Tag Archives: Spanish culture

Things I love about where I live (Part 1)

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Hola! So I know I’ve promised to tell you about all my recent travels, but I think I’ll save those for when I’m back (which is in a mere 3 weeks!?!) What I’d like to do is just give you random travel/culture/Spain/whatever posts until I leave, although I”ll certainly have some retrospective posts as well. Enjoy!

Things I love about Spain/La Rioja/Logroño (where I live)…part 1 of I don’t know how many.

(In no particular order)

1. Everyone is outside and social. I live in a flat above a bustling cafe/street of cafes, and whether it is monsoon-ing, freezing, boiling or what have you, there are people under the umbrellas outside on the “terazza.” There is never a time (outside of the wee hours of the night, and even then, sometimes) that I don’t see people out for a “paseo” or walk, sitting at a café, or just chatting on a park bench. It’s wonderful, it’s healthy and it’s just plain better than sitting inside alone in front of the TV or computer. (Hint hint, America). From babies in strollers to dogs to cute little older ladies linked arm in arm–it’s simply the norm to go out, get fresh air and say hello to your neighbors/friends/strangers. I go a little deeper into my observations of this lovely cultural norm here.

2. Ridiculously amazing Rioja wine (arguably, well, most commonly/famously referred to as the best in all of Spain). From the young ones to Crianza to Reserva and Gran Reserva, I’ve been able to sample them all. Que SUERTE yo tengo! (How lucky I am!) Most conveniently, they are also ridiculously cheap. Oh dear.

Bodegas bodegas everywhere!

3. Tapas/Pinchos/Pinxtos. All of them. Mouthwatering. Scrumptious. We’ve discussed this before.

Pinchoooooooooos!

4. How people say “hasta luego” (see you later) instead of goodbye. And not just to friends–to pretty much everyone, at least here in Logroño. It’s just better that way, somehow.

Lovely cliff/butte things near Nalda

5.The gorgeous rocky/craggy/jutting-into-the-sky geography of La Rioja. Add that to the rolling, terraced plots of vineyards, the lush forests and the winding Iregua River and you’ve got yourself some pretty fantastic landscape-eye-candy.

6. Café con leche. You may say it’s just coffee with milk or a fancy name for a latte, but I maintain that it is a sublime creation unmatched by anything in the U. S. And I’m not the only one. (See what I did there?)    🙂

7. Kids speaking Spanish. Kids are universally cute, but gosh darnit they are stinkin’ adorable when they’re babbling in español, especially the tiny ones.

8. People making an effort to look nice, even if they are only taking a walk, or going to the market. High heels for the grocery store might be a bit much, but I can appreciate the good intentions/motivation.

9. The two air-kisses (besos) instead of a handshake. Seriously. Say what you want about personal space, but I consider this custom to be 1000% warmer and more welcoming. See more of my thoughts on this here.

Flamenco in Sevilla=heaven.

10. Spanish guitar. Call me cheesy, but wow those artists are mad-talented. I could listen to it all day. And don’t even get me started on flamenco guitar/singing/dancing? Madre mía….I’m in love.

The famous bulls! The fact that they began from an advertising effort for Osborne sherry makes me like them even more (what can I say, I was an ad major!?)

11. The giant silhouettes of bulls on random hillsides throughout Spain. So dramatic and theatrical and….Spanish.

Heladdddoooooo

12. Helado (Ice cream) from this one shop in off the main square in Valencia. I know that helps you very little, but if you go there, just get ice cream a lot. I had mandarin and papaya and it might have been one of the most incredible ice cream moments of my life.

13. Trilling of the r’s. Don’t really know why. It also is unimaginably cute when little 4 year olds learning English trill out the r’s in green and red when practicing colors in my class. GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRREEEEN! RRRRRRRRRRRRREDDD!! Just picture it.

14. The laid-back “mañana” philosophy. (Which if you don’t know, means “tomorrow.” Which I bet you can guess what that philosophy means).

15. REBAJAS (Late winter sales). While it’s true that the weather is quite cold and not the most pleasant (at least in the north) from Jan-early March in Spain, at the same time there are also the most spectacular bargains you might have ever seen in the stores nation-wide. I definitely did my part to relieve the “crisis” during those months. And fill my suitcases.

15. The fascinating cultural diversity of Spain’s many distinct autonomous communities—1) the different languages other than Spanish spoken (Gallego (from Galicia); Catalan (from Cataluña); Euskera/Basque (from Basque Country/Euskadi); and other dialects. 2) the fantastically different geographic features…from forests to mountains to beaches to to plains to rich, green, lush Ireland-esque hills. 3) the vastly different cultures and traditions of every region and even some unique to each town.

16. Festivals. Fiestas. There is always a reason (usually a saint, pero bueno…) to celebrate, and I do not hold that against them. Also, the fact that any time is a good time to parade through the street with a marching band (even a few random dudes who just want an excuse to play their instruments), drumline, group of dancers, or giant statues. Or all four, as is usually the case.

San Mateo. Enough said.

17. Also on the note of fiesta-ing, the fantastic social life/night life in this country. As in you’re having dinner at 10, drinks at 11 or 12, out to the actual bars at 1, then to the discos at 4 or later. They go big or go home around here. One can even spot older men and ladies (I’m talking like 70s age here) out with a vino or a beer at 11 or 12!

Viva la vida Española.

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.

Un momento español…muy típico.

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Primero: Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve posted. Promise to fix that…tonight. Prepare for an onslaught of blog posts the likes of which you’ve never seen (well, actually you most likely have–but the dramatic phrasing seemed necessary).

Segundo: The post.

Ok, so let me preface this by saying I’m having preemptive separation anxiety from my adopted country and find myself wistfully saying “I’m going to miss this so much” once or more per day. I know. I haven’t even left yet and I’m already missing the place. In my defense, I am now doing my best to cherish and savor every one of these last moments I have here, which sometimes one tends not to do until they have a mere week or a few days left in a place. So for these last two and half months, I’m going to be doing a lot of enjoying of all this lovely country has to offer (more than usual, I think).  I know…rough life.

Step one of “Mission: Appreciate Spain” — re-develop that wonder-filled, starry-eyed awareness of a beautiful moment while you’re in it. Check. Moment in question? What I would call a “muy típico” (very typical) Spanish moment, from what I have seen of Spanish culture thus far: sitting outside a cafe, just drinking in the moment (and a cafe con leche) and enjoying a beautiful evening. Let me illuminate…and sadly this one moment I wanted to capture so badly in a photo, I didn’t have my camera on me, so words will just have to do.

The scene: sitting at a table outside a cafe in the Plaza Mercado, a very popular square  in old-town Logroño. It’s early evening, but with spring fully arrived and the time change just….a’changed, the sun is still shining enough to make the cathedral’s facade glow against the bluer-than-blue sky, as well as stretch the shadows of the people walking by (rhyme non-intended).  And yes,  it happens to be THAT cathedral, yes, that one where a certain someone got down on one knee in front of our friends and the whole plaza. And lucky for me, I have that someone sitting across from me, busily engaged booking hostels for our upcoming trip on his laptop and sipping on an espresso (cafe solo, as it’s ordered here). The air is a perfect cool-but-comfortable temp, just right for sipping a hot drink but that still makes you want to linger outside. The plaza is milling with people of all ages eager as I am to take in the last of the days lovely weather.

The soundtrack? A street performer strumming a tune out on his guitar at a nearby cafe mixed with the lively chatting of the paseo-takers. Paseo-ers. Paseo-adores. Pase-what, you might ask? Paseo. The evening walk taken by what seems like every man, woman, child and dog in our city, if not everywhere in Spain. The purpose? Any Spaniard would probably be offended at such a question. Why indeed would one need (or wonder about) the purpose of such a normal activity? But this is my favorite part about the moment I’m in. Watching this so authentically-Spanish tradition….the darling little older ladies walking arm in arm in their Sunday best (which until just recently was fur coats) or with their equally cute older man counter-part in his hat and cane (the latter purely for aesthetic/style purposes in many cases); the young-and-in-love ones holding hands and looking more at each other than their destination; the families with giggling/snoozing/cooing-child-filled strollers (these make up about 1 in 3 if not more); the occasional weather-worn, backpack-&-walking-stick-sporting pilgrim (a walk/bike/ride -er of the famous Camino del Santiago whose path runs through Logroño) and finally, the multitudes of dogs walking their masters (or the reverse? It’s hard to tell sometimes) from the tiniest of tea-cup types to the giant fluffy German shepherds…while often wearing the most surprising collection of dog clothing–from rain ponchos to sweaters to hoodies.  And the crescendo to this lovely reverie? The bells of the cathedral, swinging their little bell hearts out for what must be only the pleasure of the people in the plaza.

Needless to say, it is a lovely hour or so of sipping on my drink and simply relishing this moment of perfection. I once came across the phrase “il dolce far niente” or “the sweetness of doing nothing” in a book….supposedly a beloved Italian mantra, and I think the Spanish must surely subscribe to the same dogma. There is an art, of which many Americans (myself often included) cannot quite achieve and/or understand, of simply enjoying moments of sweet, perfect not-doing-anything-ness. It’s something I admire about Spanish culture and aspire to be able to do. Anyway. You get the picture, I hope.

I know I said I didn't get a picture, and I didn't....but I had to give you some sort of visual, at least of the cathedral in this sort of light... Photo source: http://bit.ly/HAio7r

Las cosas que me encantan: dos besos

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This is one of several posts in which I just want to talk about one of the many things that enchant me about Spain. (This happens to be one that I’m using to distract myself from the inevitable sadness and general mopiness I’m feeling [and going to be feeling more of] about having to say goodbye [for the time being] to a dear friend who’s going back to the United States tonight) but ANYWAY. Back to the point…today I’m talking about one of the many aspects of Spanish culture that I adore. Which would that be?

Besos. The way people greet one another in Spain is something I’m kind of fascinated by…and in love with. Now before you start thinking I’m a total creeper, just listen. When people meet each other they give each other “dos besos”  or one air kiss on both cheeks, that is, when a man meets a woman or a woman meets a woman…don’t think men ever do this to one another, but perhaps they might in family situations or with a dear dear friend (anyone care to give me the facts on that one?). It’s not a real kiss, and you don’t even have to touch the other person, though usually one brushes one’s cheek against the other’s during the action. For some reason, I just love it. There is something incredibly warm and inviting about giving people “besos” that kind of puts shaking hands to shame. Of course, I’m sure there are times when even Spanish people shake hands, but I haven’t yet been in that situation.

Ok, yes, I am American and therefore that makes me automatically very attached to my own personal bubble, which in some cases, yes I am. I don’t really care to have someone talk to me in normal conversation one to two inches from my face, no, but this particular way of greeting doesn’t bother me. On the contrary, I prefer it.  It goes for introductions (of which there are always so many in a  new place like this, and especially with lots of young people around) it goes for greetings for friends/family/acquaintances, as well as for goodbyes, whether for the night or for many days/months/years. I know some people do this already in the U.S. and to them I probably seem rather idiotic by the novelty of this, but in Nebraska, you’re usually not kissing ANYONE unless it’s your significant other, your grandma or a small child. That said, I’m really fascinated by nonverbal communication, and to me, the besos are an interesting illustration of the haptic (or touch) aspect of Spanish nonverbal communication culture.

It’s been fun adopting this new part of Spanish culture that is so different from that of Americans. As I’ve said before, I try to “do as the Spanish do” as much as I can within reason, and I pretty much give the “besos” to anyone new I meet. It’s gotten to be extremely normal between friends and people I know well, but for some reason it initially seemed a smidge awkward with people I work with, for instance when meeting the jefe de estudios (basically, principal) at my school, but it really shouldn’t have been, as it’s quite the norm regardless of your relationship with the new person you’re meeting. It’s definitely become second nature to me, now, though.

The tricky part, I’ve found, is when you’re meeting Americans or other non-besos-inclined persons while in Spain.

I’ve had many an awkward lean-in-to-air-kiss-but-then-they-don’t-as-well-so-I-don’t-know-how-to-respond-and-it-ends-up-in-an-even-more-awkward-“ok-then-we’ll-just-shake-hands-then”-moment with Americans, Canadians and people from other countries. It’s not that it’s a bad thing to not want to do the besos, but it definitely makes for awkwardness when one does and the other doesn’t intend to, jaja. Perhaps some Americans here just don’t do it at all, out of feeling uncomfortable or feeling weird about the closeness with strangers, I’m not sure.

I was staying in a hostel in Sevilla and was introduced to one young employee by another who said they would know something about finding a good flamenco show. I instinctively did the besos after exchanging names, though he sort of hesitated.

‘Oh dangit, what cultural faux pas did I commit now’ I was thinking to myself and the guy must have seen my reaction, because he pretty much read my mind and said, “No, no, it’s no problem. I’m just not used to Americans giving besos. I was just caught by surprise. You’ve traveled a bit, haven’t you?” (To my delight, as this to me, was a sign of me NOT sticking out like a sore thumb/American/tourist, which is always my intention.)

Anyway, enough of my ramblings about how much I love the Spanish method of greeting. One last petition to any Americans/other not-as-touchy-cultures: can we all just do the besos when we are in Spain? It would make for so many less awkward, first-kiss-esque, face bumping, unfortunate greetings. Gracias.

But what do you think? Do as the locals do, or “get-the-you-know-what-out-of-my-face/space”?

See? It's not so bad, people. Just an air kiss.