Today, my coworker Elena asked what kind of image Americans have of Spain. “Do they consider it a lesser developed country and lump it with other Spanish-speaking countries?” she said. Personally, I have always lumped Spain with countries like France and Germany. It is hard to imagine that this democratic country was ruled under the Franco dictatorship only 30+ years ago! Spain has emerged from restricting women from opening their own bank account without a husband’s cosign just 30 years ago to becoming the world’s third nation to legalize gay marriage. Developing at a fast rate, Spain takes much pride in the things it does well. The metro system, for example, is extremely efficient, extensive, and well maintained. I saw a poster showing the Statue of Liberty stooping down, peering curiously into a metro entrance. The catchy phrase said, “The Metro the world wishes they had– is right here in Madrid.”
We always have many interesting discussions at my workplace. I get to enjoy a long lunch with my coworkers in the middle of the day, where I have become familiar with everything from Spanish slang to politics to family life. Through many entertaining conversations, I have learned endless Spanish colloquial phrases and words. Harmless words like “monkey” “horse” and “chocolate” can translate to refer to drugs! As far as politics go, Obama is welcomed with great enthusiasm. Spaniards are hopeful that his presidency will help secure a more solid friendship between our nations. My coworkers enjoy talking about American politics; it sometimes surprises me how well informed they are about the US.
Also during our lunch, my coworkers love when I recount the tales of my home-stay experience with my “señora”. I am currently living with an older woman, single and retired. She is very kind, and happily cooks my meals and does my laundry. In exchange, I live by the interesting rules of the house. No bare feet on the floor, showers no longer than exactly 10 minutes (complimentary reminders given), and I must never share her hand towel. It seems notions of hygiene are different here. It is also bad form to relax with one’s feet on the furniture, as living rooms tend to be much more formal here. I must also make my bed every day and keep my room tidy, since here it is customary to leave doors to rooms open. My coworkers have explained to me that these tendencies are more specific to her Spanish generation, and that the younger generation lives with a more relaxed style.
Though my señora is from an older generation, she (like every other Madrileño) loves to go out at night! Regular bedtime for her is around 2 or 3 am. I am long asleep by then, as I have to wake up early most mornings. In Madrid, going out is a highlight of the culture. The Spanish do not often invite their friends over to their home, because the home serves more for family and relaxation. To meet up with friends or a date, my señora always goes out for tapas (appetizers with drinks) or for a coffee and a pastry, or to the movies, or even to a dance club (for people her own age, she informs me).
I love soaking up the culture around me, and comparing it to the US. I enjoy many things here, like the tendency of staying up so late and sleeping in, and the abundance of small neighborhood shops serving everything you could need. However, I dislike how so many stores inconveniently close from 2-5pm for the siesta, or how service is continuously slow in restaurants. I think if we could somehow fuse the customs of our nations together, I would have the perfect place to live.