Category Archives: Life in Spain

I was in the US for a month for summer holidays. Here are a few reflections.

I love the US. How can I not? I was born and raised there and it was my life for 26 years. I also love Spain. The more time I’ve lived in Spain the more I’ve become used to the Spanish way of living… and actually become Spanish. It’s been 13 years and the most recent years of my life.

It was great to be home with family in the US, which was the main objective, and also to have my kids immersed in English for a whole month. After having spent such an extended time there, there  are some things that stood out out in my mind that I wanted to share:

  • Where do kids in the US play? I have no shame in admitting that many times we googled “playgrounds” to see if there were any decent public play areas near where we were staying as we moved around. Turns out this isn’t an easy feat. In Madrid there are so many around where we live in the suburbs that you could probably go to a different, nice playground every day for a month without repeating.  Also where we live in Majadahonda we have a large, shared pool in our apartment complex that all the kids go to every day during the summer – no invite required. We found some good parks that we visited near Boston, but they required driving 20+ minutes to get there and there weren’t too many kids. This just made me wonder “what did I do as a kid?” I remember playing out in the street in my neighborhood, but I think the big thing is the US is going to friends’ houses and having your kids play with theirs with playdates. There’s nothing wrong with this, but the plus of having great public playgrounds is that you don’t have to be social with other adults for your kids to have fun. I don’t exactly consider myself an introvert, but it’s nice to just be able to go to a big public park where no one knows you and let your kids run around and make friends or not. If they hit someone or steal a toy the consequences won’t be personal.

Here are some pictures of some typical parks in the outskirts of Madrid.

  • Drive thrus. Surprisingly (and fortunately) this hasn’t yet made its way to Spain in the same magnitude as in the US. I had forgotten how prevalent drive throughs are in the US. This first hit me one day with my sister as we pulled into Dunkin Donuts. I told her I’d be out in a second to which she replied, “but we’ll just go through the Drive Thru”. Honestly it hadn’t even occurred to me. The coffee shop, the banks, the pharmacy, the car wash – you name it. Life made easy, but is it too easy?
  • Customer service can suck in the US as well. As you may now if you’ve read my blog, Customer Service/Customer Experience is something that is important to me. I’ve written many posts about not-so-great customer experiences here in Spain, as this is still something that has a long way to go. However, I discovered during our trip that it’s not all roses in the US either. We had a wonderful experience with Rentalcars.com (Hertz being the provider for a rental car) in which we were given a pick up location for the car that no longer exists. The hotel where we went to get the car no longer has a Hertz office there. When I contacted the Hertz office they were about to close in 20 minutes and were of absolutely no help. To make a long story short they ended up hanging up on me after saying they wouldn’t do anything and left us with no way to get back home and without a rental car. The best is that Rentalcars.com had already charged us for the entire two week rental. Note: do not use Rentalcars.com! The best thing is definitely to go directly with the company, even if you end up spending a little bit more. In the end we had to pay for an uber back to our house and then having to deal with Rentalcars.com on the phone so they could refund the payment they’d already received. Then we had to reserve a new car…
  • Coffee. Once you get used to the European coffee it’s hard to go back. Punto.

Overall it was a great trip home, but I still don’t see myself moving back to the US any time soon. I don’t think I would have a full month of vacation to be writing a blog like this, to start…

 

 

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Vacation time! Spanish style.

I remember working in the US, and I remember taking vacation during the summer, but  I definitely DO NOT remember ever taking or having a full month off to disconnect and relax (that’s because I never did).

This is definitely one of the big pros of living and working here in Spain. I may not have a stellar salary like I would back in the US, and I may complain about different things from time to time, but I can’t say I had many complaints today as I closed my office door and said goodbye until September. Hasta luego!

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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.

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.

Too Spanishized?

This year I forgot about the 4th of July, breezed past memorial and labor day, and ate fish on Thanksgiving. There was no typical red, white and blue attire on the 4th and no turkey and stuffing on Turkey Day. Have I become too spanishized? This year has made me take a step back and wonder: To what point is it a good thing to be so immersed and assimilated into a different culture that you forget the basics of your own?

In a few months down the road I’ll be pledging my allegiance to a new flag to officially become Spanish (not that I’ll stop pledging to the other – unless Trump wins…). While this may seem like 100% Spanishized, that pesky American-themed accent will also be there to remind me and others that, at the end of the day, I am still, and will always be, American. But, this isn’t a bad thing after all.

Ten years ago when I first moved to Spain I made a concentrated effort to not connect with the large American community in Madrid in order to try to assimilate myself into the Spanish culture. I managed to find a job at a small Spanish company which threw me right into the Spanish paella mix, and I met my future husband who’s Spanish and hung out with him and his Spanish friends. Basically, my plan worked.

Now, ten years later and with a 2 1/2 year old son, I’ve started to wonder if maybe it’s time to get back to my American roots and find some fellow right, white and blue-ers over here in Madrid. As much as I like being assimilated, I now sometimes miss being able to have that natural easy connection with a fellow American, especially with kids. I want my son to experience both cultures’ customs, and it’s not that easy to show him some American traditions alone (especially when now I’m seeming to forget them unless I put it on the calendar). I guess I’ll say mission accomplished for a decade of being Spanishized and fitting in (until I open my mouth to speak), but maybe now it’s time for more of a Spanglish style over here.

Justin Bieber and Spanish/US politics

Monday mornings are always a bit of a struggle as the freedom of the weekend comes to close, but as I drove into work this particular Monday morning I was forced to deal with two new unpleasant items: 1. A 15 minute commute-turned one hour due to pouring rain (yes, it does rain from time to time here in Madrid, but for some reason no one can figure out how to drive in it…) and 2. A Spanish rendition of Justin Bieber’s  “Love Yourself”  with Spanish lyrics about the current Spanish political situation. And yes, the rendition lasted for the entire song length. Way to kick off the work week!

Now, why was a Justin Bieber song an appropriate choice to talk about the different political parties in Spain these days and the fact that they can’t figure out who should govern the country? I think that question is about as clear to me as the appropriate response when asked almost every other day what I think about the political situation in the US and the possibility of Donald Trump as president. Continue reading