Living Abroad,  Thriving

Spanish Expressions in Everyday Life: El Mundo es un Pañuelo

Dear Mike,

Last week Dani introduced the expression “el mundo es un pañuelo” in this post—basically that the world is as small as a hankerchief—, and we liked the idea of sharing a couple of examples that have happened to us. I would definitely say that Granada es un pañuelo (I can’t go out on the weekends without running into someone I know), but the following examples all happened on a larger scale.

Visiting a friend doing Erasmus

Beautiful Florence, Italy.The year I did my Erasmus (European student exchange program) in Lisbon, I was lucky to be able to visit a couple of friends who were also abroad. While visiting a friend who was studying in Florence, I had an interesting experience:

[The scene] Because my friend had to study a lot for his exams, I spent the days wandering around the city (no hardship if you know Florence) and entertaining myself.

[What happened] One day, when I was opening the door back at his apartment, I ran into a guy going in the same door. We smiled at each other and he said something in Spanish-laced Italian. I immediately responded in Spanish and discovered that we were going to the same place as he was my friend’s flatmate. Later that evening we were talking and he complimented my Spanish, to which I replied “you should hear my brother, he sounds like a native.” As he processed that statement, the conversation continued, until he turned back to me and asked “is your brother Matt?” Turns out he had studied with my brother in high school, was good friends with some of my brother’s good friends, and had even been at my parents’ house.

Traveling by train across Bulgaria

One summer I was traveling by train from Sofia to Plovdiv in Bulgaria. I wasn’t totally comfortable with knowing where I was going but, as fate would have it, everything worked out as it was supposed to.

Taking the train across Bulgaria.[The scene] The train I was on made no indication of the stop we were at and, when something was written, it was in Bulgarian (a different alphabet to English if you are wondering). As it was the time before European-wide roaming, I didn’t have any internet.

[What happened] When I am not sure where I am going, I will tend to ask for help. However, I wasn’t sure how to manage this on a train when I didn’t know if someone would speak English—I figured a younger person was my best bet, so I sat next to a girl about my age. After a while I asked her a question and we started talking. After a couple of minutes we realized not only had we both done our Erasmus in the same University in Lisbon, the same year, but we had also lived three streets apart. Luckily, she was also going to Plovdiv to meet a good friend. While we didn’t meet while in Lisbon, the connection ensured that I had a guide in Plovdiv, someone to go out with, and a friend who I continue to speak with on occasion.

Traveling to a festival

Recently, I flew to Bilbao for the BBK live festival. Although I was flying alone, my plan was to meet up with a friend from Granada and two of my cousins and a friend from the UK. Towards the end of the flight I started talking to the couple in front of me about the World Cup games (specifically England-Croatia) that we had been watching before the flight left and it turned out that they knew the guy sitting next to me and that we were all going to the festival. Then things got strange:

Festival fun in Bilbao.[The scene] As I was talking to the first of my cousins from the UK (waiting for the others), the guy sitting next to me, Miguel, walked by. We said hi and exchanged numbers—in case we wanted to meet up at the festival. I turned to my cousin and said something like “I will probably never talk to that guy again.”

[What happened] The next day, while talking to my friend from Granada, she said something along the lines of “My cousin Miguel just texted me to say he is here for the festival.” I looked at her and said “Really, I met a Miguel yesterday.” We figured the probability was low, but checked the numbers and, effectively, I had met her cousin the day before on the plane. Needless to say, I did meet up with him during the festival.

Riding a bus at the festival

At the same festival mentioned above, we took the bus from the camping/festival site into the city center to look around. Normally, I am pretty shy around people I don’t know and try to take up a small corner rather than talking to people, but sometimes my friendly side comes out.

[The scene] As there were five of us (my two friends, two cousins, and I), we occupied two and a half seats on the bus. On the last day, I was the half and sat next to a completely random guy who was talking Italian with his friends—he was the leftover like me.

[What happened] We started talking about where we are from. I said I am from the U.S. and he said he is near a city called Siena. As you know if you have read the post about Tuscany, I have a good friend from a town in the region called Abbadia San Salvatore, so I asked him if he was from Abbadia. He turned to me shocked and asked me if I was Edo’s friend* and I answered, smiling, that of course I was. We sent our mutual friend a photo and he proceeded to ask how it was possible that we found each other randomly in Bilbao—we were just lucky!

What’s the strangest situation you’ve been in where you would say that el mundo es un pañuelo?


*Note: Both of us did know that a friend of Edo (one from Spain and one from Italy) would be at this festival.

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