So You’re Dating a Spaniard—Hillary

No need for introductions this time. You know what this is about by now! Thanks to Hillary for agreeing to be interviewed for my series.

¡Hola! My name is Hillary, and I’m 24 years old. I am from a small town called Collierville, Tennessee, which is just outside of Memphis, in the United States. I came to Spain in September 2013, to be an auxiliar de conversación, and to help with English classes in a Spanish school. Currently, I am living with a host family in a city called Cerdanyola del Vallès, which is just north of Barcelona.

Hillary1At a club in Barcelona.

Tell us about how you met.

With the program that I’m doing in Barcelona, I have to live with three different host families during my nine-month stay. I’m currently with my second host family, but the mother from my first host family insisted on introducing me to her cousin, so that I would have someone to show me around the city, take me to clubs, etc. Her cousin, José Luis, came over for lunch one day, and as cheesy as it sounds, it was love at first sight for me. We have been together since November 2013, so as I write this, about five months.

So, how typical is your Spaniard, anyway?

I’m not sure what exactly defines a “typical” Spaniard, but José Luis is definitely proud of his heritage and his country. He loves typical Spanish food and drink, fútbol, and all of his family (he has four older sisters!) live in the same town, and they get together as often as possible. On the other hand, José Luis has many American influences in his life, even from before he met me! He loves American TV shows like The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, True Detective, Criminal Minds, and any other crime/mystery show. He also likes American movies, and listens to American music all the time. Some of his favorite bands are Audioslave, Buckcherry, Alice in Chains, The Black Keys, and above all, Nirvana.

Sounds a bit like Mario with the American television shows! Which language do you speak when you’re together?

We speak English 90% of the time when we’re together. In my opinion, the reason for this is because his English is better than my Spanish. We’ve always spoken English to each other from the first time that we met, so now we’re just used to it, and it’s the most natural thing when we are communicating. We speak Spanish to each other when we are around his family so that they can understand us, because they don’t speak English. Sometimes I’ll have days where I want to practice my Spanish, so José Luis and I will communicate in Spanish, but even then, it’s hard to get him to adjust, because we’re so used to speaking in English!

Carnaval HillaryJosé Luis and me dressed up for Carnaval, March 2014.

It’s really hard to change once you’ve established a pattern! How do you and your in-laws get along?

Before José Luis and I started dating, we were friends. I met his parents during this period, and they were very accommodating and kind to me from the beginning. As I transitioned into being his girlfriend, the love grew from there, and now I feel as though I am already a part of their family. When I’m with his parents, I’m always being offered more food (“Qué poco has comido…”), and being told to put on socks when I walk around their flat barefoot. José Luis recently met my father and stepmother, and they absolutely loved him. My mother is coming to visit me in Barcelona in June, so hopefully José will have a chance to meet her then.

What is the best part about dating a foreigner (and especially a Spaniard)?

In my opinion, the best part about dating a foreigner/Spaniard (especially one who speaks English), is that I always have someone there who can empathize with most of my experiences. Like Kaley has mentioned several times on her blog, if you’re dating a Spaniard, you always have the luxury of having a live, walking, talking dictionary by your side. When I’m speaking in Spanish with José’s family and I draw a blank, he is always there by my side to help me remember the word. He can also sense if I feel uncomfortable or am not able to explain something in Spanish, so I’ll give him a panicked look, and then he’ll take over the conversation. The same things happen to him sometimes when he’s speaking English (even though his English is WAY better than my Spanish), so he knows how it feels.

Opium HillaryUs at a club in Barcelona, February 2014.

Aw, that is really sweet! Mario is just like that. What is the most difficult part?

The most difficult part is definitely the uncertainty that comes along with an international relationship. Will this work out in the long term? How long are we going to have to be apart once I leave Spain? What if he falls in love with someone else while we are apart? These are just a few of the questions that run through my head on a daily basis. With that being said, I try to stay positive, and try to live in the moment and enjoy every single second that José Luis and I spend together. As I write this, I still have about three months left before my visa expires, so living in the moment is definitely important, because that time is going to fly by faster than I realize!

What advice would you give someone who is considering starting a relationship with a Spaniard?

Do it, but proceed with caution. I am a huge advocate of following your heart, even if you know your relationship may have an expiration date. However, make sure that you are giving your heart to someone who is worthy, and that will take care of it.

Do you plan on living in the US or in Spain long term?

This issue is still up in the air. José Luis and I are still in the early stages of our relationship, but we have discussed this topic a few times. He has never been to the States, so we’ve agreed that he definitely needs to come and visit me first before we make any drastic decisions about him moving. In terms of me living in Spain, it’s something I would be willing to do in order to be with José. In either case, there is going to be a lot of adjusting!

Harry PotterUs visiting the Harry Potter Studios outside of London, England.

If you could import something from the US to Spain (and vice versa), what would it be?

Oh my goodness!!! Is it bad that the first thing that came to my mind was boxed macaroni and cheese? That’s the one thing that I have craved several times since being in Spain, mainly because it’s a staple in my diet in the States. Other than that, I would definitely import Netflix, Target (yes, the store), and can I say my dog? From Spain to the States, I would definitely import patatas bravas, the ubiquity of doner kebab restaurants, and the weather (more specifically, the sunshine).

How has being in a relationship with a Spaniard changed you?

I definitely feel more lucky and blessed to have the life that I have. This feeling comes along with being in Spain in general, but knowing that I have connected with someone in a completely different country and culture from my own feels dreamlike. There is also more passion and inspiration in my life since I started dating José. Seeing how much his English has improved since the first time I met him, and seeing how easily he can speak English because of how much he practices, inspires me to practice my Spanish even more so that I can become as good as he is. José Luis is also very passionate about everything that he does in life, whether it be our relationship, or something on a smaller scale, like making lunch or dinner for me, and wanting it to turn out perfectly. This, in turn, makes me a more passionate person.

Milkshake HillaryBeing super cheesy and sharing a milkshake, Grease-style.

Who doesn’t love cheesy every once in a while? Thanks Hillary!

Interested in being a part of my Dating a Spaniard series? Email me; I’d love to have you!

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Holy Week Foods in Zamora, Spain

You may have realized this by now, but food in Spain is a pretty big deal. Buying the ingredients, choosing just the right store, preparing dishes, the presentation, the first bite, talking about the food you’re eating, savoring the food, talking about the meal in general … all of these are regular practices at my in-laws’ house. Food is important. This is one of my favorite parts about Spain, because it reminds me of how fortunate we all are to be able to eat high-quality delicious food with the people we love.

I’ve talked previously about foods Spaniards eat at Christmas. Now we’re in the middle of perhaps Spain’s most important holiday: Semana Santa, or Holy Week. And, as is to be expected, food plays a major role. Of course, what people eat during this holiday season varies from region to region, from family to family. But I’ll talk about my experiences here in Castilla y León and, more specifically, Zamora.

During the Lenten season, meat used to be totally off limits on Fridays. Most Catholics (and lapsed Catholics) no longer follow this rule, but my in-laws do. So what’s for lunch on Fridays during Lent?


Potaje espinacas garbanzosSource: Lola en Cocina

Potaje is a soup. It can be made with vegetables, lentils, or chickpeas. My in-laws eat a chickpea potaje, made with chickpeas, spinach, rice, garlic, and paprika. This recipe will vary greatly from household to household, though. This is for the primer plato (first plate). For the segundo plato, the second plate, they will most often eat some form of bacalao (cod) or another type of fish. For example, bacalao al ajoarriero, cod with braised vegetables (e.g., tomatoes, onions, peppers, and garlic) and potaje de vigilia, which can have chickpeas, cod, spinach, and paprika, decorated with hard-boiled egg.

Chicharros en Escabeche

Chicharro en EscabecheSource: El Aderezo

Chicharros en escabeche is a dish based on the tiny horse-mackerel (Spansh: chicharro) with garlic, broth, bay leaf, rosemary, and white wine.

Sopas de Ajo

Sopas de ajo Zamora

Zamorans love garlic. They even have a garlic fair in June. in Castilla y León, they eat sopas de ajo (garlic soup) during Holy Week. In Zamora, the soup is eaten on Good Friday morning. There is a procession that starts at 5:00 in the morning (yes, this is still Spain!), and they make a stop around 7:00-8:00 in the morning to eat a little something, that being garlic soup. Not very typical for Spain, but it’s an essential tradition in Zamora, where processions are just as important as in Andalucía!

Dos y Pingada

Dos y pingada ZamoraSource: Dos y PIngada

Dos y pingada is a very Zamoran dish. It is served on Easter Sunday (Domingo de Resurreción) in the morning after the procession of the Brotherhood of the Holy Resurrection. It consists of two fried eggs (thus the use of dos, meaning two), two or three slices of ham, and bread. There is even a ballad about this Zamoran tradition:

Ya resucitó el señor
y repican las campanas.
Prepara el almuerzo, chica,
y fríe dos y pingada

The Lord has been resurrected

and the bells ring

Prepare lunch, my girl

And fry up dos y pingada

And now for those of you with a sweet tooth …


Torrija Holy Week

Torrijas are perhaps the most widely eaten dessert of Holy Week in Spain. They are similar to French toast and made with bread, milk, eggs, sugar, and cinnamon.

Torrijas have been documented as early as the fifteenth century, and they were seen as an ideal dish for women to recover from labor. The first recipes are dated in 1607. Some speculate that this dish’s popularity during Lent may have had to do with the need to use up leftover bread, because people ate less during Lent as meat was prohibited.


Rebojos zamoranosSource. El Plato Típico

Rebojos zamoranos are just that: Zamoran. Rebojos are little cakes with a crunchy top layer, due to the sugar sprinkled on them before baking, with a squishy interior. Little is known of their exact origin, although many suspect that these cakes date back to the Middle Ages, but there are no documents to back that up. Nonetheless, this recipe has been passed down from generation to generation in Zamoran kitchens.


Aceitadas Zamora

Aceitadas are, yet again, typical in Zamora. The name comes from aceite, oil, probably due to the fact that these cookies are made with olive oil and not butter. They are circular, compact, and perfect for dunking in a mug of tea or coffee. They are distinguished due to the slight whiff of anise you will get upon biting into one. These cookies could be eaten during Lent, because they contained no lard or butter (no animal products).

Almendras Garrapiñadas

Almendras garrapiñadas

If you walk along the streets of Zamora during Holy Week, you will soon be asking yourself, “What is that amazing smell?” Your answer: almendras garrapiñadas, or candied almonds. There are several little stands set up on Zamora’s main streets, all of them selling candied nuts and seeds of all kinds. The most typical (and in my mind most delicious) are the candied almonds. Even looking at the picture makes me hungry.

On Good Friday morning, during the dawn procession, brothers of the Jesús Nazareno Vulgo “La Congregación” hand out little bags of these treats.

As you can see, Holy Week is about eating too! Just check out my Instagram photo of a sign I saw in a shop here in Zamora:

Kaley Instagram

What are some other typical Holy Week foods in your neighborhood?


La Familia and Independence

Ah, la familia. Mothers and fathers. Sisters and brothers. Cousins, aunts, uncles. Grandparents. Godmothers and godfathers. “Aunts” and “uncles”. The friends who feel like family. In Spain, there is a saying, or perhaps more of a refrain: Madre, sólo hay una. You have but one mother. If I’ve learned anything about Spain—and oh, there is much to learn—family is important. And mothers … well, you’ve only got one.

The stereotypes are (somewhat) true: Spanish children don’t leave the nest as early as those of us in Anglo-Saxon countries. The average age for leaving home in Spain is 25.2 years old (source). This is not seen in a bad light here; it isn’t shameful. In fact, even if a 20-something does have a job, they may choose to stay at home with Mom and Dad, just because they can. After all, why pay rent when you can stay at home rent free?