left New Zealand just over a year ago. Probably permanently. And as I
suspect is the case for many expats, moving overseas became an
opportunity for personal reinvention.
Flying out of Auckland, I
wasn’t going to Spain to reinvent myself. I was moving there with
my Spanish wife, Yoly. But the temptation to start afresh is
compelling. And moving so far from home is the ultimate chance to
break with the past.
two months after arriving in Madrid I became the new me. I gave up
directing TV commercials, a job I didn’t enjoy in New Zealand or
Spain, and I became a full-time writer. A bad cliché (and an even
worse financial decision), I know.
within a few months of my rebirth, the new me started to realise
there was another identity crisis afoot. Bit by bit I was becoming
conscious of playing two roles. There was the English-language me, a
pretty true reflection of who I am, and the Spanish-language me, a
fumbling shadow of my other self.
problem comes when I speak Spanish. The complexity of my conversation
and, more distressing, my ability to make a nuanced and well-timed
joke, is gone. Speaking with Spaniards, I hear myself making
statements just so I can make a statement or asking questions that
aren’t quite the question I’m trying to ask. Or I might try a
joke and get polite laugher, or no laughter at all.
low point came on a night out drinking with some of Yoly’s friends.
I cracked a few jokes in Spanish that I considered quite funny in
English (they were scatological in theme). I thought I was on a roll.
But Yoly told me on the bus home that the jokes hadn’t translated
happily. She said at one point someone had rolled their eyes.
horrified. The Spanish me was a bore.
came when I met some other expats my age, a group of well-bearded
English and Irish schoolteachers. I joined their Sunday morning
football team. And within minutes of taking the pitch, we fell into a
wonderful groove. The crass humour and bawdy male-bonding flowed and
there was an easy, rolling conversation at after-match beers. It was
like coming up for air.
my wife the situation is different.
Yoly and I spoke English in New
Zealand but changed to Spanish when we moved to Spain.
Now we speak
mainly Spanish, with a bit of English - we’re probably working a
80/20 split. Which is fine, mostly.
But then one day, over a
semi-liquid lunch, Yoly said something like, “You remember those
boozy lunches we used to have in New Zealand... in English?” She
said she missed them. She asked if we could swap into English for the
rest of the lunch. And she had a point.
In my zeal to want to speak
and learn Spanish, I’d forgotten that English remains our
relationship’s mother tongue.
It’s the language we revert to in
cases of love and war because it’s where we feel most intimate. To
cut it out is to cut out a part of us.
I figured, I just needed to wait. Someday the Spanish me would catch
up with the English me. Two to three years, I gave it. In three years
my wife would get the guy she fell for in either language and all her
friends would finally know me for the first time.
one day at a bullfight, I mentioned all this to another expat friend,
also named James.
Tall, greying and healthy-looking in that American
way, James has been in Spain awhile. In fact, the day we sat in Las
Ventas bullring he told me he was crossing an equator of sorts, of
having spent more of his life living in Spain than living out
told him what I was feeling. And I asked him how long it would take
for these two me’s to converge. Without thinking, he told me they
never will. There will, he explained, always be two you’s in Spain.
was surprised. I hadn’t considered that option. But I figured he
Despite all the years here, and despite his fluent
Spanish, there were obviously still two of him.So
how does that feel, I asked. I wanted to know what my future held.
But he didn’t hear me.
The bullfighter had done something good, to
which the crowd and James roared “Olé!”.
James Blick is a former New Zealander -- now based in Madrid -- who has made acclaimed short films and videos. He also contributes to this interesting website for information and comment about Spain and Portugal.
His work has also appeared at Elsewhere, see here. His website is www.jamesblick.com and you can follow him on Twitter here.
Other Voices Other Rooms is an opportunity for Elsewhere readers to contribute their ideas, passions, interests and opinions about whatever takes their fancy. Elsewhere welcomes travel stories, think pieces, essays about readers' research or hobbies etc etc. Nail it in 1000 words or fewer and contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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