If you don’t have anything nice to say….

Well, most of you know how this saying ends, right?  If you were brought up in the States I’m sure you’ll remember parents, teachers, coaches and/or aunts & uncles reminding us of it as children.  My parents, for one, were quite fond of it anyways.  With four girls in the house, who could be incredibly mean to each other sometimes, this saying was a popular one.

But as I’ve come to find out, there is no such saying here in Spain (or at least not in The Basque Country).  Just recently as the hubby and I were having a drink at the bar downstairs from our apartment I mentioned this saying to him.  We were joking around (like we always do) and talking about if we sometimes find other people attractive.  I said that, of course, I see guys that I think are cute but I never say anything because I don’t think it’s necessary.  I then mentioned this saying and the hubby, never having heard it before, laughed and said that was just being fake.  His reasoning is that if you have something to say, then you should say it regardless if it is hurtful or not.  He argued that honesty is the best policy even if this brings the consequence of hurting someone you care about.  I disagreed because I grew up hearing this famous saying and think that a person doesn’t need to say everything they think.

We went on talking about the issue for a while and I told him that I’ve always said that you need really thick skin to live in Spain.  You simply can’t let other’s comments influence you too much.  In my opinion, people here are brutally honest with each other and if you’re an outsider (like myself) it can be taken badly.  I’ve had students and people here say things to me that have made me respond with “Excuse me????”  For example, when I was working at The Official Language School here I would frequently have students say: “Estabas tan guapa ayer.  Que te pasa hoy?” (You were so pretty yesterday.  What’s wrong with you today?)  The very first time a student said this to me, I was taken aback.  I would never make this comment to someone!  Yes, I might comment on how great a person looks but I would never say that at some other moment they looked better.  After hearing this comment more than a few times, my reaction changed to “FUCK OFF!” (in my head, of course.  There have been very few times I have actually said this to someone’s face.)  It just seems rude to me to make comments like this.

Another example is not a personal one but rings true all the same.  The first time I came here to study a friend of mine lived with a host mother for the first semester.  The host mom, although she was a lovely lady, would make comments to my friend about her appearance.  We didn’t think it was meant as something hurtful but the comments stung just the same.  Things like: “What is that on your face?  Oh….it’s a zit.  That looks horrible.”  My friend’s reaction was always: “Really???  I didn’t notice it this morning when I woke up and looked in the mirror.  Thanks for pointing that out” (lots of sarcasm included).  When my friend told me about these comments, we both agreed that they weren’t necessary.

One more example is comments that my husband’s family make to each other.  Thankfully no one in his family has ever made a comment to me but I have heard them say to each other: “Te has engordado, no?” (You’ve gained weight, haven’t you?).  Who says that to someone?????  If any family members ever said that to me I would be incredibly offended.

Even with all these examples, if you mention this topic to people here they don’t seem to be offended at all.  Just this week, this topic came up with a student and she didn’t seem fazed at all.  She said that people use them as conversation starters!  Ummmm….I don’t know about the rest of you but using my weight as a conversation starter just seems crazy.  How about talking about the weather?  Or how your week has been?  Or if you have any exciting plans in the near future?  All of those seem like appropriate conversational topics so let’s leave my appearance out of it.

So, I turn it over to all you lovely readers.  Are we as Americans overly sensitive to this?  Or are Spanish people just rude?  Any of you expats out there have similar experiences?  Let me know in the comments section!


3 thoughts on “If you don’t have anything nice to say….

  1. It amazes me how Ken’s Mom talks to him, his brother, or those from or associated with Argentina. She has never talked to me in such a way but if she hasn’t seen Ken in a couple weeks she will always make a comment about his weight. I think it is horrible and embarrassing! She makes these comments to other family members also. I have started sticking up for him because I think it makes him feel bad but Ken has explained that that is just how they talk to each other. I would die if anyone ever said anything like that!

  2. Yes, the culture here is definitely different. I don’t think it is meant in a bad way, though! I have been slowly losing weight here in Spain, from walking everywhere and eating a healthy diet, and literally every day at least one of my co-workers says something like ‘you’ve gotten so skinny, you used to be fat, but not now’…I think it is supposed to be a compliment, but as an American, it can sometimes be difficult to take.

    1. Thanks for the comment! I definitely agree that the culture is different here. But, in your case for example, I just think that the last part “you used to be fat but not now” is unnecessary. It irks me sometimes that people here can’t just give a compliment. It seems they have to add in that extra jab. The good thing is that I’ve mostly gotten used to it but every once in a while I get caught off guard.

      BTW, way to go on losing weight and being healthier! I’m sure you looked great before but are just even more fabulous now!

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