From the first day I arrived in Spain, I noticed one thing that was very different – the abundance of old ladies! Or, as we call our grandmothers in Spain, “abuelas.” Simply put, I live in a place dominated and guarded by what I’ll call “the Abuela Culture.” I’ve met them, I’ve sung with them, I’ve been corrected by them, I’ve said ‘hello’ to them, I’ve given them directions, I’ve been pointed home by them, I’ve been complimented by them. The abuelas line the streets like they line our hearts.
I vividly remember the awkwardness I felt when my host family first introduced me to our very own abuela. She was old and spoke softly and incoherently. I remember standing in the doorway baffled deciding whether to follow suit and use the “tu” form or settle with the safety of “usted”. We were introduced, exchanged our kisses, saw the garden, and off we went.
I didn’t know that I had just met the most important person in the family and that these visits would become frequent and fun.
Back at my host home, from my window, I see an abuela cluster that congregates every day after the afternoon siesta. In the evenings when my sisters and I put on our little dresses and head out on the town, we pass these local abuela clusters gathered in their plastic lawn chairs. Sometimes we call out “buenas noches!” and sometimes they call out “guapas!” or ask us about how many times we’ve gone to church that week. In Spain, they don’t need “Share My Location” or “Find My iPhone” to track us kids, they’ve got the abuelas to do it for them! In fact, I’ve returned back home late at night, the streets still lined with the security of abuelas, all of whom are able to stay up far later than I am!
It’s starting to get colder but that hasn’t stopped the abuelas.
Just the other day I was out buying a notebook when an abuela stopped me on the street. She put an arm on my shoulder as she saw I was holding my phone and preparing to cross the street, “ten cuidado nina!” she warned with a smile. Not long after, another asked me the time. This afternoon, on our way home from school, an abuela stopped me and my host sister on the street for a chat. As we continued to the house, I asked my sister who she was and how we knew her. Casually, my sister told me it was “just an abuela.”
By now, I’ve met a good half of my Spanish friend’s abuelas and I promise you that in my town nearly everyone is hiding one somewhere. They’ve taught me how deep the warmth of Spanish culture goes and everyday I appreciate their “hola”’s and “adios”’s. The Spain I’ve gotten to know is full of people waiting to have a conversation regardless of the time or where you're headed or how you feel or whether you’re old or young. They want to know you and they want to share with you, whether it’s a conversation, a merienda, or their abuela.