My wonderful friend Victor is a Valenciano, born and raised. He is also one of my favourite things about Valencia.
Kind, generous, intelligent, and funny (assuming I translated his jokes correctly), he welcomed both JFL and I into his home and his circle of friends. We met through a local language exchange, but our informal meeting quickly developed into a solid friendship – now he’s stuck with us for life, because I do visit (see: last year).
He is one of the good guys.
It is also through Victor that I came to understand some peculiarities about Spanish vs. Canadian culture. Here are two examples that particularly stand out:
Space & Distance
- Victor lives with his girlfriend in the family home (sans family) – a beautiful traditional farmhouse just outside the city limits, or as Victor says, “in the country.” Over the course of the year he generously picked us up many times to drive us over for meals or social gatherings, noting how far away it was and the fact that we didn’t have a car. Funny thing is, at the end of the year while staying with Victor before we returned home, we discovered that there is a local bus nary a 6 minute walk from his door, that drops you off in the centre of the city. Couldn’t be easier. In fact, this bus runs more often than most Vancouver buses, which made us feel awful about having him chauffeur us the many times that he did.
This anecdote taught us that the Spanish definition of “country” and “far” are very different from the Canadian perception. While indeed Victor lives in the middle of small agricultural plots that have been farmed for many centuries, there are also all the urban amenities that one could imagine (e.g. grocery store, post office, bakery, hardware store, restaurant) within a 5 minute walk.
That is not “country” in Canada. In Canada country means driving for an hour on your tractor to get back to the farmhouse having never left your property. Which speaks to the European perception of space and distance, completely contrary to the North American perception. Interesting cultural difference.
In The Kitchen
- Spaniards don’t bake. Which is confusing, because there are bakeries on practically every corner, but just try to find some basic ingredients in the grocery store and you’ll feel like Indiana Jones on a crusade for the last bottle of vanilla in the city. And don’t even try to borrow a mixer as nobody has one in their kitchen (they do have jamón holders galore). Which means that Spaniards also don’t know the difference between butter and margarine when it comes to baking (in fact they often bake with oil). For those who do bake, you know that this is the critical difference between mouth-watering goodness and a disappointing cookie that will make Valencianos think that Canadians have strange gastronomic sensibilities. Which is exactly what happened when Victor purchased margarine instead of butter for our group gingerbread cookies (something they had never heard of).
While the team had more than enough fun decorating them (a total novelty for our friends who had never made cookies… or icing… or baked at home), they were not so fond of eating them. Upon tasting the cookies there was a series of polite, forced smiles noting that “maybe Canadian cookies are different.”
While I might have been confused on these two matters, I’m certain that Victor himself is pure gold and I can’t wait to host him in Vancouver where we will drive (more than 15 minutes) to get to the countryside where we can gorge on cookies and practice our spanglish.