I had been in my host mother’s apartment for less than a week. We were getting along well, and I was careful to listen attentively to her directions about using the utilities. It was a well-practiced spiel, as she had been hosting American students for five years, and knew our penchant for reckless resource consumption. In Spain, electricity and water are very expensive. But I was adapting quickly, and congratulating myself on my newfound eco-conscious habits.
Then I went out grocery shopping and bought the wrong kind of almonds. I meant to buy roasted almonds, but I bought raw ones instead. No problem, I thought, I’ll just roast them in the oven. I hadn’t done it before, but it didn’t seem difficult. I looked up a recipe online. It said to roast them at a very low temperature for at least four hours.
So, I went to my host mom with my bag of raw almonds, and asked if I could use her oven. Of course, she said, for what? I explained.
I will never forget the look of horror on her face. Four hours? We were standing in her miniscule kitchen, barely big enough for two people to sidle past each other, and my host mother’s voice filled the space, bouncing off the colorful tile.
Four hours? She was aghast. By now, of course, I knew what her answer would be. She spelled it out anyway, in no uncertain terms: my request was not possible. No, no puede ser. She apologized vehemently. It was the kind of apology you might make if someone asked you to cut off your own foot.
I knew then that I had made a terrible mistake. I also realized that however I may try to adopt Spanish customs and abide by their norms, there were values that I fundamentally lacked as an American. There was something I was missing, a bit of perspective maybe, standing in this tiny apartment kitchen holding a bag of raw almonds.
That was the moment I first caught a glimpse of a cultural blind spot, one of many that would plague me in the coming months. When I took my almonds back to my room and threw them away, out of the shame inside me emerged something like relief.by