How many EU stars does it take to make a bed? Answer: between five and six, depending on your view of Brexit. A Dutch lent her sleeping bag, an Irish his yoga mat, a Romanian a pillow and duvet and a Mexican Hungarian and British Cypriot carried and assembled the parts. What could be the occasion? The visit of Cristina, a friend who shares her name with Donosti’s most monumented royal, a Queen with a park, hotel, bridge and a couple of stores to her name. Unfortunately, Cristina didn’t get to sleep in her namesake hotel, Maria Cristina, but had to make do with the bootcamp conditions in my shared house – hell, at least there’s a balcony.
Cristina was the easiest guest. She was gearing herself up for her Alpha Spanish holiday the following weekend, at the Feria de Sevilla, so Donosti was a strictly Beta destination. She didn’t drag me up a mountain, to a museum or even insist on staying out all night, trying forty different pintxo bars. No, she was more than happy to take pictures, buy organic lipstick and follow her gut towards her Spanish holiday staple – churros and the Acai bowl and bulletproof coffee, that she takes for her health. I smile at these metropolitan traveller quirks, the expectation that the city should meet you half way, rather than adopting a when in Rome attitude. And generally, holiday destinations do meet metropoles half way. Waiters baffled as to why someone would order a dish of butter without anything to spread it on, will no doubt hear the order repeated as guiri (Northern European foreigner) season approaches and by next year, are likely to have bulletproof coffee as a standard on their menu.
Cristina’s attitude reminded me of how I was when I first moved here; how I sought to replicate my habits of yoga, tea and reading in cafes, regardless of what everyone around me was doing. Some things I’ve given up, though, like the expectation that I’ll be able to get my five, or even one a day, from a pintxo bar; that people will be understand my badly-translated reflections; that I’ll be able to attend a social event after 8 pm without drinking. All this, to be able to participate better, to fit in.
Did I mention that When in Donosti drinks more? That she knows local bartenders and includes them in the treasure hunt she makes for her royally-named guest? That she swears? A lot. After seven months in a country where a teacher can get away with calling a twelve-year-old a gilipollas (douche bag) and puta (whore) and coño (cunt) are common currency, I’m no longer holding back. Unfortunately, for me, the c-word comes out in English, where it’s especially taboo. There’s cunt noun, when you’ve stubbed your toe, cunting participle for something you don’t want to do and cunty, an adjective that usually accompanies a noun. Like many well-educated girls, who were told to wash out their mouths with soap after the mildest blooper, I feel exhilarated when I swear. Parts of my psyche that were once blocked off are accessible again; it’s like I’m nearer to my emotions, especially the messy ones.
Another influence on my swearing, are the male friends I’ve made here, none of whom are shy of blue phrases, some of them, in more than one language. Of all the myths about the differences between men and women, I’ve found this one to be the truest: men have an innate sense of entitlement. They take up space, demand respect, expect money, status, satisfaction and infinite second chances. Feeling that because they are born on the planet, they deserve to take from it, they make use of every word at their disposal, both inside and out of the dictionary. Curses accompany their statements, but rarely attach themselves to their personalities; if anything, swearing makes them seem more authentic.
As women, on the other hand, we can feel more liminal and take up less space on the planet we were born to. We ask whether we deserve the things we want, we second-guess ourselves before we speak, we think and we think again. When it comes to vocabulary, we limit ourselves from certain words and phrases, because they are offensive and will cast us in a bad light. It’s like our words can make our reputation; that we won’t be able to recover as fast after saying certain things. As much as I enjoy swearing in the moment, I’d like the reassurance that I can snap back again, have the containment of proper language, the elegance of restraint.
Cristina’s visit prompts me to think about taking up space in a way that’s different from an automatic sense of entitlement. She’s a person who gives off the impression that she deserves to be here, not because she is, but because she cares. In her way of inhabiting, you make an effort, aware that you might not yet pass. You look after the people and land you call your own, you learn the local language and the different kinds of sevillana so that you can better dance in the Feria. And then you jump and say because you care, you will dare to take up space, to make demands, just as you are in this moment .
This is one in a series of posts about my first seven months in San Sebastián/Donostia. For more on moving from London to San Sebastián, see A Change of Scale check out this earlier post on a similar theme, Archetype: The Lady and the Tramp.