The Señoras

Story by Katie Thurbon

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A little background on my program…

I came here with Central College Abroad. There are a total of 25 American students here with this program (only five of whom are men) and I chose it primarily because they place all of their students in Spanish homestays. This sounded like a great way to get to know more of the Spanish culture firsthand and, of course, to get free meals.

So the first day we met as a group with our program director, Verónica (more to come on her later), so she could go over some basic information. Prior to this point, none of us knew anything about our host families and our host families knew nothing about us. Apparently there was a reason for this but no one ever cared to enlighten us.

However, once we got to the meeting Verónica explained that most of the host families were just old ladies that host students for extra income. My mental picture of a lovely Spanish family of four welcoming me into their home was suddenly replaced by one more akin to that of a strict headmistress at a boarding school.

This fear was allayed slightly, however, as she described how motherly these women usually were and how all of them had been hosts before for the Central College program. She endearingly referred to the host moms as our “señoras” (one of our professors later told us that calling them our “señoras” made it sound like we were dating them but the term stuck regardless).

Without much further ado, Verónica began taking us out one or two at a time (some students were rooming together) to meet our señoras, who were waiting outside the conference room where we met. All I know at this point is my señora’s name is Bernarda. Those of us left in the room began telling stories we’d heard from previous students in the program.

One girl said her friend had a señora who always went to the bathroom with the door open. Another described a friend that had a host brother that fell creepily in love with her and she had to change houses halfway through the semester. I think we all silently prayed for the former defect.

Verónica came back and announced that Katie was next to meet her family but it was one of the other two Katies in the program. Finally, the third time she called Katie it was really my turn. I hauled my 50-pound suitcase to the door and scanned the faces in the lobby for one that looked like a Bernarda.

Turns out it’s the lady closest to us, the one with a dog! I was momentarily thrown by the presence of this little brown pup that I wasn’t prepared for the cheek-bumping kisses that are a customary greeting in this part of Spain.

After recovering from the awkward greeting, we began the journey home. My señora lives about a 25-minute walk from the center of the city. However, the presence of my 50-pound rolly suitcase presented a few challenges when walking down the street. Not only are the sidewalks rather narrow, but my 68-year-old señora is not what you would call a granny when it comes to walking. She was booking it down the sidewalk as if she was trying to make it home in time for her favorite soap opera. Normally, this would suit me just fine but not when I’m trying to dodge cars, children, and dogs (way more people have dogs here than I thought would) and keep my suitcase upright.

I was sweating profusely and had very sore shoulders from carrying my 30-pound backpack home.

Señora Bernarda then graciously gave me a few minutes alone in my new room to get settled while she made lunch.

When she called me to the kitchen to eat, I was somewhat relieved to see such familiar food as french fries and hot dogs but also rather confused. I was under the impression Spaniards ate quite a bit of seafood, which I’m not fond of, but here in front of me sat distinctly American food. And a lot of it.

This would continue to be the trend. While since that first night I have had a different variety of foods, my señora continues to give me double the amount I would normally eat. Verónica warned us briefly about this apparent sign of hospitality but also told is it is considered rude to leave food on your plate.

Not wanting to affront my señora, I continued to stuff myself during every meal for nearly a week. Sometimes she made me more traditional Spanish food but usually my meals contained fried eggs, hot dogs, or french fries; or a mixture of the three.

Finally one night I decided I just couldn’t finish my food. As I anxiously awaited her to notice I wasn’t eating anymore, I hoped she wouldn’t be offended and refuse to feed me anything but hot dogs for the rest of the semester. I quickly tried to calculate how much it would cost to eat out every day, just in case, but I was interrupted by her asking if I was done eating.

When I answered with a shaky affirmative, she simply said, ‘Good! This will be great for the dog.’ And she promptly emptied my uneaten into his food bowl.

Um, what?! I could have been feeding this dog my unwanted food from under the table this whole time instead of forcing myself to eat it all? This classic solution was apparently too obvious to occur to me before. Now it looks like by the time I leave Spain either I’ll be fat, or the dog will.