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.


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

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La Ofi


Ah, la oficina—the office. So many of my fellow Americans come to Spain, desiring to escape the droll forty-hour workweek. They’re so brave. Or not. I can’t help but feel a bit of disdain for those who travel and blog, urging their readers to “Leave it all behind!”

Americans often idealize the European lifestyle, thinking that they just “get it,” because they work fewer hours, pay higher taxes, and enjoy greater health-insurance benefits. It’s not always true. For the most part, the eight-hour workday is quite common in the United States, and a few more hours aren’t so bad in the end. In Spain, the country of sun and siesta, you would expect fewer hours, more enjoyment, and a somewhat less stressful workplace. You’d be wrong.

I’d like to use a rather personal example. My husband, Mario, works at a fairly typical Spanish office in Madrid. He’s the hardest worker I know, so I don’t expect anything less of him, but he often goes in at 9:30 or 10 a.m. and leaves around 10 p.m. He arrived home at 12 a.m. two weeks ago, though, and he’s arrived at 11 p.m. more than once. It’s not atypical. He doesn’t complain, but there’s no question that this type of schedule is stressful. No matter if your job is easy or not, staying at the office for a full twelve hours isn’t healthy or fun.


Especially not if these people are your coworkers

Mario is not the exception; he’s the rule. We have another friend, a Spanish woman, who works for a national company. Having worked in another country for many years, she returned to Spain to be a big boss and earn the big bucks. That she does, but she also is under a lot of stress and works more hours than seems humanly possible.

I realize that this is all anecdotal evidence, that I’ve yet to cite proven statistics. But Mario and I, along with other friends, have formed a sort of hypothesis—Spain lacks work, yes. But the work it does have is quite poorly distributed. Those who do have a job work twelve-hour days, while those who don’t spend months and years earning nothing. Maybe they should hire more eight-hour-shift workers. Maybe then the burnout rate would drop dramatically. Who knows?

What about the Spaniards you know (maybe disregarding funcionarios)? Do they work too much?

Thankful for 2012

In 2012, life changed. Life changed fast. I could say it all to you, in one breath, a rush of words and emotion that would leave you reeling. I could replay the year over in my head, wondering how I got to this point, this place right here—November 22, 2012.

In 2012 I did so many things. So many things changed in my life, in my family’s lives, in my friend’s lives. These things, there were good. They were wonderful and magical and joyful. So, dear 2012,now it’s my turn. Thank you. Thank you for:

  • July 7. On this day, I married Mario. I don’t have words for this day. It was a day full of sunshine and laughter and red scarves and dancing. It was rich with tears and photographs and the grasping of hands. I wore a white dress; he wore a suit. We joined hands, and we said yes.


  • New family. I’ve gained some new family this year: in-laws, cousins, aunts, uncles. I’m no longer the American; I’m prima or hija. I’m part of this family here in Spain, a grand family who has taken me in without a second thought, who has taught me to cook, lavished me with presents and love and welcome. I couldn’t be more grateful for my mother-in-law, Pepita, who worries about me as if I were her daughter or my father-in-law, Jesús, who emails me to wish me a happy Thanksgiving in his newly acquired English. I am so grateful to them and for them.



  • Old family. One is silver, but the other’s gold? I don’t really buy this saying, but I am aware that my family has always been there for me, ever since the rainy Monday almost twenty-six years ago. My family has supported me through my on-again, off-again relationship with Spain, and I don’t think I could have done it without them. They love Mario like their own son, and they would do anything for us and for my brother and his wife. You couldn’t ask for more dedicated parents, the kind that go to every single sports event in high school, the kind that never say a word about driving six hours there and back to pick you up at the airport, the kind that pay for a brother and future-sister-in-law’s plane tickets just so that they can all be together on the most important day of the bride’s life.



  • Thanksgivings past. My extended family was never one to fight. Our holidays were filled with food, laughter, and kids’ tables. There was no yelling, no hurt feelings, no real problems. As a girl, I took this for granted. Now I couldn’t be more grateful for an extended family that knows the value of togetherness.
  • New friends. I’ve met some new people here in Madrid recently, and I’m really excited to see where these friendships lead. You cannot underestimate the value of a nearby friend.
  • Old friends. Where would I be without my constant source of encouragement and laughter, Hilary? Roommates in college, friends for life. I cannot say enough about my cousin Bailey, just seven months older than me and already on her way to having her second child. It’s hard to reconcile what was with what is, but our friendships will never shrivel and die, just change and grow as we do.
  • This blog. This blog has been a source of encouragement for me over the past few years. I started it without knowing what would come of it, and I am ever so grateful for the readers who comment, email, tweet, or Facebook me. Thank you, readers! Thanks for reading, for caring, for helping me see things in a new light. Without you, I know I wouldn’t keep writing. Thank you.

So happy Thanksgiving, dear friends! If you’re in the States, please eat some stuffing for me! And—oh yeah—give your mom and dad a hug! They’re the only ones you’ve got.


I first got a cell phone in high school. And yes, dearest husband, it’s a cell phone. No mobile phone for me. (I’m not British.) It was an awesome, Nokia-style one, although I can no longer recall the brand. Check it out:


I had a boyfriend, you see. And my parents needed to be able to check up on me when I stayed out to the dangerously-late hour of 11 p.m. We were crazy kids, really—watching movies, eating Skittles, and generally causing mayhem.

My freshman year of college I got a “camera phone.” It’s humorous to think about that terminology now, isn’t it? Nowadays all smart phones (“esmarfons” in Spanish) come equipped with GPS, and a camera goes without saying. How else are we to Instagram?

In Spain, the trend is a bit behind the US, but it’s catching up. There are, however, a few differences between how people use cell phones here vs. in the US.

  • Voicemails. Spaniards do not like voicemails. It costs more money to make calls here, so people prefer not to have to waste €0.07 for when the voicemail message starts to play. I had a voicemail on my phone a few years ago without realizing it until someone told me to “take it off.” Practically no one leaves voicemails. So there’s no use having a voicemail inbox.
  • Dropped calls a.k.a. “toques.” A dropped call (llamada perdida or toque in Spanish) are a way of life here in Spain. You call someone, let it ring, but hang up before they answer. The other person then, perhaps somewhat mysteriously, knows what message you are communicating. For instance, Mario’s parents often give him a dropped call when they arrive somewhere safely. A dropped call can also mean “call me” if the other person has free calls. In the US, I never even think about doing this.
  • Whatsapp. Whatsapp, pronounced as “wasap” here in Spain, is a way of life. It’s text messaging, but it doesn’t use the standard SMS platform. You can send texts, photos, videos, and audio. Mario’s friend even sent me his location when I asked where they were one day. Since most Spaniards do not have unlimited texting, like we often do in the States, it’s a way to save money while still being constantly connected to your friends. I like it because it allows me to text friends in the States.
  • iPhone. The iPhone is popular here, but not nearly as popular as in the US, based solely on anecdotal evidence. It’s becoming more and more popular, but a lot of Mario’s friends have BlackBerries, which are smartphones, but not on the same level as an iPhone or an Android phone. I remember when BlackBerries were the thing on my college campus, but that was back in 2007. I doubt the Blackberry is anywhere near cool nowadays. I read an article saying they were “the cell phone equivalent to Myspace.” Ouch. Remember: the BlackBerry is feminine—la Blackberry.
  • Abbreviations. We all use shortcuts sometimes. Although I’m not one to text things like “How r u?” to my friends, I’m not going to pretend to be above abbreviations altogether. Spaniards also abbreviate, but—duh!—in Spanish.
    • xqporque/por qué—because/why
    • n—no—no
    • k—used instead of q, like kieres instead of quieres
    • +—más—more
    • Absence of vowels—writing vr instead of ver or hblr instead of hablar
  • Landlines. I don’t know about you, but many people in the States no longer have landlines. At my parents’ house, there’s no longer a home phone, much to my mother’s dismay. In Spain, however, having a landline is still a thing. When you sign up to get DSL with many Internet companies, you get a landline as well. They’re nice because you often get free calls from your line to anyone else in the country. And if you have to call some customer-service line … fewer euros out of your pocket! Always a good thing.

In 2008, I survived a whole semester without a (Spanish) cell phone. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it. Most of the other students got them; I just didn’t see the point. Four years ago, but my attitude seemed to be of another decade. Nowadays I’ve always got my phone. What about you?