At the same time that I feel a part of Madrid’s comida lifestyle, I am often aware that I am “the foreigner”. And that awareness makes me think differently of so many of the people I know who are immigrants in my own country, both legal and not. It makes me think more carefully about what daily life must be like for them. As my mother always taught me, to learn how to love your brother, walk a mile in his shoes.
This is, of course, not the first time that I have spent an extended time in another country and culture. But somehow, the difference of my position here has affected me more deeply than usual.
After all, I have basic functional fluency in several languages, but Spanish is not one of them. While I am quite pleased with myself that I have mastered enough language to order in a restaurant, to almost understand what it is that I’m ordering (although I still sometimes receive a surprise when it arrives), and to ask basic directions if necessary, that is hardly enough vocabulary for daily life. Even with that, oh, don’t you think that the person I am talking with KNOWS that am a foreigner the moment I open my mouth? You bet they do. The Spaniards are just too polite to automatically switch to English.
Every time my eyes glaze over with fear when someone rattles of a quick response to my carefully phrased, “Quiero una te negra con limone por favor” (okay, so I have only worked my way through lesson 20 in Radio Lingua’s Coffee Break Spanish), everytime I figure out the meaning of something because of its similar functional placement (like empujar and tirar, push and pull to tell you which way the door moves–the labels are in the same place as in English), every time I have to point and smile because I don’t have the words….all these times I remember that I am a foreigner.
I remember that I am the foreigner and I ask myself, do I do enough in my own world to make those around me, those who might feel like the foreigner every day, do I do enough to make them feel welcome and well, not so foreign? I’m guessing that I do not — maybe because no one can ever really do enough. But the lesson of faith is that none of us are foreigners in God’s world; it is only Man’s world that makes us feel that way.
So, I hope that when I return to my nice comfortable home, in the world that speaks my language and eats at the same hour that I do and where the products in the stores look familiar and the signs are all easy to read, I hope that I will remember to reach out to those for whom my world may not be so comfortable. Because after all, the world and all of us in it belongs not to the human race, that thrives on creating difference, but to God, who abolishes all walls and separation, if we just listen and open our eyes and our hearts.