Spain: first impressions from a cheeky expat

If you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll know that I recently jacked in my job and London life for something more, shall we say, not London-y. I chose Spain for the culture, climate, people and of course, some of the sexiest music known to man. I’d visited the country several times during my life, everywhere from beautiful Salamanca and exciting Madrid to the frankly embarrassing UK-On-Sea, Salou. I knew I’d made the right decision in terms of weather, food, et al, but had I made the right decision in terms of lifestyle?

As I write this, I’m on month No. 4 in Spain, having spent the past three in Barcelona working in a hostel. I spent the next month in rehab (aka my parents’ house) to save money and more importantly, my liver, before returning to Spain and to my new home Salamanca, to take up a teaching job.

In Spain, everything runs about four hours behind UK time. They might be an hour ahead, but nobody’s rushing here. Even the average walking pace is slower. Granted, I spent six years in London where everyone moves as if there are tiny segways attached to their feet, but here people actually amble. This can be hell if you’re carrying large bags of shopping up the hill to your apartment and stuck behind several old dudes, but there’s something to be learned from the Spanish way of walking. You’ll get there eventually, so why rush?

Spain is weird. It’s not just the slow walking, everything is done with a kind of laissez-faire attitude which is both something we Brits could learn from, and incredibly annoying. During my first week in Barcelona, I made three trips to get my social security number. One didn’t work out because the official I was scheduled to see was out at breakfast, the second time he couldn’t find his pen. This is not a joke. Government workers especially can afford to be very chill because of their job security, but this attitude extends to everyone – office workers, bartenders, bus drivers, possibly strippers. Everybody’s chilling.

I’ve experienced a lot of this first hand when it comes to work here. My first hostel job in Barcelona required me to ‘just show up on Monday’ and they actually seemed surprised when I did. Needless to say, I didn’t stay there very long, there wasn’t much to do. Or maybe I was just four hours early. My second hostel job, while much more ordered in terms of activity, still left me with hours of chill time that I didn’t know what to do with. In London, we’re used to getting up at the crack of dawn, going to bed exhausted around 11pm and not really stopping much in between. Lunch is a hurried sandwich inhaled at your desk in between emails, not a leisurely two-hour affair. Dinner is whatever you throw together when you’ve finally gotten off the tube, not another leisurely two-hour affair. It takes some getting used to – I spent my first weeks in the country feeling like I was permanently skiving from an imaginary job, hiding from a boss that didn’t exist.

On top of the dramatically reduced pace of life, there’s the language barrier. I’m learning Spanish, but it’s a slow process. In Barcelona, everyone spoke English and my job was at a hostel for backpackers, chiefly from the US, Australia and other such places, so a knowledge of Castellano or, for that matter, Catalan, wasn’t a necessity. In Salamanca, where I’m now based, it’s a different story. You can easily go a full day without hearing a word of English, particularly if it’s out of tourist season. To be fair, that’s the whole reason I wanted to work here, to improve my Spanish, but it’s definitely a culture shock. Translating everything in and out of Spanish in your head is exhausting. It took me fifteen minutes to order a baguette yesterday.

Despite the difficulties, I’m (very slowly) becoming accustomed to the lifestyle here. I stand by my decision. It might be slow, it might be relaxed to the point of madness, but the Spanish lifestyle – indeed, the Mediterranean lifestyle as a whole – has got something right. Life isn’t something to be rushed through. It’s time we were all a bit more chill, a bit more ‘whatever’.

I’m embracing this because I wrote this post four weeks ago and couldn’t be bothered to publish it.

 

 

 

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