3 Months In.
It’s been over 3 months now since I stepped off the plane and started a new life abroad. The time has passed incredibly quickly, yet at the same time it feels like I have been away from home for a long time. I’ve spent my first Thanksgiving and Christmas away from my family, and though it’s been different, and has definitely tested me at times, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. So without getting sappy and introspective, I simply want to acknowledge the things I miss about home, and the things I do no miss about home, now that I’ve had time to observe the differences and weighs the pros and cons of each:
1) CONVENIENCE I once asked a friend from Italy why he preferred the U.S. to his homeland and his response was that he loved “the convenience of everything”. I now understand why. On the plus side, back home if I need something, I can go to a store and find not only exactly what I need, but (on the negative side) be inundated with brands upon brands of the same product, any day of the week, any hour of the day. This is why when I go to the store I take hours shopping, because I’m overwhelmed with options..I can’t consider this exactly a good thing. Here, stores close mid-day for siesta and nothing is open on Sunday. I rarely find store closures causing a problem and applaud the implementation of siesta during the week, however, Sundays roll around and one can count on not accomplishing much of anything. So, convenience… Do I miss it? Sure. Is not being able to purchase a gallon (oops, I mean liter) of milk, where I want, when I want negatively impacting my life? Not in the least.
2) EFFICIENCY If there is an easy way to complete a task, and a difficult way to complete a task, most I’ve encountered out here would choose the latter. Remember learning how to form a line in Kindergarten with your peers? Somehow this wasn’t implemented into education here. At best, you have to take a number. At worst, a mass of people all trying to enter the same place or talk to the same person at the same time occurs, naturally resulting in elbowing, glares, confusion and more. To add to the fun, the least possible amount of employees working is commonplace, hence, lack of efficiency. Also out of the question? Having your luggage checked all the way through from departure airport to destination. Somehow in Seattle it was possible to check all of my luggage (a fair amount considering it was to sustain me for nearly 3 seasons abroad) through 4 different airports…but checking one piece from one EU country to another? Impossible.
3) DRIVING Though I certainly miss the freedom of hopping in my car at any given time and going where I need to go, I would never want to own or drive a car in Spain. Nearly every car you encounter has dents, scratches or missing pieces. Picture endless amounts of roundabouts with people who can’t figure out how to properly merge, horns honking for no apparent reason…also stopping your car in the middle of a major street to drop people off, or get something from your trunk is perfectly acceptable too. Speeding, swerving, and general idiocy reigns on the road. Though there are plenty of bad drivers back in Seattle, the Spanish take it to a level I didn’t know existed.
4) PUNCTUALITY So, I’m flawed in that I am perpetually late…not ridiculously so, but usually 5 minutes, give or take. In Spain, I’ve found my habits perfectly acceptable, as next to nothing starts on time. Class is usually started ten minutes after the known time, appointments, meetings, bus schedules…all whenever the party running things decides he or she feels like showing up. We’re admittedly run by the clock back home and time is of the essence. The Mediterranean lifestyle can’t fuss over something as petty as tardiness, ha! I love it.
5) CUSTOMER SERVICE The concept of “the customer is always right”, and general courtesy to your patrons is unheard of here. If you order something at a restaurant and don’t like it—too bad, you’re eating it. Have an urgent request and need it fulfilled? Get used to waiting for when they have time to get around to it…that is, if they still have time between a coffee-break, smoke-break, and 2-hour siesta.
6) BLUNTNESS Spaniards don’t beat around the bush. Looking a bit haggard following a late night out? You’ll be told so. Make a seemingly minor mistake? You’ll be criticized. As tough as it is to get used to, part of me can’t help but admire the no-nonsense way of telling you how it is. There’s no skirting around the issue out here!
-Eggs and milk are not purchased refrigerated in the store. You’ll find them sitting out in the aisle. Yup, they’re somehow still ok to eat.
-Carpet? What’s that? I haven’t seen a carpeted building since I’ve arrived. Great news for the summer months, not so great when it’s colder inside than outside.
-Shopping carts? Try shopping basket. With wheels. That you pull behind you.
-Los dos besos. Greeting everyone from strangers to loved ones with one kiss on each cheek is standard. To us “I need my bubble” Americans, this is a bit of an adjustment at first. Now it feels like second-nature.
-Cat-calling. Guys will whistle, yell, smooch, honk, hiss, meow (trust me, it’s happened) to attempt to get your attention. I’m starting to tune it out more now, but I remember feeling shocked at first…mostly because cat-calling isn’t limited to men my age. I’ve had boys still in high school to men that could be my grandfather “guapa” me. No thanks!
-Dessert. Maybe this is why we Americans are the fattest country on Earth…but yogurt and fruit are considered dessert here. Sounds like breakfast to me!
-Line-drying. This takes some getting used to and has given me a new-found appreciation for the affordability of electricity compared to here. Apparently, it’s very expensive, so dryers are used only when it’s raining, and washing-machines only during certain hours of the day. Getting used to crunchy jeans has been a great time.
-High-heels. Women here wear heels, all day, everywhere. It’s impressive, really. They navigate through the cobble-stoned streets, up steep hills and range in age from girls to grandmas. I’ll stick with flats…I’m already taller than most of the men here anyway.
-Work schedules. Start at 8 or 9AM, finish at 2 or 3PM, home for lunch (the big meal of the day) and you’re done! (Okay, so some people go back to work after siesta until 7PM or so.) Not to mention 2 weeks vacation at Christmas, and about a month off in the summer…I’m convinced I was born on the wrong continent.
Exploring a new culture has given me a new-found appreciation for American culture that I didn’t think existed in me, as well as an admiration for many things in Spanish culture that I wish were implemented in American culture. The focus on family, life away from work and the world’s greatest sport, futbol, certainly come to mind. Everyday I discover things I love…and things I could do without…but regardless, I am so thankful for the opportunity to be here and immerse myself.