So, I’ve been in Spain for five months now and I’m still at an embarrassingly low level of Spanish. But it’s not just the language that I’ve been getting to grips with. Moving to a new country also means getting used to a new culture, a new lifestyle, and ultimately changing the way you think about practically everything ever.
Now, I came knowing full well that I’d have to adapt in some ways, and I had (and still have) no problem with that at all. I was fully expecting to siesta every day (I think I did it once, and that was because I had a hangover). I was fully expecting to change up my eating patterns. And I was fully expecting to have a bit of a struggle on my hands with the language barrier.
If you’ve been to any of the big cities (I’m talking the Barcelona’s, Madrid’s, and Valencia’s of the Spanish world), then you’ve probably experienced any number of these things to some extent. However, many of the popular cities have started to lose a lot of their traditions in favour of tourism.
Obviously this is not the case in a small Spanish town (I think Igualada is actually a city, but I’m going to continue to call it a town because, well, it’s really tiny).
So what have I really learnt so far about life in Spain?
Let me spill all.
The tea is not good
Okay, some of you may look at this point and roll your eyes. Who cares if the tea isn’t good, right?
Well I initially thought I’d be okay with this. I’m not a materialistic kinda person (is tea a material thing?) so I truly believed I could give up tea.
What happened was something much, much worse. I’ve had to settle for mediocre tea. You know, the kind that doesn’t really brew properly, that doesn’t really taste of anything, and is a little bit grainy. Even more devastating, though, is the milk here. It’s sweetened to within an inch of its life, giving tea a pudding-like taste.
I’m getting down to my last few English teabags that I brought back with me at Christmas so times will be very difficult soon.
I knew that the Spanish did their days all higgledy-piggledy with a big gap in the middle for a siesta, but I didn’t know how much this would affect me.
Need to pop out for some milk in the afternoon? Forget about it! Need to go to the bank after 2 o’clock to sort out some very important bank things? Absolutely not!
Now, I’m all for having a nice relaxing break in the middle of the day, but surely shops and supermarkets would get more custom (and ergo ore money) if they kept their doors open when office workers and other employees were on a break?
There is an upside to this upside-down schedule, though. After working all day I still have time to go shopping in the evening as the shops are still open till 9 or 10 at night. Actually, I don’t know whether this is a good or bad thing on second thoughts.
Before I came to Catalonia I was told that Catalan people are very proud of their heritage and would basically spit in my face if I tried to speak Spanish to them. Safe to say, I was a little apprehensive about trying out my Spanish skills (note: I cannot speak a word of Catalan. Shoot me).
But everyone has been so welcoming and friendly. I think it might just be the novelty of an English person trying to bumble their way through life in a small town where NO ONE speaks English. Regardless of whether it’s the novelty of it or not, the people here have been absolutely lovely and helpful.
Yes, Catalan people are proud of their heritage (why shouldn’t they be!?) but they are also willing to lend a hand in Spanish if you need it.
The Spanish Diet
I was speaking to my Catalan friend the other week and she asked me what I ate during the day. I told her ‘oh the usual, cereal for breakfast, soup or a sandwich for lunch, and pasta for dinner.’ She just looked at me. Shaking her head.
Apparently this is absolutely not the done thing here. People have large breakfasts, large lunches, and slightly smaller dinners. They eat much later, too. Breakfast is up until 12, then lunchtime spans from 2pm until 4pm, and dinner is anywhere from 9pm onwards. I was shocked and pleasantly surprised to find that MacDonalds breakfasts run until midday.
Quick side note here so hopefully I can save you the same embarrassment I had. Don’t turn up to a restaurant at 7.30pm, as you’ll probably turn up at the same time as the chef. Play it safe and don’t go out until 9pm. It’s better for everyone that way.
Spain loves to celebrate
Igualada’s annual wine festival
Igualada may well be a small town, but it certainly knows how to have fun. No word of a lie, there is some kind of festival or party or celebration taking place every weekend, whether it’s a wine festival, cheese festival, parade, or public holiday celebration.
Every Friday I’ll take a walk around town and see a stage being set up or a road being closed off. Far from being a sleepy town on the weekends, Igualada comes alive with lots of loud music and fun times to be had.
Spanish people don’t live off Sangria and Paella
It makes a nice combination, Sangria and Paella, doesn’t it?
Truthfully, though, I haven’t had either since I’ve been here. Well, unless you count a carton of shop bought lukewarm Sangria. I’ve rarely seen paella on the menu and most people stick to cervezas or glass of regional wine with their meals.
Paella is actually a southern Spanish dish, so it makes sense that it’s not as popular in the north. However, if you go into Barcelona you’ll see paella dishes of every kind on most menus, which just goes to show how much the tourism industry has influenced the culture.
Sundays are a no-day
Sunday in England is a sleepy day, but things still happen. Shops open, people go about their daily business, and life doesn’t just shut down.
Here, however, it’s a slightly different story. Barely anywhere is open, save a few cafes and restaurants in the evening, so if you need to go out and buy anything you can nip that thought in the bud.
It’s definitely not a bad thing, but you just have to prepare a little bit in advance if you need anything. In all actualities it’s quite nice knowing that you can just stay inside all day like every else is most likely doing.
So these are the things I’ve learnt in the past five months of living in a small Spanish town and I’m sure I’ll learn a helluva lot more in the next few months.
I love learning about different lifestyles and I have no doubt that I’ll be taking some of these quirks with me back to England.