*This post was inspired [not sponsored (yet)] by the xkcd comic –> https://xkcd.com/388/
WOW. I almost forgot how amazing graphs are and how much I love making them. 😍 I proudly present to you my latest creation:
THINGS ABOUT SPAIN THAT I LOVE/HATE THAT I DID/DIDN’T EXPECT.
I’ll explain the items on this scatter-plot by quadrant. Don’t act like you don’t remember what a quadrant is or where they are on the coordinate plane.
QUADRANT 1: Things I was surprised to love
- BIG CITY LIVING –
Madrid is by far the biggest city I’ve ever lived in. With 3.3 million people, it’s the third largest in the EU after London and Berlin. (So are we number 2 now?🤔) Add in the 6 million+ tourists that visit Madrid each year and then you’ve really got a crowd. After living in Grand Forks, ND (population 58,000) or even Minneapolis (population 415,000) it just doesn’t quite feel the same. I’ve been really surprised by how comforting the commotion feels. It’s strange, but the constant energy of the city seems to wrap you like a blanket and makes you feel a part of a huge, global, diverse community. It helps that life is lived outside here – there’s no single family homes or having to drive to the grocery store or other ways to naturally isolate yourself. We all have our own story and are living it out side by side. I must confess that my road rage has converted to sidewalk rage, so it’s not all shiny and perfect.
- INTERNATIONAL FOOD
Indian, Greek, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, French, Irish, Senegalese, YOU NAME IT, MADRID’S GOT IT. And wow, it’s pretty tasty. My disappointment surrounding the idea of living in a city that lacked a pure-Spanish culture has been mostly resolved with the fact that I can explore so many different cuisines. The biggest problem has been convincing the servers that you do have a tolerance for spice, unlike most Spaniards. That and restraining myself from eating a kebab for every meal.
- MID-WEST REPPIN’
Last time I studied abroad, 9 of the 60 people in my program were from NoDak. This time, there are ~160 of us divided among 4 masters programs and finding someone from the Midwest feels like like trying to find Waldo while reading a Dr. Seuss book. Impossible. I’m starting to wonder if there’s even anyone left on the east coast of the US, because it feels like they’ve all moved here. I love the Midwest and have to make a conscious effort not to brag about how wonderful life is in Minnesota/North Dakota. #midwestisbest
- WHAT IS INGLÉS
While my Spanish may not be improving as fast as I’d like…. I can say with 100% confidence that my English is suffering immensely. Plus, teaching English has only made me realize how little I know about the grammatical rules and regulations that I supposedly have been following my whole life. It doesn’t help that we are preparing them for exams based on British English. (Mayhem broke loose when I wrote practiCe and not practiSe.) Maybe my students will end up teaching me more than I teach them this year. What I like about it though is that it shows I’m starting to think and structure my words in a Spanish context. Plus it’s hilarious to laugh at myself when I can’t remember words like ‘elevator’.
QUADRANT 2: Things I was surprised to hate
I had no idea that everything you need to do to establish a normal life in Spain relies on obtaining a T.I.E. aka Tarjeta de Identidad Extranjera aka a plastic card that says you’re a foreign resident. You can’t open a bank account, set up wifi, or sign a cellphone contract until you have it. That’s a problem when it takes a few months to get the TIE and you want to get paid, use the internet, or be able to contact other humans. Although most companies aren’t willing to work with you until you have it, you can find certain branches or certain people in certain branches who are willing to make exceptions. It just takes a LOT of effort to find those people and a LOT of persistence. I’ve heard people have found success by just waiting a couple hours and walking back in when someone else is working. Classic! It’s been frustrating, but at the end of the day it’s do-able.
First day of working – “huh… almost every kid is using a pen. That’s so weird.” 🤨
First day of trying to buy some pencils – “I THINK MADRID HAS RUN OUT OF PENCILS… oh wait here they are… WHY AM I PAYING $1 PER PENCIL AND IT DOESN’T EVEN HAVE AN ERASER?!” 😖Seriously, when is Bic going to start shipping its product to Spain? Because I’m going to be the first in line at that store.
- BAD FOOD
Where there are tourists there will be crappy, tacky restaurants aimed at attracting said tourists. I have started referring to them as the Applebees of Madrid. Going in it doesn’t feel that bad, but then your meal arrives and you start to wonder how much of it was microwaved and afterwards you realize the price-quality ratio is not where you wanted it to be. Good news is I’m getting better at picking them out from afar and I’m starting to make a collection of worth-while locations.
- THE SUN
Thank you for keeping me alive. But you need to calm down.
It is SO HOT here. The day I arrived it was 97 degrees and the highs since then have been 85+. I dream of the day where we hit 65. I imagine I’ll look something like Julie Andrews in the meadows of the Sound of Music, minus the grace and singing talent. Until then I will continue to purposely plan my routes to maximize shade coverage no matter how much time it costs me.
QUADRANT 3: Things I was knew I would hate
- LANGUAGE BARRIERS
Based on the amount of phone stores I went to in order to get my android *shudder*, I could have used an entire course on technical vocabulary surrounding cellphone plans and how not to be swindled by their scams. Somehow that was missing from the curriculum. Luckily I could tune out everything I didn’t understand (aka the entire pitch on why I should spend all of my money), and simply tell the worker what I was looking for. I don’t mind having a complicated conversation involving lots of repeating and make-shift sign language, but it really bothers me when I start to feel like I’m being told to do something without being told why. And I acknowledge that part of that responsibility falls back on me. It just gets overwhelming. But a lack of comfort and making mistakes means growth, so I’ll accept it.
Really hope you weren’t expecting to get paid on time, or for the metro not to strike at least once a month, or for stores to be open on weekends, or to have someone respond to that email. Thankfully I was well aware of these trends. It’s not as maddening as you would think because my expectations are low from the beginning. Madrid may be a little better than other regions of Spain since it has so many residents and tourists relying on its infrastructure. Yet the sense of urgency here still seems to be non-existent, which is a big NO-GO if you grew up under the household of Mr. John Patrick Roche. ☝️
- REAL MADRID
Most annoying fútbol team ever. The only thing that slightly surprises me is the fact that I haven’t really had any opportunities to eye-roll at their fans. 🙄 Probably because we are only a few weeks into the season… They’re the yankees/lakers/cowboys of Spanish soccer and as a Minnesotan I can’t bear to cheer for a team that has money AND talent. That goes against everything I’ve ever known.
- TUNA EMPANADAS
👎👎👎 Nope nope nope. This are the one and only food I will not eat again. The crust is too doughy, the tuna-tomato combination is dreadful, and there are so many other things I could be eating that won’t make me wanna hurl. I’ve tried them 3 times 5 years ago when my then host-mom was determined to find one that I liked. In the end I just pretended it was good so I could be spared. They are the stuff of my nightmares and I cringe every time I see one. 🙅♀️
QUADRANT 4: Things I knew I would love
- OUTSIDE LIFE
As previously mentioned, life is lived on the streets (hence the big city living love and sun problem). I am a true Roche in that the best days for me are those that are lived to the maximum – do the most, see the most, experience the most. There’s always a new neighborhood to explore, a new tapas bar to check out, & a new terrace to sit and people watch. But there’s no rush – the pace of life here is so different than in the US. The positive side of the lack of urgency is that you are encouraged to slow down and let it all soak in. So my days are easily filled, but with a chill vibe.
Someone once asked me why bother meeting someone from country X while visiting country Y when you know you’ll most likely never have any contact with them again? And my response is everyone has a story to tell. I really do believe that everyone you meet will know something that you don’t. (Thanks, Bill Nye.) And once you start hearing these stories and learning from them you won’t be able to stop. Spain, Canada, Venezuela, Ireland, Syria, the Netherlands, Australia, Denmark, Scotland… Texas, California, North Carolina, Connecticut, Montana…. People are people no matter where you are from. And while there will always be bad eggs in the world, the type who chose to travel are usually the good ones, the most interesting ones, & the most open-minded ones. So bring on the friends, no matter how short or long-term.
- GOOD FOOD
Three hundred cheers for paella, pimientos, tortilla, jamón, patatas bravas, & croquetas!! Tapas on tapas on tapas. I am struggling to learn all of the culinary vocabulary, often not really sure what I just ordered. Sometimes you’ve just gotta commit. As happy as I’ve been so far I am not going to lie, I CANNOT WAIT to go back to the basque country and get my hands on some pintxos.
While Madrid itself has its endless nooks, I’m excited to get back to exploring new cities. My schedule this year is going to make it difficult, but I’ll do my best. I have classes on Fridays from 3:30 to 8:30 so the only real opportunities I’ll have to travel will be the week-long vacations over Christmas and Easter. At the top of my list are a few regions in Spain (Valencia, Balearic Islands, Galicia), Portugal, Denmark, Hungary, Turkey, Croatia. I’m feeling very confident I’ll be able to tackle them all before the year’s over. And if all goes according to plan (which I know it usually doesn’t), I’d love to take on the camino de santiago after graduation. Who’s in!?