A little over a week ago, I had just arrived in London. My friend and I were trying to decide where to go for brunch. She suggested Whole Foods. I told her I didn’t come all the way to London to go to Whole Foods. While I doubt most Americans in London (unless they have made the decision to live there) are rushing to Whole Foods in Kensington or Westminster, a tiny part of me regrets the decision to snub the familiar.
See, last night, in Spain, I went to a carnival. I’m talking tilt-a-whirl, cotton candy, toss-a-ring-win-a-prize, full-out carnival. What could be more American?
The Feria de Santiago is in Santander as part of the city’s annual Semana Grande. The main event of the fair is, in fact, bull fighting, but I did not witness that part of the event. No, I went with my host family and two girls who live next door to the carnival. It reminded me of the county fair that my brother and I would go to in my dad’s hometown when we’d visit our grandparents in Kansas for the summer. All that was missing were the cornfields and the exhibit of prize hens. But they had some other things at the carnival in Santander.
Rollercoasters and swinging ships had names like “Montanita Rusa” and “Super Ratón”. I wondered if the people who manufacture these rides ship them off all-over the world, and simply change the names to fit the language of whichever country they are going to. Probably so, because they felt a whole lot like the same bumpy, dizzying, and questionably secure rides that I know and love.
Even the games were pretty much the same, except for one, which I think is genius. Instead of rows of dartboards or ring toss, one stand that was packed to the gills with various electronics, appliances, and anything else one may want (I had my eye on a bicycle). Older patrons sat in rows of chairs in front of the stand, playing bingo. Win the game, win a flat-screen. Knowing the reputation that carnivals typically have (and this one had children packed into booths selling tickets) I’m not going to wonder where all these prizes came from, but they were there for the winning!
Along with all the common confectionaries, you could find slices of coconut kept fresh under a constant drip of cool water.
There was no beer for the adults (shocking, I know), but there were multiple stalls outfitted with plastic grapes and great bubbling vats of sweet local wine. For €3 you could get a tall shot-glass full of the stuff, with a galleta as garnish.
They even had their own version of fried dough on a stick – churros, of course. Chocolate churros, churros filled with clotted cream, churros as long as ropes, you name it.
If you were really feeling European, you could go to the carnival’s pop-up restaurant, complete with waiters.
And that’s only what was on offer on the fairgrounds. Across the lot, tents were set up to display the food favorites of each region in Spain. The Associación de Castellanos y Leónes en Cántabria had out a spread (f.y.i. – Castilla y León is a region just north of Madrid, while Cántabria is the region Santander is in). Could you imagine there being, say, an Association of Texans in Colorado? There would be a public outcry! That just goes to show you how proud and deeply connected Spaniards are to their home regions.
I ate a traditional tortilla con jamón at the stand representing the region of Aragon. This tortilla was made of fried potato, a bit different than the soft, chewy flour tortillas that are the norm in Texas. But that is exactly my point.
My point is, while I’ve been going to carnivals all my life, this one was different. It’s impossible to ignore the American influence that has impacted countries all over the world thanks to globalization. Fairs and carnivals are actually native to European culture, which Americanization has taken and slung right back across the Atlantic with the U.S.A’s own unmistakable imprint. At the Feria de Santiago, Mickey Mouse and SpongeBob abound. However, even with things as trivial as carnivals it is clear that Spaniards have maintained their own cultural touches.
Travel is important because it introduces you to things that you’ve never seen before. But it’s also important because it lets you see things you think you already know in a new way. Cultural differences never stand out quite as vibrantly as when they are set against a backdrop of what is familiar, like a carnival.
So, when you are out-and-about in the world and someone, especially someone local, suggests going to McDonalds or the like – go! I hear in India they throw their fries from Mickey D’s in a bag of favorite Indian spices to literally “shake” it up. You may be surprised by what you find. It might be trivial, and not too terribly significant to local culture on the same scale as a historical landmark or religious institution, but I promise, you will leave a seemingly bland experience seeing your own culture and the culture you are visiting with new eyes.
Emily Bowman, DUSA Student Blogger