Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Ten things I learned while living in Spain, in no particular order (Part I):

(Part II to follow)

     1)    Shop at local businesses and markets, as much as possible. In the beginning, we went to the supermarket a lot.  It was ok, but life really improved when I started going to the local market.  When I was trying to speak Spanish, this was also the greatest source of empowerment.  I could fail spectacularly to communicate in every other way, then go to the market.  As long as I could ask for a quarter-kilo of peanuts, I knew I could say something right.  Shopkeepers were also great sources of information about local events and customs. (Sometimes they were even mildly flirtatious... a compliment AND peanuts).
     2)    Home is whom you are with, not where you are. This was by far the hardest for me.  (I hinted at this here.)  I had days where I felt so far from home, only to realize that home was right there with me.   Jack and a certain little white dog were home.  As long as we were happy together, we were home in a way that no other place would be.  [I have so much respect for my friends who traveled alone and made a home solely through their new relationships, but for me home was a case of realizing what I had all along.]
    3)    Don’t be timid.  At first, I got pushed past and ignored a lot.  I got huffy and more assertive, eventually.  The results were amazing.  Outside the United States, and our culture of customer service, meaningful doe-eyes don’t get you very far.  I had to communicate my wants and needs out loud.  I always tried to be polite, but there was no need to be apologetic about it.  The same went for speaking the language.  I learned to hold my head up and try to get my point across, sometimes more than once.  I found people didn’t hate me for it.  They gave me respect and honest answers instead.
    4)    Set aside time to be a tourist, wherever you are. Living in Spain, I had this incredible opportunity to reach a level of comfort with the place. The flip side of this was that I stopped exploring.  Then I decided I could always explore, without feeling self-conscious.  Tourists should never be getting more enjoyment out of where I was than me.  Actually going to the tower/museum/street performance around the corner changed my whole perspective on the place I lived.
     5)    Attitude colors every experience, think accordingly.  When you live somewhere new, it’s easy to blame everything on the region/city/county.  You will have good and bad days wherever you are, but always striving to be positive makes the biggest difference. From experience, self-pity and bitterness will only leave you shivering IN a broken futon and bemoaning your life choices.  If things aren’t meeting your expectations, change your expectations, put on rosy lenses and kick yourself in the butt. Hard.   

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