Come to Spain they said, you’ll make loads of Spanish friends they said.
I had spent the week at the hostel with my mother (who, by the way, did not end up throwing any tomatoes in La Tomatina) and had finished saying goodbye. I arrived at the residence late on a Sunday and was quickly whisked into the group of international students. Most are from the United States but my roommate is from Argentina and there are some others on the Erasmus program.
Everyone was super nice, and not that creepy “YOU’RE MY BEST FRIEND (until we find people we actually have something in common with)” sort of friendly, but genuinely nice. We were eating large meals with primero and segundo plates together at the cafeteria, going out for croquettes and tapas, and drinking up on the roof of the residence. We even toured in Getafe together and saw the cute as hell floating umbrellas.
Maybe we should have noticed that we were all put onto the same floor, or that there was a distinctive lack of Spanish students.
Oh, we were blissfully unaware until the hoard arrived a few days later.
Suddenly it went from a cozy inclusive group with chummy dinners in English to swarms of tanned, skinny Spanish students ignoring our very existence and surrounding our table like a pack of lions around pale, uncultured gazelles.
Then it got weird. Not only were we on a separate floor from the Spanish students, attended separate dorm meetings, ate at different tables, but according to the Spanish students, the international floor is known as “The Ghetto”. Apparently with all of us exchange students, smelling like hamburgers and sitting on our disposable travel money, congregated together in an area with numerous problems it is similar to a ghetto. Doors that work? Nope. Lights that don’t flicker? Nah. Actual useable WIFI? Hahaha, never.
All this tension and glaring between groups has sparked what I can only call “casual racism”. For example, today I mentioned taking a nap after having only four hours of sleep and the guy beside me scoffed and said, “Don’t take a nap, don’t be lazy like the Spanish.”
We international students bitched about no longer having the cafeteria to ourselves, complained about the laissez-faire approach to life of the Spanish, sneered that their women hike up their shorts until their asses hang out, and threw around words like “they” “those people” and my favourite “it’s how it is in this country”. Hell, I’m not innocent of it either. We say it like after having attended school for 2 weeks here that we are the cultural experts of their country.
It’s us and them, and it’s so fucking preschool.
But it became even more tense when the idea of hazing was introduced to the international students. Suddenly we were the pillars of morality. That would never happen in North America (and it does)! They better not touch us (and they didn’t)! How could they do that to the new students? How cruel.
I thought it was a joke until I had two girls knocking on my door and asking me how old I was. When I mentioned I was a third year one of them sighed, “Great, so I guess I can’t make you do my dishes then.”
In truth there was hazing, just not towards us past some students trying to swindle dishwashing services out of our floor unsuccessfully.
It occurred out in a dusty dog park beside the Getafe residence. Freshmen students were put into circles in their pyjamas as the ring leaders holding nefarious amounts of alcohol starting picking out people for tasks.
It looked a little like a cult with the perfect boy-girl-boy-girl circles all nervous to be indoctrinated. Break out the cool aid!
But the boy who dragged us there insisted, “They love it.” Even if it felt weirdly morally ambiguous to watch 12-year-old looking girls lick whipped cream off a moaning boy’s nipples.
We did finally meet some Spanish students and while the hazing will never quite make sense (neither will having tomato sauce on rice), at least now Spanish and international students are beginning to feel comfortable enough to sit next to each other.
Provided there are at least two empty seats between them.