moving

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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So Here’s the Deal

So here’s the deal, you guys … in two days, I’m off to Spain. I know, right? What/why? it’s so confusing. It might have something to do with this guy.

He’s pretty awesome! He was hired by a sah-weet law firm, and so we’re moving to Madrid. We won’t eat hot dogs, but we will eat lots of salchichón, That’s a fact.

Right now, these are my emotions:

  • Excited
  • Nervous
  • Scared
  • Crazy

Is “crazy” an emotion? I feel it 24/7. I’m so excited to return to Spain, to marry him, to move with him to a new city (Madrid). I’m nervous to leave behind everything I know. I’m scared to spend 2+ years in Spain. I’m crazy about him. Anything else? I feel it all, la verdad.

Please let me know I’m not alone. What have you done in the name of love? How has it paid off?

Going Back—Ready or Not

I don’t think of myself as a very strong person. I cry easily. I can turn against myself in a second, doubtful and drained of self-confidence. I prefer my own bed, my home, my comfort zone. I can’t sleep on airplanes or anywhere that isn’t a bed, basically. I get cranky when hungry. My pain tolerance is kind of low (a.k.a. nonexistent).

So maybe you won’t be surprised when I say that, even though I’m thrilled to be reunited with Mario, I’m also terrified of moving back. To Spain, that is. You see, the time I’ve spent in Spain hasn’t always been the happiest. If you read my posts from 2010–­2011, you might see this, lurking in the background, the truth I was trying so hard to avoid. It was through no fault of Spain’s own—not really. I was depressed, down in the dumps, and I did nothing to change it. My own worst enemy, if you will.

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But don’t get me wrong. I did find Silly Bands in Spain. So it wasn’t all bad.

And although I say it wasn’t Spain’s fault—and it wasn’t—with each passing day I think more and more about our future together. By marrying that Spaniard of mine, I’m tying myself to this place. Home is no longer a simple concept, a place I’ll be sure of. Instead, home will be here and there, Indiana and Zamora, the US and Spain. Am I ready for that? Can I handle a life full of comings and goings? Can I live in Spain again—and be happy about it?

Mario, my pick for world’s greatest future-husband/boyfriend/human, reassures me often that the future can and will be different than the past, that we’ll work together to find solutions, that we’ll endeavor to make our path a happy one. He knows what I went through; he endured it too, and for that I could never repay him. Because of him, I do feel comforted, more ready to face what’s coming.

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Yeah, he’s pretty awesome. A bad ass. Or as Google Translate translates “bad ass,” un culo mal.

I can feel your incredulity. After all, here I am, a twenty-five-year-old woman with her whole future ahead of her, ready to move to Spain, to Europe, to get married. Hello? Is this girl crazy? And I am, I admit; I’m crazy to feel scared about it. But that’s just me, I guess—as I said, I’ve never seen myself as that strong.

But in writing this, in thinking about it all, my opinion on my own strength has begun to shift. You see, what kind of weak person would get so very homesick in 2008, and yet turn right around and move back for another crack at it in 2009? What kind of weak person would be detained in an airport, but go back as soon as possible—three months later? What kind of weak person says, “Yes, I’ll go. Let’s move back. As long as we’re together”? Accordingly, I’ve begun to see that this kind of “weak person” is not weak at all. I am not weak, and I will make this time better than all the last times because I finally get it.

I’m strong.

Looking to the Future

I read a lot as a child: cereal boxes, magazines meant for middle-aged women, the entire series of The Babysitters’ Club books, The Kids’ Almanac more times than I can count. I read a lot now, and since my father owns approximately a thousand biographies, I read those, too. A lot of these biographies talk about growing up in America, about the so-called “simpler times.” You know what I mean: when kids could stay out until the streetlights came on; when the general store was the only place in town to buy your flour, milk, and eggs; when Cokes cost $0.50 and came in dusty glass bottles—those sorts of times. I find them fascinating, because my life looks nothing like that and most likely never will. Those idealized times are gone. I ask myself a lot, is that type of lifestyle gone too?

In those days, there was something to be said for consistency. You might hold the same job all your life, an honorable feat, an example of your unswerving dedication to your family. You might be born, live, and die all in the same small town. Your friends you had as a child might be the same friends you had after high school, when you had kids, when you retired, when you were elderly. Those things … they were feasible then. Are they still now?

I think of my life. I grew up in a small town in Indiana, a stone’s throw from Indianapolis. I lived in the same house from age two to age eighteen. I formed friendships in grade school that carried me through my senior year of high school. We shared a bond, a consistency, that can never be replicated.

But nowadays my life seems chaotic. Since graduating high school, I’ve lived in seven different cities, sometimes on and off. (My hometown seems to be a landing spot.) Soon enough I’ll be on to the eighth. Eight cities in seven years? The same friends I had seven years ago aren’t really the same now, nor will the ones I have now necessarily be the same in a year. Because of this, sometimes I feel off-kilter, like my life is rushing by me, and there’s nothing to grab onto, nothing consistently the same year after year.

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I’ve chosen a different life than most, I suppose. I sometimes forget this as I get lost in the blogosphere, where everyone seems to be like me—travelers, expatriates, transplants. But then I find myself firmly in the “real world,” and no one’s like me. Right now, back home for a month in my hometown, I can’t help but feel different. And by different I don’t mean superior, because who’s to say which way’s better? If I hadn’t met Mario, I know I wouldn’t be living by myself in Spain or any other country; I’m not as adventurous as I might seem.

I also read blogs of the people who have returned, who aren’t going back to Spain, and they talk about missing it. Perhaps they miss the no pasa nada way of life, perhaps they miss the food, perhaps they miss the sun and the paseando and the people they met who changed their lives … but they certainly miss something. And so I ask myself, How do you deal with a life full of longing for something that will never be the same, that you’ll never really have back? There’s no real good answer to that. It’s as difficult to answer as another question I frequently ask myself, How can I live a life where someone is always over there?

Mario, celebrating his graduation, without me. Right now, he’s “there.” I’m “here.”

Right now, my life is in yet another transition stage. Who knows what I’ll be thinking, feeling, doing in six months? I only know a few things for certain: we’ll be together, I’ll miss home, and the inexorable path toward the future will continue.