Part of getting to know people that live in another country is learning the basic interactions that friends and acquaintances use. In this column and on my blog, I am trying to focus on the differences between visiting a country and really getting to know what people and culture are like beyond the presentation. One of the things that has been a joy to learn, is how emotional and affectionate most Spaniards tend to be to those they know.
When our family took a trip to Madrid last month, we stayed near Puerta de Sol. It is the central square for gatherings, protests, walking tours, and the symbolic center of Spain. Puerta de Sol is lined with the historic Old Post Office and clock, that is now used as a government building. It is a fitting location to serve as the equivalent of New York's Times Square on New Year's Eve (or Nocheviejo in Spain, meaning "old night."). On this night, the square is still filled with Christmas lights, the large metal Christmas Tree and, along with the streets extending from the square, can accommodate thousands of people.
When I was growing up, I remember studying some form of "Christmas Around the World" almost every year in December. Whatever book or video we happened to be looking at showed the ways different Christian countries celebrate Christmas. The focus was usually on gift giving traditions, since that's what kids are primarily focused on. I remember these stories and pictures seem so far away and exotic compared to what we habitually celebrated in the United States.
Even though Barcelona and Madrid are usually the first stops in Spain for travelers, we did it backwards. Travel during our first few months in Spain has focused on smaller cities with mostly historical significance and many historic sites, such as Sevilla, Toledo, and Granada. So, when we headed to Madrid last week over the Feast of the Immaculate Conception holiday, I was overwhelmed by the energy and crowds. First, we learned that the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is a big deal in Spain. It is the day the Roman Catholics (meaning almost all Spaniards) celebrate the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary. In non-religious terms, it is also the day that kicks off the Christmas season, so people are ready to get out and look at lights, go out to dinner and clubs, and start their shopping. I became aware of how popular this holiday is when I tried to extend our Madrid stay and every single hotel in Madrid was booked. That's a lot of hotel rooms.
It's been a while since I've posted a blog because, after being her for five months, life takes over. I suppose it is interesting in itself that I don't feel like rushing to write something after everything that happens here. In fact, things are starting to feel rather ordinary. My sister came to visit in October and I tried to remember how things looked to me when we first got here. Now, that we are acclimating, it's good to keep paying attention to differences before we forget what they are.
My daughter, Celia, has always wanted a cat. But, nobody else in our family likes them. We're basically a dog family that likes to birdwatch. I would do it just to make my daughter happy, but I would say my husband and son border on cat haters. So, given our present family dynamics, getting a cat just isn't in the cards. Imagine our surprise when on the first day in our new house in Spain, a cat sat and watched us on our back porch. My daughter was elated. She saw a possible future of having a Spain cat. Even though the cat ran away when she approached it, there was still hope.
Paella is the main dish of Valencia. Even though other parts of Spain serve it, it originated here. The rice produced in Valencia is a wonderful short-grain rice that is flavorful and creamy. When making paella, the key is to have the rice become crusty on the bottom and soft on top. Although cooking in Spain is squarely in the woman's domain, paella is a manly dish. It could be considered a contact sport for cooking. Men are very competitive about their paella. It is somewhat akin to barbecuing in the United States. To be true paella, it must be cooked over a fire. And, I have heard women talking about rice dishes that look exactly like paella, but they say
In Spain, Halloween is a confusing holiday. In fact, it is not really a holiday and many people here have asked me why we celebrate it in the United States and what it means. Inquiries like this cause me to question more and more many American traditions, which are often a melting pot of immigrant traditions blended together throughout our country's short 200 plus years. With the exception of celebrations of nationalism like Thanksgiving and the 4th of July, most of our holidays are a commercialized version of something brought to us from elsewhere. In the case of Halloween, it came to the US from Ireland in the form of their traditional celebration, Samhain.
My daughter and I just participated in our first Spanish birthday party, an event much anticipated by kids and talked about by moms. I am now on a WhatsApp chat for mothers of children in the third grade. It is a wonderful way to practice Spanish because the conversations are all in Spanish. Even though the children are sent to the American School to learn English, many of the parents don't speak it, or are working on it.
Just because you are living in another country, doesn't mean you can ignore the mundane things that make up life. After about a month, this reality hits and you have to begin addressing challenges such as getting your hair cut, filling prescriptions, getting a new battery put in your watch, buying a new pair of glasses, etc. These are the things that are easy in America, but take quite a bit of research in Spain. In Puzol, most businesses don't have websites, so we haven't quite figured out how to find out about the places to go. We spend half of our "research" time just walking the streets until we find a place that meets our needs.
Sally and her family have moved to Spain for a year starting July 2017. They are living in a little town called Puzol, which is about 12km north of Valencia. Her kids, Carson and Celia, are attending the American School of Valencia, an International School located in Puzol. The goal for the whole family is to experience another way of life, and learn Spanish. This blog tracks their travels and experiences.