How To Recognize an American in Valencia

Usually it’s just the look. As evidenced by the woman who literally walked up to Michael as he was sitting with me drinking coffee, pointed to him, and said “Americano?”

He was stunned and asked how she knew. “You just look like an American.” Which I used to think funny as Americans have quite a variety in the way they look thanks to the whole immigration thing. . .

But then there are those of us who don’t look American. Which, after living here for 15 months, I realize means me.

I rarely dress like an American tourist. (By which I mean I rarely, if ever, wear flip flops, a sun hat, sneakers, hiking sandals, or a purse across my chest.)

Though I have been told that I walk like an American. Whatever that means. (I’m told: with a sense of purpose and confidence. Also, sometimes, at a ridiculously fast speed.)

My dark hair and dark eyes are apparently enough to make me look Spanish: I was once at a gathering where Spaniards were asked to go left, native English speakers to the right, and then accused of going the wrong way when I headed toward my fellow Anglos. “I’m American,” I reassured our host. “Oh!” she exclaimed. “You look Spanish!”

When I walk into a place and start speaking Spanish in what is clearly not anything close to fluent, often the Spaniards will try to guess where I am from. Portugal and France are popular choices. No one has ever guessed (accused me of being?) American. 

But there is one thing I do that will not change. One thing that will always give me away as clearly not being from Valencia, in particular. And that is when I cover my ears to go by construction sites using jackhammers.

The men using them rarely have ear protection.

And most everyone walking by hardly gives a glance.

Probably because, as some of you may recall, this city loves letting off firecrackers (or grenades, as Michael refers to them).

If you’re in Valencia on a Friday night or Saturday and you hear what sounds like rapid gun-fire, relax. This is not the US. Here, that sound signifies a couple have just gotten married. It’s not gunfire. It’s firecrackers.

And then there’s the Fallas festival–which I now refer to as “the biggest festival Americans have never heard of” –where every day, for 19 days, there is a mascletá. Promptly at 2pm, the command rings from the balcony of city hall, and the explosions begin, witnessed by the thousands of people gathered not to watch them but to hear them.

A mascletá, according to Wikipedia, is a “pyrotechnic event.” That’s putting it lightly.

Valencianos gather to feel the rhythm of it. Literally. I’ve been to three of them. You feel not just the earth shaking, but your heart shaking in your chest. If you’ve been to war and suffer from PTSD, do not visit Valencia between March first and nineteenth.

In addition to the daily sound show in the government square, “smaller” mascletás are performed around the city. When one of the men setting up the show saw Michael wearing earplugs, he told Michael they wouldn’t be needed. Michael removed them. And soon regretted it.

I have gotten to the point where, during Fallas or on a weekend, if I hear firecrackers I hardly flinch, let alone stop the flow of conversation. Michael has not yet mastered these skills. Nor does he care to.

Instead, we are leaving Valencia. Not because of the mascletás specifically, but it doesn’t help.

Michael and I are not city folk. Yes, he lived in New York City for nine years. And yes, I lived in Boston for five. But in our hearts, well, we’re not country folk exactly, but closer to country than city.

And so it is that we’ve decided to move to greener pastures. Literally.

We are headed to the verdant hills of northern Spain. To a town of 5,000 people that sits along the Camino del Norte.

It checked our boxes:

  • historic, pedestrian-only streets in the city center
  • easily walkable to nature
  • within a twenty-minute drive of a larger town
  • not too hot in the summer, not too cold in the winter

And blessedly, peacefully quiet.

Set up for the Mascletá in my neighborhood — on Conde Altea (3/5/22)
Watch the end of it here:

(For the record, I LOVED the Fallas festival. And am making every effort to see it again in 2023.)

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Ann linton says:

    I just love your posts. you sum of life here so well and so excited for your next chapter. Maybe we can get together after the 15th i leave the 22nd for 2 weeks.. ann

    1. Thank you, Ann:) Yes, let’s make a plan!

  2. Dominic Bonavolonta says:

    Always my goal when I travel, trying not to look like an American (USA). I try to pass myself off as Canadian. It’s a good idea lately.

    1. When I first looked into traveling internationally by myself, I remember reading in many places that it was better to pretend that you were Canadian. That was over 25 years ago. . . like other things, fashions repeat themselves😂

  3. Gayle Michael says:

    Congratulations on your new chapter of Spanish living. I can’t wait to read about your new location and adventures!
    (So sorry we missed you when you were in Asheville recently.)

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