Learning to Live in Spain

Have you all read my interview over on Expats Blog? If not, head on over to read my interview and leave a comment on my profile page if you’re so inclined.

Other people to visit: Erik, Erin, Hamatha, Lauren, Cat, and Christine.

One of the questions I was asked in my interview was “If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?” It’s a difficult question for me, because I’m not one to give advice, at least not without advising you to take whatever I say with a large grain of salt. You see, everyone is different, and I don’t think my experience is the only one, or that you’re like me, or anything of the sort.

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Maybe you don’t like garlic. But why would you come to Spain then?

But when I first came to Spain, to study abroad in Toledo in 2008, I was very unprepared for what was ahead of me. I was excited to travel and to see Europe, but I had no idea how it would be to live in a culture that is like your own but unlike it in so many subtle ways. Perhaps it’s silly for me to say that it might be less shocking to go somewhere in Asia or Africa, because at least then you’d be expecting big culture shocks.

I had to learn to live in another culture, a culture that feels more and more familiar every day, but that will never be truly my own. I had to learn to embrace it for what it is—and not what I wish it could be. I had to learn to stop blaming Spain or Spaniards in general when something went wrong.

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They’re not so bad, Spaniards

Right now I’m tetchy about the numerous and unending strikes—huelgas—in Spain. So far we’ve had three transportation strikes, a general strike, a health-care workers’ strike, and now we’re set for an Iberia (the airline company) strike for Christmastime. I understand that things are tough in Spain right now, but messing with my Christmas plans? Understandably, I’m irked. Everyone needs to be home for Christmas (if they want to), am I right?

Before this year, I would have readily and easily placed the blame on Spain or Spaniards in general, forgetting that many Spaniards don’t agree with the strikes and dislike them as much as I do. In the past, I would have let that negativity overwhelm me and color my view of Spain for a good long time. But this year, this year I’m trying something new and difficult: not placing the big bad blame on Spain. Someone’s to blame, sure. But nothing bad has even happened yet!

Learning to live in another country is easy for some, not so easy for others (me). It has taken me four years, but I’m finally getting the message: you’re in Spain, Spain’s not home, and that’s just fine. Take it as it is. After all, we all know: Spain is different.

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9 comments

  1. My bilingual center colleagues tell me, “Espain ees deefayrent,” and then giggle afterwards hahaha. I’m only 2 months in and I’m glad I’m internalizing the “just a different culture!!!!” mantra now. It really has been enlightening to realize how much I assume about the “right way” of doing things, like efficiency/customer service stuff, that is merely cultural. It’s a struggle, but it’s worth it.

    And I loooooove garlic, so I don’t have any problems in that regard!

  2. Yes, I agree. Spain is definitely “not home” but I’m learning to accept it as my home for now.
    And what gives with the strikes for x-mas. Not 1 but 3 planned strikes!

  3. Very true! I think the same applies to France. Having never been to Asia or Africa I can’t really say, but I agree with you about it being almost harder knowing that the culture is similar. I’m taking an Intercultural Communications class, and one of the first guys to really study it was Dutch, and he suffered worse moving to England than he did when he had previously moved to Asia! For exactly the reason you said. His name is Geert Hofstede.

  4. “But when I first came to Spain, to study abroad in Toledo in 2008, I was very unprepared for what was ahead of me. I was excited to travel and to see Europe, but I had no idea how it would be to live in a culture that is like your own but unlike it in so many subtle ways. Perhaps it’s silly for me to say that it might be less shocking to go somewhere in Asia or Africa, because at least then you’d be expecting big culture shocks.”

    I can relate to this so much! When I first studied abroad, I saw that things seemed so similar, so I treated it like I was back in the USA. It was shocking to me to realize that though things appeared very similar on the surface, they were very different at the root… and that took a lot of adjusting to!

    And you also make a good point about the other Spaniards who are bothered as well… it’s so easy in the beginning to see general patterns of a culture and lump everyone in, but it’s cool that you are seeing the differences in the people now… the wide array of variety that each country — including Spain — boasts. :)

  5. I’ve only been living in Spain for a couple of months, but I grew up in Southern California, in a very Spanish looking town. When I moved from there to Hawaii, I actually experienced worse culture shock then I am now. I think our expectations have a lot to do with it – and where we’re coming from :)

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