Halloween in Madrid – a little bit better every year

When I first was in Madrid 15 years ago Halloween was pretty much non-existent. And for those who did go out to celebrate, the costumes were just not right. There was this idea that Halloween costumes had to be scary, not like back in the US where they tend to be funny, sexy and scary. I think the most shocking moment for me was seeing a female’s costume related to an abortion – again, just not right.

Flash forward 15 years and I have to say I’m proud of how far we’ve come. Now, in general, I’m not a fan of all the US traditions and happenings making their way over to Spain (see: Fútbol y Fútbol OR Football, Basketball, Hockey and Baseball: A reflection on cultural imports) Spain is different; and I think it should stay that way. However, having said that, I don’t mind the adoption of some of the fun traditions, especially now that I have little kids.

Even in the last few years Halloween has really gained steam over here. A couple years ago I had a little shock when I brought my son in his costume to day care. It wasn’t because he was in a costume; all the other kids were dressed up as well as they said to dress them up for Halloween. The “issue” was that his cute little chicken costume was the only cute one; everyone else had their kids dressed up as witches or vampires, pretty much. And there was my little chicken…apparently this was more for Carnaval…

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The “chicken incident”

This year, however, I am happy to say that the school costumes were a big mix with some cute and funny ones as well. We’re making progress. Also in our apartment complex this year there were trick-or-treaters all over the place.

I took my kids all over the complex for more than an hour visiting apartments. Now we just need to improve the candy offerings at the stores.

Next up: Turkey Day!

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Why the Starbucks barista made me nervous

Last week I was in New York, city that is, right in midtown within walking distance from Times Square. Talk about overwhelming. I have to say that I was feeling a bit like a country bumpkin as I hustled across the street from my hotel first thing in the morning to get a coffee to start the day.

I figured Starbucks was a sure bet since there seems to literally be one on every street corner (kind of like Dunkin Donuts (or DD as it’s now called)) back in Boston, and there wouldn’t be any surprises. First off, I was a bit surprised to see the size of the line given that there are so many other identical hot spots all around. But I wasn’t in a big rush, so no big deal.

When my turn came I smiled and said hi to the barista. And that was the mistake.

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Image representative of my experience. Actual faces and baristas ficticious.

The girl looked at me like I as crazy, like why would I waste time saying something like that when I could have used that same breath to say my order. So I said my coffee order. She immediately responded with the amount I owed, but I had to say that I wasn’t done yet; I wanted something to eat as well. I don’t think she was happy with my speed.

So, in the end the coffee was delicious and the food wasn’t bad, but I definitely learned my lesson about taking the time to smile and say hi the next day when I went back. Maybe it’s not like this all over, but in the center of the big apple for sure.

When I was telling my friends and coworkers about this everyone just laughed and said “you’ve become so spanish”. I guess I get it now when people say I’ve become “españolizada” or “spanishized” as I like to call it.

 

 

Living in Spain vs. the US: 12 years later, do I see myself moving back?

If I had a nickel (or euro) for every time I’ve been asked this question I could buy myself quite a few cases of my beloved pumpkin-flavored beer (worth an image. See below).

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The short answer is no, at least not in the short-term.

Here are my thoughts on four topics that make an impact in this decision: commercial culture (aka shopping), weather, salary/working conditions, being a parent.

Do I miss the US? (that’s another question I get a lot). Of course. I miss my family first and foremost, friends, the ease of communicating in my native language, my hometown of Boston (not during the winter), some specific food items (lobsters are not the same over here), etc. So of course there are a lot of things that I miss about living in the United States of America. Typically when I’m back in the US for a trip I come back to Spain with my suitcase filled with the result of serious shopping expeditions.

The commercial culture is something I miss – there’s so much variety and just so much to choose from. And generally at lower prices than here in Spain. Having said that though, sometimes I wonder how much is too much.

The last time I was in the supermarket in the US I found it a bit overwhelming just looking at the endless lineup of salad dressing options. And don’t get me wrong, I love going to the malls. In fact during my last trip to the US last week I dragged my mom to the mall on the way home from the airport. However, I think that would get a bit old after some time. The US is a huge mall culture. Spain has started copying this over the years, but it hasn’t reached the same intensity yet (surely the weather helps).

Speaking of weather… this is always one of my main points. I love Boston, but I “strongly dislike” the Northeastern climate. I have some nice memories of being little and making snow angels in the snow with my big, puffy snowsuit on. But I also have many memories later on of being so cold that my fingers turned white and lost all sensation. I was back in the US for 9 days last week (between Boston and New York), and I would venture to guess that I saw the sun for about 10-15% of that time. Here in Madrid I really am used to having the sun shine every day, and even on cloudy or rainy days (that are few and far between) there’s always some point when the sun jumps out to say “hola”. It definitely puts me in a better mood to have this climate and be able to do things outside, which I love.

From a work perspective I have some mixed feelings: during probably the first half of my time in Spain I often complained that I would earn a much higher salary in the US. Even after completing my MBA at IESE Business School and earning significantly more than pre-MBA days, I’m still sure that I would make double or more back in the US. But…at what cost? I’ve done a lot of weighing of pros and cons thinking about this topic, and my conclusion has been that I prefer Spain, at least for now. One reason is the vacation time. At my current job I have the whole month of August off plus two weeks at Christmas, plus Easter week off, plus a number of other national and local holidays. In the US maybe I’d have three weeks, but never taken at the same time. I can’t see that working to visit family. My plan this year is to be in Boston with the kids for the whole month of August.

Speaking of the kids… since becoming a mother of two young children, I’ve thought a lot about the differences between bringing up children in the US vs. Spain. I’ve had both of my kids while living in Spain, so, to be honest, I can’t fully compare the experience. What I can share, however, is what I’ve seen raising my kids so far here in Madrid vs. what I remember when I was younger or hear from friends back home. I’m planning to write another post about this, but just a tidbit to highlight: we live in an apartment-complex with its own park, common play areas, pool, etc. where the kids can be out playing easily until 8 or 9pm+ (in summer). And it never really gets so cold that you can’t go outside. That for me, is a huge point in favor of being here (at least vs. the east coast of the US as a comparison). TBC…

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This isn’t the park at our house, but it’s an example of one closeby that we frequent. Notice the sun…

To summarize, for now I couldn’t really imagine myself back in the US, but we’ll see what happens in the future. Right now my children are both still below five years old, but I would love them to have the experience of studying in the US when they’re older (assuming they get a massive college scholarship). For now I’ll stick with the sun and take it day by day.

Spain’s life expectancy tops the charts

Great news: life expectancy is up to 85.8 years. I guess the sun and cañas really do have an effect!

https://www.thelocal.es/20181017/spain-set-to-have-longest-life-expectancy-in-the-world

And just to add to the legitimacy of the topic, a CNN article:

https://edition.cnn.com/2018/10/17/health/life-expectancy-forecasts-study-intl/index.html

Did I mention the US is at 79.8?

Spanishized: Time for a site update

It’s been approximately 1 year 9 months since my last blog post. I must admit that is quite a long gap. That’s not to say that there hasn’t been anything interesting during that time.

It’s also been approximately 1 year 9 months since my second little bundle of joy came Spanglish-ing into the world. Enough said.

Last week I was in the US for a week between Boston and New York, both for work and to visit family. Whilst sipping my beloved pumpkin-flavored beer (I’m still anxiously awaiting this trend to make its way across the ocean) I had a number of reflections about my experience being an American in Spain and how things have changed for me since uprooting myself from Boston to Madrid more than 12 years ago.

I’m planning to share some of those reflections, particularly my thoughts about living and working in both places and having small children in both. First though, I think my site needs a serious update: even the home page says “after almost a decade in a foreign land”. We’re now onto 12 1/2 years…

 

It’s January 5th, and the holidays continue…

The fall came and went quickly over here in Madrid. By the time mid-October rolled around I was starting to wonder whether it was ever going to get cold. This seems to happen every year at the end of the long, hot summer  and continued heat in the fall. But eventually, it does get cold for a few months. I’m not talking Boston cold, but a few days it’s been around 30ºF/0ºC in the morning, so not too bad. That’s where we are at the moment, and I must say that I actually enjoy the brisk weather as a change from the stifling summer heat (even though the cold is one big reason why I would never go back to the US East coast).

On another note, I’m ashamed to admit that I once again skipped an important American holiday and tradition this year and did not celebrate Thanksgiving. Although I had planned to finally cook a turkey (this would be the first time), I ended up leaving it a bit to the last minute and didn’t even have chicken that day 😦 At least I did make an effort to call the extremely overpriced little American supermarket called “Taste of America”, only to be told that they were selling turkeys for the fantastic price of 80 euros (gasp!). Call it a New Years resolution if you want, but next year I’m going to cook a turkey, pre-purchased from the local carnicería.

Aside from the Turkey Day mishap, I think one of the best things about this time of year here in Spain is the way the holiday season seems to continue forever. We start in early December with national holidays on December 6th and 8th. If these fall during the week you’re in luck and can usually get a long “puente” with time off from work. Then we have Christmas, New Years and finally “Reyes” (King’s Day) on January 6th. (see my post from last year for more details about the holidays: https://spanishized.com/2016/01/02/holiday-season-in-spain-some-spanishized-thoughts/). Unfortunately, after Reyes it’s time to get serious again…but only until Semana Santa (Easter week) comes around in March/April. Let the countdown begin.

Obtaining Spanish nationality – check.

It’s been a couple of months since I’ve written, but that’s not to say that nothing has been going on over here. In fact, a lot has happened since my last post – for one, I’ve had a few quite positive Spanish customer experiences, something always worth mentioning. Another thing that happened was my most-recent international trip with my 2 1/2 year old son during which, of course, there were some snafus with seating. However, most importantly, last week I officially became Spanish and gained a second last name! After almost 3 years of paperwork and waiting I finally pledged my allegiance to the Spanish flag (does this also happen in Cataluña?).

The actual swearing in was pretty uneventful: I was put in a room with about 50 other foreigners (I’m pretty sure I was the only American) and waited to be called one-by-one to say out loud in front of a judge a typed phrase waiting on a piece of paper. Another piece of paper was signed and voila. What was interesting was seeing quite a few individuals who were illiterate and granted nationality by repeating the typed phrase spoken first by the judge.

Now my biggest question is: Do I need to change the name of this blog?

So, what does becoming Spanish mean to me? Flexibility. My thinking has always been that having a Spanish passport and ID card would allow me more flexibility if one day we decided to move to another European country. At this point there’s no plan for this to happen, but it’s still nice to know that I would have that option without having to get any special visa or working permit. Since my 2 year old son has both passports I figured it’s only fair that I have the same, of course. Aside from this, there are some other positive/interesting points:

  • No one can call me a foreigner or “guidi” anymore. I am just waiting for the day when a rude public service employee makes a face and says they don’t understand me because of my accent, to which I will promptly pull out my national ID card and attest that I am from Sevilla.
  • The common mistake of my middle name being put as my first last name and my records not being able to be located (like when I was checking into the hospital in labor) will not happen anymore. I’ll now officially have two last names, the second one being my mother’s maiden name. No more errors filling out online forms either with obligatory second last name fields.
  • I can now officially vote both in the disturbing current elections in the US as well as in the possible 3rd time elections here in Spain where they can’t seem to form a government. Clearly neither situation is ideal but at least now aside from having to pay taxes to both I can have an active role in deciding who will (hopefully) rule the country.
  • After traveling back from the US and arriving home in Spain I’ll be able to go through the quicker EU citizen passport line. No more “All other passports” for me.

On the other hand, one thing that you might not think about after switching nationalities and officially becoming Spanish is the implication with bank accounts, paperwork, etc. My next step once I officially get my passport and DNI in a few months will be making sure all of my paperwork and accounts are in order. Changing a last name is one thing, but changing the one number that the government and society identifies you with is another – social security, bank account, pension plans… that should be interesting. Supposedly you can get an official document clarifying the change that can be presented to banks, etc., but I have the feeling that some future blog posts could arise from this…

Before beginning this process a few years ago my biggest question was whether you can have dual citizenship. The technical answer is no, at least in the case of the US/Spain. But… more or less you just need to be smart with where and when you use your passports and nationalities. No harm done. In my son’s case, for example, by birth  he has both nationalities and then supposedly will have to pick one once he turns 18. Supposedly…

In any case, I’m pretty proud to say that I’ve come a long way from where I was more than ten years ago, stepping off the plane from Boston to Madrid without a plan or a place to go. Now with my new identity and passport in hand my next big challenge will be working on perfecting my Andalusian accent.