10 Lessons Learned Living in Spain
Before we launch into this highly personal listacle, I’ve got to level with you. I’ve been living in Spain on and off for nigh on 13 years now and will be a part of the team taking our European summer writing workshops around the land of Don Quixote.
I write this because we have a handful of spaces still available, and we’re looking for a couple of curious wordsmiths slash bon vivants to share the experience with.
These are some of the lessons that I’ve picked up across the Iberian Peninsula and come next Spanish summer, I’m hoping to absorb a whole lot more with you guys.
1. I’ll never be fluent in a language other than ‘Strayan
I live in Spanish. My mother-in-law speaks nothing but. The TV shows that I tune out to every night are in Spain. The lovely lady serving me my beans and chorizo speaks to me in Spanish. I can do Spanish. But I’ll never be fluent. Fluency is an impossibility for me, an unobtainable and unrealistic end point in the language-learning experience. I’ll never be able to follow the rapidfire Spanish thrown around on the ubiquitous afternoon chat shows where pundits yell at each other for four hours straight. I’m going to be left behind by the gossiping teens sitting on city walls chewing sunflower seeds and arguing about whichever corruption scandal is gripping the country. I’ve never be fluent, I’ll always be learning, and I’m just fine with that.
2. Friendship is important
Spaniards were just named the healthiest people on earth. In part, it’s because of the Mediterranean diet. In larger part, though, the fact that Spaniards fry most aspects of their Mediterranean diet must negate most of the health benefits. Sardines: great. Fried sardines: less so.
That Spaniards are relentlessly social and mentally engaged with one another is a major contributor to their health. From infanthood to the grave, Spanish people spend time with friends, family and neighbours. Strangers engage in animated barroom discussions; the problems of the world are solved on the bus.
The concept of owning a plot of land that is yours is only one for the rural or the elite. Generally and overwhelmingly, Spaniards live in apartments, alongside and on top of one another, and outdoor space is shared. Children play in communal parks; parents give lessons in hand-eye (or foot-eye) coordination alongside other parents, setting their training-wheeled offspring free. Teenagers sit on the aforementioned walls and create small mountains of sucked sunflower seed husks, and the elderly gather in bars and cafes and play argumentative rounds of cards.
Staying social is key to the world-beating health of Spanish people. Friendship!
3. You can eat the insides of animals too, but it’s not nice
I’m from a place where, if you even eat meat at all, you eat the nicely sliced and plastic packaged parts on the outside of the beast. Steaks. Chops. The meaty bits. The distance from slaughter to plate is a little disrespectful, as the absence of blood and gore can encourage the diner to forget that once dinner was a living, breathing sentient animal. Also, ignoring the other things inside the animal is wasteful. Spaniards don’t commit such wastage, they eat the innards, the guts, the gore and make sausages from the blood, and, for the most part, it’s fucken disgusting. I’m am quite happy to stick to my wasteful bougie steaks, muchas gracias a lot.
4. Somehow you can always be in a hurry and late
See that guy in the SEAT Ibiza dashing in and out of lanes, riding up your culo and running red lights? He’s going to arrive to the location of his meeting five minutes before it starts, go and have a coffee and a chat in a nearby bar beforehand, and arrive to his appointment 25 minutes late.
5. It’s okay to drink booze in the AM
You can wander into a bar de la toda vida, or a working class bar, in any city, but especially in towns, at any time of the day, and find a bunch of old guys having a glass of wine, or a small beer. For many of these long-life-livers this is their morning routine – head down to the local, have a wine, talk about whatever problems of the world are weighting on you that day, and then go about your business. It’s okay; it’s alright. One drink isn’t going to impair you, and if that’s what you like to do, then do it.
That said, if that one drink turns into 20 before 2pm, then we are talking about something different entirely. Sometimes tourists don’t appreciate that very important difference.
6. They don’t really have siestas, but they should
The midday myth is an unfortunate myth in modern Spain, unfortunate because they don’t really have them anymore. In small towns, particularly in the south, long lunch breaks may be used for afternoon napping purposes – particularly during the summer heat, but they are no longer the norm. These days, with people commuting to work, heading home for a snooze just isn’t practical, and so longer lunch breaks are increasingly uncommon, or used for eating and maybe taking a walk.
Having an afternoon nap makes so much sense, and is pretty much proven to be fantastic for us – especially when dinner time is 10pm, not many people fall asleep before midday, and work still starts at 9am like most other places in the world.
7. Small town people are the absolute best
In the cities, people mostly don’t care that you exist/see you as some burden on their rushing around to be late. Individuals in cities are wonderful, and you will find pockets of people interested in you and how you came to be there, but generally they’ve seen it all before, yawn (yawn due to late nights + no siesta).
But get yourself into the countryside and everything changes. All of a sudden you’re the most interesting person in the world: children stop town square football matches to gawk, adorable mum-pop bar teams ask where you’re from and then announce it to the other patrons and dinners are littered with freebies, the most common of which being shots of whatever local liqueur they have fermenting out the back. By day two in a town like this, everybody knows who you are, where you’re from and will happily point you towards local points of interest – many of which date a few hundred years before the founding of wherever you’re from.
8. How you walk on footpaths matters
And Spanish people do it very poorly. Three-four – more – abreast. More meandering than walking. Weird directional changes without warning. No real desire to get out of the way when a bigger vessels comes bounding in the opposite direction. Spanish walkers are terrible, and while the country’s manifold charms far outweigh the inconvenience of being trapped behind a phalanx of gossiping geriatrics, if you like your movement to be somewhat efficient prepare to be frustrated.
There’s no nine and ten on the list yet – that’s for us to find out together when you join us in Spain for our writing workshops and tours of this wonderfully diverse, enriching and footpath frustrating country. Hasta rápido!
Wanna spend a month on the road with us in Spain refining your writing, attending fiestas, eating tapas, drinking sangria, having daily siestas and wrapping your tongue around a new language?
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Ex-editor of Australia’s Surfing Life, current producer and host of 50 Fiestas, Barcelona resident and drinker of all the wine, every last drop of it.