Hi ya’ll! (I tried to stop being a ‘you guys’ guy, and became a ‘ya’ll’ guy instead. Life is but sweet irony.)
This is the third installment of my expat series in which I talk about living in Spain as a Finn. For the first part, click here, and for the second part, click here. For my last expat series about living in Poland, click here.
December 24, Monday.
Spanish thing: Christmas but lol, not really
This was the third Christmas I’ve spent away from home. In 2012, I helped my Irish flatmate cook a stuffed chicken in Tasmania, Australia; and in 2016, I had orange juice and champagne for breakfast in London, England. Both countries celebrate on Christmas Day instead of the Eve like we do in Finland, so when I found out that Spain also had their own thing going on, it wasn’t too weird.
In fact, Spanish people don’t traditionally celebrate the birth of the Christ but the arrival of the three wise men. The Dia de los Reyes Magos (The day of the three wizard kings – now that’s something I can get onboard with!) is celebrated on the 6th of January. On Christmas Eve, they might have a family dinner, but presents are only given on the 6th. However, because Coca-Cola Santa has conquered the world more thoroughly than the British in the 19th century, many Spanish families now give presents on both Christmas Day and Three Kings’ Day.
My Christmas was so busy I didn’t even have a chance to miss home. I started the day by guiding a hike to the Sierra Nevada national park, then rushed back home to cook a Christmas dinner for our staff members and a dozen hungry guests. In true Spanish fashion, we had a lavish spread of simple but tasty: tapas and salad, bread, pumpkin curry (like, so Spanish) and flan for dessert, all washed down with a bit of cheap champagne.
Oh, and I stayed the rest of the night at the reception because someone had thought it would be necessary to keep it open all night on holidays. Spoiler alert: nothing happened all night. By the time I dragged myself to bed at seven the next morning, I had pretty much been working for 20 hours straight.
No ragrets though. Merry Christmas!
January 1, Tuesday. 2019!!!!!
Spanish thing: Happy New Year!
I can’t believe it’s 2019 already. 2018 lasted like two months!
As it got close to midnight, we gathered on the rooftop terrace of the hostel. Even Nacho, our night guy, abandoned his post to join us for a bit. (Luckily, since I worked during Christmas, I could get New Year’s off – which happens to be my favourite holiday.) We were given plastic cups full of grapes.
The Spanish New Year’s tradition is to start the year by near choking to death. (Then again in Finland we used to melt tin, so… That’s also kinda dangerous.) You have to eat 12 grapes during the last 12 seconds of the old year for good luck. It’s a televised event that we almost missed because the iPad malfunctioned; but our bar dude Adrian pulled the broadcast up on his phone, and he held it high above his head, counting down the seconds in time with the booming clock.
Oh shit, I didn’t hear the first one! I have never eaten grapes so quickly in my life but I did manage. NOW COME AT ME GOOD LUCK. WHERE YOU AT.
As I swallowed the last grape and the clock struck midnight, fireworks started going off around the city. They might have been modest but they still made me tear up, remembering all the times I’d stood watching them as a child with my dad; and now here, thinking about everything that was yet to come.
We toasted with champagne until the bottle was empty, and then we went out to dance.
January 8, Tuesday.
Spanish thing: The good life
I originally chose to come to Spain not only to learn the language but because I thought I would like the culture, and most things I have seen so far have supported my original thesis. I love Spanish food and the tapas culture in Granada. I love how friendly the people are, and how warmly I have been accepted as a part of their groups. I love the fact that life here starts later in the day and continues well into the night.
And I love the weather! Even when it’s cold, I rarely feel cold. (‘Yeah, but you’re Finnish’, all my Spanish friends would say, rolling their eyes.) And even when it is cold (Pt.II), it’s still sunny. I have noticed a clear difference in my mood: comparing with how I feel in Spain in the winter and in Finland in the winter, I am much happier here.
I love Spain!
Of course I’m in a very privileged position to be able to say that. The economy in Spain is still pretty bad even ten years after the recession, and Andalucia is one of the regions where the economic growth has still not returned to where it once was.
I’m one of the few people at the hostel who seems to be happy with the working conditions. That’s probably because I work minimal hours, I don’t have to worry about rent, and I have side income from my translation work. Meanwhile, my workmates are struggling on a pay of less than five euros per hour in a stressful, thankless job.
The other day, I was talking with one of my colleagues about my love for the Spanish culture.
‘I think Spanish people are sad inside’, she said, her hand resting on her chest. ‘We seem happy on the outside but on the inside, we’re not doing that well.’
‘At least it’s still better than Finland, we’re full-body depressed there’, I quipped, but that only evoked a small smile from her.
I wondered if I she was talking about the Spanish in general or just about herself.
January 14, Monday.
Spanish thing: The unbearable difficulty of getting a doctor’s appointment.
So last week I went to my local health centre to get an appointment with a specialized doctor. (Relax, I’m not dying. Well, I mean we are all slowly drifting towards the bottomless void of death but I’m not dying, like, immediately.) To get an appointment with a specialized doctor, you have to get a referral from a medico at your local health centre. I called up the clinic I thought was the closest one to me but they directed me to another one.
At least I think so. The woman on the other end had a very Andalucian accent and she didn’t really try to accommodate someone who’s stupid in Spanish.
Last week, I had to run up the street to get a photocopy of my passport and European health care card (since I don’t have actual health insurance… Should I get one of those? Oops) before they could assign me to a doctor. Who would see me next Monday. Like, almost a week later.
If I was actually dying but just embarrassed to say so, I might be in trouble.
So today I showed up for my appointment. It literally took the jovial old doctor three minutes to figure out what I wanted and write me a referral to the specialist I needed. Easy breezy. I waltzed back to the reception desk where the guy ran my referral through the system.
And then he said the fateful words.
‘You’ll be getting the date and time of your appointment by mail in 3 to 5 months.’
Excuse me? By mail???
Excuse me? Did you say THREE TO FIVE MONTHS??
I politely asked him to cancel. Oh well, guess it’s time to start looking into private health care.
January 17, Thursday.
Spanish thing: Working with Spanish people (and the rest of the world)
As I moved to Spain, I braced for a cultural shock that never fully came. I joke, but the truth is that the Spanish society is way more organised and well run than many other places I have travelled to – India, Bolivia, Peru, Italy. And whatever I was expecting form the fabled over-friendliness of the Spanish, it was nothing compared to the time my Essex ex introduced me to his sister and she flew at me to kiss me on the cheek. I legit flinched. I had no clue Essex girls do that.
So, strangely (?), working with our Spanish staff hasn’t proven to be much of a problem. Unlike our Spanish guests. Well, problem might be a little bit strongly worded. In Spain, it seems like a lot of kids grow up slowly and don’t become independent as early as, say, people in the Nordic countries. They also don’t backpack much. They usually arrive at the hostel in semi-large groups with unmanaged expectations, causing extra trouble for the staff. They usually hang out in their own groups and don’t participate in any of the events that the hostel organizes, which doesn’t really do that well when we’re trying to create a backpacker-friendly atmosphere. But I don’t blame them; if you haven’t backpacked before, you wouldn’t really know how to act in a backpacker’s hostel.
Hostel culture is still somewhat foreign to many Spaniards, and we often get calls from families or couples trying to book a private after they’ve mixed us up with a hostal, a Spanish version of a cheap hotel or a motel.
I get along with our non-Spanish staff as well. Even though I got into an argument with our Polish tour guide the other day. He threw out the box we had set up for a clothes exchange. All good, though, we made up and he offered me a few more hikes to guide in March.
Working in a multicultural environment has its own challenges. If someone seems rude to you, it might be their culture speaking; the Finnish, in general, are pretty straight-forward, and last year I accidentally offended my Italian boss by being, well, Finnish. At the same time, it’s kinda dangerous to label people just by your cultural assumptions. First of all, rude (and possibly slightly racist). Second of all, sometimes people just are like that, without any excuse at all.
January 21, Monday.
Spanish thing: Intercambio de lenguas
Hi, my name is Elina. I’ve been in Spain for three months now and my Spanish is crap.
There are so many excuses. I work mostly in English – talking with guests at the hostel, writing this blog and translating. I try to absorb as much Spanish as I can by reading books and news in Spanish, but it’s still not enough. Immersion is not enough to learn a language unless you are, actually, putting conscious effort into learning.
So I joined every Facebook group that I could find and managed to join a language exchange group. We met for the first time today and it was fun – I think we’ll have another meeting next week. Two Spanish girls, two English ones, and this one Finnish oddball showed up.
And to my credit, I managed to only order a frappe even though the cakes on display looked DELICIOUS. When’s a good time to inform new acquaintances on your cheesecake addiction? Asking for a friend.
January 22, Tuesday.
Spanish things: Carlos Ruiz Zafron
Ever since the wifi gave out for a few days last week, I’ve liked to divide my working time between the hostel and various coffee shops with the local library. They have a big study hall lined with dark wood tables and rows of students crouched on top of thick three-ring bingers and sleek laptops. It is the perfect working environment for someone like me who severely lacks self-discipline in places where I could just go, ‘Well, I’m sure one more episode of Community won’t hurt!’
I’m the greatest freelancer that ever lived.
Anyway, since coming to the library, I noticed their collection isn’t actually half bad. Lemme tell you: libraries are cultural treasure coves and I pray they never go redundant.
I got my library card today and used it immediately to borrow an optimistically big pile of books that I have to bring back in two weeks. I’ve only managed to finish one and half books all month so far but hey, you can always try, right.
Anyway, anyone got suggestions on good Spanish authors?
January 23, Wednesday.
Spanish thing: The aftermaths of sangria
I met a guy last weekend. I think I got a little crush on him. And I was a bit sad when he didn’t text me back for a couple of days.
Then I started looking at the map and planning thousand-mile hikes and Central Asian adventures and working on horse farms on Israel and suddenly I wasn’t sad anymore.
‘I’m never getting a boyfriend’, I declared to a friend later. ‘He’d just tell me not to walk across Spain alone or something stupid like that.’
Honestly? I’m not even sure if I had a crush on the guy or if he was just good looking.
Join me next time to find out answers to such exciting questions like will we get a new clothes donation box? am I going to sing a romantic karaoke duet with an enigmatic stranger at a New Year’s party and fall in love? how much more can I talk about the weather before they cast me as the new meteorologist of Spanish Metro News One?
*Arnold voice* Hasta la vista, baby. (Which, since Spain dubs all their TV and movies, in Spanish goes: Sayonara, baby.)