I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Spain over the past 10 years or so. Whether I have been here as a tourist or with the intention of building a home, one thing has always remained the same. I am an American in Spain.
As the time passes, I don’t always realize how much I am truly acclimating to my new home. Watching Americans come to Spain for the first time has become a sort of source of entertainment. Hearing the shock in their voices as they talk about the differences in culture or witnessing the surprise on their faces at certain customs, is a constant reminder of how I used to feel when experiencing these things for the first time. Recently, I have been wanting to go back in time to my first introduction to Spanish culture. What was going through my head? What was shocking? What was exciting to learn? I can remember the general stereotypical experiences such as having a three hour dinner which started at 11:00 pm, topless sunbathing at the beach, dancing at discos that were open until 7:00 am, the general acceptance of having a glass of wine at lunch or a cigarette with your coffee…
Although I can’t go back in time to witness myself as a tourist in Spain for the first time, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a list of some of my thoughts from when I was living in Valencia this past winter. These were originally ideas for blog posts, but I realize now that it is a window into my brain as I first stepped out of my “tourist” shoes and into a time when I began to truly live in Spain.
10 Thoughts of an American Living in Spain
1. The avoidance of fellow “Americanos”
I don’t know what happens, but as soon as I see or hear another American, I stop talking. I look the other way. I feel embarrassed. I don’t want to be seen as another American tourist in Spain. This is my home now. I can’t let them know I’m American too!
Luckily, this feeling is passing. I now feel compelled to reach out to, and even help them find their way around the city. I enjoy a conversation with a fellow American. I feel relief speaking in English without “thinking” about the words I’m using. Hearing about their experience here in Spain continues to be enlightening, and often, entertaining.
2. I have, all of a sudden, forgotten how to make an omelet
Tortilla Española is a very popular tapa here in Spain. Essentially, it is an omelet made with egg, onion, and potato. Sounds simple right? For some reason, it has become the one recipe that I feel seriously afraid to even try to prepare without following the recipe exactly! I remember the first time making tortilla. I wanted to surprise Timi. I wanted to make him proud. I wanted to make him a Spanish dish for lunch and have it waiting for him when he arrived home. I was so stressed. Intimidated, really. Looking back I realize, it was honestly (although it may not look like it) just an omelet.
3. The missing peanut butter jar
Ah, peanut butter. A staple in an American diet. PB&J, the perfect dip for celery or apples, a scoop of protein in a green smoothie, the best topping on a BBQ hamburger… How does the rest of the world live without this sweet, buttery, crunchy, spoonfull of heaven? I was struggling to be honest. How would I survive living in a country that did not value the gloriousness that is peanut butter? More importantly, where in the world was I ever going to find it? Thankfully, as I was browsing my favorite health food store in Russafa, picking up my other incredibly-difficult-to-find-staples such as coconut oil and black beans, I spotted it. It was sitting on the back shelf, one lonely jar. Shiny, creamy, and calling my name. I’m pretty sure I ate half the jar that morning.
4. The irrational fear of falling out of the 5th floor window. Or is the 4th floor?
Europeans are incredibly conscious about energy conservation. And money. Not only is your washing machine about 1/3 the size of an American’s standard machine, it is often located in the kitchen. In addition, it is incredibly rare to own a clothes dryer. Instead, your clothes are usually hung outside a window. As I would reach out the bathroom window, hanging half my body over the windowsill to reach the farthest line, I developed a genuine fear of falling out of said window.
We lived on the 4th floor. European buildings identify the “first” floor as the “ground” floor. So really, the first floor, is two stories up. The second floor is really three floors off the ground. So, living on the fourth floor, may have really been living on the fifth?
5. Sleeping topless
I have still not figured out why, but the beds in Spain (and most of Europe) are made without a top sheet. The bottom sheet is either a fitted sheet, una sabana bajera, or a top sheet that is simply folded under the mattress. But rarely, very rarely, is there another sheet that you sleep with over your body. After the fitted sheet comes the blankets. Or, in summer, nothing at all.
6. Wine is cheaper than water
It’s true. Really. Because water is never free in Valencia, it is very common for una copa de vino to be cheaper than a bottle of water. At the local cafes or restaurants, a glass of wine will run you about 1,20-2,50€ and a bottle of water about 1,70-4,00€. “Una copa de vino, por favor”!
7. “Mexican” food
Aye, aye, aye. Coming from California, I can honestly say that authentic Mexican food is one of the things I miss most while living in Spain. There are a couple adorable “Mexican” restaurants in Valencia that at least give you the feeling of eating at a Mexican restaurant, but it really doesn’t come close to the real thing. I have to give Spain props. In the past few years, they have really started to nail down the guacamole. But, it isn’t served with the piping hot, freshly fried, oily tortilla chips. Black beans are virtually nonexistent in Spain and the tequila is just NOT tequila.
8. 7,00€ cellphone contracts
No joke. My monthly mobile contract is under $10.00. I have more data than I had with my $100/month contract in the states. Everyone here uses WhatsApp for texting so the texting is free as well. I mean seriously, America. The biggest difference is that in Europe, you buy the phone you want and then pay for the service separately. In the US, we think we are getting a great deal when we sign a 2-year contract and can upgrade for “free” or get an iPhone for “only $200”. We forget then, that we are paying $100 a month for our “service”. So in theory, we are paying thousands of dollars for the iPhone 6. I’ll stick with my 7,00€ plan, thank you very much.
9. Sundays and siestas
This is one I am still getting used to. Sundays and siestas. I don’t know why, but it always seems that Sunday morning, we are out of food. Like, literally. All that is left in the house is one banana, a bag of gluten free pasta, and my jar of peanut butter. Spain honors Sundays. Sundays are to be spent enjoying a long paella lunch with family. Because of this, EVERYTHING is closed on Sundays. It takes me until I am walking down the street, to the market, before I realize, “Oh yeah! It’s Sunday…”
The same goes for siesta time. For some reason, my belly starts rumbling at the exact time the local restaurants lock the bolt on their doors and head home to their families for lunch and a siesta.
Although it is sometimes an inconvenience, I love it. I love the fact that Spain still honors tradition and values time with family. I see it changing however, year after year, to cater more towards business and tourists. More and more doors are remaining open in order to increase revenue. Meanwhile, I am going to smile each time I arrive at the shuttered doors of Mercadona and remember, “Oh yeah! It’s Sunday.”
10. I’m still American
As much as I have always felt that my soul belonged in Europe, I am still American. I still find myself having certain American expectations for things I am merely used to, from over 30 years living in the US. I love my life here in Spain and truly feel at home. These little thoughts I have in my American brain are constant reminders of who I am, and where I came from. It’s a great way to continue learning and to be present in the moment as I acclimate to this new life and beautiful culture that surrounds me.