This post is by David Friedlander, a marine biology and Spanish major at the University of Oregon. During the spring 2012 semester he is participating in the Language and Society program at the CIEE Study Center in Seville.
I have been in Sevilla for nearly a month now and the linguistic differences between this semester in Spain and the last semester I spent abroad continue to pile up.
I spent this most recent fall semester studying in Quito, Ecuador, and also in a town on the Galápagos Islands—yes people live there. Getting off the plane in Sevilla, I expected to have zero difficulty transitioning from the idiosyncrasies of one country’s Spanish to the other. That honeymoon ended when, as I was waltzing through customs, I had the misfortune of dropping my passport. Like any good Ecuadorian I let out a solid ¡Chuuuuta madre! (the equivalent of darn it), expecting to at least receive some acknowledgement from the surrounding Spaniards.
Quite the opposite; I was met with a look that implied I might as well be speaking the language of the hill people from Borneo. I have since learned that the common Spanish response would be resounding ¡Ayy!
The next day, as our newly assembled gaggle of study abroad students was ushered across a street in Sevilla, I casually mentioned to our guide that I felt like a complete gringo (the catch-all term used for anyone who is quite obviously not a native in Latin America). A condescending smile and shake of the head later, I learned that guiri is the correct Sevillano term for our sangria-obsessed, map-waving ilk.
The last shred of my slang-based confidence was stripped away when, faced with La Giralda, the Sevilla Cathedral’s magnificent bell tower, I uttered an awestruck “Que chévere” (how cool). Since that rueful day, it has become clear that anything cool here is either guay, chulo, or flama, and that a mention of something “tan Sudamericano” like chévere or bacan, will strip one of any Sevillano points that he or she has accrued.
Seville's Giralda, which is "guay," not "chévere," in Spain. (Photo credit)