Let’s talk about ham. You think you know ham, but then you get to Spain, and it’s Wham! Bam! Would you like some ham? Well, I sure would, muchas gracias ma’am!
They do things with pig here that you wouldn’t believe: coat it in pepper, cure it in nutmeg, squeeze out the blood and congeal it, dry the legs and hang ’em from the ceiling … And though that sounds more like a Hannibal Lector fantasy than a menu, if you close your eyes and let the waiter’s slushy Andalucian Spanish explanations whoosh in one ear and out the other, you find yourself a beaming Augustus Gloop in this veritable Wonka factory of pork.
Now, I must admit that little hook about ham (or a meat-hook, ha!) has nothing to do with the rest of this article. I would apologize, but instead, I think it’s time you learned another of Spain’s myriad life lessons: “No pasa nada,” a phrase that means something along the lines of “no worries,” or in the ’90s, “it’s chill.”
Let’s practice: “Do you think it’s bad that I’ve been drinking more olive oil than water here?” No pasa nada!
“I think that man in the Michael Jackson suit just stabbed that bull in the face.” No pasa nada!
”These European capris I’m wearing have 16 zipper pockets per pant leg; is that bad?” No pasa nada!
Good. Now that you’ve got the hang of it, I suppose I should tell you that “No pasa nada” translates literally into “nothing happens.” And with that in mind, let’s do a little life reflection, shall we? I don’t want to attempt any grandiose ruminations on the cultural attitude of southern Spain, but here are some things I’ve noticed: When you’re walking on cobblestone streets beside the remnants of a city wall built by Julius Caesar over 2000 years ago, you just don’t care that you’re five minutes late to class. When you bite into an impossibly buttery almond mantecado cookie, purchased through the wooden window of a monastery where monks have been baking the same sugar-glazed treats for centuries, you just don’t care how many calories it has. And when you’re lying in the white sand of Tarifa under a hot summer sun with your toes in the cool water of an ocean that fades from seafoam to indigo and the mountains of Morocco towering tall on the not-too-distant horizon, you really don’t care about anything at all. In other words, no pasa nada …
Now, I’m not pretending I’ve discovered some sort of revolutionary new outlook on life here. We’ve all heard this spiel before — I mean, Hakuna Matata, anybody? But back home in the bristling, bustling, restless United States, we write this attitude right off. Hakuna Matata is just the mantra of two dysfunctional Saharan land mammals, “it’s chill” belongs to middle school potheads and “all good” is something they only say on the Disney Channel.
But here in Spain, I’m really living like that. I really do take a three-hour siesta every afternoon, try a new flavor of ice cream every day, split a pitcher of Sangria with my friends nightly and take three-day weekends to go to the beach. And you know what? “NO PASA NADA.” It’s not even that I’m not worrying about it; it’s that there’s nothing to worry about.
So listen up, Yale. You know what happens when you abandon a few of your 10 million extracurriculars, or when all you have for dinner is a half-dozen French toast cupcakes, or when you skip lecture to go shopping for those hot pink genie pants you’ve always wanted? Nada. Literally nada.
Whoosh. Now that I’ve got all that lovey-dovey hooplah out of the way, I should probably tell you what’s really going on. The truth is that I’m having a hard time adjusting. The truth is that I spend my siestas making vocab flash cards, and that my friends and I can only sit at a bar bouncing our anxious little knees for so long before we have to see something new, and that I’m living a-mile-a-minute in a country that measures things in centimeters.
The truth is that it’s hard to go from Nervous Ned to Tranquil Tom in just one semester, and I think that’s to be expected. After all, study abroad is a learning experience, and if I’m learning anything here, I’m learning how to live. So when I come back to Yale next semester, you better believe I will not only speak Spanish — I’ll think Spanish.
I don’t mean that I’ll return a no-good, baggy-jeans, couch-potato slob (baggy jeans would never fly in Europe), but that I’ll reserve my time for the things I really love. I mean, let’s face it: the only thing I miss about staying up until the crack of dawn to finish a statistics problem set is the two dozen Ivy Noodle dumplings I ate between equations.
Some might say that the day we Yalies relax is the day that pigs fly, but I still have faith. I mean, Lord knows I’ve seen stranger things happen to pork.
Aaron Seriff-Cullick is a junior in Pierson College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.