Guest Post: The Five Greatest Challenges of Immersing Yourself in Spain
Will Peach is one of the site editors over at Gap Daemon, the gap year community website for backpackers and gap year travellers. You can find out more about his adventures living in Spain at myspanishadventure.com.
Judging by the mountain pile of English speaking bloggers, travellers and teachers who head out to Spain to live, work and travel every year, one thing appears certain: Spain is a pretty easy place to get to grips with.
So when I first surfaced here in Cáceres, Extremadura over a month ago, I thought it would be simple: I’d just rock up and slip right into that sweet ass lifestyle that all these expat bloggers have been talking about right? Wrong.
The truth is quite the opposite. Adjustment has been a grand struggle. That gloriously eroticised image of Spain as the capital of food, fun and fiestas? It’s not without its challenges.
Are my biggest five anywhere close to yours?
Number 1: La Comida Española
Before I moved out here lots of people had warned me: Spain loves its meat. They weren’t wrong. From juicy chunks of chorizo, to sumptuous little croquettes of chicken or pork, everywhere you turn in this country someone, somewhere, is devouring animal flesh. Especially here in Extremadura; the land of jamón!
For a vegetarian like me? Not ideal. Even eating out at restaurants (a single vegetarian one in a city of 120,000), dining in cafés or simply shopping in a neighbourhood store can all be challenges unto themselves. Not just because it’s difficult to find healthy, meat-free, options - there’s only so many tapas de vegetales (coleslaw) I can take – but also because the general understanding of Spanish people toward the principles of this lifestyle is one firmly rooted in the dark ages.
Now it probably wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t feel like I was offending people. I can still easily get by on fruit, vegetables, salad and lentils from the supermarkets. But when going out with a group of hungry Spaniards (as is the cultural tradition) and las tapas are on the way, how then am I supposed to excuse myself without feeling that small pang of embarrassment?
That “tiny taste of tostada con jamón?” No I won’t make an exception. This whole not-eating-meat thing I’ve got going on here? It’s for life.
Number 2: El Idioma
As any student of Spanish will know, the two verb forms of “to be” in Spanish; “ser” and “estar”, are likely to bring our English speaking brains to a quick and timely death. Mine is on this verge.
Earlier this month my Spanish housemates were asking me about a fellow teacher, Tim, who they were acquainted with. Unbeknown to my housemates, Tim had just fallen sick a few days before, so when it came time to respond to their question I fell into the old two-verb trap. The error? A case of the wrong one: “el es malo”, meaning, quite literally, “he’s evil”.
Yet Tim isn’t the devil incarnate. Nor should he never be trusted nor seen again. But to my housemates, a usually quite hospitable bunch, he isn’t exactly flavour of the month. A wide berth has grown.
My mistake of mixing the two verbs? It’s already sealed the reputation of one young guy. I wonder how many more are to follow?
Number 3: La Mentalidad
Being British there are some things you simply just take for granted. Queuing is one of them, service is another. Our efficiency and commitment toward these things is sometimes even a great source of pride.
Here in Cáceres however, walking into a tienda (a small corner shop) or a supermarket is something akin to entering battle. Not only do you have to meander desperately around crazed old ladies bombing towards you with baguette spears, but then you have to wait a good 10 minutes while the conversation between the cashier and the customer in front comes to a slow and painful end.
This devil-may-care attitude? It’s the same with the table service in any restaurant or café where you have to flag down a waiter, much like I imagine an air traffic controller does when bringing in a Boeing 747 to Heathrow. Want any kind of food or drink? Allow yourself a good hour. Ask for the bill well in advance too.
In fact, the next time I’m eating out and in a rush, I think I’m just going to have to leg it. This mentality invites every opportunity for a dine-and-dash.
Number 4: La Calle
Imagine every conceivable obstacle known to man travelling down a street when all you want is a bag of sugar? That’s my daily reality.
Stepping outside of my apartment into what, at first, appears a quiet neighbourhood street is always a bit of an adventure. Not only do the cars come the wrong way to the one I’m expecting (damn the rest of the world driving on the right), but they come bloody fast too.
Yet the cars aren’t the half of it. When there aren’t any of those to contend with – I live in the old part of town so it gets a little quieter during the day – then there’s the Mexican kids booting footballs at me. When they’re taking a break? It’s the drunks’ turn to accost me for what tiny amount of suelto I may have.
Suddenly that bag of sugar or that carton (yes, carton, it’s hard to get chilled here) of milk turns into one of life’s big challenges. A lot more hectic than journeying down to your streets cosy little cornershop!
Number 5: La Marcha
Spain was supposed to rejuvenate my sense of youth and freedom yet I’ve never felt so old as I do now. Partying until 6am in the morning, as a Spanish lifestyle rule, is ruining me. My body? A shade of it’s former caña-starved self.
Don’t get me wrong. The nightlife in this part of Spain is great. There’s always stuff to do, the bars are friendly and the people too, but their stamina? Unbelievable. Spanish people are like well-oiled partying machines, never resting, yet eternally fresh.
Us Brits on the other hand are more accustomed to a beer or two at 8pm in a good ol’ British pub, home for a movie afterward and finding ourselves tucked up in a nice warm bed by the early hours.
Here in Spain nights out don’t even get started until way past my normal bedtime. To join them I have to put up with being a weary, yawny, little mess. Those old British sleeping habits? They need to change!
What challenges did you face upon moving to Spain?
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