The Little Things

The Little Things

Hey there. It’s me again. Your local, friendly Spanish wanna-be (according to another quiz/blog thing. I need help, I know. Do you think they have AA’s for people who take too many personality quizzes??). Today is a short blog, as I’m taking a break from the short novels that I seem to have a habit of writing. My entry today consists of some small differences that I’ve noticed between Oklahoma and Spain. Some of the differences may make some of my compatriots say, ¨Wait, but we have that here.¨ That may be true, but I can’t speak for New York or California, as I have never been there – or at least, I haven’t spent enough time in either state to notice everyday living differences. So, here it is:

Número Uno: Utilities and Miscellaneous

  • Back home during the winter, I always turn the heat at night when it’s the most cold (i.e. freezing depths of hell. Sorry, I mean winter.) and the most needed (duhh), and leave it off during the day.  Do that in Spain, and your heating bill will be freaking outrageous. I’m talking like 400 a month, as opposed to the $80 to $100 that I was/am used to.  ? Why do I have that specific figure in my head? Guess.
  • Almost no one has or ever uses dryers here.
  • Even the window blinds are different here. What would be a special order and a very expensive purchase back home, are the norm here. They are great blinds, though, because they’re truly efficient at keeping out the heat/cold.
  • Back home in the ol’ OK, I have always lived three ways to make sure that I didn’t die from exposure: Central heat and air (a true and masterful godsend, in my opinion), gas/electric furnaces (get thee away from me, Satan!!!), and wood stoves (?). Here, they have ceramic radiator contraptions. You can put clothes or blankets on them to dry, without worrying about burning your house down! And that is pretty damn cool.  
  • You know how we have Velveeta, and how it doesn’t need to be refrigerated? Well, here there is milk, MILK, I say, that does not have to refrigerated. Crazy, I know.

Número Dos: Indoor Living Habits/Things Learned While Being an Au Pair

  • If you want to try your hand at being an au pair, DO NOT GO BAREFOOT. Most Spanish families don’t do it and might be super judgey about it.
  • DO NOT GRAB A BLANKET FROM THE SOFA AND WEAR IT AROUND YOUR SHOULDERS. Again, Judgey McJudgersons. Side note: If you want to be an au pair, be aware that not only could there be a cultural differences, but that there might also be a class difference.
  • The Spanish are very structured when it comes to eating times. They eat at specific times and have literal courses. For example, the 1st dish might be a soup, and the 2nd dish, which is eaten separately and only after the first, could be chicken empanada or a la plancha. Also, they like to have a small dessert after their meal, which is usually a coffee, a yogurt, or a piece of fruit.  
  • Everyone knows about Spanish siestas. But did you know that wearing PJ’s in the middle of the day for said siestas is a normal thing? Preposterous!!!
  • Air conditioning: a lot of Spanish people think it is the devil and will barely use it, even when they have access to it. Most places don’t have it, but the ones that do are a higher class type of place, such as hotels, shopping centers or restaurants like Corte Inglès, or McDonald’s. Wait…McDonald’s?

Número tres: Hanging out in the city

  • Burger King, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Taco Bell: These are all places that are in really, really nice buildings, which is usually not the case in the States. I’m talking about winding staircases, marble walls and granite floors, etc.  
  • Public spaces in Oklahoma that are perfectly manicured with perfect bushes and gorgeous flowers tend to fall into two categories: golf courses and universities. Not so in Spain. Gardeners and gardening is still a viable trade, and even small towns are beautiful and perfect. There are many community spaces with fountains and an abundance of colors.
  • The variety of meat available is also much wider. You can order/buy rabbit or duck in a restaurant/store at (usually) the same price as chicken or beef. Also, you can buy a thousand types of seafood, like squid or octopus or whatever. I may miss American food a lot (Oh, generic Chile’s how surprised am I that I miss thee so) but I think having so many options is pretty cool. I’m not even going to talk about the stupid amount of varieties of jamón they have. I mean, they are obsessed.  
  • They still have public phone booths here. I’m not sure if they work, though.
  • Speaking of marble and granite, the stuff is everywhere. I designed kitchens for a little while in the ol’ OK, and granite countertops were always the dream, and an expensive one at that. Here, I notice that even walking around in the metro stations, that the stairs are sometimes made of unfinished granite. I suppose that it’s just that widely available here.
  • Cleanliness: In the city, about every 10 feet there are little trash cans that are hung everywhere down the streets. It makes it easy to not litter. People still do, but it makes it way nicer to live in.
  • China Stores. Madrid doesn’t have Dollar General or Walgreens, but it does have China stores on every corner. They are nicknamed as such, because they are almost always owned by people who are/appear to be of Chinese descent. China stores are AMAZING. They have everything, and for a much cheaper price than any other place. Need teaching supplies? China store. Need cute clothes? China store. Need tools or gadgets? China store! Sometimes the things you find there are actually decent quality. Sometimes they fall apart. Either way, I love them.

Numero cuatro: Social Interactions

  • This isn’t really a difference, but more like a contrast to how I thought things would be.  Firstly, I thought the men would all be tall, and have dark, wavy hair. Basically, I was imagining a country full of Antonio Banderases. BAHAHAHAHAHA. No. Actually, a lot of people look like people from Oklahoma. People who look like they should be out in a wheat field, smoking a tobacco pipe and in overalls, open their mouths and out comes Spanish. Now THAT was surprising.
  • Contradictorily, a lot of people are extremely well-groomed here. There are a lot of beards out and about, without a hair out of place. During the winter, a lot of slender, stylish men wear scarves and nice coats. Their hair is perfectly coiffed and gelled, some of them even wear hose (hose!) under their pants, and their shoes are polished and shiny.
    Years of not-so-subtle social conditioning caused me to be repulsed by these men when I first arrived to Spain. Words like ‘pricks’ and ‘pansies’ came unbidden into my mind. I’ve gotten used to it now, and I even bought my boyfriend a new scarf. 🙂
  • In Oklahoma, I never worry about getting pickpocketed. I can walk around a mall with my purse wide open and my phone in my back pocket without any problems. But if I find myself out at sundown walking, my neck hairs will stand up on end and I just might worry about getting raped or murdered. In Madrid, Spain, pickpocketing will probably happen to you eventually, one way or another. However, I have rarely felt unsafe here even while out alone at night at 3am. It is a strange contradiction.  
  • Earlier in the au pair section, I mentioned siestas. A lot of people back home imagine the Spanish lifestyle to be super relaxed. This is mainly because of what comes to mind when Spain is mentioned: bulls, sangria, sexy people and afternoon snoozes. Don’t be fooled, though. They take these afternoon breaks because they (small business owners mainly) have been working since before sun up until long after the sun goes down. That’s also why a lot of stores close down from 3pm. to 5pm.
  • I don’t go clubbing very much, partly for the following reason: I went to one of the most famous clubs once, called Kapital, and was surrounded by babies. Sorry, I mean 18-year-olds. The drinking age here is 18, rather than the States’ 21, and so club entry is not limited to those that are 21 and older. I don’t think that they check the ID’s very thoroughly, though, because some of the whippersnappers looked younger than 16.  Balderdash, I say!!!
  • Back home, most older folks are in bed by 9pm, or at least, that is the case with my family. In Madrid, nightlife is not just for the young, but also for the young at heart!  Spaniards love to socialize! I have been out at 5:00am after clubbing or doing whatever, and it is not unusual to see little old ladies with their walking canes and fur coats, looking fabulous, out and about. Forget bulls and sangria, the Spanish symbol should be one of these feisty little old ladies.

As time goes on, I’m sure that I will notice a million more things that should be added. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments. Spending time in any new place can be a challenge, but it can also be pretty cool. Recently I went to explore Lanzarote, an island off the coast of Morocco known to have a landscape unlike any other  on Earth. Tune in again to see an update to know more about what my latest adventure has in store. ?

Yours truly,

Amanda AKA Squirrel

3 thoughts on “The Little Things

  1. Your writing style is awesome – “Little Things” was really funny! Keep up the great writing. I got such a big laugh out of this. The Antonio Banderas line was awesome.

    I do have some questions for you –
    1. Do people talk about millennials like they do in the US?
    2. When you are teaching do you an opinion about the difference in US vs. Spanish students?
    3. Are kids there driven by similar things (in general) to US students? Social media, college, whatever?

    Keep it up!

  2. Thanks for the compliment. I really appreciate it! First question: I really haven’t noticed or heard anybody, not a single person, mention millennial. Older generations always complain about newer but I don’t think they categorize it here like that. It wasn’t too long ago that Spain was under a dictatorship so I think they skipped a whole lot of steps and went straight from hardcore traditional to modern in a single jump. Don’t quote me on that, though!
    Number two. Social media definitely plays a big part. I work in a private school right now that is very unique and kids in this school are encouraged to be more intrinsically motivated concerning their success. But in my former school, I had kids that wouldn’t do any work and would justify their laziness by stating that someday they would go viral and be YouTube famous. Other than that, the kids who had more parental support at home and who had au pairs or private tutors to help them definitely outperformed their peers by a million miles. Their underperforming compañeros in my experience were and are very apathetic towards learning. Its really day and night. I dont know if I have met anyone that was self motivated to learn here. I think I deviated a little but I think you get the idea.

  3. Ope sorry. Mixed up two and three. I have never taught in the US but I do feel like the kids are way more extroverted here. Also, a cultural norm here is that it’s okay to interrupt people and regardless of how hard we might try, that carries into the classroom. Im constantly interrupted, putting kids back into their seats (in the other more traditional school where I moonlight) and spending about 90 percent of my mental labor in getting them to cooperate. I remember being in classes back home that were more difficult but I never, as far as I can recall, experienced this level of chaos, even as a student. Other TEFL teachers echo this sentiment I have found.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.