Stop and smell the oranges.

In my Latin American Geography class last year, my professor began by listing major American cities and asking us to call out the first thing that came to our minds. New York? Central Park. Los Angeles? Hollywood. Boston? Red Sox (boooo). What I found most interesting was to hear others’ first responses to my city, St. Louis. My classmates shouted out the Gateway Arch and our idea that Cardinals’ fans are the best fans in baseball (umm, we are, thank you very much), both of which are true and integral parts of St. Louis culture. But there’s so much more to my city, I thought, so many little details that tell me I’m home the moment I return from TCU. Like the Panera signs reading “St. Louis Bread Co.,” the blended scents of Christmas trees and chocolate at Ted Drewe’s Frozen Custard, and the fact that people actually know what toasted ravioli is (y’all, fried ravioli with marinara sauce, you’re welcome). On the surface, those things may seem trivial, but if you mention them to a St. Louisan, you’ll be greeted with a blissful sigh of nostalgia. (This is the part of the blog where homesickness creeps in).

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Ted Drewe’s Frozen Custard
Gateway to the West










Before arriving in Sevilla, I knew the buzz words of the city: la Giralda, tapas, la Torre del Oro, sangria, la Plaza de Toros, paella, flamenco, la Feria de Abril… And every one of those monuments and foods and traditions is important to sevillana identity.  But what about the little things? The other day, my host mom was lamenting the winter chill (no central heating + tile floors = it is FREEZING, y’all) and wishing for spring, so we got her talking about Sevilla in the springtime. “Los azahares,” she said wistfully. “Orange blossoms.  The scent fills the air so strongly, and it smells like Sevilla.” So simple, and yet for my host mom, something so characteristic of her city that the mere thought of it brings her home. After all, smell is one of our strongest senses for memory recollection.

So. Many. Oranges.
Orange trees in the park









I had read about the naranjos, orange trees, which date back to the reign of the Moors in al-Andalus, but I could not have imagined their value to the sevillanos. Let me be clear, this is not just a park or an orchard with some trees. These orange trees are everywhere.  They are the primary tree in every park, they line the streets, they fill courtyards. Fallen oranges litter the ground.  And even though they’re not in bloom yet, the perfume is a little overwhelming as it fills your lungs while running in the Parque de los Príncipes.  Sadly, the fruit isn’t edible. Correction: It is edible, but the oranges are extremely bitter so you probably don’t want to eat them (my mischievous side really wants to trick a tourist into biting into one). Many times the oranges are harvested and made into marmalade.

Bins of bitter oranges waiting to be made into marmalade.
Workers outside the Catedral de Sevilla shaking the oranges off the trees to harvest.










It made an impression on me that of all the vibrant traditions and history of Sevilla, my host mom looked to nature as a connection with her home city. Too often people forget those smaller details in the rush of tourism or in life in general. My life at TCU is a constant back and forth between classes, work, meetings, and the library, with very little time in-between. It’s a never-ending to-do list, albeit doing things I love.  But here, the pace slows down a bit, and people love to go outside to dar un paseo and take in both the natural and the urban. Here, you have time to stop and, literally, smell the oranges.

I’m still struggling to adapt to Spain’s slower pace. My TCU study abroad textbook, Cultural Intelligence, discusses three different levels of mental programming, or how individuals respond to various environmental stimuli. Some behaviors and mindsets, such as physical needs and the desire for love, are shared worldwide because they are part of human nature. Others are cultural, “based on common experiences that we share with a particular group” (24).  Part of my tendency towards efficient, fast-paced work is a learned behavior from the Americans around me, while Spaniards are raised to slow down time a bit. My struggle to slow down also comes from the personality level of mental programming. A drive for success and motivation to work hard with little rest is something I’ve both inherited and learned from my family. So when I’m suddenly placed in a culture that starkly contrasts both my culture and my personality, I don’t quite know how to react. One minute I’m deciding to stroll over to the Plaza de España for the hundredth time to watch the sunset despite having homework still to complete, and the next minute I think, “Oh my God, I need to research grad schools right now and figure out what I’m doing with my life after I graduate from TCU next year.” It’s a bipolar fusion of my American culture/type-A personality and my Spanish host culture.

I repeat: everywhere.
I repeat: everywhere.

Do I want to change and assimilate into Spanish time? That’s a tricky question to answer. The way I work is part of my identity, and though sometimes it may seem strange to outsiders, on many levels I enjoy being busy and I enjoy the sense of accomplishment when I successfully complete a research project or a semester knowing how much effort I put into it. But I think I can adopt part of the Spanish culture without totally losing my identity. Spain is forcing me to slow down a bit. The appeal of taking a walk at sunset and just listening to music is too strong when you’re in a city as beautiful as Sevilla, even when my mind is nagging me to spend hours studying and planning for the future. And true, I could find that beauty in the US as well, but something about being abroad for the first time makes you want to carve out that reflection time a little more. I’m here to immerse myself in another culture, but not to lose my own. So as I adopt Sevilla as one of the places I call home, I think I’ll find a balance between American and Spanish culture, a balance between work and leisure, a balance I hope to retain even after returning to the States.  Because it’d be a shame to forget to stop and smell the azahares.



*Source: Thomas, David C. and Kerr Inkson.  Cultural Intelligence: Living and Working Globally.  2nd ed.  San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2009.

3 thoughts on “Stop and smell the oranges.

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  1. Hey, Stephanie! What a smart piece. Did I already mention to you that I’m from St. Louis? Anyway, this is your grader at TCU giving you a shoutout to say: you capture STL culture perfectly! And oranges: how neat! Hope your next week is a great one.


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