Sunday, February 24, 2008

Culture of the Canary Islands--the Language

One of the first things you are taught in "Missions 101" (if there really is such a thing), is the importance of a missionary learning the culture of his/her mission field. Many people have asked us what the culture is like in the Canary Islands. First of all, I must say, that I can only speak of the parts of the Canary Islands I am most familiar with, and that would be here on the island of Tenerife. Secondly, having only lived here less than a year, it would be foolish of me to even pretend that I understand the culture here perfectly.
One of the elements that defines a culture is their language. Having learned Spanish about 20 years ago while serving as missionaries in Guadalajara, Mexico--we were blessed not to have to totally learn a new language, but speaking for myself, I had not practiced it as much as my husband (he used it regularly while working in the jail ministry) and when we moved here I quickly jumped into brushing up on my language skills. I was quite surprised at the many differences in the dialect of the Canary people--they have their own vocabulary for certain things, and I am afraid my "Mexican" Spanish was a dead giveaway as to where I learned the language. They also have a distinct way of dropping the "s" on the end of certain words, and as someone put it "eating" parts of their words. I am now enrolled in an advanced language class for "extranjeros" at the public university, and it is totally in Spanish. It is a nice outlet for me from my daily routine in the house, as I love going to school and studying.
One of the interesting things about the Canary Islands, is that even though the majority of the population come from what they refer to as the "peninsula" meaning mainland Spain--we are living in a cosmopolitan society, with a mixture of many nations represented. There are a huge amount of immigrants from South America--Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil--and some from Cuba, West Africa, and Romania. There are also a large number of Europeans who live here because they like the sunshine and springlike weather. Many come to retire on the islands. The other day I was in the city of Puerto de la Cruz, and I was surrounded by Germans, Scandinavians, Italians and British--it makes it very interesting, because you never know what language you should speak to them (well, OK, I can only try Spanish or English!). So that brings me to the original point of this blog--while trying to learn the "culture" here in the Canary Islands, which culture do you learn? The one of the traditional mainland Spaniards? The Canarian? German? There is an international flavor here--and you come to realize that they are used to having outsiders on their island, whether they always like it or not (I am sure they like all the Euro's the tourists are spending). It seems that they are pretty accustomed to rubbing shoulders with people who are "different" or at least have learned to put up with them anyway. That makes them accepting of other cultures for the most part.
On the other hand, I think it is difficult to break into the circles of the Canary people. Perhaps they don't readily trust everyone--and it can take time to feel like they are willing to let you be their friend. I got a little discouraged at first because the ladies on the street and in the shops wouldn't greet me when I smiled and greeted them, then another missionary lady told me that it isn't that they are rude, it just isn't customary for them to do so. That has helped me, so I don't take it personally anymore. But our neighbors are great, and the people in the stores are starting to get to know us better, so hopefully we are breaking the ice.

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