Introversion Doesn’t Translate

Confession time: I’m constantly using Google Translate to look up Spanish words. Like— I kid you not— constantly. When I’m talking with my host family and I get stuck on a phrase— I Google it. Or if I open the door of a shop and realize I have no idea how to ask for what I want— quick, Google to the rescue! The habit is so ingrained in my head that sometimes I’ll start to Google a word before I realize that, whoops— I already know it.

Considering all the practice I get, I’m moderately familiar with the concept behind translating. Sometimes translation works word-for-word, and sometimes an entire phrase must be re-conjugated. These days, I’m discovering that I’m practiced enough to even predict a Spanish translation before my phone has time to load the webpage. (When it’s as simple as adding an extra vowel to the end of an English word, of course.)

There’s one word, though, that I struggle with. I honestly think Google must be wrong in its translation of “introvert”. Yes, introvert. When I put it into my phone the Spanish word pops up, simple as can be: “introvertido.”

But based on my experiences in Valladolid, I don’t think this word should translate. The people of Spain don’t know what this word means, and it’s virtually impossible to explain to someone who has never experienced or observed it before. Here, there is no such thing as an introverted personality.

In order to explain this observation, it is essential that I explain the culture. This is an excerpt from something I jotted down in my journal while in a café one night. . .

“The people’s appetite for social interaction here is absolutely insatiable. It never ceases to amaze me how no one is alone — packed cafes and bars spill out into the street with couples, families, and groups of friends. Acquaintances stop on street corners to gab for half an hour. Elderly ladies meet up simply to go shopping at the grocery store together. And their shared logic is simple — why be alone when you can be together?”

This cultural aspect is first and foremost why my stay in Valladolid has been difficult. While I wouldn’t be considered an introvert at home, my personality is introverted compared to the culture I’m living in. This conflict of personality and culture has made my life interesting, to say the least. Living with my host family has not been easy.

First, I should say that my host family is very lovely — the problem is with me. Their generosity and thoughtfulness amazes me. My host mother is constantly asking me in her broken Spanglish (the universal language in our house), “How do they do this in America?” or “What do you like in your house?” and then she does her level best to accommodate my answer.

The trouble occurs when I’m particularly tired and just need some space. I find myself craving the “alone time”— when I’m in my room studying, taking a walk in the park, getting coffee, etc. In the first few weeks after arriving here, I fled to these “places” often, needing my mental space. What I didn’t realize was that while I was thinking my behavior was perfectly normal, my host family was growing increasingly uncomfortable with my daily behavior. For them, my habit of getting coffee alone was not “normal,” and therefore there must be something upsetting me. When I went to my room in the evening to study before an exam deadline, they thought I was deliberately avoiding them. And when I quietly ate a meal at the table without the lively jibber-jabber that they’re accustomed to, they thought I felt ill.

And what’s more, they didn’t understand these things when I tried to explain it to them. At one point of frustration, I even resorted to typing my explanation on my phone so it could be translated directly for my host mother. I specifically watched her eyes for any signs of understanding while they read over the word “introvertido.” I don’t think she did, because not a minute later, she asked me to go with her and friends for coffee.

I merely smiled and nodded yes, resigning myself to several hours of women chatting in Spanish. I’m in Spain and introversion must wait!

On the other side of the language barrier, my host mother is constantly telling me one word that I didn’t understand at first: “Aprovechar.” Google translate kept spitting out rather strange and contextually incorrect answers, so I looked elsewhere. I found it on a list of “Spanish Expressions That Don’t Translate.” Aprovechar means “to seize the day,” essentially. Interesting, no? Perhaps we should have such a word in the English language!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, voy a aprovechar el dia!

I’m going to seize the day!

About the author

Mary Williams

Hullo! My name is Mary Williams, and I'm currently in my freshman year at JCC. I was homeschooled for most of my education, along with taking a few classes at JCC during my later high school years. My major is Liberal Arts and Humanities, and I enjoy taking music and psychology courses. I live with my family in the countryside, and I love running and spending time in nature. My other interests include singing, playing the piano, photography, traveling, and fitness.