Archive | Daily Life

Caught in a summer storm

Posted on 09 June 2015 by American expat!


This time last year I got caught in a sudden summer storm. I left my office and was just reaching for a Bicing (shared city bike) around 9:00PM when the fat drops started to fall hard and fast. Within 30 seconds, the ground was completely wet as I made a run for shelter below the balcony of a nearby building.

I thought I’d wait out the storm as puddles formed and be-sandled tourists ducked into door openings, shoes, feet and legs soaked. But after 40 minutes without pause, there was no end in sight. I was hungry and wanted to get home.

The metro was a 6-7 min walk away, but the rain was coming down so hard that even a 10 second run would have soaked me and my backpack full of notebooks and papers all the way through. But I was tired of waiting and knew I had to make a move if I didn’t want to risk waiting for nearly another hour, so I planned a strategic route that would give me the most balcony and store front coverage.

It took a full 5 minutes to inch my way 100 yards to the coverage of a hotel entrance on the corner, which by then was packed with other rain avoiders. I jumped under the entrance overhang, after which more joined me: Parents with strollers covered with plastic sheets hiding bewildered children beneath; Visitors in sandals and shorts laughing in surprise at their unexpected soaking; Less pleased individuals in expensive clothing. I watched from my shelter as people ran with umbrella to taxis while others, who had given up fending off the rain, trudged stoically as water poured over them like they were showering in their clothes. A man on a bike, his hand guiding a second pilotless bike, rolled somberly down the street, his white shirt clinging to him.

It was then when an enterprising Pakistani man passed selling crappy folding umbrellas to any–and there were many–takers. But the price was right: I bought my freedom for four euros. The flimsy umbrella was just enough to protect my backpack and head as I made my way up the street to the metro.

My shoes and jeans from the thighs down were soaked four steps into the journey. The flimsy umbrella bent against the wind as I held it, shield like, into the headlong rain, one hand gripping the handle and the other holding the front down to keep it from blowing inside out, as umbrella are wont to do. I made it to the metro which was packed with non travelers waiting out the storm.

I took my train to my stop and exited. The rain was still coming down hard. On the corner of my building, a man and woman approached me to ask directions to a certain hotel. I knew this hotel well, as it alluded many a visitor, because the nearest metro stopped at a confusing junction of three streets, one of crosses the city diagonally. They weren’t too far, but this poor couple was going to get quite wet on their search for that hotel sans umbrella.

I pointed them the way and handed them my cheap umbrella as they thanked me again and again. Welcome to my city.

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Parenting in Spain

Posted on 23 December 2014 by American expat!

I’m not a tolerant person when it comes to poorly behaved children. So of course, I live in a country that has the most unruly children I have yet to witness in this lifetime.

Obviously, it is no fault of the children. Children will test parents; it is in human nature to test authority and to test parental love. Children want boundaries and will test them. It makes them feel secure, and it makes them feel loved. So I wonder why Spain hasn’t caught up with this parenting revelation?

My theory is that there is some Spanish parenting book, likely written 50 years ago, that people are still following as if it were law.

This dated text certainly must have told parents to ignore their children if tantrums are thrown, because that is exactly what parents do here. On a daily (and I mean DAILY) basis, some kid will have some unspeakable injustice done to him, like being put into a stroller, and you would swear that the parents were holding his hand directly to a flame. The screaming Does. Not. Stop. And the parents say not a word, despite the glares of the customers around them. Oh, did I not mention? This isn’t outside. Parents do not take their screaming children outside. They do not acknowledge said screaming moppet, they let their little monsters writhe and yell in their strollers, or more often on the restaurant or shop floor, and completely ignore them.

This continues until one of two things happens: Either 15 or 30 minutes or whatever later the parents coddle their exhausted, red faced ilk (still screaming, mind you) and act like they need some comforting, when what they need is some behavioral guidelines, not rewards for fit throwing. Or the parents leave with kiddo still screaming and kicking and then I don’t hear them anymore, so I don’t actually know what happens.

This theoretical book also covers what to do when a child has bonked their head, tripped, been punched by their brother, etc. It has parents assuming that children are brainless little beings that respond to cause and effect: something happens, they cry, so coddling must commence until crying stops. Never is any support given to the kid to let them know that they can handle the situation. Never is any child told to stop when they are clearly milking the attention from a cut on the finger for all it’s worth.

The only alternative to coddling or ignoring that I have ever seen demonstrated here is distracting. though usually this is by other people.

If you ever say anything to these parents, perhaps when you are in a restaurant and 20 minutes has gone with a child howling and twisting in their chair 5 feet away from you, the response is always the same: Shoulders are shrugged as the parent smiles and says “She’s just a child”.

This damn book has parents treating their children like dumb objects that can’t read social cues and are little more than reptiles responding to environmental stimuli. It doesn’t tell them that children understand much more than they realize, that they are extremely adaptive and clever beings who know how to manipulate situations to their benefit from a very young age. It has parents acting as if their children don’t ever look to them for behavioral guidance and security when they are uncomfortable in situations they do not like. No, this stupid book has told parents they are helpless and things just have to ride unruly behavior out.

I wonder if there really is a book. It would explain so much that bewilders so many.

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It’s August in Barcelona

Posted on 25 August 2014 by American expat!

It’s mid August, and the city feels lopsided. The center is crowded, the tour buses full, but the outskirts are eerily empty. Beaches are packed and bicycle paths are full of strolling tourists blocking riders (THIS is why I have a bell on my mountain bike…), yet my usual haunts and regular activity groups host sparse numbers. This is because August is when residents of this fine city take their month long vacations away from jobs, businesses, homes and the visiting masses.

Most of my neighbors are gone, though the apartment below me is occupied by a group of young Russians instead of the couple who usually reside there. This group sits out on the balcony for hours each day, speaking in booming voices that echo through the neighborhood and permeate my apartment. It isn’t so much as talking as it is yelling – the men can’t seem to speak without projecting their voices in shouts. The women are quieter. I call to them to keep it down – though it doesn’t last for long.

The cafes and restaurants around me are mostly open, though a few have closed their doors for the usual three week break.  An underground business near me seems to be thriving however -a lone warehouse on the 5th floor of a building a few streets over that evidently hosts after parties. Every Saturday, from around 9am until the afternoon, a constant techno beat reverberates out of that high window and flies around the barrio, across opens streets and a park until the sound hits (or enters) the next nearest tall building, which is mine. The place has a small balcony with a windowless door opening onto it. This balcony exposes the crow inside, a few bodies or limbs at a time. Rope, spiderwebbed from the balcony railing to the top of the door, secures the party goers from relaxing to their deaths as they lean out for air. The constant, thumping beat drives me out of my house until the late afternoon, until the allnighters finally exhaust themselves and go home to sleep for a day and a half.

Offices are largely empty and the blocks of scooter parking expose line after white line of parallel paint spaced two feet apart. In a weeks time, these spaces will be overflowing with dark two wheeled forms, spilling up onto the street sides of the facing sidewalks, twisted front wheels touching. But until then, the feet of visitors on their way to the beaches, numbers which I haven’t seen before, are the only thing touching those white stripes.

My emails to view apartments, usually returned via phone within a day, sit unread in mailboxes. My calls meet automated messages telling me business will resume at an early September date. Agenda items that involve business with any Spanish company are forcibly postponed (while, in stark contrast, my phone rings nearly daily with calls from US recruiters, and clients ask me for referrals for all kinds of talent. Business is full speed ahead in North America).

In one more week until things will be back to normal. Calls will come in, the neighbors will quiet down, I will get things done. But I’ll no longer spend afternoons on rambling bike rides along the coast and 8pm will no longer be the hour that sunbathing stops. Summer will be over.




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The Endless Dinner

Posted on 15 May 2014 by American expat!

I just can’t get used to the phenomenon here in Spain that is the Endless Dinner.

It’s quite normal to meet at 8pm for dinner and to still be seated at the table at 12:30am. Actually, those hours are more usually 9:30pm and 2am if it is the weekend. Of course, all throughout dinner there will be people showing up, since the “starting” time of something seems to be but a suggestion.

I agree that mealtimes should be social events, that they shouldn’t be a rushed affair that is over in 45 minutes. I like the visiting and enjoying company part. But seriously, by hour three I’ve eaten everything in the restaurant, drunk too much wine, and am staring holes through the side of my boyfriend’s head, willing him to join me in indicating that it is time to go. Because that too is a suggestion. You don’t just get up and go. You need to plan your exit by announcing about an hour ahead of time (more if you are at someone’s home), announce it, and then continue to announce it every ten minutes or so, lest your party forgets that it is time to ask for the check. You’ll receive the check 45 minutes later, whereby you will all head out the door and then continue the conversation in the street in front of the restaurant. At about the one hour mark you will finally be released to find your way home, usually long after the metro has closed if it is a weekday, or you will then move onto a bar with your party.

On holidays, it’s worse.

Last Christmas eve, we spent the evening at the dinner of a friend’s place just outside of Barcelona. We showed up around 8pm and finally headed home at 2:30am and were only permitted to leave so ‘early’ because we had a plane to catch at 7:30am.

What’s the big deal? I hear you saying. It’s a family gathering, you protest. Don’t we do the same thing at Thanksgiving? The answer is no. No we do not. We show up, help prepare, watch football or Twilight Zone marathons, and at some point sit down and eat. We then take our pie slice and go play cards, sit outside, feed the dogs, play video games, help clean up and pack away food…in other words, we socialize and visit and do things other than sit, eat and drink.  You think we were doing any one of the  aforementioned things during that eating marathon? We were not. Our asses were planted at the table from 8:30 until the time we started inching toward the door around 2am. There were five enormous courses served, one after the other (oh no, no buffet style dinners here!) all of them comprised of huge quantities of shellfish or meat or both. The second course alone was five (five!) little lobsters and several fistfuls of mussels served on a plate the size of a school bus steering wheel. If you did not finish your plate, you were asked what was wrong and didn’t you like it and all of the things designed to make you feel like an ingrate. Even if I did like everything served (which I didn’t) it was just way too much food. There is no way to hide quantities like that, and the dogs belonging to the hosts were all relegated to a life outdoors, so there was no help from the canine front.

The food thankfully stopped coming out of the kitchen around 1am, and as is typical with the endless dinner, the chupitas and other assorted aperitifs began. I’d had three different types of wine with dinner and was full to the eyeballs, but my protests went unheard and I was served various shots that I passed off to other people, poured in my empty teacup or, when pushed, touched the shot glass to my lips and set it back down again.

Side Note: I actually did have a fun and amusing evening talking with the two 80+ year old ladies sitting across from me, one of whom was feistier than any little old lady I’d ever met (and little she was-she stood about 4’11”). She recounted tales of police pulling her over after she turned into oncoming traffic to make a left hand turn at a roundabout (instead of turning right and going around it until she reached the street in question), answering that it was the shorter way to go when questioned why she made such a move. Or the time when police pulled her over for some other traffic violation (another shortcut perhaps?) and she gave the cop the middle finger in response to being asked why she did not carry the car registration papers with her. They let her go on both accounts.

I’m not unappreciative of the effort this evening required. And I know that the Endless Dinner is a part of life here is Spain that isn’t going to change anytime soon, so I either need to adapt or…well, I don’t know. I guess all I can do is adapt. But the Endless Holiday Dinner? That was too much. I’ll be skipping it this Christmas eve.


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Why so late?

Posted on 20 April 2014 by American expat!

lateMy friends and family (those who have not visited Spain) are bewildered when they call and find me just sitting down to dinner at 10pm. I assure them that this is 1) standard in Spain, and 2) that I’m not trying to conform to any kind of Spanish timetable. Because 10pm feels about right for dinner, because everything happens later here.

There is an explanation for this, maybe you already know it. It’s that Spain uses the same time zone that includes France, Germany and Italy. But Spain is geographically aligned with Portugal and Britain, which live life in Coordinated Universal Time. So in fact the clocks here are ‘wrong’ – according to where the sun is in the sky and also according to what my body thinks.

This is because Fransisco Franco (the country’s dictator from 1939 to 1975), during WWII, set clocks forward to align with Nazi Germany. Portugal also changed the clocks ahead during the second World War, but returned to UCT (then called Greenwich Mean Time) after the defeat of Hitler. But Spain kept the same time with Germany, presumably because Franco was a jerk and held tight to his fascist values.

Over time, Spain’s culture adapted to this time change in the form of breakfast breaks for workers (there isn’t time enough in the morning at home for breakfast), lunches from around 2-4 in the afternoon, which is the same time businesses close for siesta, though this is entirely flexible and dependent on the discretion of the owner but is generally for 2-3 hours between 1pm and 5pm. This long lunch/siesta pushes closing hours late into the evening, as workers are only returning to work around 4pm. So kicking off work happens anywhere between 6 and 9pm. And this is why dinner is not unusual at 10pm.

The good side of this is that things stay open later, unlike other European countries where everything is locked tight at 6pm. No, I can roll out of my office at 9:15pm and now that I still have 15 minutes before the post office down the street closes, then after that can pop into Carrefour for some, um, salad (OK I mean American cookies and wine) before heading riding a bike home. If it is summer, I can head to the beach at 7pm and still catch some rays and have a swim before the sun sets at 9:45pm.

Spain is talking about reverting to their actual geographical time zone, positing that it will make a more efficient workforce (with this I completely agree) as well as allow working parents to have time with their children in the evenings, though I question the necessity for this last point as children never seem to go to bed here, they are still running frenzied around plazas and yelling from their strollers at midnight.

I know visitors are bewildered to find most restaurants are not yet open for dinner at 8pm, and cafes not yet open for a coffee at 8 or even 9am. New expats have a tough time with late lunches and dinners, though most–if not all–adapt quickly and find themselves loving the late lifestyle. I find it easy to switch between a US schedule and Spanish one, probably because the lifestyles are so different – but also because the clocks here are ‘wrong’.

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