparently Harry Potter is not the only one who can sport a lightning bolt with pride. Within my first two weeks here, I kept thinking that I had seen every possible way to sport the mullet. However, I still continue to see styles that surprise me everyday.
At some point, I quit asking questions that start with the letter W. For example, “Why is she wearing her bra on the outside of her shirt? Who would buy a cured pig leg for 240 euros? When did they decide to put a McDonalds next door to an ancient castle?” Sometimes curiosity is more satisfying than nonsensical answers. Especially those pertaining to the history of the mullet, which I believe will always remain an enigma.
The language barrier also represents one of my favorite things abroad. When sitting in a room full of Spaniards, it feels like one of those awkward moments when two people share a private joke or favorite memory and you smile though you have no clue what they are reminiscing about. In these situations the difficulty is figuring out how you should react. If you laugh along with the joke to look pleasant, the others might get mad because you were not a part of their special memory. On the contrary, if you listen sincerely with a straight face, gossip ensues about how unpleasant you are because you never smile. So you smile until someone asks you something, then you nod your head and say, “Sí.” Then as everyone laughs, you figure out you were not asked a yes or no question.
If only I spoke 100 different languages, then I could be on the inside of everyone’s joke, the punch line being that I am an ignorant American who has little regard for countries other than my own. So until I can achieve this goal I will continue smiling. As Mark Twain once said, “It is better to keep one’s mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.”