Before coming to Spain, the administrators at school and students who had already been abroad stressed safety. They said the usual spiel: don’t travel alone, be aware of your surroundings, be smart about drinking. Of course I planned to take all this information to heart; I had never been outside North America. However, once I got here, I realized that while the information I received was good advice, there was nothing to be scared of. Spain is just like any other country, some bad apples, but mostly good ones. There is definitely a lot less crime in Toledo than back home. My intercambio partner, Diego, who is studying to become a policemen, told me that the main job of the local police force is to worry about traffic violations (which is why he wants to join the national force). Yes, just like everyone will tell you, the men in Spain do yell out things like “¡Hola, guapa!” but nothing ever comes of it. One person explained to me that it’s like a game. The goal is to see which American girl will pay you the most (or any) attention. If you blend into the culture, by speaking Spanish, knowing where you are going, etc., people basically leave you alone.
Having put all of these facts together in my head, I’ve been pretty comfortable here. I don’t feel like an outsider or a tourist, so while I am naturally aware of my surroundings, I am not always on red alert. However, I’ve noticed that this attitude doesn’t sit well with some of the other students, especially girls, who are studying here with me. I’ve already mentioned how big groups are not my thing, so when I want to go somewhere, I basically just go. Depending on who’s around, I’ll invite people to go, but if they don’t want to join me, I’ll just go by myself, whether it be to the store, to get some ice cream, to the plaza, etc. Many of the other girls here don’t operate that way; they don’t want to go anywhere unless someone else is going, and a male escort is always necessary. I can read the surprise on people’s faces when I mention going to my friends’ house by myself (they live a short bus ride away), and they can be a bit put out when I insist on going somewhere even though Steve/Mike/Brad isn’t coming along.
I would never put myself in a dangerous situation for the sake of “independence,” and I’m not trying to suggest that flying solo is always the best idea, but it peeves me a little that so many girls have the whole “damsel in distress” attitude and expect me to act accordingly. Quite frankly, if something were to go down here, I think I could save myself before any of the “big, strong, burly men” could react…I have very bony knees. 😉 Plus, I’m too old and have way too much attitude for a chaperone. The times I’ve gone someplace wild, like the discoteca where people have a botellón (a free-for-all drinking fest) in the streets, I’ve had male friends with me who’ve had my back should a problem arise, but I don’t need someone breathing down my neck every 5 minutes, and I certainly don’t need someone to go with me to the grocery store, which is all of 2 minutes away. I think it’s good that the school and other students encourage safety and good judgment, but I wish they wouldn’t do it in a way that puts us back in the 50s. Either way, I’m not interested in becoming Lucy Ricardo anytime soon.