Traveling the world, learning languages, and immersing myself in new cultures.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

First 10 Things This American Had to Get Used to in Navarra, Spain

Now that I've been living in Spain for over a month, I can finally comment on my environment and how I have been assimilating. It's been a great experience and I am learning so much. There are some things that I knew, from living in Germany and Belgium, that are specific to Europe and not in the U.S.; and now there are a bunch of new things that I have only encountered in Spain, specifically, the Navarra region. Here are 10 things that I had to get used to while living here.

1. Five meals a day, all with names

I like to eat just as much as the next American, but we only have names for three meals, and the rest are just snacks.  The interesting part is not that the Spanish eat five meals a day, but that each meal has a name.

-8:00am - desayuno - breakfast, magdalenas and coffee, or cereal, or yogurt and fruit.
-11:00am - almuerzo - a snack, a small sandwich or some fruit.
-2:00pm - comida - lunch is typically a large meal, and of course, followed by a siesta.
-6:00pm - merienda - an afternoon snack similar to almuerzo, possibly some tapas.
-9:00pm - cena - dinnertime, a large meal (same or smaller than comida) before relaxing and then going to bed.

2. Punctuality (or lack thereof)

In the U.S. there is a joke about black and hispanic people being late all the time, and we call it "CPT" (Colored People Time). The Spanish make that joke irrelevant. Any meeting or planned time for an event needs to have a 35-minute buffer on either end of it. It won't start on time and it certainly won't end on time. Of course, in the professional world this could be different, but in the social world, don't expect punctuality. There is a very tranquilo attitude about timing, which doesn't seem to bother anyone (except Maria Asun). The only thing I've seen end on time is the closing of our local pool - at exactly 9 o'clock, they turn off the jacuzzis and kick us out!

But, you can tell when Spanish people are late because they run - and everyone is running. Now I know why the Spanish are so thin. Corre is one of the most common words I hear.

3. Kids at bars 

When I hear "kids at bars" this is what I think of
I recall a story one of the younger kids (10) was telling about a time they were having merienda at a bar. I had to stop them and make sure I undderstood them correctly, because you have to be 21 in the U.S., and 16ish in Belgium, to get into a bar. In Spain a bar, or cerverceria, is not just a place to meet an drink with your buddies, but also where the family can go to get some food and sit down to eat.

4. The food

I would be remiss if I did not mention the wonderfully interesting, and most times delicious, food of Spain. Most of the ingredients are not new, but the preparation and combinations are what make the food new and exciting. Also, in the U.S. we don't just have an octopus sitting on the counter waiting to be eaten. I will talk more in depth about food in another post.

5. The language  

Of course when you learn a new language, you notice all the weird translations from your language and the rules and their exceptions. Castellano has been no different. Check out here where I go into more detail about the particulars of the language. But living in Navarra, I get a bonus on languages, as Euskara, the langue of Basque country, it's also spoken here and you can see it on the signs. I feel like I'm in Brussels all over again with the dual languages on every street sign.

6. Talking to friends

Maybe because its a small community and everyone knows everyone, but we can't go anywhere without seeing someone we know and stopping to talk to them for at least a few minutes. Imagine seeing 3 different sets of friends and having an appointment in 10 minutes. But it's ok, because being late is not a problem (see #2 above).

7. Crosswalk timers

This is a short one in Pamplona
I guess the Pamplonians need 90 seconds to cross the super (un)busy two-lane roads in town. The good thing is the time remaining for passage or waiting, is displayed for everyone to see. So, when I pull up to a light and I see the pedestrians have 70 seconds to pass, I know I have time to catch up on writing my memoirs.

Now this is a Spanish jug handle!

8. Jug handles

No, I'm not referring to the ones that you use to hold a pitcher of sangria, but those you encounter while driving. To make a left hand turn, instead of just turning left, you have to make a right hand turn onto a special road that allows you to cross back over and turn left. It is super irritating, especially since there isn't much traffic here. I have not seen this anywhere else in Europe. The jug handles make me feel like I'm in New Jersey, where it is equally irritating.

9. Different popular sports

I've lived in Europe awhile, so I am used to futból (soccer) being the number one sport. However, handball is really huge here in Navarra, in addition to other sports that I've never seen or heard of. Padel is like tennis in a smaller arena and it's always 2-on-2. Fronton is the name of a type of court, and the all-compassing name for a variety of styles of a racquetball-like sport on steroids and with more players - with pelota as the most popular form in this area. Bull fighting is also a popular sport in Spain, though Barcelona has recently outlawed it.
Pelota played with a pala
Pelota played with a cesta
Pelota played with hands 

10. Commercials

On the channels that we watch, every commercial is either for cold medicine or perfume. There are often five to seven perfume commercials in a row! I'm not sure if the Spanish are worried about smelling bad, or if they are so stopped up that they can't smell and need really strong perfume and/or nasal decongestant to smell each other. I miss the locally (and often cheekily) made commercials in parts of the U.S.

I know its not real, but its still funny and gets my point across!

Bonus: Slowness in restaurants

In the rest of Europe, the wait staff are fairly slow compared to the U.S., but in Spain, they are muy slow. Of course, not everywhere is super slow, but I have now experienced the longest wait time of my life in a Spanish restaurant. And I'm used to the slowness, but this particular slowness was after the waitress was flagged down and confirmed that she was bringing the check, only to have her tell us 15 minutes later that we had to pay downstairs.

What do you think?

This list is based on my experiences and I'm curious if you agree of disagree. For the non-Spanish who have visited Spain and/or Navarra, what experiences you've had? For the Spanish, how do you feel about these, or the alternatives, from other cultures? Thanks for reading!

For more on my life in Navarra, check out VEN con TMax.

(the images/videos used in this post are from other sources and not my own) 

Location: Spain


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