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Becoming a Patriot in Spain

Postcard from Madrid, Spain

By Jenifer L. Steinhardt

MADRID, Spain—The Fourth of the July has never evoked images of red, white and blue American pride in my mind, but instead a series of disastrous or meaningless celebrations. I recall the time 12 years ago when my best friend spent the whole celebration at Baltimore’s inner harbor crying because, she claimed, a firework had inexplicably fallen from the sky and hit her eye. I think of July 5, the night my parents usually took me to see fireworks during my childhood so that we could avoid the crowds. I remember my high school friends complaining about the admission price to hear the local orchestra play patriotic music to fireworks—and the rain that ruined our picnic when I finally convinced them their ticket would be worth the money.

This Fourth of July, there will be no downpour—only temperatures nearing 100 degrees. There will be no fireworks, and there will be no Americans. But after spending the past three weeks in Madrid, I am beginning to think that this Fourth of July will, strangely enough, be one of my most patriotic and meaningful.

Having studied Spanish in high school and college, I jumped at the opportunity to spend my summer interning at a bank in Madrid. I would hone my Spanish—speaking skills (and actually merit that foreign language citation), learn more about the business world and travel for seven weeks in a country I had never visited. Today may be Independence Day, but this would be my independence summer. And while I have so far enjoyed every moment of my adventures here in Madrid—from making Spanish friends at the dorm where I live, to walking through El Prado and El Palacio Real, to staying out until 7 a.m. as everyone here seems to do. I have also realized, much to my surprise, that the journey is making me appreciate the American culture more than ever before.

The initial clue came three days into my stay, during my first lunch break from work. The secretary kindly told me that various sandwich shops surrounded the office building, so I embarked on an important quest to find something to eat. After wandering for about 15 minutes, and encountering only ham, ham and cheese and tuna fish sandwiches (none of which I eat), I returned to the office building with an empty stomach. But before I entered, something caught my eye—the Starbucks directly across the street. Never did I think I would so happy to see a Starbucks, and this one even serves grilled cheese! No one in my office—which practically shuts down for two and a half hours every afternoon during lunch—can understand how I can merely eat a sandwich for lunch. I have yet to adjust.

But the cultural differences with which I have struggled extend beyond differences in the food and the times it’s eaten. The second clue of my longing for all things American came about a week ago, when I went clubbing with Spanish friends from my dorm and two other Americans. The nightlife here starts at about the same time Harvard students would be returning to their rooms or losing keycard access to other Houses during the school year. Again, I have yet to adjust.

When we arrived at the club around 2 a.m., I had to decide on which of the seven floors I would remain. I could immerse myself in the culture and learn to dance to the Spanish salsa beat. In fact, I intended to do just that, until—while standing in line at the bar—I could hear 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” blasting from the hip-hop floor. The two other Americans and I decided that we couldn’t resist dancing to the familiar music. After recognizing the trade-off between the good music on the American floor and the cute guys on the Spanish floor, I briefly returned to the latter, although the appeal quickly wore off and left me longing for something (and someone) American.

But the revelation that I do in fact miss my native country has also come in other forms. When I saw a man wearing a Harvard t-shirt the other day, I asked—almost without thinking—whether he had attended Harvard (he replied that he had just visited). I would never ask that to a person in the United States. I was so excited to attend Harvard´s Collegium Musicum concert in Madrid last week, even though I never had any interest in attending one back at Harvard. I eagerly accompanied a Spanish friend to see the Spanish version of The Matrix Reloaded even though, despite the Cornel West cameo, I had absolutely no interest in seeing it back in the states.

But Spain definitely has its perks. The country is beautiful, filled with friendly people and a rich history that I will continue to explore for the next four weeks. The clubs are superior to any I have ever visited, the clothes are cheaper and the drinking age is 18. I will spend this July 4 continuing to immerse myself in the Spanish culture and appreciating my American roots even more. There will be no downpour, no fireworks and no Americans—but there probably will be a meal at McDonald’s, complete with tapas and beer, because I can’t order that at home.

Jenifer L. Steinhardt ’05, a Crimson editor, is an economics concentrator in Adams House. When she’s not busy pilfering pesetas from Iberian fiduciaries, she can be found roaming the streets of Madrid in search of fuegos artificiales.

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