Dealing with Reverse Culture Shock (or, why my country confuses me)

When my phone buzzed with a friend inquiring where I was, I had an excuse for being late: I was overwhelmed with being back in the US and had gone to get a coffee. Then I got overwhelmed again with how to order that and settled on whatever it was that the woman gave me.

“Yeah, sorry. America confused me, so I consoled myself with a gallon of coffee.” I then proceeded to be perplexed by the El’s new card system and nearly walked onto a southbound train rather than heading up to Lakeview.

Two weeks into my American foray, I’m still feeling like Cady Heron in ‘Mean Girls,’ and even my friends who have known me for years are puzzled by my being puzzled by America. I have become the adorable foreign girl who squeals over brunch, IPAs and oversized supermarkets and who answers the same questions day after day:

“You mean there’s internet in Spain?” Duh, how would I maintain this blog?!

“Let’s go for tacos! Wait, you’re probably sick of them.” I WISH I had that problem.

As I’m focusing on party planning and COMO launching, I find myself making rookie mistakes when it comes to American life. 

As my sister puts it: America, 364. Cat, 0. For the first time ever, I can honestly say that my American way of life is all but a thing of the past. Apparently 22 years count for next to nothing but my native tongue, and even that seems to be getting lost in a flurry of British expressions and colorful Spanish interjections.

Cash is all but a foreign concept

In Spain, I always carry cash on me and try not to use bills over 50€. In America, you can pay with your debit card, your cell phone and probably the promise of your first-born. As a matter of fact, I’ve only taken out money once in two weeks!

Condiments puzzle you

In a country where mayonnaise is king, this just made me nervous:

Ranch dressing on a Wisconsin brat? I just can’t.

You try to pay in any other currency but American dollars

Going along with the money issue, I’ve accidentally accounted out European coins or forked over my remaining 20€ bill for a gyro. The woman behind the counter gave me a confused look and then launched into an interrogation about how I got the money, how much a gyro platter would cost in Spain and do they even eat gyros over there? My food was practically cold when she was finished.

You ask silly questions like, “Can I use debit here?” or “How will we get groceries if it’s Sunday?”

My Spanish timetable is now a well-oiled machine, so getting a new cell phone on a Sunday and running to the grocery store at midnight is blowing my mind and upping my productivity.

People judge you for having a beer with lunch or wanting to sleep immediately after

In the US, I am usually the one who skips drinking with meals and only need a day or two to adjust to chow times and a conservative grandma, but not this time around. Naps and cervecitas still figure in to a part of my day.

Driving an automatic car is a challenge (and it’s twice the size of Monty)

I keep reaching for a gear shift and trying to push down the clutch. In fact, my sister told me I’d been demoted from driving after I got lost in O’Hare airport (which is one big loop) and was late picking her up. I should also say I’m driving a minivan, so that in of and itself merits a lunchtime beer and nap.

You walk away from a counter without tipping (and after freaking out over a) how big the beers are and b) how much they cost) 

You see, there’s a reason why I usually skip a midday beer – they’re costly! And then, once you factor in tip, it’s not even worth it.

America, pay your wage workers something decent so I don’t feel like a terrible person when I walk away when I forget to tip.

People say hi to you everywhere you go, and you give them your best sevillana stink face

I was the type of person to say hello any time I went into a store and I normally chat up strangers. You can imagine the surprise when people were allowing me to cross the street with my dogs or just waving hello. My confused face is strangely like my sevillana stink face.

It’s freezing

Afternoon showers and 75° weather? Wearing a jacket in late July? Lake effect? Chicago is cold, and I’m not adjusting to the air-con being on all the time.

The joy that is texting for free, and abusing that freedom

Americans have not embraced whatsapp – I’ll send my mom on my favorite free texting system, and she’ll respond with a text message rather than directly replying. I asked why, and she reminded me that texting plans are really generous. Oh, right.

Just as I’m starting to get settled in and remembering cultural cues, I realize that the Novio is coming to visit on Friday for two weeks, which means I’ll practically undo everything I’ve assimilated in these past few weeks. But it also means more siestas!

How are you adjusting to life in your home country after time abroad? Any good stories to share?

Postcards from Chicago

For years, I’ve been searching for a Chicago flag patch for Kike. The white bar in the middle, flanked by two celestial bars and four crimson stars, flies everywhere in the Windy City (so, literally). Every souvenir shop, Etsy boutiques – nowhere – has this token that he collects from the far-flung African countries he works in or the other soldiers he encounters.

So, when he asked me to find one for the fourth summer running, I tried again, hopeful that I’d get lucky. My bags are packed and his birthday gift wrapped up – it’s just not the patch he asked for. Still, Chicago’s most prominent colors are always the Cubbie Blue up in Wrigleyville, the white caps on Lake Michgan and the red of traffic lights lit up all over downtown. Here’s my attempt to get Chicago framed using those colors.

The Way to Really Fly.

The L

[Read more...]

My Chicago Soundtrack

I am a Chicago girl, born and bred. I love my all-beef Kosher hot dogs, had a Chicago Bulls three-peat T-shirt, sport a Jewel-Osco card in my wallet. Leaving the Windy City was a choice that almost never came to be, with a job offer on the table and plenty of young friends convincing me that my life was not in Spain.

But I chose to board the plane and to take my Chicago roots with me to Spain, preaching the Cubbie way of life and claiming that there are lakes the look like oceans in the middle of the Midwest. As Spain became more and more like home, I became increasingly proud of where my parents, grandparents and I come from.

Now that I’m back in Chicago for the month of August, every trip to the City of Broad Shoulders has my heart pumping out the songs that bring me back to the countless summers, bitter cold winter afternoons and rides along the rails of the L. Songs that remind me of seeing punk rock shows at the Metro, of childhood shopping trips on State, of what makes this city so damn great. Wikipedia lists over 400 songs about Chicago, and while “My Kind of Town” and “Sweet Home Chicago” would be obvious choices, mine are a little unexpected (and seriously throwback to my love of punk rock days. Lucky Boys Confusion, Fall Out Boy and The Dog and Everything CDs are still in my car!)

Kanye West – Homecoming

While I can’t say Kanye, like R. Kelly, is a favorite Chicago musician, this song echoes through my brain every time I fly in over Lake Michigan and the skyline, which stretches further than my window can hold.

Allister – Somewhere Down on Fullerton

Why I’ve never taken a madcap dash around Chicago like Allister does, this song was the first I ever crowdsurfed to at a show at House of Blues with my friend Amanda. It was her first visit to Chicago, just after our freshman year of college, and I remember the rush of feeling like I was going to get dropped while getting groped. I still have the shirt I bought that  night to commemorate a Chicago band playing to a Chicago crowd as only a great Chicago venue can allow.

Arranmore – Southside Irish

My family first came to America during the mass wave of immigration that gives America its heritage as the Land of the Free. Settling in Chicago, my Irish great-grandfather, who had owned a still-operational woolen mill in Foxford, County Mayo, worked as a tailor. I feel most proud of my Irish heritage, even though I’ve got Scottish, Welsh and German roots. As a kid, I participated in Irish parades around Chicagoland, so this Saint Paddy’s Day anthem reminds me of those mornings, the wind biting my pink cheeks, as we marched through the streets in the name of the Emerald Isle.

Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah – Lake Shore Drive

There have been countless times where I’ve speed down one of Chicago’s grandest avenues, Lake Shore Drive, as twilight was falling. Window open, wind on my face and the lights of the Loop in the rear-view mirror, those are the nights where summer is at its peak and I remember how fun being young is. This song, from the time when my parents were young, brings back summer memories of the Oak Street beach, drinks at Castaways and belting out whatever’s one the radio with girlfriends.

Alkaline Trio – I’m Dying Tomorrow 

I can’t say I remember who introduced me to the local band Alkaline Trio, but I love him for it. Among my favorites is “I’m Dying Tomorrow,” which ask the age-old question: Do I have any regrets?

The Loving Spoonful – Hot Town, Summer in the City

Now that I’ve made living in Spain a reality, I usually only get summers in Chicago. Fine by me, as the city is replete with festivals, concerts and events that play to its patchwork heritage – and one of the things I love best about it. What I love about this song is that it talks about the balance between night and day in Chicago, no unlike a summer in Seville: the days are long and scorching, while the nighttime relief is when everyone comes out to play. This city feels young.

Fall Out Boy – Chicago is So Two Years Ago

The first time I ever heard this song, I was packing up my dorm room freshman year to go home for the summer. “There’s a Light on in Chicago, and I know I should be home,” still rings true whenever I arrive home after a Spanish sojourn. Being able to come back to the place where I grew up helps keep me grounded when I’m away, knowing that there’s always a Portillo’s around the corner and that the Cubbies have still not won the World Series. Ahhh, home.

Hey, Chicago, whaddya say (Go, Cubs, Go was not in my list; too obvious)! What would be on your Chicago soundtrack? Leave me a message in the comments, or leave me a birthday note since I turn 27 today!

Seville Snapshots: Red line, Jackson station

My heart still thunders every time the L thunders past me. The whoosh throws me off-kilter as it heads south towards the Dan Ryan. People filter in and out, not even aware that we’re all clustered in this rank-smelling station on Jackson together.

The tiles are interesting to me, the worn steps as familiar to me as they were twenty years ago. We’d hop on the Blue Line at Cumberland and get off right in the Marshall Field’s basement to the minty smell of Frango samples, often on our way to shop on Michigan Avenue. I actually got lost one wintery afternoon while walking down the stairs of the Red Line on State, befriending a homeless woman named Magnolia as I waited for my mother to find me.

While Madrid’s metro is far superior, the L was the first public mass transit that I ever learned to use and the one I feel a kinship to. Tipsy rides up the Red to Wrigley, ringing around the Loop like Spiderman between the skyscrapers, disappearing into the underground stations and watching the light of a bright summer day get swallowed up as I descend.

Ok, so this isn’t a shot of Seville, but my life in consumed by a perfect summer in Chicago. It’s honestly my favorite city in this wide, wide world and a place I’m lucky enough to have my roots in. While I stuff my face full of Italian beef and free pop refills, I couldn’t resist testing out Camarón during my long afternoons catching up with friends. Maybe next week I’ll sneak a picture of Seville in, but If you’d like to contribute your photos from Spain and Seville, please send me an email at sunshineandsiestas @ gmail.com with your name, short description of the photo, and any bio or links directing you back to your own blog, Facebook page or twitter. There’s plenty more pictures of gorgeous Seville on Sunshine and Siesta’s new Facebook page!

Three Cheers for the Red, White and Blue (and yellow)

Once upon a time, the object of my utmost affection was Spain. I loved her landscapes, her cuisine and the way she makes me feel me. You could say she wooed me six years ago, and that’s why I had to go back two years later. She’s been fairly good to me, too. But after four years,  I kinda wanted to cheat on her with America. Being away for so many months, I forgot about all the ways America makes me swell with pride, grab a slice of watermelon and watch fireworks.

Red Coke signs with free refills

I’ve been relishing in the cost-free water that comes with my meals out. A bottle of agua in Spain can run me up to two bucks, so I gladly tip my glass to water or Dr. Pepper, one soft drink I actually do miss in Iberia. So far, only one restaurant chains, VIPs, which includes TGI Fridays and Gino’s, will give you unlimited Diet Cokes with your meals. And, seriously, what’s more American than a Coke?

Anyone up for mixing?

White Smiles

Everyone in America is always smiling. While in Kentucky, I was floored with the Southern Hospitality I’d always heard about. Older men held open doors for me, while others offered to help me search for $100 worth of missing traveler’s checks. Everyone did it with a smile, to boot. What’s more, I was treated to the pearly whites of two of my sevillana friends, Meag and Bri, who came to visit me on my birthday. Smiles all around.

Four days of smiling this wide. My mouth still hurts.

Blue skies over cornfields

Never did I imagine I’d love the rolling cornfields of Middle America that I grew up with. Driving through rural Indiana, my mom and I were treated to mile after mile of good ol’ American soil – cornfields, cows and rest stops. I thought back to my days at Iowa, driving the I-80 towards Hawkeye Country.

I’ve seen plenty of picturesque places,but love a good old American view of the open road.

Yellow Sweet Corn

And who could forget the tantalizing sweet corn that my family gobbles up in the summer? For my last meal tomorrow, I had just one request – an ear of kernels on the grill, still in the husk, with whatever else my dad concocts.

If you are what you eat, at least I’ll be delicious.

Takeoffs and Landings

Landing on a runway in Chicago, and I’m grounding all my dreams of ever really seeing California cuz I know what’s in between – lyrics from fellow Chicagoans Fall Out Boy, “Homesick at Spacecamp”

with permission from noticiasdeayer.blogspot.com

From my mother, I take my gift of gab and my neuroticism. From my father, a good sense of direction and a heightened need for adventure. My mother balks at airports, while my father arrives early, boarding pass in hand, ready to be onto his next journey. I’m much more of the latter.

I’m waiting in the airport in Dublin, having a Guinness at 10:45 in the morning (any wonder why I identify with my Irish heritage more than any other?). There are other travelers in American apparel – Chicago Blackhawks t-shirts or Illini caps join me for an Irish breakfast or coffee. I choose a seat at the floor-to-ceiling windows facing the boarding gates, slowly draining my breakfast while watching passengers wheel bags onto Aer Lingus jets. I admit it – I am one to people watch, and I often wonder where they are off to, whom they might be visiting, or if they’re simply going home, like me.

Twenty months have passed since I’ve last been in America. In that time I’ve turned 25, gotten married, received a promotion, become an EU citizen. I’m different, and so are my friends at home. They’re married, divorced, engaged, with child(ren). Some heartbroken, many hopeful. My sister has moved away from the Midwest, leaving my parents totally absorbed in what were merely hobbies while we were at home. Time sometimes seems to stop for me in Spain, when in fact it carries on at an even quicker pace than last year. My Great Aunt Mary Jane always has that toilet paper mentality – time, along with the TP, go faster and faster the further you get into it.

Not 48 hours after touching down, I am sitting in the dentist’s chair getting my teeth cleaned. Dr. Clinton has moved his office from Northwest Highway Street to just off the highway that leads to O’Hare International Airport. As Carole picks and flosses, I’m watching the planes takeoff through the mirrored windows.

Being back in America makes me think about my own takeoffs and landings. I find that I often jump into one thing, hoping to land on my feet. After all, that’s been the last four years. Everything from learning flamenco in a stuffy studio with a stuffy sevillana to even moving abroad has been a flight of fancy. But it’s so me – neurotically adventurous, typically looking before leaping, taking off frequently and usually landing right where I’m meant to be.

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