A year ago, I left Manila with a one way ticket to Barcelona, 2 cabin-sized suitcases and exhilarating anticipation. Today marked my first year of being a guiri *foreigner* in España, my guiri-versary! It’s been one helluva year! I had to deal with a lot of ‘firsts’ in my life – first time to be in a Spanish-speaking country, live abroad, rent an apartment, move in with a boy, etc. The logistical part of the transition wasn’t easy. I had to face a lot of bureaucratic obstacles and incompetent funcionarios *government employees* and everything in a language I was still feeling self-conscious speaking. The emotional part wasn’t a walk in the park either. I’ve had my fair share of crying fits and homesickness. But, it got easier. Everyday it got a little bit easier.
Instead of making a list of changes in my life in Spain, I thought this one year thing could be my chance to reflect on the things I’ve learned so far. Now that I’ve brought it up…
1. Don’t let red tape win!
Boy, if I had a euro for every time a Spanish funcionario has crushed my spirit… While not true for each and every employee, I think I’m not the only one who assumes that most of them are apathetic and inefficient. It’s either “I don’t know what you’re talking about, go to the other side of the city and ask” or “come back in a week, we’re pretty swamped today”. So how do you get anything done? PATIENCE. A whole lotta patience. Try not to lash out, stay polite, albeit fake, and save your bitchface for later.
2. Time is relative.
In case you didn’t know, everything happens a little later in this part of the world. They eat breakfast at 10:30, lunch at 15h and dinner at 22h. It wasn’t hard to adjust for a night owl like I am although it bewilders me that the city turns into a ghost town from 2-5 PM. The siesta is real, people.
3. Bread is to Spanish as rice is to Filipinos.
Filipino dining etiquette dictates we eat everything with a fork and a spoon, us being experts in using the latter as a knife. When I first had to eat with the boyfriend’s family, I was confronted with the fact that my beloved spoon is not part of the usual table setting. I was unduly at my wits’ end when I asked “..so how do you actually get a substantial amount of food into your mouth?”. “BREAD!” Bread for breakfast, lunch and merienda. Bread to sweep food into the fork. Bread to wipe the plate clean.
4. Sobremesa is sacred.
Sobremesa, the untranslatable word for the Spanish custom of staying at the dining table right after a meal to drink tea, coffee or wine, share anecdotes and jokes (!) and talk and talk until someone decides to leave. At first, the introvert inside me was pretty shook up from the mere idea of it. Several cringe-worthy dad jokes (in Spanish) later, I got used to it.
5. “All asians are chinos.”
I consider myself ethnically ambiguous here. Some have mistaken me for a puertorriqueña, japonesa, tailandesa but most of the time, people resort to china. I’ve never felt discriminated against nor offended by it. I think I’ve just come to terms with the fact that there are ignorant people everywhere. If they mean no harm, fine by me.
6. Riding a bus full of Spaniards can rupture your eardrums.
While the statement that all Spanish people are loud is obviously a generalization, I do declare that at least here in Andalucía they all are. The bus ride home is always a mishmash of passengers all chatting with one another. My neighbors talk as if they’re always in a quarrel. My co-teachers all talk at the same time in the faculty room during recess. So how does a soft-spoken guiri cope with decibel-loving Spaniards? I tune out.
7. There’s no other music more annoying than reggaeton.
I constantly hear cars driving by, with their windows down, blasting reggaeton. Not only that, I hear it in shopping malls, bars, buses, everywhere. And I hate it. I don’t exactly know why. Maybe because they all sound the same to me or because the lyrics are misogynistic and just full of crap. Or maybe because I think it’s the downfall of humanity and that a kitten dies every time a reggaeton song is played. But Spanish people apparently loves it so we all just have to suck it up.
8. Simply being a native English speaker goes a long way.
There are lots of opportunities for teaching English in Spain. If you’re a native speaker, the demand is even higher even though you have no previous experience or any relevant qualifications under your belt. They can learn grammar from Spanish teachers and I imagine they can teach it better since they have a much deeper insight into the challenges of learning a foreign language. But students and parents want more than that. They want to learn ‘natural English’, lose their accent and be able to converse in a real-world setting.
I’m working under a program called Auxiliares de conversación, where we assist Spanish teachers in teaching kids certain subjects in English. We correct their pronunciation, talk about our culture and simply encourage them to speak the language. A lot of their parents look for native teachers to help them with their home works, play with them or just be around them doing their daily activities.
9. Spain has some of the friendliest and warmest people I’ve ever met.
Strangers greet me “hola” or “buenas” while waiting at the bus stop. My neighbors also make small talk in the elevator and seal it with a “hasta luego” when they reach their floor. They voluntarily go all out to help out a guiri who doesn’t know where this bus is headed to.
10. You’re gonna find a new family, one way or another.
Loneliness might be the most common problem among expats. I understand that it’s something difficult to deal with but moving abroad wouldn’t be worth it if you couldn’t overcome it. You can start from the ground up. Build connections with your work colleagues, your flatmates, people you meet in bars or even FB groups. Thanks to technology, it’s way easier nowadays to find people whose wavelength matches yours. Slowly, you become a part of a community, a family.