Jaded Expat: Four (and a half) Things I Dislike About Living in Seville

Truth be told, Seville was never on my list of places to study, let alone live. My plans included free tapas along Calle Elvira, views of the Alhambra from my window and weekend ski trips to the Sierra Nevada. But the Spanish government had other plans for me, sending me to work as a Language and Culture Assistant in the town of Olivares, 10 miles west of the capital of Andalusia.

In retrospect, it was a disappointment that initially had me thinking twice about my decision, then became perhaps the best choice I’ve ever made. Indeed, it has worked out in wonderful ways: learning Spanish to impress my new Latin amante and take on pesky bank tellers, finding a career choice that I enjoy and leaves me time to blog, facing my fears of living without my family to run to.

aaaand I shall call this photo “Spain, you wack sometimes.”

But my vida in Seville is more than sunshine and siestas, tapas and trips to the beach. My life is Spain is still life: I have a job that requires my presence, bills to pay, and enough headaches with bureacrazy to make someone’s head spin. Just like anywhere else on earth, I have irksome moments. As much as I love living in Seville, there are elements that make me roll my eyes and utter an Hay que ver (alright, ME CAGO EN LA MAAAAA) under my breath.

The Weather

When I initially moved to Spain, I toyed with the idea of returning to Valladolid. The promise of living with my host family in exchange for English classes seemed too good to pass up, and I have a soft spot for Vdoid and all of its castellano goodness. Then I remembered that I was there during a drought, a far cry from the stories I’d heard of the city of Cervantes turning into a tundra during the winter and early spring months.

Vámanooooh pal South!

While Andalusian winters are much more mild than their Castillian counterparts, the summers are also unbearable. Come May, the city turns into a hide-and-seek from the sun game. temperatures spike from a blamy 22° Celcius to 35° in a matter of days, which also means that I can’t sleep at night, I take multiple showers a day and gazpacho becomes the basis of my diet. Air conditioning is non-existent on buses, whereas the Corte Inglés department store is an enormous ice cube that, upon spitting you out and onto the hot pavement in Plaza del Duque, gives you an automatic cold. Just like in Goldilocks, the weather is either too hot or too cold, and rarely just right.

The Transportation

Seville is a sprawling metropolis, at least by Spanish standards. While one can get across the city in about 30 minutes by bike, traffic and frequent bus stops make it an absolute pain to moverse in public transportation. While I usually take my bike or my own two feet everywhere, there are rainy mornings or extremely hot afternoons where I have little choice but to swipe my transportation card.

Seville has oodles of bus lines and a new app that lets you see waiting times and investigate routes as well as one metro line and one light rail. If you’re in the center, you’re well-connected. If you live a bit further away, like me, your options are much more limited, and I often have to pay for a transbordo, or transfer, to be able to get to places like the gym or the Alameda. I’ve since opted to pay for a Sevici pass, which is a city-wide bike share, paying 25€ yearly instead of the 1,40€ charges by bus or metro. Still, the big bikes are clumsy and not always maintained, and acts of vandalism are rampant. There are days where actually moving around the city seem like such a big ordeal that I prefer staying at home.

The Bureaucracy

Ah, yes. The pain of my expat existence. Nothing is ever easy for a little guiri from America, from registering for a foreign ID card to even picking up my mail; it seems that Spain keeps coming up with ways to drain my wallet and make me spend my mornings waiting in line, testing my patience and willingness to be in a relationship with Spain. Is there any doubt as to why my fingers unintentionally write bureaucrazy?

Case in point: my recent tryst with getting a driver’s license. I learned to drive in 2001, and since then have not a parking fine to my name in America. When I rented a car with some friends to drive to La Rioja, the GPS guided us right into a roadside check and a 100€ fine. My suegra proclaimed that getting a driving license was absolutely necessary, and that she would even float the bill (Mujer is a saint, de verdad). Still, I spent two whole weekends in a driving course, had to deal with both my first and middle name being wrong on the theory exam, and am forced to learn to drive stick shift. Turns out, non-EU residents who have lived in the Eurozone for two years or more and required to take both the theory and practical exams. I swear, it never ends. Ever.

Then, or course, there’s the post office: I live not 200 meters from a post office and another 800 meters from another. Still, I was assigned to an oficina de correos that takes me 20 minutes to walk to, and inquiries into how to switch have been met with head shakes and shoulder shrugs. Worse still, any non-certified mail not claimed within 15 days of the original delivery date is returned to sender. I’ve lots checks, books and information packs because of this rule, in many cases can’t be avoided because of my time out of  the country during the summer and Christmas.

The enchufe starts early. This kid will probably be the amo of all of his friends when he gets beer here at age 16.

As an off-shoot, there’s the concept of enchufe, too. An enchufe is an outlet (like where you’d plug your computer in), and it refers to the business deals and underhand deals. Iñaki Undangarín, much? This concept has been both a benefit and a curse to me, giving me jobs and taking me out of the running for others, allowing me to have a great time at Feria (or not). Like in America at times, it’s all about who you know.

The Social Circles

The saying goes that sevillanos are the first to invite you to their house, but then never tell you where they leave. In my experience, making friends with sevillanos, particularly females, is quite difficult. I’ve thankfully got a great group of American female friends, but I’ve found that breaking into social circles in Seville is tough. The Novio has been close with his best friend since they were six – o sea, my whole lifetime. I have many friendships that are still close and have grown even as I moved away and they got married, but I have many more non-Spanish friends than Spanish ones. Plus, a majority of them have come from the Novio and not my own cultivation.

Another pitfall to moving abroad is the inevitable goodbyes when someone moves away – even the Spaniards! When my friends Juani and Raquel moved to Chile a few months back, it was like losing our social coordinators and my little sister at the same time. I remember the dozens of friends I’ve made here who have since moved on or moved back to their home cultures and often wish that they could have stayed. My group of friends often ebbs and flows as the years pass by.

My guiri girlfriends

What’s funny is that many of these gripes would be the same if I were living in Chicago – the bitter cold winters and heaps of snow, the expensive CTA system and highways choked with cars during peak times, and the hoops that would no doubt need to be jumped through if I moved back. It’s the kind of thing that I seem to warn bright-eyed guiris about when they first come to live or study in Seville: they’re often fascinated that I’ve been able to make a life here after so much time, but it’s not like study abroad. I’ve experienced grief and loss, heartache and even strep throat, found out I’m allergic to OLIVE BLOSSOMS in one of the world’s foremost producers of olive oil and had many tearful goodbyes.

My friend Kelly, a wise-cracking Chicagoan-turned-sevillana puts it well: if these things happened to us back in Chicago, we wouldn’t bat an eye. Not break ups or headaches would have us on the first plane back to what we know. Life is life here. It’s just Spain being Spain.

Besides, where else is it socially acceptable to drink sherry at noon, stay out until 4am on a school night, have crushes on Gerard Pique despite an extreme dislike for FC Barcelona and use Spanglish as your tongue-of-choice?

Do you have any headaches where you live, or any stories to tell about what you don’t like about your city?

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living among pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she wrangles babies at an English Language Academy and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.

Comments

  1. Love the honesty and perspective, Cat!
    How true it is that at home we’d be annoyed but it wouldn’t send us packing to try our lives in a new city in America, we just deal with it because that’s all we can do!

    I’m impressed with your tenacity! Keep hanging in there!
    Lauren @ roamingtheworld recently posted..Listening to my inner voice and how I almost gave up on a dreamMy Profile

  2. I think it’s hard to break into social circles anywhere in Spain! I did find that true about Andalusians during my time there, that they promise everything and don’t often live up to their word. Basques are reserved and a bit cold (esp. Vascas), and it’s so difficult to break in as an outsider–but they say once you have a Basque friend, you have one for life. We’ll see!
    Christine recently posted..Day Trip From Bilbao: San Juan de GaztelugatxeMy Profile

  3. Oddly enough, when I lived in Seville over 30 years ago, I made some great friends among the Sevillanos, and we are still in touch today. However, I now live in Puerto Rico (for the past 19 years) and I can’t say I have any meaningful relationships with Puerto Ricans — male or female. The Puerto Ricans live mostly for family. Anyone not of the immediate or extended family is treated cordially, but not Intimately. Everyone talks about how friendly the Puerto Ricans are, but it’s all superficial. I miss my Sevillano friends, which over the years has come to include Gypsies as well.

  4. Christina says:

    Wow, right as I read the 2 year cut-off date, I review how long I’ve been in Spain and it looks like just two months have passed the cut-off for me. Great, MORE bureaucracy. I still have to deal with residency, work papers, and getting my BA degree homologado. Do you have any tips on working papers, by the way?

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Oof, you DO have a long way to go, mujer! Start with the most pressing, which is probably the work papers? I got mine through marriage, how are you planning on doing it?

      • Christina says:

        I’m married too. We’re currently waiting for some paperwork that of course is lost from the Registro Civil in Madrid. I’ve already applied for residency and got rejected because of paperwork they never told me I needed and have since started the process over again. What was your process like? (Btw I don’t want to clutter up your blog so if you don’t mind giving me some tips by e-mail or facebook I would HUGELY appreciate it!)

  5. Oh, how I can relate to this post!

    After countless frustrations trying to sort things out for my flat in Tanzania, I went back to visit family in the UK and was shocked to find that not only did I have NO mobile phone signal in my dad’s house (which is in a reasonable-sized town, not on the side of a remote mountain) but that customer service in the UK was every bit as annoying as elsewhere. That was the point when I realised that there are always going to be things that drive me crazy, wherever I live so the best thing to do is try not to get too wound up about them and focus on the positives.

    If only it were that simple!
    Julie Dawn Fox recently posted..C is for Comfort in a foreign countryMy Profile

  6. I also found most Andalusians to be extremely friendly and open, but that they made it clear they weren’t really looking for new friends. I made some good male friends (well, as good as a friendship can be in 6 months) but the women had no interest. And almost all of their friends were from the niñez! I asked a friend why that is, and he told me that when granaínos, they expect the friendship to be for life, so many wouldn’t waste time with someone who’s leaving. Harsh haha.

    I’ve never been down south in the later summer months; is it really as terrible as everyone says? I really want to come down for the last week in August before my classes start, but I don’t want to melt!
    Julia of Nowhere to Go but Everywhere recently posted..an insider’s guide to getting lost in granada {el albaicín}My Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      I spent six days here in August, and that was enough!! Perhaps Granada will be better, but Seville is an absolute swamp. I plan on spending my two weeks’ vacation (after the Camino) at either the beach, the pool or camped out in front of the air conditioner!

  7. I have resigned myself to never having any Spanish girl friends…maybe it’s not good to give up too soon, but I don’t know, I just can’t see it happening. Most of my Spanish friends are from Mario too.
    Kaley [Y Mucho Más] recently posted..Third CultureMy Profile

  8. Sunshine and Siestas says:

    I’m almost feeling better that I’m not the only one who lacks Spanish girlfriends! Thankfully I have a really wonderful group of Anglos who make up for it, and understand my need for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups!

  9. It is hard to break into social circles with the locals in any country abroad. The French are the same way and are way more reserved and cold than the Spanish. Friendship isn’t just given out to anyone, you’ve got to earn it. My father (who is from France) is still friends with the same friends from high school all these years later. Americans have a more transient view of friendship–it’s not exactly a bad thing, but it’s a huge cultural difference and that could be the subject of an entire post.

    Oh and the bikes! I remember seeing those about 5 years ago when I was studying abroad in Toulouse. Most the bikes seemed to be in working order but they weren’t the greatest. I tried one out once–clunky, heavy, and hard to maneuver.
    amelie88 recently posted..Public Art: An Ode to the Street Signs of MadridMy Profile

  10. I can’t read the name of this post without thinking of our fav movie. “And I’m back in the game!” Also, I found breaking into social circles was extremely hard even in San Fran (and you know me, I’m not exactly anti-social). If I would’ve made a few more friends there, I might still be there.

  11. When I arrived in Granada at the end of January I was a little disappointed because it wasnt nearly as warm as I expected, and it even snowed a few times! However, spring came and went with the blink of an eye and soon the heat was unbearable. I’d take the long way to places just to stay in the shade. I only used the public transit to get to the bus station and loved the fact I could walk anywhere.
    Mike recently posted..Auxiliar de Conversación Region PreferencesMy Profile

  12. Great post. Very honest. We’re going on five years in the Netherlands this summer and just as we’re ready for my husband to apply for a permanent residence permit, the immigration laws have changed and he’ll have to take a more complex series of integration exams than what were required as recently as December for someone with his situation and permit status :-(
    Oh, and there’s a bit of bureaucrazy, here, too…at times ;-)

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      I had a Spanish friend ask me a whole load of questions about pareja de hecho, which is what I did to be able to stay in Spain. It’s essentially like getting married without as much hassle, but it’s incredible how much more I had to do as an American than he and his girlfriend would have to do as Spaniards! It’s almost nice to know it’s not easy anywhere…

  13. I have the same post-office thing! I can almost literally see the correos from my window, and they refuse to let me have my mail sent there. I just don’t get it…

    Social circles are weird here too – Catalans are notoriously ‘cerrado’. Like Christine said about the vascas, the catalanas are hard for me to make friends with than the guys.

    Also, life here just being life is something that people definitely forget back home. I swear, every time something goes wrong the first thing they say is “Why don’t you just move back?” If those things happened to me in San Francisco, nobody would tell me to leave San Francisco!
    Jessica of HolaYessica recently posted..Carnaval in Sitges: Cold, Crazy, and a Whole Lot of FunMy Profile

  14. I’ll switch weather with you any day — but ya I hate the German bureaucracy but somehow I think Spain would make me like Germany’s :)
    Alex @ ifs ands & butts recently posted..travel tuesday: chipotle in paris.My Profile

  15. It can be tough to go local, I agree, Cat. Last season, I was the only guiri in my football team. When we secured promotion, they kicked me out of the squad. That could well have more to do with my soccer skills, or lack of them, though.
    Matthew Hirtes recently posted..San FelipeMy Profile

  16. Hey Cat,

    I think we lucked out or are still in the honeymoon phase. After living in Andalucia (Almuñécar) for just over 6 months now, the lines haven’t been so bad. I think most of that is that we are in a small town. There is only one post office and after I tracked down our mailman on his scooter one day and introduced myself, we now get mail at our door. I guess there was a community mailbox that we were unaware of. Mail was being delivered all up and down our street to anyone, of course no one knew who we were. All sorted out now.

    As far as gripes, I just wrote a post on this and it will go out in next couple of weeks…. Why don’t people pick up after their dogs!? I mean come on, in the middle of the sidewalk? Anyway, so far so good for us. We haven’t dealt with the Driving License yet, but NIE cards etc were pretty smooth.

    Thanks for sharing this!
    Heidi Wagoner recently posted..Flamenco Dancing – I Am Embracing the Culture!My Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Definitely, living in a smaller town has its advantages! Since I’m in the province capital, we have the overflow from the nearby villages without their own offices. The driving license wasn’t so bad (though they got my name wrong and I haven’t received it yet, sigh), just time consuming.

    • Oh, we’ve only been in Andalusia for a few days now, and I have to say that the dog thing is making me a bit crazy too. I’ve been trying to teach our little ones to keep on dog poo alert when they’re walking down the sidewalk, with mixed success.
      Micki recently posted..11 Ways to Go Local on Your Next TripMy Profile

      • Oh good! LOL not good that you are experiencing it, but good that I am not crazy! It really gets to me. It seems like such a simple thing to pick up after their own dog. I have heard rumor that it is like this in much of Europe. YUK. :-)
        Heidi Wagoner recently posted..A Day Trip To Gibraltar – Part IIMy Profile

      • Sunshine and Siestas says:

        Hey, they say it’s a lucky thing! The night I first stepped in it, I met the girl who later introduced me to the Novio!

  17. Living in a Village where Valeniano is the main language spoken, even speaking in castilian marks you as an outsider, and difficult to integrate with the community. I try, but fail miserably.

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      I can imagine! It was really difficult for me to make non-Anglo friends my first year before my Spanish skills really kicked in.

  18. FUNNy – bc it’s so true, wherever you are…
    wandering educators recently posted..Firsthand Accounts of the Benefits of International InternshipsMy Profile

  19. A little dose of reality is always healthy. . . reminds us that life is not all giggles and kicks. But with the right outlook and the courage to follow our travel dreams it can be MOSTLY giggles and kicks :)
    Larissa recently posted..Strolling the mosaic sidewalks of Lisbon in search of pastel de nataMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      When people ask me how to move to Spain, I always tell them that a sense of humor and a large dose of flexibility is perhaps the most important! I always sound like the old, jaded lady complaining about Seville, but I wish someone had warned me about some of these things, too!

  20. Having lived in a number of foreign countries, I can tell you not to worry about having an occasional nervous breakdown: you earned it and getting drunk on whine is healthy once in a while.
    Miss Footloose | Life in the Expat Lane recently posted..Living Abroad: Weird, Broken and HeadlessMy Profile

  21. Absolutely loved this post and can’t wait to explore more of your blog! I studied abroad in Sevilla back in the good ‘ol college days and miss it terribly (although not the heat, madre de dios el calor). I smiled so much when I saw the word guiri-it’s been ages since that’s been in my vocabulario. Being an expat is not all rainbows and happy smiles as you so wonderfully put it (to those who think otherwise).
    Julie recently posted..Blackberry Crunch Squares-New York City’s Magnolia BakeryMy Profile

  22. Wonderful post. I live the British Virgin Islands (I can relate to the difficulties and challenges). I never want to be the jaded lady living in a lovely tropical place, but there are days, when the beauty completely loses out to the chaos of just daily living.
    I’ve often wondered, if a person who has not experienced living outside their home country, could even comprehend the warnings we could offer out of protective kindness. (to them we’d sound crazy) so I’ve found it best to just smile and sincerely wish them luck with what ever their adventure is. Because in the end we always take our self along – so each journey will be different.
    When I lived in Belize the expat saying was, If you arrive with patience – you will lose if, if you don’t have any – you will learn it, and bring your sense of humor because either way you will need it. (they were right)

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Advice to live by! I expected my first year to be a breeze because I’d already lived a bit in the country, but it definitely brought its challenges! Things get easier with time, it seems, but you’re absolutely right in not having those expectations! All my best, and thanks for visiting!

  23. I think making friends with Spanish people in a small town has made it much easier for me. Having said that, with la crisis I have a similar problem – they keep moving away! I have made a few really great Spanish friends, but with ‘la crisis’ and being a small town, if they want to work, they have to search elsewhere (in a bigger city or outside of Spain like the UK). I still keep in contact with them, but it’s not the same as having them here of course. Late last year I had a somewhat busy social life, but since a few friends have moved away things have gotten a bit quieter, but I have some expat friends here too. But soon it will be my turn to move on….so…:)
    El recently posted..from Naples to FlorenceMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      That’s sadly a part of it. I’ve had loads of friends from all nationalities move away in the past few years, and it never gets easier. If you’re mobile, join internations to meet some other expats!

  24. I actually love Sevilla! Granted, I was there in late September/early October. That was the perfect time to visit. The weather was awesome, there weren’t a lot of crowds, and I loved the city. I know how hot it can get there so was glad I wasn’t there in the summer. However, the trees and the Santa Cruz very nice with all of the shade.

    I can’t really speak to all of the other stuff but I thought the transportation was good. I did walk everywhere and didn’t have deadlines or places to go. I did notice the streets are awfully quiet at 7:30 in the morning though :)
    Jeremy Branham recently posted..Winter Yosemite photos Part II: El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, and sunsetMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      I do love Seville, and don’t think I would love any place in Spain as much as my Sevilla! That said, all of the ugliness eventually pops up, especially after more than five years! If you’re back this way, get in touch and thanks for visiting!

  25. Rena Dunne says:

    Great blog Cat. I can really identify with all that you’ve written. But what about my pet hate, the way the Spanish don’t like to share the footpaths? Like you, I still love Sevilla 7 years on but just wish that walking the sidewalks (as you’d say) was a little easier.

    Keep posting!
    Rena

  26. Foreign bureaucracy is the worst. And 47?! Holy crap!

  27. Certainly the bureaucracy is the same everywhere in Spain. And the end result (in my case at least) is – “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” I loathe the whole process of doing almost anything here so much that I procrastinate unreservedly….which only serves to make matters worse. Is there another place in the world where you actually pay people (gestors) simply to stand in line for you, because you can’t take a day of work to go register the purchase of a new car?
    Linda recently posted..Deciding, Discarding and DreamingMy Profile

  28. I know this post is old but I’ve been digging into your archives and really enjoying your posts. Had to leave a comment here to tell you how much I appreciate your honesty! As an expat I feel like people both in your new country and your old expect that things are always peachy – but the way you say it sums it up perfectly: ‘life if life’ no matter where you are. There will be delightful moments but also moments of blind rage – cough bureauCRAZY (love that by the way) and weather here in NL too! Just dreadful!
    Sophie recently posted..Valentine’s in Rotterdam & The HagueMy Profile

    • My life in Spain would be perfect if it was all cerveza and siesta and the sunshine and the frilly dresses. But, as we can both agree, it’s normal life! I can imagine that things in the NL are far more organized than in Spain, though!

  29. Hello!
    I know this is an older post, but I’ve only recently discovered your site, and I’m digging through it. I absolutely love it!
    I’m a bit older, in midlife, with my kids now grown. I own an online business. Last year I began studying both flamenco and Spanish, and it is a dream to go to Spain for 1-2 years to further study dance. I’m thinking the easiest way to make this a reality is to begin teaching English? I can run my business in only about 10 hours a week, and since the teaching is only 12 hours or so, I’m thinking this can still leave time for dance?
    What are the academic requirements to teach English, if you don’t mind my asking?
    Thank you again, so much for this site!

    • Hi Laura, I’ve been traveling and too immersed to check my emails and such! Will be sending you an email shortly to answer your questions. And muchas gracias for the compliment!

Trackbacks

  1. […] of sunshine and siestas is a lovely hiccup to my everyday life, my vida cotidiana. Like any expat, I’ve got my gripes about my adopted city, but spending a week away from Seville always rejuvenates my love […]

  2. […] country. This comes from an effort to make everything in Europe more standardized, and to make me shake my finger once more at bureaucracy for making my life more […]

  3. […] myself a fairly well-weathered feriante after five years of teaching class after late nights, of using my enchufe to my advantage and of lasting through six days of […]

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