Standing up to Mean-Spiritedness as a Female Traveller
Never one to bow down to the patriarchy, I made a decision solely for myself: I chose to move alone to a Spanish city where English is seldom-spoken and there is no ‘fish and chip shop’ in sight. It was a simple objective: learn the language and integrate into the culture without losing sight of my own identity.
I relocated to Córdoba in Andalucía, Spain, with the intention of assimilating with the social customs and getting to grips with the history of this rich and beautiful culture. I began to soak in everything from Spanish poetry, music, news articles and even the labels on the backs of shampoo bottles in order to immerse myself in the day-to-day language. Engaging in activities and cultural customs quite different to those from home gave me a sense of experimentation and liberation at once. I was intent on integrating and feeling at one in my adopted city, rather than being a foreign outsider perched on the outskirts gazing in.
A key celebration of culture on the Córdobes calendar is La Feria de Nuestra Señora de la Salud (the fair of Our Lady of Health). Nine days of fairground rides, dancing and partying in themed casetas, horses and carts along with a veritable parade of traditional Andaluz dress. When May finally arrived, I was delighted by the prospect of donning my new red wine-hued dress complete with flamenco frills and polka dots, hair adorned with roses and gypsophilia, chandelier earrings dangling heavily from my suffering lobes… all of my girlish dressing up dreams come true! However, at no point was I attempting to morph into a Spanish girl or pretend I was something I wasn’t. I just wanted to pay a tribute to my adopted culture.
I was intent on integrating and feeling at one in my adopted city, rather than being a foreign outsider perched on the outskirts gazing in.
It was all so much fun, sampling local delicacies and taking in the backdrop of horses trotting past through the dust. Then, when walking along, not speaking nor doing anything conspicuous, my friends and I suddenly found ourselves encircled by a group of German men who were in town for the feria. The conversation went like this:
Him- “Where are you from?”
“Why are you wearing this dress?”
“Because I want to.”
“But WHY are you wearing this dress?”
“Because I want to, that’s why.”
“Because I want to.”
“Ah, is it because you want to deceive men and pretend you are Spanish then?”
Thankfully, he did go away.
Initially, I felt a bit upset and wondered, “Is this what the Spanish people think too, that I am a fraud and have no right to wear this outfit?” I wanted to go home, remove the dress and come back in something more suited to my own Englishness (what would that be anyway?) This again raises the tiresome and sometimes dangerous notion of some men taking issue with the garments women choose to wear. Whether it be short skirts, bikinis, long ball gowns, whatever: it is not one bit of business of a passing man with whom I did not invite to speak to me, let alone pass comment.
I could have provided him with a multitude of reasons: I love this style of dress; I wanted to show my support for the feria; I love dressing up. No. I responded with the concise truth. Because I want to. Now, upon further reflection, I realise he may have felt culturally alienated himself, something of an ‘imposter’, an outsider looking in and feeling threatened by my ability to be foreign and blend into another culture. Who knows? Finally I overcame my irritation by realising he felt threatened on some level, causing him to lash out verbally to a stranger, which is pitiful really.
It is the sorry state of our world that sometimes a woman is made to feel she has to justify herself, her existence. If I had never learnt the Spanish language, only ate eggs, chips and ham at home and shied away from Spanish arts, remaining stubbornly British, I could have been criticised as the oft-mocked ‘Brit abroad’ archetype. So, how is a woman to win? For as long as I live here in Spain, I will continue exactly as I am, to better myself, to celebrate my nationality and to embrace the dual culture that now makes up who I am.