Nothing good ever comes without at least a little bit of something bad. The point of our semester abroad is that we’re not here on vacation—five months is allowing us to do a lot more than simply scratch the surface of Spanish life. Inevitably, we’re going to discover a few things about the day-to-day that might be less than preferable. Things like…
I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: it rains a lot in Asturias, and often unexpectedly. The umbrella is a way of life. It’s used so often that some have gotten accustomed to treating it as a serious accessory. My apartment, for example, contains more umbrellas than it does people. If you’re going to need an umbrella for half the week, why be without one that goes with your outfit? It seems that maybe the weather has improved as of late, or maybe we’re just accustomed to the capitulant climate, though in any case I could really do without another afternoon of wet socks.
I’ll give Spain credit for getting coffee right, but they really need to stop and think about what they’re doing with the rest of their breakfast. At home, I only ever eat toast as a last resort, when food supply levels have hit emergency lows. Here, I have it every morning paired with coffee and cookies (though said cookies are closer akin to thick crackers). I realize that breakfast holds little importance here, and it’s only meant as a light, brief pick-me-up before work or school, but I rush through breakfast all the time in the States and I still have time for five bowls of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
A Bit Too Energy Conservative
The Crisis is a very real thing, and I understand you have to cut corners everywhere you can to save money, but it’s a bit uncomfortable when the light goes off on you in the bathroom and you can’t find the switch.
One afternoon, my host mom told me that she was constipada. Turns out that only meant her nose was congested, but I was too scared to ask right then and there.
Many businesses in Spain close around mid-day (2:00-4:00) for siesta time. This is also when many of us get out of class for the day, so it’s sometimes impossible to pick up something you need on the way home for lunch. Hours get even stranger on the weekends. The worst that I ever encountered was on a Saturday when I discovered my phone needed to be repaid 30 minutes after the Vodafone store closed for the day… which was at 2:00. Like many other stores, it wouldn’t reopen again until Monday. At least the cafes and bars are always open.
Attitudes About Race
And now we move deeper into the territory of cultural norms. It’s only fair to first point out that in no place will you find a population that thinks 100% alike, and there are always people who will believe or behave differently from those who surround them. That said, sensitivity to race is, generally speaking, a bit different here. Spain hasn’t experienced the melting pot that we have—yet. It’s not uncommon to hear very broad, sometimes unfair generalizations about people of another skin color, nationality, etc. And these comments can come from a waiter, your host mom, or even your professor. Remarks are rarely made with bad intentions, but that’s often what’ll make you cringe even more.
Finally, we come to that famous “Spanish Politeness,” by which I mean that which can often seem to be lacking. The Spanish culture is one with few pleasantries. The people speak directly and honestly, even when you may not want to hear the truth. At a restaurant, don’t ask, “Could I please have…?” Just tell them: “Quiero…” (“I want…”). You’ll only get the same in return. Rarely will you be asked: “Do you think you could…?” It’s always, “Toma,” (Take this), “Come,” (Eat), or “Escuchame” (“Listen to me”). The most common way of answering the phone in Spain is to say “Dime,” (“Tell me”) or, “Diga” (literally, “Speak”).
On the upside, everyone’s got a slightly thicker skin. Instead of everyone being concerned with their “personal bubble” as in the States, brushing against a stranger on the street is just a small casualty of life—nothing to be concerned about. In fact, if you apologize for it, you’re likely to be told to calm down.
It’s admirable in some ways, the Spanish bluntness. Everyone’s on the same page with it, and so there’s no need to waste time on empty apologies or beating around the bush. It never hurts to be honest…
Okay, maybe sometimes.