The Not So Glamorous Side of Living In Spain

Dinner with friends in Santiago

Whenever I tell people I live in Spain, their immediate reaction is to squeal and say, “Ugh! You’re so lucky.”  Then something amazing happens, I’m suddenly ability to read minds.  It’s true, I know exactly what they’re thinking because it’s the same thing I thought before moving to Spain, which is that life here would be simpler, slower, and therefore somehow better.  I was right about the whole simpler and slower part.  But better?

It makes me think of a certain line from The Descendents, the book not the movie, although go ahead and imagine George Clooney’s sexy voice if you like,“I bet in big cities you can walk down the street and no one will ask you what’s wrong or encourage you to smile, but everyone here has the attitude that we’re lucky to live in Hawaii, paradise reigns supreme.  I think paradise can go fu@k itself.”

I don't blame people for romanticizing my life.  After watching movies like Vicky Cristina Barcelona one can't help but imagine my life consists of drinking sangria all day and being swept off my feet by Javier Bardem dopplegangers wearing matador costumes.  I'm not saying this doesn't happen.  It does, maybe 0.01 percent of the time.  Otherwise, here's a much more realistic depiction of what living in Spain entails:

No dryers=iron dry clothes.  My first apartment in Spain was a shit hole but one thing it did have was a washing machine.  It was my first post-college in-house washing machine and I relished the thought of not having to carry 10 pounds of laundry down the street.  So what if it didn’t have a dryer? I’d hang dry my clothes and be green. Yeah! Go me!

This cute little plan of mine would have been fine if I didn’t happen live in the dampest part of Spain, where humidity often reaches 100%.  The first time I washed my clothes it took four days for them to “dry”.  By then, they had developed a strange damp smell from not drying properly, and so I was forced to wash them, again.  After that, I quickly learned various coping strategies- wash less, iron things dry, and/or get used to semi-wet jeans.  This got me through my first few years in Spain.  Having committed to living here, I’ve since broken down and bought a dehumidifier.--Is is sad that this has been one of the most life changing purchases I've made since moving here?--Still, I miss the warm-soft feeling that only a dryer can give. Right now, I’d just about kill for some fluffy towels.

This brings me to the issue of heating in Spain.  Heating in Spain is expensive.  You can try and be smart about how and when you heat your apartment but I assure you it's never going to be by any means warm.  Consequently, I've learned to keep warm by filling hot water pads with boiling water. Add a knit cap and an electric blanket and you basically have my Grandma.

Siesta= longer working day.  My workday starts at 8am and doesn’t end until 9pm.  This is partially due to the fact that I have a huge break in the middle of my day for siesta.  Although siesta literally means nap, siesta is a time for families to go home and eat together. Quaint right? Except I don’t have kids and those who do, tell me that lunch is just a mad rush to get kids fed, changed, and onto the next activity or in some cases, back to school since parents often have to head back to work.

In spite of my huge break, I find it impossible to relax, knowing I have to go back to work. To be fair my case is extreme, most people usually only get an hour.  This would be reasonable by American standards, but in Spain everything is much slower and now that I live here I understand why-OLD PEOPLE and roads made for clown cars.

My house is only fifteen miles from work and yet it takes me at least a half an hour to commute. This is because I’m forced to drive 30mph (50km/h) on a one-lane road, behind buses, other commuters, and old people who are going 20mph. I’d ride my bike if it weren’t so hilly, rainy, and dangerous.

Parking in Spain was made for carnies.  Spanish architecture is charming but made for tiny people. Their parking is even tinier and I'm convinced, designed evil city planners who enjoy torturing people. Spanish parking is so notoriously bad that I'll be at a bar and actually overhear people bragging about how they were able to park in 3 maneuvers rather than five. It's that serious.

Since working hours are usually the same if not longer than business hours, you can forget running errands.  Oh and there will be errands. The Spanish are huge fans of silly paperwork, nor have they gotten around to doing things online.  The only way to get things done here is to take a sick day. This is assuming you have a job; which if you’re under thirty, you probably don’t.  One out of every four Spanish person is unemployed.  If you’re under 30, this figure is even higher, 55%.  Be grateful you have a job, my friends tell me.

No good television. By the time I get home from my marathon workday I’m spent.  All I want to do is switch off my brain and enjoy a little boob-tube.  However, enjoying Spanish television requires more than simply turning off your brain; it requires a lobotomy.  Unless you pay for an expensive package, 30 channels are all you get.  Thirty channels which show nothing but old re-runs from the 80’s or shows that have been canceled.  Consequently, I find myself watching shows like MacGuyver or Lipstick Jungle not to be ironic, but because there is nothing else! Thank God for the Internet, assuming the wind isn't blowing, then you're just out of luck.

No yummy ethnic food. According to Galicians, which is what you call people from my region in Spain, Galician food is so good that there’s no need to eat any other kind of food.  Pasta or kebabs is about as exotic as it gets around here.  As much I love the Galician diet, a girl needs some variety!

While I understand that these problems are all a matter of perspective, changing your perspective is hard. So for now, I try to bide my time by focusing on life's little victories, like parking in less than 5 maneuvers.


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