Vergüenza ajena is an interesting Spanish phrase that doesn’t have a straightforward English equivalent. The best description I’ve found for it is the feeling of “vicarious humiliation.” In other words, it’s when I end up feeling keenly embarrassed about something that should make someone else feel that way but doesn’t.
For example, I experienced a very strong feeling of vergüenza ajena the day I discovered that the neighbor boy who lived across the street from my very first house in Huaraz is the brother of the neighbor boy who lives two houses down from where we live right now.
(How could it be that in a city of 100,000 people we ended up being the neighbors of BOTH of these guys?)
I always liked these neighbor boys, who have grown into very respectful young men, and I’m friends with their mothers, too. But I always felt a bit suspicious of the lone man in this situation, and now I know why! And for the record, the father is the one who should have felt the vergüenza of this awkward family situation… not me, and definitely not his sons!
The idea of feeling vergüenza ajena made me wonder if it’s possible to experience sueño ajeno… to dream someone else’s dream.
I thought about this not too long ago when we had already been back in Peru for several months and had no plans of flying anywhere in the near future. We were gearing up for a few driving trips, including the EPIC drive from our home in the Andes down into the Amazon, back up across the Andes and then down to the coast, before finally making our way back up the mountains to our city again. (Epic is Lu’s favorite word at the moment, and it’s a great description of our trip, which you can join us on here!)
But the point here is that we were NOT planning any international travel, so I was confused when “The Airport Dream” woke me up one night in a panic. Once I caught my breath and my heart started beating a bit slower, I realized that my subconscious mind had created this anxiety-filled dream on behalf of our friend Gato, who I was pretty sure wasn’t worried enough to dream his own airport dream. Gato is a Peruvian friend from Ade’s college days who has lived in the U.S. for almost as many years as I’ve lived here. He had come back to Peru to visit his parents and he invited us to celebrate his birthday on their family farm.
The party was Sunday, and Gato’s flight back to New Mexico left from Lima on Monday night. He was planning to take the Monday noon bus from Huaraz to Lima and go straight to the airport to catch his overnight flight. This is a fairly workable plan, provided that nothing out of the ordinary happens on the 8 hour bus trip. However, I’ve been on enough bus trips where the “out of the ordinary” happens that Gato’s plan worried me sufficiently to wake me up in the middle of the night, dreaming the airport dream on his behalf. I’m pretty sure this is an example of sueño ajeno.
I was happy to realize not too long ago that I’m not the only one who suffers from sueño ajeno. During one of our weekly Saturday morning phone calls my mom laughingly told me about my dad waking up in a panic one morning, wondering how he would pack all of his frozen fish and corn into his suitcase before their next visit to Peru.
To give you a bit of background here, two things that my dad dearly loves are planting a huge garden…
… and fishing for walleye on Lake Erie.
To his credit, Dad is very generous with his catch, and with the garden produce, especially for those who have helped along the way.
There’s only a slight bit of ill-will directed towards those who help grudgingly!
Dad’s favorite way to prepare his walleye is to host a big fish-fry in the garage, but he’s been quite gracious about letting Ade cook it on the stove in a Peruvian style sudado.
Because his garden is so big, and also because he spends so much time fishing on Lake Erie, Mom and Dad’s freezer is usually bursting at the seams with Zip-lock bags of sweet corn and frozen fish fillets. So when he’s not boiling up a big pot of corn and frying fish in the garage for his 4 daughters, 4 sons-in-law, and 20 grandkids, Dad is quick to pack up a box of these specialties and take them to his girls. When we lived in Ohio during the Covid year, Dad frequently stopped by with fish and corn.
But it’s a lot easier to deliver freezer treats to your kids when they live in the same town…
… or in the same state… (Beck)
… or at least in the same country! (Sarah)
When one of your daughters (me) lives a continent away, it’s a bit trickier (if not downright impossible) to share your produce cache.
This is why Dad experienced sueño ajeno, by dreaming his own version of my airport dream. According to my mom (Dad didn’t really want to admit to the craziness of this dream!), Dad was packing his suitcase to come visit us in Peru. Along with his hiking boots, jeans and jacket, he tucked in a few packages of frozen corn and tried to stuff in several bags of walleye fillets. He reached the 50 pound weight limit before realizing that everything would defrost and make a huge mess in his suitcase long before he reached our home in the mountains. Mom suggested packing the fish and corn in a cooler and bringing that as a piece of luggage, but Dad was afraid that 9 hours in the air followed by 8 hours in a bus would probably be too long for a cooler to stay cool. He just didn’t want to risk ruining the walleye!
In his dream he decided to just bring the whole freezer, even though that would mean building a big wooden crate for shipping.
The funny thing is that Dad didn’t even think about the fact that the wooden crate would have no electricity for the freezer… but that’s how dreams work.
And that’s “The Airport Dream” revisited. It’s the sueño ajeno that my dad dreamed on my behalf. And in the midst of the chill of thinking about his freezer, my heart is warmed by Dad’s desire to share his good things with us, even though we live a continent away.
(Come and visit us soon, Dad. All you need to bring are your clothes; we can buy fresh trout here in the market!)