Noah and Nacho — it sounds like a pair of radio personalities, or possibly a small, cross-cultural restaurant chain. In fact, though, it's two Brookfield teens, brought together, temporarily, at Danbury's Wooster School, where they are juniors.
Noah is Noah Marcus — yes, part of the extended dairy family — and Nacho is Ignacio Viciano, an exchange student from Godella, a Spanish town near the Mediterranean port of Valencia. Nacho will be in the area through Thanksgiving... and isn't too homesick so far, although he does miss paella. "Maybe one day I'll make one here," says Nacho about the rice dish, a Valencian specialty, "but it won't be like my grandmother's."
The Valencia connection began in 2002, but accelerated after Wooster and Godella's Gençana School, a small private institution not unlike Wooster (from which — disclosure alert — my eldest daughter graduated), organized an official exchange program for this year. In March, 10 Wooster students spent 10 days attending classes at Gençana, and clearly made a favorable impression. Nacho is one of three Gençana students spending the fall trimester at Wooster while living with local families; one Gençana student is visiting the area — and her American family — for the second time.
Culture shock? Surprisingly little, for both Nacho and Noah (both dressed mostly in flannel for our interview, as it's Wooster's "Pajama Day"). Nacho has spent four months in Ireland over various summers, so he's familiar with English and English speakers, and notes that the U.S. "is like what I've seen in the movies" (though he does say houses in Fairfield County are bigger and farther apart than back home). And Noah? "It's just normal," he says... though adds, "We're buying a lot more lemonade recently, because Nacho loves it" (Valencia is known for lemons as well as oranges). And the Marcus home life isn't so different, either: Noah's sister left for college in the fall, so Nacho, in Noah's words, is "occupying that space."
While Noah confesses that his Spanish isn't improving by leaps and bounds with a Spaniard in the house — that's largely by design, because Nacho is encouraged by the program to speak English — he does say "we're learning about where the other is from." You might think that would involve soccer, given that soccer-mad Spain won the World Cup for the first time this year, but that's not Nacho's sport; he's played the game more here, he says, than in his native land.
And that nickname, "Nacho?" It's "very common in Spain," he says: "I have five or six friends named 'Nacho,'" and the word rarely refers to a chip-style snack. But it sure does in Mexico; Wikipedia's "nacho" website says the tortilla chip was created in 1943, by a maitre d' in the Texas-border town Piedras Negras, attempting to put together — after his restaurant was closed for the day — a meal for a group of U.S. Army wives. The inventor's name? Ignacio 'Nacho' Anaya.
And here's more trivia for Brookfield's Nacho to take home: October 21 is not only the International Day of the Nacho, but uncovering the derivation of the word "nacho" had become a well-known etymological-sleuthing story for the Oxford English Dictionary.