One of the things that has most surprised me about Spain is the difference concerning masculinity. I know there is a stereotype about Spanish men being macho, but in my experience has been pretty much untrue. What instead has, and continues to shock (and delight) me, is the degree to which Spanish men (and boys) will do things, without batting an eye, that their counterparts in the states wouldn’t be caught dead doing because “that’s so gay”, or as their more pc counterparts would say: “….” (nothing, but you don’t see any American men doing these things). It’s so great to see a culture that is not hung up on this sort of thing.

Wait, before I get to the examples, I am already thinking of the awesomely weird and varied set of friends, male and female, that I have in the States. And how they’re probably going to read this and say “Hey! I know guys who wear pink!” or “I’ve even worn a dress before!”. So maybe this doesn’t apply as well when compared to my years at the Quite Liberal College, or living in Portland. This very well might not apply to you. So here’s my disclaimer to hopefully bolster my claims of shock and delight: the dudes I know here in Spain are pretty damn normal. Not the type you would look at and say “I could convince him to put a dress on for Halloween”.  They climb mountains. They drink, smoke, curse up a storm….. a lot. They work construction. They drive trucks. They scream in punk bands (all my friends have screamy punk bands, but you’d never know it by looking at them). My city is, unfortunately, rather normal. If you dress even slightly freaky, you will get gawked at.

That being said, here are the things I gawk at that guys do, though are perfectly normal here:

*Purple and pink, while apparently went through/is going through a fashion phase in the States, has always been in fashion here for guys. T-shirts, socks, underwear, pants, jackets, hiking boots (!), I’ve seen guys sporting it in many forms. And again, I emphasize, non-ironically! (Irony doesn’t exist here, more to come on that later if I can ever wrap my head about that). It’s one of my friend’s self-proclaimed favorite colors, and the color of his room some of his clothes/socks (yes, you heard me, socks).

*Man purses are totally acceptable. So are fanny packs, though that’s more of a punk or hippy thing. I was once on a trip with a guy and he forgot his purse. So we went and bought another one at the start of a trip.

*Itty-bitty coffee cups – probably the reason that wonderful European coffee hasn’t caught on in the same way in the States (take that shot and dump it into my giant cup of coffee, please) is that besides the fact that everything that both American men and women drink has to be huge, men wouldn’t be caught dead drinking from a tiny ceramic cup. I just couldn’t picture it! I think the biggest mind-trip I had regarding this subject, was at a bar with my friend after a hike. There he was across from me, wearing a purple t-shirt and delicately sipping from his teeny coffee cup. If he was in middle America, he’d be toast. Yet this is one of the most hardcore dudes I know – not long after that he ran a marathon. In the mountains. Which was his first. That he didn’t train for. He got caught up talking to a friend and started to race late. He got seventh place, then proceeded to party till 5am.

* Physical/verbal affection among male friends is also commonplace. General proximity and even hugs are more common here, and there is no Spanish equivalent for “no homo”. Typical in all conversations, Spanish men will often send a verbal “hug” to their friend when hanging up the phone. My heart just about melted when, during a class outside during summer camp, two 12 year old boys made themselves comfortable on the grass with one of them laying their head on the others lap. Nobody said a word, nobody pointed/laughed/teased like would have happened. Nobody made judgments about their sexuality. I LOVE SPAIN!

The Joy of Eating Real Food

For those of you that know me, especially those of you who have known me in the US, know that I am a super-lazy cook. My diet in the States included a significant amount of processed food due to budget constraints, laziness, and the fact that I just liked eating stuff like powdered cheese with pasta noodles and fake toaster “waffles”.

Well, pretty much all that has changed since I moved to Spain. I did get spoiled for the first month, living with friends whom I shared healthy meals with everyday. Then, when I was out on my own, I developed my own diet, and was shocked to find that I had left processed foods nearly completely out. How? Well it wasn’t through intention – I was making the same effort as I had in the States, to eat cheap and easy foods. But guess what? Processed foods hardly exist in Spain, and when they do – they’re expensive.

So while ramen costs the equivalent of $3.00 a package, I can get fixins for a delicious spinach salad with bonito tuna for that price. Chili is nearly $4 USD a can – you can bet I ain’t eating that anymore. Instead I can get some of the best ground beef (mm, meat without a tons of hormones, you will notice the difference), spaghetti sauce (ok, I do buy that pre-made, but for only $1 and it’s so tasty, you bet!) fresh mushrooms, onions, garlic, and make a great meal. For dessert? Ice cream – forget it. I can’t even remember how much it costs on average, but I recently saw a Haagen Dazs and it was about $9USD. I’d rather have a kilo of the best Greek yogurt you will ever taste (about $3 USD, so much cheaper than the States) and mix in some of the amazing chocolate they have here (my favorite budget-bar is only about a dollar USD and tastes like heaven).

Oh, and can I just do a separate paragraph of praise for Spanish Coca- Cola? It’s sooooooooooo good. Why? As some of you probably already know, from being here or in other countries, they make it with real sugar! And let me tell you, yes, 100% there is a difference. I know because there are some sneaky restaurants that import Coca-Cola from Poland, where it’s cheaper. Why? I don’t know exactly but I got a clue. When I took a sip, not knowing I wasn’t drinking normal Spanish Coca-Cola, I immediately got a nostalgic feeling when the bubbles hit my nose. Then, taking a sip, I could tell the flavor wasn’t as robust and delicious (yes, I take my Coke tasting seriously, like wine).  I am sure it’s made with high-fructose corn syrup. Another time my friend and I ordered Cokes, and I got mine in a Polish can and I sent it back. The waitress looked at me weird, so I did a blind taste test with my friend’s Polish Coke and my Spanish one from the glass bottle – and I could tell the difference, no problem.

Another great part of Spain – diet food doesn’t exist, either. Have you ever realized that all this diet and organic crap food is just bad processed food, processed in a slightly different way or with some more added chemicals? Or the fact that diet and low-fat foods are so stupid because all you should do is eat real foods in sensible amounts? Yes, I am sure you did because you are all my friends and you’re smart people : )

Spanish food is simple. It’s real food, and, often times, grown very locally. Period. I suppose that’s how it used to be in the US before the “wonderful” mass commercialization of our diet.

And I can’t say that this change in my diet hasn’t affected me. My activity level went down considerably (I used to be biking nearly 20 miles a day round-trip to work, not counting my other trips by bike to buy groceries, etc) but my weight has stayed the same (or less, argh, I’d actually like to gain weight). I also hardly ever get an upset stomach (the nearly stress-free life here also helps with that). I also don’t “crash” in the afternoons like I used to at work, when I’d sometimes get that weird body feeling and couldn’t keep my eyes open (though I do indulge in siestas sometimes, just because I can ; )Also my snacking has gone down a lot. Again, that wasn’t a “problem” per se, because I have never been overweight, but it was annoying to have to eat so often. Now, my meals fill me up, even though they are not huge. I think it’s that when your body gets REAL food, it feels good and satisfied.

Well, I could go on and on regarding this subject, but I’ll stop for now. Thanks again for stopping by, and I hope you are enjoying reading!

Things my students have said to me

Ok, maybe this is deviating a bit from my theme, but I also thought it would be nice to share with you on this blog hilarious things my students say to me. You see, I teach English to people of all ages – from 6 year-old kids to older adults. And, as in learning any language, hilarious things often get said. Please note I am so not making fun of anyone here, I make my fair share of hilarious mistakes, too, while speaking Spanish (just a couple weeks ago I mistakenly referred to a part of the male anatomy in a class with two 12 year old girls, which literally had one ROFL’ing).

Ok, without further ado, here’s a batch from this week:

“You can’t speak Spanish. It looks weird. You don’t have a Spanish face” – my eight year-old student

“cat meal” – a student trying to think of the word for “cat food”

“i can walk in a bicycle” – same student, trying to say he can ride a bike

“streetbean” – one of my students insisted this was a word. turns out she meant “street bin”, which i think is british for a public wastepaper basket

Older Quotes:

“Skinny, crazy, beautiful” – a 12 year old boy, when asked to describe himself

“Candy hello” – an adult student trying to say “Hola bon-bon” in English

“I’d give him the hugest beat-up he’d ever gotten!” – pretty self-explanatory, but a hilarious choice of wording

“When he was a kitten he used to play with the ball more. And he was good” – well, technically correct, though i have never heard of a cat being “good” at batting a ball around!

Ok that’s all for now – stay tuned, more to come!

Siesta, revisted

I was talking with my spanish roommate today. She has been following my blog and commented on my post about the siesta. It really opened my eyes about what I had written, and american perceptions of spanish culture. what she said was “I never thought of the midday break as the ‘siesta’, it’s just the time when all the stores are closed”. I said that I thought it came from the hot days of Spain, when you can’t get anything done midday anyways because of the heat. Then I found this article, indicating that:

Many Spaniards mistakenly believed that a long break at midday had always been a part of the Spanish lifestyle. “As late as 1930, lunchtime was between 12 and 1, and dinnertime started at 7 or 8,” he said. “If you look at the newspapers or novels from the beginning of the century, they all show it.”

What is unclear, he said, is why habits changed. Some historians point to the Spanish Civil War, which was fought from 1936 to 1939. It is possible, Mr. Buqueras contended, that “the hunger that is always caused by wars forced people to work two jobs to survive,” one in the morning and one at night. The midday break would have given them time to get from one job to the other. “But there are no definite causes,” he said.
Wow. I’m certainly curious now. More to come…..

Taking Parking Violations to a Whole new Level

Ok, I gotta start right away with an apology, and that is that I do not have any pictures to go with this post. Maybe another time I will post another gallery of some of the great parking violations I have captured on film.

Anyways, yes, Spainiards are the most, umm, creative parkers I have ever seen in my life. And I’ve spent enough time in big cities to see some of the desperate measures people go to to find a place to leave their car. Take, for example, double-parking. I seem to remember (and could very well be wrong) that though it’s done in some big cities, it’s practiced with some care, and only when desperately needed. In Spain, it seems to be a matter of course. For example, gotta run to the post office? Double-park, throw on your flashers, and head in! Oh, but it’s not just in front of the post-office. Nearly every single four-lane street downtown in my city is actually only two-lanes because the outer lanes are occupied by a stream of double-parked cars. And though traffic isn’t too bad here, it’s sad to think that we’re only operating a half the capacity of our streets because of parking violaters.

Because my city is so dense, it’s great for getting around on foot. But guess what makes that harder? Cars parked on the sidewalk. Yes, not even the sidewalk is sacred space, as cars wanting to double-park on two-lane or one-way one-lane streets throw half their car up onto the sidewalk to they can illegall park. The other day on my street (too bad I didn’t have the camera) was a woman who parked her car, all four wheels on the sidewalk, and not parallel to the street, but rather the front of the car was nearly inside the freakin supermarket!!!

Also, other parts of the street that would be considered off-limits for parking, for example in crosswalks and  on corners (I’m not even sure if you can picture this in your head, again, I´ll do my best to put up a picture) and used anyways. And remember when I said earlier that when I said that if I ever saw any of these things in the states, it was always in extreme circumstances and with flashers on (or someone waiting in the car, ready to move it if neccesary)? Well guess what, people commit all of the above horrendous “oh-my-god-you-must-be-desperate” to park like that violationsjust to walk into a bar and have a drink. And most of the time, no, they won’t even leave their flashers on or have the car running with someone at the wheel, they just park. So meanwhile, while they are having their wine, 5 legally parked people are blocked in, who then have no choice but to start laying on their horns. Which is just great for everyone to listen to (over Christmas break I woke up two mornings a row to this noise, and I don’t even live in an apartment facing a street!).

And I bet you’re thinking of the obvious question here – where are the police? Well, we do have some meter maids in certain parts of the city. And supposedly they have started a new system that’s some sort of car with a camera mounted that automatically captures the image of your plate if you are double-parked. But (sorry, I have to confirm this, I could be wrong and my Spanish isn’t good enough to google it and get the answer) I think it only fines you if you’re double-parked for longer than a certain amount of time. I hope I’m wrong, but I seem to remember it that way. And, just the other day I saw the cops towing a jerk’s car who had parked, all four wheels, on the sidewalk. With all the parking violations I see in my city – the city could make a fortune. They should keep at it.

Get Away from me, Lady!

Besides the “duh” common cultural differences of language/food/dress, one of the most subtle, yet well-known cultural differences is that of personal space. Knowing that everyone in Spain greets each other with two kisses (I’ll probably do a whole seperate post on my anxiety in dealing with that) should have prepared me for perhaps some feelings of violation. But it did nothing to prepare me for the most annoying space-violaters of all time: old ladies in the supermarket.

Supermarket lines in Spain are a big pain in the ass. There are fewer checkout lanes in general, and they are never, never, all open. I don’t even know why they installed that many checkouts! Anyways, adding to the line problem is that you have to bag your own groceries. And that the Euro currency is very coin-heavy – so a lot of time is spent rifling through coin purses (oh, and hardly anyone pays with plastic, which also adds to the time problem, but I think it’s great that people use cash here). Furthermore, the checkout ladies (yea, 99.9999% of the time it’s a lady) are, about half the time, sitting down (I don’t wanna get too judgemental on that, maybe it’s actually better for their backs or something and could be something we should introduce in the states) and sometimes check out your groceries in what appears to be slow-motion. Seriously.

Ok so now you know some of the reasons that check-out lanes in Spain suck, but you still don’t know the biggest annoyance. Well, as you’re standing in line, you’re undoubteldy going to have someone behind you. And guess what: they’re going to be breathing down your freakin neck the entire time. It drives me crazy. There are some people like this everywhere, maybe you’re stuck in traffic and the car in front of you moves slightly, but you don’t move because it wouldn’t make any difference to you anyway. But the car behind you saw this and wants to move closer to you, encouraging you to move, even though it´s pointless! Spanish people have a major problem with this, and old ladies are the worst. And, they’re cutters! They will try and sneak ahead of you. They will ram you with their little grocery carts. You gotta be tough!


Here’s a great story that happened to me recently. I decided to buy my boyfriend a very nice bottle of vermouth for his birthday. Let me say right away that I am not expert on vermouth’s, and some of you may be laughing at the idea of “a very nice bottle of vermouth”. All I knew is that it was something he liked to drink, and he was pleased when his friend from Andorra brought him a nice bottle.

I went into the store, waiting to see if I’d  be waited on by a nice person or a mean person (more on that trend in another post). I gave a nice greeting and was met with an equally enthusiastic reply. Good so far. I told him what I was looking for, and he got out his price book. Since he knew it was a gift, I was waiting to see if I’d have to politely decline purchasing a 100 euro bottle. Instead, the first bottle he pointed out was a mere 8.95. Then he pointed out the “fanciest” bottle, priced at just 10.95. As he started to go into the cheaper bottles, I had to stop him. “That’s the  nicest one you’ve got? Is it from La Rioja?” As he confirmed both, I said I’d take it. He went to the back and brought out a nicely packaged bottle, complete with the labeled cardboard tube thing that you get with the fancier bottle of alcohol. He even gift wrapped it.

After I got home, I showed my roommate my purchase and remarked how great it was to get it for such a good price. “Vermouth is not expensive” she noted. Ok, but for some reason that wasn’t a satisfying answer. And you know what clicked in my head – in the states, even when something isn’t “expensive”, we always have an expensive version of it. We spend a ton of money making an expensive version of something, and even more money advertising it’s so-called benefits.

You can call it bad marketing, or a lost profit opportunity, but I choose to see it as wonderfully refreshing that I can’t even be tricked into buying an over-priced bottle of vermouth. Instead, I get a wonderful gift, fairly priced, and made a mere 26 miles from my city (furthermore in a village well-renown for it’s wonderful wines and other spirits.) Spain, you rock!

The Siesta

The siesta is perhaps one of the most well-known things about Spain to foreigners. Right up there with bulls and flamenco. However, unlike the latter, you will experience siestas in your everyday life, even if you choose not to take one.

For me, the siesta is one of the most frustrating things about Spain. No, I really don’t care if people choose to nap after lunch (I even take one myself these days, though only about half the time). It’s the people who choose to close down shop during the siesta that drive me mad. Now, I do like (in some ways) that in Spain people are not the work-a-holics that people in the states are, but in many ways it makes me crazy. I support the siesta idea, but in practice it can be very annoying. The number-one reason is because nobody knows when the siesta actually is.  I could accept knowing that I can’t run any errands between 1pm and 4pm. It would be annoying, but I could deal with it. Instead, on a typical day, anywhere between about 12pm and 5pm you have to be worried that something won’t be open. So again, you could just cut out the middle of the day as unproductive and be somewhat content. But oh no, someone always has to break the rules. Now, it’s great when you are passing a place you’d like to drop into, and pleasantly discover that although it’s siesta time, it’s open! But those rule breakers are dangerous. Yes, there are some businesses that don’t siesta, and even some that are open on Sundays, but in the end they can just make things worse. Later on, when you really need to go somewhere during an odd hour, a monologue like this runs through your head: “Are they open during siesta? Or are they open Sundays? Or vice-versa? Or neither?” And, inevitably, because you need paper/photocopies/a cold beer, you give it a shot and head on over. And the damn place is closed.

Just when I thought I’d seen it all….

I’d been in Spain for over a year. And though I had successfully avoided the giant Wal-Mart style stores that unfortunately exist here, I had been to a few. So imagine my shock, one fall day in such a mega superstore outside of Barcelona, I saw a female employee wiz by me – on roller skates.

“Huh? Totally normal” my Spanish friend said, as I stood with my mouth agape. And yea, it makes complete sense. The ladies are “runners” of some sort, I am sure there is the equivalent at stores in the states. Except here, they get to use rollerskates.

So cool. But so not gonna happen in the states. It would only be a matter of months until someone would get hit and sue. Or the employee would fall, and sue.

Basically all the bad-ass stuff about Spain that you don’t see in the states, you can be assured doesn’t exist for liability reasons. How boring.


I got a great calendar for 2010. I was in the Pyrenees with two friends, and as one ducked into a supermarket I noticed there were free calendars at the check-out. They had a giant photo and all the months/days were both in Spanish and Basque. Awesome.

I took one home and I forgot about it until recently, and was overjoyed to discover it, since our kitchen had been without a calendar for all the month of January (note: both wall and wallet calendars are very important in Spain, though they never include space for writing anything). I put it up and my roommate and I examined the photo. It’s a scene of a Basque wood-cutting competition (aizkolari) at a village festival.

Ok, nothing too funny there. But…

I was curious about what year the photo might have been taken. I wondered if it was from last year’s festivities in the village from which I got the photo, or some cheesy stock photo from 15 years ago (I was leaning towards the latter, just on a hunch). And, well, since I’m not so familiar with the typical aizkolari uniform, that wouldn’t help me. There were, however, about 200 older gentlemen visible people in the photo, neatly lined up behind and watching the festivities. Maybe if I peered at their clothes I could determine, based on what they were wearing, when the photo was taken.

No dice. There are all dressed exactly alike.

And furthermore, quickly confirmed by my roommate, they are dressed exactly as “old gentlemen” have dressed in Spain for decades. They are all wearing grey slacks and a white/light collared button-up shirt. Not one person is wearing anything that can actually be dated. It’s so bizarre. The photo is timeless.

Other photos like this exist. I recall seeing on of my friend as a toddler. The picture has to be taken in ’80 or ’81. Yet the grainy black-and-white photo of this toddler dressed in (what someone from the states might consider) some bizarro lacy play-outfit, complete with fancy shoes, looks like it could be from the late 19th or early 20th century.

The strange effect can work in the reverse as well. Spain is so full of great old buildings that don’t get torn down, that you can be looking at historical photos of Barcelona and also have no idea when they were taken, since all the buildings look the same as you’ve seen with your own eyes. In these types of street scenes, cars are your best clue. That’s one thing that’s always modern here.