Tag Archives: living abroad

The Art of Lingering

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Hola folks!

It’s a rainy Saturday, and thus I have found myself FINALLY with time to sit down and write a bit. Forgive me for the long absence (again)!

It has been so fascinating learning about and experiencing Spanish culture during the time that I have been here…sampling the food and wine; hearing new music; learning about the country’s history, its many unique regions and their respective cultures,  family roles and norms, the environments in the workplace and in schools, etc., but one of my favorite things has been simply observing the way people in Spain live their normal, day-to-day lives.

While living abroad, you often find yourself comparing, consciously or unconsciously, the country where you’re from to the one you’re in. Depending on your feelings about both countries, this can be a wonderfully mind-opening and thought-provoking experience, or it can just make you yearn for/despise one country or the other. For me, it’s been interesting–I’ve had my eyes opened  to a lot of the flaws of my own country and ways we could improve life for our people, but I’m still proud of some things we do perhaps better, but at least differently, than they do here.

That said, among the many things I love about the Spanish people, their  remarkable ability to “linger” is one of my favorites. Coming from a country of fast-paced, lunch-at-your-desk/in-the-car/as-you-walk/etc, coffee in your to-go cup, there’s-a-drive-through-for-anything, run-run-run culture, Spain was a lovely change of pace. While I get that “moderation is key,” and there are times when this impressive talent might be the source of some problems (and certainly frustration to those who aren’t used to it), we Americans have a thing or two to learn from the Spanish about slowing down and enjoying things. 

To me, an ubiquitous image in the U.S. is that of someone sipping from a “to-go” coffee cup. Now, it is true that I don’t live in Madrid or Barcelona or another bustling metropolis of Spain, so if you do, I’d love to hear if this phenomenon is the same there. However, here one simply does not see ANYONE drinking their coffee anywhere but at a table in cafe (or on la terrazza, more likely) or in their home or basically anywhere but “on the run.” It’s just not done. Coffee is for drinking, enjoying, lingering over…usually while having good conversation or at LEAST reading the morning paper. I recently found out that to-go cups (“para llevar” in Spanish) do, in fact, exist, but NO ONE uses them. I got a fair amount of stares when I grabbed a quick café solo “para llevar” on my way to work one morning and have never done so again since. Same goes for eating an apple or a cereal bar while I´m walking somewhere. Super normal in the U.S., evidently very strange here.

But the lingering-mania doesn’t stop there. It happens over tapas (quite an accomplishment, as these don’t really take long to devour), over a glass of wine, over ice cream, over chocolate con churros, certainly over meals (I’ll get to that in a sec) even over a Coke! (That one is strange on my part. To me, the most common mental image I have of drinking a soft drink is in a paper fast-food cup with a plastic lid, or in a resealable plastic bottle at a desk or in the car, not opened fresh from a glass bottle and poured over ice into a glass-made-of-actual-glass, to be enjoyed by itself or with a small dish of potato chips, as is often how its served here).

Don’t get me going on their lingering-over-meal abilities. Whether its a barbacoa (BBQ), a multi-course sit down meal (which are definitely more common than in the U.S., I think), or even snacks brought to the workplace celebrate a colleague’s birthday, it is never an eat-and-go affair. You sit. You talk. You enjoy the food. You comment on the the excellent ability of the chef.  You actually TASTE the food (as opposed to the way some Americans wolf things down). You enjoy some wine (I would say in 8 of 10 meals, for adults of course, wine makes an appearance. Ok maybe I’m exaggerating, but it seems that way). You have dessert or coffee. Usually both. I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing several traditional Spanish dinners with my colleagues at one of the schools where I teach, and I delightedly discovered the way a “simple” dinner unfolds: wine and bread or a bit of something small; small appetizer/tapa type things—sometimes vegetables, other times complicated, but snack-sized creations; the “primer plato” of light-ish fare, the “segundo plato” of usually a meat or fish with a few vegetables; a dessert; a shot of liquor or a small cocktail (I once lucked out with a fruity, spiked sorbet); and finally, coffee (which one certainly needs after all that food). And that’s just the food! The conversation continues far longer than the food lasts, which is quite a while. Goodbyes (and the general deciding-to-leave/leaving process) even are a full, drawn-out affair.

While I’ll admit I’ve had a moment or two of impatience with this practice on occasion, as a rule, I have to subscribe to this way of doing things over the more concise, time-effective American way. We need this reminder more often. We´re too far gone it seems to even “stop and smell the roses.” Baby steps…How about “stop and taste that apple,” or “stop and enjoy your coffee”? (Maybe we would be more cognizant of what we’d eat, then, and not eat so much, haha).

This is a lot of rambling on a very trivial detail, but to me, this little characteristic of Spanish culture is a very telling one. It speaks to their ability to drink in the moment, to truly appreciate food and drink; and to really savor time with the people around them. We could all take a leaf from their book.

Until next time, amigos–

Besos!

Doing our best to embrace the “lingering lifestyle” over coffee and tortilla at our favorite cafe in Parque del Carmen.

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Travel lessons/truths learned…(Vol. I)

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I don’t claim to be the most seasoned traveler out there, but I’ve had the marvelous fortune of being able to travel sporadically throughout Spain and Europe during the last 8 months of living in this beautiful country. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned….some gems from fellow travelers or friends that’ve saved my skin; some learned on my own—more often than not, the hard way.

In no particular order (and my apologies for the utter randomness…also, some of these photos are related to the post below, others are just randomosity):

1. Umbrellas. You will never regret bringing one along. Maybe you can really rock the drenched-cat look, but as for me, it’s not a pretty picture.

Don’t hate the rain…just be prepared. Umbrellas can turn into fun photo-opps!

2. A smile, a laugh, a small act of kindness—they transcend language and cultural barriers. We’re all people. Despite our differences, there are some things that most everyone understands.

3. Layers. You read this all the time, but it really is a tried-and-true travel “clothing” tip. Wear ’em, pack ’em, do whatever you need to do. My favorite trick is to bring a fleece jacket along in my backpack wherever I travel during the non-summer months, as it does triple duty: extra layer of warmth under a jacket or raincoat; pillow on the plane/bus/train; cozy hang-out wear in a chilly hostel or hotel at night. Also leggings. They might be my very best travel friend. Wear ’em as long underwear (under jeans), under a long shirt for bed, throw ’em in your purse for under your skirt or dress when the night turns cold. And they take up SO little backpack/suitcase space. (Obviously girl-tips on clothing topic. Sorry dudes. You get it easy in this area, so you don’t need my help).

4. On the packing train of thought….my mantra? Five words: pack light and be creative. Tanks, basic t’s (long-sleeved and short, fitted), one or two pairs of neutral pants, a dress/skirt, one or two scarves, one or two pairs of shoes and your outfit combos seem endless! Another favorite mix-and-match packing item is a short-ish black cotton skirt. I can wear it with nearly every top I bring and in nearly every weather. Scarves are fantastic, functional and can mix up any outfit. They also happen to be my favorite souvenir….and/or travel purchase addiction.

5. No matter what you hear about this city or that country, there are good and bad people everywhere. Just like in your city/country. You might get swindled, or you might just experience the most incredible hospitality/warmth/generosity you’ve ever known. Call me an idealist, an incurable optimist or just plain naive, but the good people are a lot more common. Just sayin’.

Tip number 6,a : Seize the moment (and/or opportunity). If Spanish guitarists ask you to join them in a tapas-bar-serenade, do so.

6. That said, it’s never good to be oblivious to your surroundings. Be smart. Pay attention to what’s going on around you and look confident in what you’re doing/where you’re going (even if you’re not). Don’t wave your map around in the air like a flag with your purse hanging open and your passport sticking out of your back pocket like a gibbering idiot. Then you’re just asking for it.

7. If you ever have the choice of eating at a restaurant or having a meal at someone’s home, ditch the restaurant. There will ALWAYS be restaurants. Never pass up the opportunity to receive the (offered) generosity/hospitality of another human being.  You have the chance at getting to know another person(or getting to know him or her further); warm conversation; an insight to their lives/culture and an experience that is completely and utterly unique. Not to mention the food is most-likely going to be unbelievably good, and if you’re in another country, different than what you’ve ever tasted before. Some of the most wonderful memories I’ve had this year have been while enjoying a simple meal and good conversation with friends (old or new).

8. For those of you weekends-of-intense-spurts-of-traveling-at-a-time folks (like those of us on this program in Spain): It can be tempting to go long and hard every day you’ve got, trying to make the most of every moment in your exciting new location with the time you have. But sometimes you just need to sit down and have a coffee. Or sit in a nice square and enjoy the sun/shade. Or go back to the hostel and nap. You might feel like you’re wasting precious time at the moment (like I always seem to) but you’ll thank yourself later when you are fresh and ready to go later on (and happier/drier/with less-aching-feet/etc) and not crabby and wanting to collapse. Plus, you’ll get to thoroughly enjoy your city/location by night, which is nearly always as interesting/beautiful or moreso.

Coffee breaks=wonderfulness. Especially by the sea!

9. Don’t be THAT tourist. Don’t get me wrong: when you travel, you’re a tourist, no matter how well- traveled you are. But there are ways to be good ones, and certainly ways to be bad ones. The list of how to be the bad ones is endless, but one in particular stands out continuously to me—if you’re marveling at a church, temple, mosque, burial ground or other holy place…show some respect. It’s easy to get excited about the grandiose features, awe-inducing structure or what have you, but loud talking/shouting,  flippant comments and otherwise disrespectful behavior are just plain rude. Come on, folks. You’re better than that.

10. Use the bathroom before you leave. You learned this when you were 5. It is even more important now. Finding (decent) restrooms while sightseeing but not having to buy a sandwich every time you use one=skill.

More (a lot more) to come as I think of them/discover them.

Much love to you all & safe travels!

Besos,

Brianne

Finding your happy (and healthy) place: exercising abroad

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Fitness. Working out… on a travel blog? Random. I know. But just follow me here for a bit.

Let me preface this whole thing by saying that I am not, nor am claiming to be a workout guru/serious marathoner/hardcore yoga-ite/other sort of uuber-workout individual. No offense to those people, as they are pretty fantastic and disciplined to do those things, but I think this is an important point to make. Yeah, I’m a moderately active person, but that’s mostly in the form of  some pretty casual running (and by casual I mean only in nice weather and not for crazy long distances) and going to the gym for classes or a bit of weight room time. A few times a week.  Nothing major.

Going abroad changes your workout scene. Oftentimes you can replicate the routine you had back home, but sometimes it’s a little more difficult.  I chose not to join a gym here solely for money/convenience reasons, but  luckily I’ve found other ways to stay active. To be honest, though, for the first few months, I didn’t do a darn bit of “intentional exercise” (by that I mean, the only activity I did, really, was walk to work—about 40 minutes to an hour each day). While that, perhaps, may have kept me from GAINING all kinds of weight from the tapa/wine/kebab heavy diet I started to have, it definitely didn’t get me “in shape.” After lots of trial and error and lots of slacking, little by little I’ve gotten back into a fitness routine. It’s taken a while, though.

Like I said in the title, you just have to find your “happy place.” For me, and I would think for lots of you out there, you have to be realistic and find something you at least enjoy doing a little bit, otherwise you just won’t stick to it. Finding a good exercise routine (or getting back into one) can be a great way to help yourself adjust to a new environment while living abroad (routine is SO important), help keep your stress levels down, and keep you healthy, which is always good. Looking good for the locals is a nice side effect. 😉 

Let me just cut to the chase and share what’s been working for me.

-Exercise bands. Cheap (maybe 10 euros for 3) easy and a relatively good way of getting some strength/resistance training into your workout, which I read again and again is so important. Also LIGHT. Major plus for Miss lack-of-adequate-suitcase-space-and-its-only-getting-worse, over here.

-Running outside. I specifically say outside, because for me, the outdoors element is what motivates me. I’m one of those people who crave sunshine and fresh air and nature, so going out and running is the perfect combo for me. Maybe you’re one of those who loves watching your favorite TV series while on the treadmill, but for me, the outdoors is where it’s at. It refreshes, energizes and revitalizes me. It’s therapy and a workout. My happy place. I love it. (I’m also lucky enough to be only few city blocks from a gorgeous park with a rushing river running through it. Man I’ve got it rough.)

-The occasional yoga/Pilates/cardio workout video. I’m going to be real with you all here. I have a helluva time sticking with workout videos. But after a while of guilting myself for skipping so much, I just went with the flow instead of fighting it. I get it—I’ve got commitment issues with workout videos. But these days I seem to be more receptive (read: actually do said videos) if I just sprinkle them in every now and then for variety. Lesson learned? Do what actually works for you, not what you THINK you should be doing.

-Sometimes just not “working out” at all. Admittedly I am not one of those people who on their weekend/holiday travels, finds a local gym or goes running at 5 a.m. I count those as my “vacations” from my regular workout schedule, but to be honest I’m usually walking an average of 6+ hours a day on those travel weekends. So I give myself some slack on those. Call me lazy, I call myself realistic. But also lazy.

And what about you? I’d love to hear from other expats/folks living abroad, but also to any of you who moved to a new place and had to re-figure out your workout routine. What’s worked? What’s failed? 

Annnnndddd I happened upon this fantastic video the other day, which sparked the idea for this blog post, which you NEED to watch. It will just make you smile, and then maybe want to go do push-ups on the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland, jump rope in the middle of downtown Shanghai, or do jumping jacks on the edge of a canyon in South Africa. Much love to NerdFitness for this gem.