My Spanish Grandmother


Living with a host family was one of the things I was most excited and nervous about coming to Spain. I think this is a pretty common sentiment among students studying abroad. It’s a hard thing because living with someone, as anyone who has ever had a roommate knows, is not always easy and reveals personality quirks and clashes faster than just about anything. I’ve had a great track record with roommates so far, though, and it turns out that my 64 year old host mother is no exception!

Me and Carmela in our apartment

The conversations I’ve been having with Carmela are so amazing. I wish I could remember them better afterwards but it’s hard because they are, of course, all in Spanish, and it’s harder to remember exact phrases and things. Plus it’s a strange idea to think of anything Carmela says in English because she simply doesn’t speak English. Translating her is peculiar. But I’m going to give it a try.

I have had better conversations with her than with anyone on my program. I feel more comfortable telling her things about my political opinions, my family, and my girlfriend than I do any of the people on my program. And I am learning so much from her, more than just Spanish vocabulary (though there’s plenty of that, too). She has a simple and unique philosophy about life that if the whole world or at least just a majority was able to maintain we would literally have world peace.

Carmela got married when she was twenty, had two daughters, and then thirty years later got divorced. Why? Because she and her husband had promised not to lie to one another, and then he fell in love with another woman and lied to her about it. Sharp as she is, she found out, and left him. Not because of what he did, though- because of the lie. It was a matter of principle for her. She said that if he had admitted it to her, they could have talked about it and she probably wouldn’t have left him. But a lie, no. She says that he is “a wonderful person” but that they don’t talk anymore. Through all of that though, she believes in love and marriage. She say that “el amor” is the most important thing in life, and that if you can stay with someone your whole life it is the thing that makes her the most emotional and sentimental because you get to grow together. But at the same time she said that you always have to do what is right for you and stick to your own convictions. Sacrifice for your children, but no one else, she said to me. She also said that her family is the most important thing to her, but that it is not the thing that has made her find herself- and that this is an important distinction to make. That, for her, is travel and learning. She watches educational TV programs about every corner of the world, reads, knows more about American news than I do, and has been all over Europe as well as to Africa and India.

Carmela is also the most tolerant person I’ve ever encountered. She has no conflicts in herself about any of her convictions, she is so matter of fact and sure and in that way they make her life so simple. She says that she doesn’t want to change anyone’s opinions, she simply wants everyone to respect everyone else’s ideas and ways of living as their own and leave them be. “It doesn’t bother me if someone doesn’t like me,” she said. “I don’t feel like I have to be nice to everyone. But I do respect everyone.” It is an attitude of “whatever works for you is fine by me as long as whatever works for me is fine by you.” Non-interference, I suppose, and mutual respect.

She says she is my Spanish grandmother, and calls me ‘nena’ which basically means ‘little girl’ or ‘granddaughter.’ I feel so lucky!