Coming from a family of teachers (and officially calling myself one on paper), my mother always taught me the value in learning outside the classroom. Though she counts on her fingers, lady’s a wiz with fractions, teaching my sister and I as we baked Christmas cookies. She taught us animal care by taking us weekly to the barn to groom and feed our first family pet, Pudge, and made us join Girl Scouts.
Any wonder who was my biggest supporter when I decided to move to Spain?
I was recently talking to my friend Gonzalo, one of the Novio’s compañeros from the military academy who lives in Zaragosa. He told me that his parents were amazed at how I’d come to Spain alone and with very little Spanish…and then stayed.
Call it the evolution of a species if you like: adapt or die.
I’ve learned to live without peanut butter, accept that baking here is nothing like it was in Nancy’s kitchen, and spend copious amounts of time on Facebook and Skype in the name of staying involved back home. But, with all of this, I’ve also learned a thing or two and have improved skills that I never thought would be necessary.
Recently, my friend Sandra of Seville Traveller and I were attending the Evento Blog España. The rain was pouring down, so we took her car to a nearby barrio for lunch. I watched as she maneuvered her compact car into an even tinier parking spot in a garage littered with cars, scooters and the like.
I’m American, from a place with wide open (parking) spaces, often the diagonal type that are simple to pull in and out of. Coming to live in a place like Spain means that I’ve had to adapt to their bumper kissing, doble fila and maneuvering Kike’s enormous vehicle when it’s my turn to drive. Something to work on? My tendency to panic when driving in a place I don’t know.
This, of course, has not been without oops moments – two years ago, Kike’s tank of a car got a big scratch from my carelessness when pulling it into a parking space, rather than backing it in.
Nothing says Midwesterner like my love for beef and grain. I accidentally consumed fish before realizing that I actually liked it. Since I had never learned names of fish and seafood, I often ordered sea creatures – as well as tripe stew, kidneys and coagulated blood – without knowing what I was really eating.
I’ve also learned how to clean it properly, from pulling the ink sacs and backbone out of a chipirón to lifting the bones of a white fish. It reminds me of a picture of my sister and I during a fishing trip in Wisconsin when we pinched our noses and stuck out our tongues as my father cleaned and grilled the perch we’d caught – it seems I’ve come full circle.
Travel has also made me an adventurous eater, in that I’m the first to try whatever is on the menu – even bugs, weird organs and live oysters.
Cutting Onions Without Crying
When I met Melissa, she told me that part of our monthly rent would go towards things we’d need in the house: cleaning supplies, olive oil and onions.
Onions have also crept into my diet just as fish have, but the hardest thing was learning to cut them without crying – I used to have to wear sunglasses to stay dry! Now, I usually cry while cooking the onions, but that could just be the smoke.
The secret? Doing it fast and cutting on a slant.
Sticking up for Myself
When studying for the DELE exams last November, I had Kike read all of my writing prompts. His conclusion is that I’m really good at reclamaciones, or complaint letters. I used to be the girl who would gulp down food that should have been sent back, or turn on my heel and not stand up to the funcionarios when they turn me away.
That all changed when a taxi driver took me the wrong way and wanted to charge me for it. I asked him to leave me at a cross street, but he insisted it was a shortcut and that would take me to where I needed to go. When I asked him to leave me off and let me walk the rest of the way, he tried to charge me the full amount. I insisted on him stopping the meter, leaving me a receipt and taking down his licence number. With that, he charged me just half and let it go.
I’ve learned to be proactive and not let people or silly rules walk all over me. Not the Vodafone salesman can turn me away when I start running my mouth about how they never signed me up for the insurance I had paid for on my bills, or to a nurse who was verbally abusive to a friend (we filled out a claim in the much-advertised LIBRO DE RECLAMACIONES). I’ve also told a few little lies to the people in extranjería to help speed up the process of getting paperwork done.
In Spain’s current economic situation, people are trying to squeeze as much out of every person as they can, which means that foreigners sometimes bear the brunt of their bad service and overcharging. Being assertive won’t cost you anything.
I still think I’m a little lost guiri whose luck just happens to never run out. Living abroad is a test in patience and resilience, yes, but it’s a lot about stepping back, taking a deep breath and remembering that it could happen the same way in your country.
What have you learned to do better during your time abroad? What do you want to improve on?