Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Chamber lunch sparks conversation, new Nashvillian Ralph Noyes describes Spain's "unspoken acceptance"

Photo of walkway and restaurant sign in Spain by Ralph Noyes. Used with permission.

Today is the Tennessee Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's networking lunch at the Downtown Sheraton. Throughout this chamber's existence of more than a decade, its strength has always been networking events like this. If you go to just one, you will meet some interesting people, and if you go to more than one, you will start seeing some of the same faces and feeling like you are part of a community.

At a TNHCC lunch this past summer, I sat next to Ralph Noyes, who planned to move here from Austin and was just back from a year teaching English in Spain.

Not having visited the Iberian peninsula myself, I asked Noyes why he went to Spain and what it was like; his answer is below. Describing his experience abroad, Noyes inadvertently highlights a commonality that Chamber lunches have with Spain itself - they're both a great catalyst for conversation:
Ralph Noyes
I chose Spain for the coffee. The tradition of sitting, or more often standing, next to someone else and beginning the day with a conversation. It could be out on a sidewalk, inside a cafe, or at the bar, but wherever it occurs it is done consciously and leisurely. There are no to go cups, drive thru's, venti sized monstrosities, or refills. One cup, one huge bag of sugar, and no clock in sight. Of course people have obligations, but as I discovered on my first day of work, time is elastic and no one arrives exactly when they say they will.

Just about everything else is late too. You can't get lunch before 2, which is followed by a nap, or 'siesta'. People go back to work in the afternoon and dinner begins around 10. Perhaps it's the coffee consumption, the siesta, or the mass amounts of carbohydrates from the bread taken in at every meal that allows them to sustain their nocturnal schedule. The restaurants stay open till midnight, the bars till 4. When the bars close, the clubs open, and everyone drinks and dances till dawn, when breakfast is served to the groggy holdouts still singing Rihanna's latest club hit. On the weekend hundreds, sometimes thousands of young Spaniards ages 16-30 gather in designated "Botellon" sites where they drink, dance, and listen to music. Despite the horrendous mess it leaves behind, there usually isn't a single violent incident,

This type of behavior is normal in a public, social culture. People live their lives outside the house, on the squares and benches and playgrounds found on nearly every block. They need places to sit because they walk everywhere. Sitting promotes face to face socializing, which means less texting and calling, less boundaries. Even in the relatively conservative school environment I worked in, people are much less guarded. They carpool to work, stand closer when they speak to eachother, touch more often, and curse without thinking twice about who may be listening. Their lack of 'awkwardness' (which doesn't even translate into Castellano) and political correctness was refreshing to my restrained ears. My co-workers were similarly unapologetic in their actions. While aware that they may run into a student while out carousing, I never saw them worry, become embarrassed, or avoid anyone. The unspoken acceptance makes it ok for everyone to enjoy themselves regardless of age or station.

While I realize that not all visitors will share my rosy vision of Spain, these are the things that drew me in and won me over. These are the things that I latched onto in an alien environment. Maybe it's the adversity, the sudden lack of familiarity that triggers the endearment. Maybe it's just the coffee.
Noyes has since moved to Nashville and has found work at a doctor's office with "lots of Hispanic patients, lots of Spanish."

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