Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Funeral

Recently, a colleague's father passed away, and I felt it necessary to attend the funeral, even though I wasn't particularly close to his family. I had to ask someone at work what the standard dress was. In Canada, everyone wears black or a shade thereof. The dress is also formal or, at minimum, business-casual. Here, my coworker told me I didn't have to wear black. I could wear whatever I wanted, even jeans. The only no-no was wearing a mix of bright colours all at once.

The funeral also took place rather quickly. In Spain, it's common to hold one within two days. Usually families wait a full 24 hours after someone passes away before holding the mass, but for this event, it was a question of logistics. It being winter, the mass had to be early in the day, at 5:30 p.m. Technically, it was less than 24 hours but since it was better to have the burial in the cemetery before dark, it had to be this way.

We drove an incredibly windy road to reach the village, Torres, which was tucked away between snow-capped mountains. Inside the church, located at the top of a steep hill, there was no relief from the cold. Central heating doesn't exist in most village churches, so I sat, trembling, too distracted to understand the Spanish priest. It was a very simple church, with barebones pews, but the statues implanted along the walls were stunningly realistic in their sad, reverent expressions.

I used to be Catholic, and it was interesting to note differences between a Canadian mass and a Spanish one. For example, in Canada we shake hands with people around us and say, “Peace be with you.” In Spain, for anyone fitting in the categories between acquaintance and family member, you give a kiss on each cheek. I shook hands with the old man in front of me and said, “La paz.

Another difference was that at the end, we greeted the family. Being Torres, and being that some villages are conservative in the South, the men were divided from the women. I didn't know my colleague's family so I only shook their hands and said, “Lo siento.” With my colleague, even though we'd never done so at work, I gave him a kiss on each cheek.

It was interesting to experience such a private, intimate part of Spanish culture. Admittedly, it was a very sombre way to fuel my integration.

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