One thing that always sets a foreign country apart from our own is the difference in fads and fashions. In America, it is generally thought that Western European countries tend to be on the forefront of the changes in style, whether for clothes, hair, or whatever else. I, of course, am in no way going to try to naysay this common belief. Indeed, when I was here in Madrid last fall, I saw many fashions that were completely new to me, but which came out more and more often in California after I had gone back home. But however the situation may be with apparel and the like, I am not interested in such at the moment. But I am talking of fads, no? So what in the world could I be talking about?
Do you remember your childhood? Do you remember being in elementary school and wishing so desperately that you had whatever it was that the cool kids had? And what did they have? In Little Women, as my roommate so recently reminded me, the object of universal covetousness at the school was limes. During my elementary days, it was Gigapets, those annoying little digital pets on keychain-like toys who seemed to always need attention or else they died. I’ve seen other young children trying to amass the coolest-looking pencils or marbles.
These all seem like silly obsessions, but I recently witnessed perhaps the most interesting one of all at the school I’m working at. What is it? “Homemade colored pencils.” Basically, the kids find toothpicks, take them out to the playground at recess, and color them with bright markers so that they resemble miniature colored pencils. There seems to be some sort of status level connected with how many one can collect, children with many proudly displaying their rainbow-colored horde, and those with none quietly sighing in the background. And when those more blessed children chance to give one or two of the colored sticks to someone without any, they do so with a sort of condescension and the sincere belief that they are being extremely generous. The other day, one of my little students even presented me with a lovely pink one, a sort of innocent love gift, if you will.
For upward of a week, I was completely baffled by the little toothpicks the children were excitedly showing me, but once the strange craze was explained to me by one of the teachers, I was able to appreciate the full import of the precious little stashes in pencil cases or tightly gripped fists. I’ve asked my roommates if this fad has shown up in their schools, but it seems to have caught on only in mine…who knows, maybe that just means that our school is at the forefront of juvenile fashion, and little brightly-colored “pencils” will be popping up in other classrooms around Madrid before anyone sees them coming.