After a full week of fun, laughter, and Spanish culture with the “Escuadrón,” the finale came to a week which formed lifelong friendships and memories. We spent the day exploring Toledo, anticipating meeting the families we would stay with for the second portion of the trip. Fun fact: Toledo, Spain is sister cities with Toledo, Ohio and it was very obvious who the prettier sister was. Toledo was not only home to one of our only tours that weren’t entirely on foot (thank goodness), but also to the sword factory where the knights in Spain would mainly get their swords and armor, back when there actually were knights. After a tour inside the sword factory (on foot), we rode a bus up a mountain to look at the amazing view over Toledo, which was one of my favorite views on the entire trip; trust me- there were many, many beautiful views.
With a day that was 1/2 free time, I had a lot of time to execute the priorities that I had set for the day: shopping. Unlike the others, this one wasn’t entirely for myself trying to build a new wardrobe entirely consisting of Spanish clothing. I bought my dad one of the most hopefully unused yet legendary gifts of all time: a sword. It’s just meant for decoration, but I think that’s best for everyone. Buying the gift, however, was quite a shady journey. All of the gift stores in Toledo had a few smaller swords in stock, but I just happened to wander into one a little bit more equipped. At first, I thought it was no different than any other gift store in Toledo, until I asked if they had any swords a little bigger. The worker then took me down a wooden spiral staircase to a basement, which was bigger than the one in my house, where the walls were stacked with swords, daggers, and maces to the point where I couldn’t see the wall behind them. I nodded in awe, when the store clerk asked me if this was what I was looking for, then proceeded to choose the sword that seemed most safe to go through customs. I’ll never forget when the lady at customs asked if we had any dangerous weapons, and we innocently responded with “I mean, we have a few swords.”
The bus ride home was dedicated to preparing us for Spanish manners: always wear shoes in the house, turn the lights off whenever you don’t absolutely need them, and whenever you meet anyone, kiss their cheeks. After being taught how to act like a true Spaniard, we sat there filled with anticipation, nervousness, and thinking of the worst possible things that could happen: “What if my accent is too strong to understand?”, “What if my host sibling doesn’t like me?”, “What if they force feed me a strange type of Spanish meat?” Little did I know, I had something a little bit different to worry about.
In 2014, the drinking age in Spain was 16 and was just recently changed to 18. Based on a combination of non-strict police, cultural norms, and the drinking age recently being so young, most teenagers start to drink alcohol at 14. They find it strange that teen drinking in the United States is so frowned upon, and apparently my host sister didn’t know that I am not a part of the red solo cup life.
I had been chatting and getting to know my host sister for months, and it seemed we would get along great. She’s a flamenco dancer, loves to shop, and was extremely bubbly. But, the first night, my opinion started to shift in the opposing direction. It’s hard to describe what happened in an appropriate and vague way, but she chugged a bottle of Sangria down much, much too fast. After witnessing a certain series of events, I decided it was best for me to change families. She fell asleep fairly easy when we got home, so I packed up my things as swiftly as I could. My brain was a bit fried from having to translate all of the Spanish slang she was unintentionally using that night, so all I could get out as I left was “Me estoy yendo. Adios!”
But I am entirely grateful for Robin and Pablo for handling the situation so calmly. Being the first group to come from the US to Spain, they stressed that if we drank, they would send us on the next flight home, and also, that the Spaniards were not allowed to drink around us. So, for the first night with our families, this was quite an unexpected situation. But the next day, they set me up with the most amazing family I could have ever stayed with. Here’s to the next week with Candela and the rest of the Merello’s!