Living in a foreign culture leaves you no option but to laugh at yourself and your small but significant daily adventures. Just when you think you’re really understanding and living well in the rhythm and rhyme of another culture, it throws you a curveball. An unsuspected and sneaky curveball like joining a gym. Or maybe I’m the only one who thinks about these things, but think about them I do, and it makes me feel like I’m the awkward two-year-old toddling through learning a new aspect of culture.
Last Monday I joined the gym near my house. Great idea, right? Yes, yes it is. But as soon as I walked in I realized the act of going to a gym to workout carries its own set of cultural norms and I had no idea if I could apply my American gym-norms to Spanish gyms. I quickly realized I cannot when I found out that my gym in Spain OPENS at 8:00am. Forget 5:30am workouts (good thing i wasn’t looking for that anyway). One cannot make the assumption that a gym is a gym is a gym. I rushed in for my first gym class and wondered if it’s chill if people show up late or leave early. I listened hard for the cue to lunge or to squat because goodness knows the loud music combined with feet pounding the floor made the spanish a bit harder to catch. My foreignness was made more apparent to me when I played 20-questions-from-the-newbie with the staff and as they looked me up on the computer they asked “What’s your second last name?” Yeah, I don’t actually have one of those. Then when I needed a towel for my sticky skin, I wondered if they’d look at me like a freak when I asked where they are. Maybe gyms having towels isn’t a thing here. When I used weight equipment for the first time I peeked around at everyone else to see how sharing weight machines is done here. And then when I hopped on the treadmill, I put my music on and ran my heart out, assuming treadmill rules are the same around the world, and if they aren’t, let the #peopleofthegym stare.