It’s beginning to look a lot like the end of November

On Thanksgiving, I called my mom when she and the rest of my extended family were at my aunt’s house, ready to dig into some turkey. I talked to several family members, and without fail, every single one of them asked me, “How’s Spain?!?!?!”, and this may sound strange, but I found it really difficult to answer. I think they were asking because normally when you go to a foreign country, it is on vacation. You go to see new things, eat a lot of new food, and stay out late, and you don’t have to do any work. To most people, getting to spend a year in Spain sounds a lot like getting to do exciting things and not working for 12 months.


Well, I have done many exciting things, as you all know from my previous posts. I’ve been to several cities and gone to the beach, museums, cathedrals, and castles, and I certainly work a lot less than I would if I were living in the US. But I think the one thing that I have found here that has surprised me the most is how much like normal life my life is. I don’t know why that should surprise me so much; I’ve been living on my own for 3 years, I am used to cooking and cleaning for myself and paying my own bills. I’m used to working and I’m even used to teaching for my work. So I’m not sure why I thought doing so in a foreign country was going to be different. But when I wake up in the mornings, I don’t usually think, “Oh my gosh, I am living in SPAIN!!!!!” Instead I usually think, “Hmmm, what do I want to wear today, is it cold outside? I wonder how my 4th grade class will behave today. Oh shoot, I need to remember to go to the store and buy more laundry soap.”


This familiarity is both good and bad, I think. It’s good to have some sort of known factor in your life when you have basically uprooted your routine and moved it across the world. I know when I was in Mexico much of my distress was due to not being able to cook for myself, struggling to make myself understood, and not knowing where to get off the bus. One time I was going to a neighboring town for a project for my Mexican culture class and I didn’t know where we were going, so I freaked out and asked the bus driver to let me off right there. I then had to walk the rest of the way on the side of the road with cars honking at me, and I remember thinking, “Stupid Mexico. I hate it here.” It’s so silly to me in hindsight, but that event really sticks out in my memory as the perfect example of why I was unhappy during my study abroad: everything was different, and I didn’t know how to cope.


But it’s also bad to be so comfortable because of the chance that I will miss what’s special about living in Spain. I keep thinking, the point of me living here is to experience life in SPAIN!! SPAIN!!! I am living in SPAIN!!! I should make the most of this year, not settle into a routine!! Which I think is why I struggled to answer my family’s questions. There is a 6 hour time difference between here and US Eastern time, so as my family was sitting down to eat turkey at 3 pm, I was preparing to go out to my co-worker’s house for dinner at 9 pm. “Dinner at 9 pm?????” was the response from every single one of my family members. “Uh . . . yeah,” I answered, feeling lame. Of COURSE dinner at 9 pm! That’s when you eat! It didn’t even seem weird to me. They all thought it was fascinating. My oldest cousin responded, “Wow, that’s pretty cool. It’s definitely a different culture there.” I don’t really feel that way though.


Of course, no matter how I feel, it IS a different culture. While my family, and every other family in America, was sitting down to a Thanksgiving lunch or dinner, here in Spain we went to work. There were no hand turkeys decorating the walls at school. There weren’t even any real turkeys decorating the refrigerated section at the grocery store. No pilgrims, no cornucopias. We also all went to work on Friday, prompting me to ask my friend, who messaged me at what would be 10 am in the US, “Why aren’t you at work???” I did have “Thanksgiving dinner” on Thursday with my co-workers, but we ate cured ham, tortilla española, olives, and a Cornish hen which my co-workers insisted on calling a “turkey”. They even put those little white things on the ends of the bird’s legs, which I have never seen in real life, only on TV or in cartoons. They had a blast with it, and so did I . . . but it wasn’t Thanksgiving.


Today I will be having Thanksgiving dinner, round 2, as I attempt to repay my landlord’s family for their kindness and all the help they have given me. I have 2 chickens, and I just bought vegetables at the outdoor market (and learned a new word: “puerro”, which is leeks), and I have the chicken stock and the bread all ready for stuffing. I am also going to make gravy from the chicken drippings and some flour . . .


Oh shoot, and I need to get flour for gravy.


4 Responses to It’s beginning to look a lot like the end of November

  1. nancy todd says:

    Relate to your post. When I moved to Spain, I didnt think about dust balls, waiting in line at the post office for a snarly face, or paying bills. The vision of carefree traveler was permanently lodged in my suitcase brain. All changed. And I love living here. Now what is the temperature outside so I will know what to wear today?

  2. Pingback: An update or five « An Academic In Spain

  3. Kaley says:

    This is a good entry because it’s something every expat eventually has to realize. Living in Europe, okay, that’s cool, but…it’s still life. They are bills, laundry to do, dishes, spills, accidents, inconveniences, etc. What’s more, there’s the language barrier, visa woes, and culture shock too! It can be difficult to realize that life goes on without you.

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