35 Questions to Get to Know Your Abuela
Geographically, the closest member of my family is 3,582 miles away. Every single relative lives in the same town, just a few subway stops from each other. My abuela, Carmen, is the matriarch and the heart of the family, and we have always shared a special bond. I grew up assuming everyone had someone like this, a fairy-godmother-like person by your side that simply adores you and is put on earth to teach you everything she knows. From helping me learn how to read and write to making dresses for my Barbies out of kitchen towels and old sheets, this woman taught me everything I know with complete selflessness and patience. And it wasn't until very recently that I took the time to truly listen to her and started to see her in a completely different way. How had I, a journalist, never thought to interview her?! And better yet, would she be open to taking a personality test?
The idea of asking my grandmother to take this particular test came from none other than a Tinder date. Yep, sorry, Abuela. A Tinder date that led to nowhere other than a valuable life lesson. The guy (let's call him Ryan) was a very arrogant musician who hated small talk and turned every conversation into a philosophical or anti-system monologue -this is probably why it never went anywhere. A couple of nights after our first date, I came across the Proust Questionnaire, and I thought it would help turn the excruciating monologues into, maybe, an interesting conversation and a way of getting to know Ryan better. It turned out I didn't like the guy at all, but I loved the experience and was amazed at how much answers to questions like "What is your greatest fear?" or "When and where were you the happiest?" can tell you about someone.
The week after our fateful second date, I traveled to Spain on an impromptu visit to surprise my family. I bought a wig on St. Marks place and showed up at my favorite people's apartments and places of work, in Madrid, with the help of a few accomplices (boyfriends, girlfriends, daughters, stepsisters…). It worked every time. No one, not even my mother, recognized me with that long platinum-blond hair, except for my grandma. When I walked into her place, she didn't hesitate for a second. We were alone at her always-uber-hot apartment, and she insisted on reading me one of her poems. She has been writing poetry since I can remember. In the past, I was usually bored, uninterested or too focused on my phone to listen, but this time was different. She read a poem about how much she missed my grandfather in such an honest, non-obvious and non-tragic way that really touched me and left me thinking: "Who is this woman?" I never knew she loved him so much. I never thought of how much she misses him.
That's when I decided to formally interview my abuela Carmen, go through the entire questionnaire, and even record it, as I would do with a celebrity on a formal interview. "What are your biggest dreams? What are you afraid of? Which talent would you most like to have?". The conversation opened the door to this 87-year-old woman's fascinating life and the way she sees the world. And what an experience!
Her answers helped me see her in a different light, for the smart and incredibly creative woman she is. I will cherish this interview forever, and I recommend everyone to go through these questions with your favorite people. I will never forget the shy, childish look on her face when she answered the question "What is the quality you like most in a man?": "I like men who are respectful, loving, and able to share their emotions with me," she said. I'll remember this next time I try Tinder! Thanks, Abuela.
If you want to give it a try this experiment and use it as an excuse to reconnect your grandma and enjoy some quality time with her, here are the 35 questions that got me started:
1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
2. What is your greatest fear?
3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
5. Which living person do you most admire?
6. What is your greatest extravagance?
7. What is your current state of mind?
8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
9. On what occasion do you lie?
10. What do you most dislike about your appearance?
11. Which living person do you most despise?
12. What is the quality you most like in a man?
13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?
14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
16. When and where were you happiest?
17. Which talent would you most like to have?
18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
21. Where would you most like to live?
22. What is your most treasured possession?
23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
24. What is your favorite occupation?
25. What is your most marked characteristic?
26. What do you most value in your friends?
27. Who are your favorite writers?
28. Who is your hero of fiction?
29. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
30. Who are your heroes in real life?
31. What are your favorite names?
32. What is it that you most dislike?
33. What is your greatest regret?
34. How would you like to die?
35. What is your motto?