The heart of Toledo by Rebecca McKinsey

I won’t lie and say I came to Spain without holding onto any stereotypes. And after a week and a half here, during which I have spent time in both Madrid and Toledo (the city where I will live and study this quarter), I am far from an expert on this place. However, my time here has already served to shatter many of the expectations that arrived with me, while continuing to comically uphold others.

One of the things few of us expected was to arrive during the rebajas season. This word, which means sales or discounts in Spanish, describes a time vastly different from the weekly sales we’re used to seeing all year in the United States. There are two month-long rebajas seasons in Spain, and basically these times are Black Friday on steroids. For the entire month, almost all of the stores here offer major discounts on the majority of their items. We came at the perfect time to buy souvenirs and gifts (as well as, of course, a sampling of the gorgeous clothes they sell here and the uber-necessary trendy boots that help us stand out a little less). Everywhere we go, signs in the store windows shout out an invitation to partake in their savings — and we’re only too happy to oblige.

As we have traversed the streets of Toledo exploring the city and sniffing out sales, an interesting detail about the stores has made itself clear to me. The storekeepers, especially those of the smaller stores, act in a manner almost impossible to find in the United States. As we peruse a store’s offerings, the owners are only too eager to answer questions and offer commentary. Not only that, but they are more than willing to remove a watch from its box so we can try it on, or let us slip on a pair of earrings to let us see if we like the way they look and feel — again, not a common occurrence in the United States. Even without entering a store, we’re able to get to know the storeowners — they keep their doors wide open and often step out onto the street to chat with each other and greet passerby.

This open and inviting attitude is manifested in the large majority of Spanish people I have met in Toledo. With the people here, physical contact is more expected and much more common. The customary greeting is a kiss on both cheeks, but the mindset goes further than that. When walking or talking with someone, a touch on the arm or back is common. Our professors, who insist we call them by their first names, stand six inches away when they’re answering a question. It takes a little time to become accustomed to the extremely physical nature of the people here, but this is just one more way we are made to feel at home.

I have seen only two cities in Spain so far, but the contrast between the two has taught me quite a bit. My first two days in Spain were spent in Madrid. It is a large city, one in which I found myself lost several times. It is loud and crazy, and no matter where I was, I always saw masses of people and cars. It is busy, and at night, there are dozens of things to do.

However, as exciting as Madrid was, arriving in Toledo was like coming home. Toledo is smaller and quieter. You can walk almost everywhere, and around every corner is some object or site that is rife with history. Although some people I have met here are bored with Toledo and prefer the hustle and bustle of cities like Madrid or Barcelona, I have already fallen in love with this small, picturesque city and its warm, open people. I can’t wait to spend the next two months here.

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