In the six years I’ve been living in The Basque Country I’ve changed a lot and so has my life. It’s hasn’t always been smooth sailing and there have been some moments I’d rather never repeat. But just like everything else in life, I’ve come out of those moments stronger and better and even more prepared for this crazy life I’ve created here. Along with all those crazy moments have been some tough ones and adapting has not always been so easy. Coming from the USA where everything is efficient and easy, Spain has at times thrown me for a loop and made me adapt to things I never thought possible when I first arrived. But after all these years somehow I’ve adapted quite well to a lot of things. Here’s my list of things I’ve adapted to well in Spain:
Lack of appliances: (dryers, toasters, dishwashers)- You see, here in Spain people live with a lot fewer commodities than we do in the USA. Most people don’t have clothes dryers at home (they hang their clothes outside to dry). Some people don’t even have a stove, microwave or dishwasher! Before coming to Spain the thought of living without these appliances was just unthinkable. And it wasn’t so easy my first year either. But after so many years I’ve adapted and now when I go to the States I still hang out most of my clothes to dry. Luckily my current apartment is well-equipped and we have many modern appliances (somehow we’ve ended up with 3 different blenders!) but I’ve even lived in an apartment without a refrigerator! I’ve just adapted and figured out a way to live without some things. I’ve figured that if people here in Spain live without these things then so can I.
And this is what happens when you have no toaster and you get distracted sending Facebook messages to your best friend on a cold, rainy Monday morning:
The Food- Oh, the food in Spain. I’ve had quite the journey with it. When I first came to Spain I wouldn’t eat anything here. I somehow survived on fruits, veggies and a little pasta for about a year. Everything was strange to me and I was convinced the food was rotten. You see, here in Europe things like milk, eggs and sometimes cheese are not refrigerated. That was the first time I had seen them like that in the grocery store and it freaked me out. I was sure the food was bad but since the people here were used to eating it like that I thought it was safe for them but not me. I couldn’t even walk past a pescaderia (fish store) without getting a woozy. So my first year here I didn’t eat or try anything! And I lost about 20 pounds. But, boy oh boy, was I missing out! The food here is delicious! Now most people back home think I’m the strange one because of all the things I eat: foie gras, pate, mussels, chorizo, goat’s cheese, wild mushrooms, stinky cheeses, fish and seafood, jamon, octopus, roasted chestnuts and the list goes on and on. Eating in people’s homes where it would be rude to say no really made me try everything and I am so grateful for those experiences.
The Language- I’ve talked a little about how much my Spanish skills have improved over the last six years so I won’t bore you all with a repeat. But I will say that it has been quite the adaptation learning to live in another language. It’s been the little things like going to the post office or bakery, meeting with friends for coffee and late night parties that have taught me the most. Learning and adapting to living in another language is the thing that is always present, demands attention like a 2 year old toddler, kicks you face down and raises your spirit sky high. It’s certainly hasn’t always been easy but it’s without a doubt one of my proudest accomplishments.
The Lifestyle- This one however hasn’t been so difficult! Drinking wine at 11:00 am? No problem! Siestas at mid-day? Okkayyyyy……twist my arm! Slowing down and really enjoying every day? Not so hard after all. However, I have to admit that I struggled just a little when I first arrived (I was such an up-tight, type-A American). I wanted to do all my errands at mid-day when everything closed and I would get so frustrated! But I soon realized that a siesta is much better and that everything can wait until 5:00 pm. Since this realization, life has been easy peasy and I’m enjoying every minute!
Public Transportation/Walking Everywhere- For all of you that are so dependent on a car, let me tell you…life without one is heaven! I treasure my public transportation card and would be lost without it. I love the possibility of walking everywhere or, at the very least, taking the bus or train. Now I know that I am blessed and live in the center of the city with a bus stop outside my front door and the train station across the street but even when I lived in other neighborhoods, I always had some form of public transportation near. In the States we rely so heavily on our cars and before living here I never imagined my life without one but it’s so nice not worrying about parking, insurance or gas. Using my own two feet as transportation hasn’t been so difficult to adapt to!
The Difference in Sizes- People warned me before coming to Spain that things were sized differently here: food portions, clothing, people, cars, houses, elevators, etc. I believed it but, of course, I had to see it for myself. Those people were correct! The sizes of things here are different (usually smaller) but I’ve come to realize that these sizes are normal! The USA has gotten so out of control with their sizes and everything being bigger (20% bigger than before! 3x more than before!) that our perception of what is a normal size is completely distorted. When I first came here, I did think everything was so small! I remember my very first night in Madrid at the hotel and trying to get all my luggage in the elevator. It was so tiny that my big suitcase and I barely fit in it together! But since then I’ve gotten used to it and now when I’m in the States everything seems gigantic!
No Refills- These last two nobody warned me about before I came here and I had to discover on my own. When going to a restaurant or bar here in Spain (or most of Europe) there is no such thing as a free refill. Coke, Pepsi, Fanta, NesTea or Schwepps are all served as single servings from a glass bottle (so old-school, I know!). So if you want a refill you pay for another drink. It seemed strange to me at first also but now it just makes all the sense in the world. Do I really need a refill of my already 20 ounce coke? Probably not. I don’t crave any more soda than the small bottle provides and adapting to this has also been much healthier!
Paying for Water- Most Americans get really surprised when they see their first restaurant bill in Spain and get charged for water. No free water?!?!? What is this?!?! Don’t worry….I was surprised too. But I’ve learned to add it into my dining out budget. In the States we add on tax and tip. In Spain you have to add on water (and sometimes bread). It took me some getting used to but now I don’t even think about it.
What things have you adapted to easily in your new country? What are you still trying to adapt to? Any funny stories or surprising anecdotes about trying to adapt to your new country?