An outsider looking in

“I’ve felt like an outsider all my life. It comes from my mother who always felt like an outside in my father’s family.”   Anthony Hopkins
 I am going to tell you about our visit to Falset, the lovely town near Tarrogona where my partner’s aunt lives.  Falset is famous for wine and olive oil production and is where we get our bottles of Vermut – the real variety!
We drove over to Falset to celebrate Santa Montse – the saint’s day of all women called Montse (including Pep’s aunt) and of course our own much missed mother/mother-in-law. It was a family get together which if you have been paying attention to this blog you will know is not my favourite way to spend a day as I don’t feel relaxed and comfortable with that particular group of people. I don’t speak Catalan well enough but more than that, I don’t feel they are very interested in getting to know me.
But it went surprisingly well – perhaps partly because I love the auntie and so was happy to be there.  I also  love Falset and of course, things tend to go more smoothly when you meet up in neutral territory.
We ate here in a hill top restaurant called La Cassola in the wonderfully named Gratallops. The restaurant looks out over the vineyards and olive groves and was strangely empty for a Saturday lunch time. We all got quite giggly due to the immensity of the restaurant,  the strength of the rich red wine, the grumpiness of the owner/waitress and also the appearance of strange dishes like this typical Catalan escudella i carn d’olla
There was nothing odd about the dish itself, it was the fact that this huge tureen was a starter for one person!  Brother-in-law ploughed his way through it admirably but in the end had to admit defeat. 
The middle courses I don’t remember but I am sure they were also hearty. Then we had puddings and here they are!  
Music – dried fruit and nuts, served with a dessert wine
Crema Catalana –  the traditional option
Mel i Mato  – honey and a soft cheese
I couldn’t resist the Pyjama which turned out to be a bit of everything
We walked though the town afterwards and ended up at one of the wine cooperatives where we were overwhelmed by heady choices of wine and oil
I have always got on well with the Montses in the family – the living aunt and the sadly gone mother.  They belong to a generation which while it might have different opinions, is warm and welcoming to a stranger.  But I have spent many hours since arriving in Catalunya wondering why there is a coolness between me and the younger members of the family.  It is easy to think it is my fault – I don’t speak the language well enough, I don’t make enough effort to fit in, I occasionally duck out of events, I am so different culturally and in personality. But after this outing I did come to some conclusions which might explain this problem which has affected my ability to feel at home here.
“I think having an outsiders viewpoint is interesting and good.”
Paul Merton
1. Older people expect to be different from me and so can be accepting.  However younger people seem uncomfortable around  someone who is broadly their age but who is clearly not the same. They don’t know how to deal with me, what to think of me, where to psychically put me. I am an outsider by nature and by choice.
2. People in Catalunya generally do not move around as much as British people do. My own family are spread around the UK taking in London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Cambridge and Cornwall, but the Catalan family all live within 10 miles of where they were born. Their husbands, wives and parents do too.  All of them come from a small area around our town.  Imagine what a difference this makes in your life!  Your friends are also from the same area. Everyone that surrounds you is familiar.  The nearbyness of your extended family.
They don’t know how to relate to this strange childless woman in her 50’s who suddenly arrived in their midst?  Who is she?  Where is she from?  Why did she leave her home and family to come here? What is in her past?  Does she have dark secrets chasing at her heels?  
They could chose to ask me these questions and try to find out about me or they can play safe, being friendly but not inquiring too closely. It is safer to welcome me but not let me get too intimate – after all – I may decide to set off for pastures new again one day. Or I might try to disturb the familiar patterns of their lives.
I think it is hard for British people coming here to really understand how it is to be part of such a different culture – deeply rooted in home territory, bonded closely with family and childhood ties, passionately protective of traditional customs and habits. 
I have struggled with understanding all this and I continue to peck away at it in my mind – trying to make sense of so many subtle things that disturb my equilibrium. It is only now after 5 years here that I can see how important it is not to take it too personally. It is not personal although it has so often affected me that way.
It is a ‘thing’ that affects me, hurts me, confuses me but it is not directed personally at me.  Phew!
Or maybe it is!  Eeeks!   Maybe they just don’t like me?
Deciding to embrace my role as ‘outsider’ may be the only answer that will give me peace and stop my constant worry that I don’t fit in here at all.
At least I am in good company – thanks Paul Merton, Anthony Hopkins, Jeremy Paxton and others who describe themselves this way.
Do you think that we all feel like outsiders?  Do you have this feeling sometimes?
I am curious to know how other people deal with this.
Let me know in the comments
“I’ve always felt myself to be an outsider, I’ve always felt awkward” 
Jeremy Paxman





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