As the move from Spain draws near, I have naturally been reflecting on my time here, thinking about the highs and the lows, what I’ll miss dearly and what I will not. I might have had a lot of complaints about Spain lately, however coming to live here when we did was a turning point in my life for the better.
I came to Spain exhausted and a bit out of sorts and will leave Spain content, healthy and with a beautiful, loving family. I have Spain to thank for that and I will forever be grateful:-D
Without further ado I’ll start with the lows, so that I can end on the highs:
- Difficult pregnancy in a different culture & language. Becoming a first-time mom can be daunting enough, but going through the experience in a culture and language that you don’t understand yet, far from your family, adds a greater dimension to it. My pregnancy was difficult and there were complications after the birth, so for the best part of a year I was out of commission, unable to get out much to start learning the language and make a circle friends that would be my support network. Speaking of support, there is very little here compared to the UK and US in terms of after-birth care (e.g. home visits, breast feeding guidance). My mom was supposed to come from the States, but she became ill and has not recovered since. Therefore as a first-time mom, I have been very much on my own (with my husband’s incredible support, of course).
- Identity crisis(es). When I moved to Spain, most of everything I identified with – friends, hobbies, job and fitness (due to being ill a lot, see previous point) – was no longer part of my daily life. I wanted to make a career change from financial services marketing, but didn’t know to what. I was no longer earning my own money (a very strange feeling when you are used to being fiercely independent). I had very little social life and couldn’t speak Spanish well enough to ask for simple directions – picture me in the middle of a narrow Madrid calle, completely lost (but also very close to the apartment), holding several plastic bags full of produce, each of which literally breaking one by one with groceries smashing or rolling down the street, seeing people pass by but not knowing how to ask for help. Luckily I did see the comedy of the moment, but this is how helpless I was when I first got to Spain. As my life had shifted so dramatically from how it had been previously, and as I was now completely reliant on someone else (financially and socially due to the language), I went through an identity crisis, feeling very lost and directionless.
- Broken dreams and facing tough reality. What we thought our life was going to be like in Spain never became reality and the country’s economic situation hit us like a ton of bricks. This point alone merits an entire blog post, but in the interest of time, I won’t elaborate on it very much here. Let’s just say it’s been an eye opener. What might look enviable from the outside is not how it actually is on the inside in many cases.
- The birth of our daughter. Despite the difficulties of having no support, having our daughter was the best thing to happen to us. We are extremely fortunate to have such an easy first child – laid back with a great sense of humor, travels well, loves to sleep (which means we get to sleep), independent but also affectionate. She is truly a miracle.
- Our cat, Elvis. A Norwegian Forrest Cat (similar to a Maine Coon), he too is extremely attentive, playful and affectionate and watches over us like a dog to his owner. Between our daughter and our cat, this home is full of laughter and love.
- Extra time spent with family and friends. Although it was stressful not being able to find decent work, in another respect it was great, as I was free to spend extended periods with my family back in America as well as visit with friends in other countries. Friends and family are everything.
- Exploring Spain. As Madrid is situated smack in the middle of Spain, it has been the perfect vantage point for weekend trips away, discovering new Spanish pueblos. Madrid itself might not be the prettiest of cities, however just 20 minutes away you’ll find the quaintest most picturesque tiny towns that make you feel like you went to a different country completely.
What I will not miss :
- Poor customer service. Getting things done in Spain is often a beat-head-against-wall, frustrating experience. You often come across people with a jobs worth attitude (think: Little Britain “Computer says no…”), being passed from pillar to post. This has gotten even worse in recent years with the economic situation and resulting Brain Drain. I think Spain has prepared us well for the UAE in this regard. I’m not exaggerating. According to this Ease of Doing Business report by the World Bank, Spain ranks lower than the UAE by 11 countries!
- The driving experience. Just look at the state of the vehicles here (often dented and scratched) as testament to the driving experience. It is common to see drivers hitting the front and rear bumpers of other cars while parallel parking, drivers linger in the middle of two lanes or merge into your lane without using signals (causing you to suddenly take another lane in order to avoid a collision), tailgating and double parking are commonplace, and drivers are generally not very courteous at all. The road design doesn’t help the situation either. Parking is difficult to find and spaces are frequently barely big enough for our MINI. There were occasions when I had to enter the driver’s seat from the passenger side because cars were parked so close to ours. Additionally, often the on ramp to a highway is also the off ramp, causing a bottleneck of cars criss-crossing to get on/off the highway, and frequently three lanes turn into two with no advance warning, causing cars to scramble to merge. Again, I think Spain has prepared us well for the likely driving experience in the UAE (okay, I just went on a rant, but it deserves one!).
What I will miss:
- The weather. Cliché as it may be, it’s true. The weather in Madrid is pretty sweet. Very similar to the weather of my home states of California and North Carolina (less the humidity).
- Being able to walk everywhere. Being Europe, space is limited which means everything is close together. This can be annoying from a living perspective (we’ve had to be creative making space to store our things), however it’s great from a fitness perspective. Although I have not been part of a gym over the last three years, I’ve managed to stay fit, effortlessly, by simply going about my daily business (walking to the grocery store, to the bank, to the dentist, etc.).
- Jamón. Another cliché, but another truth. I used to loathe those vile-looking pig legs (complete with hoof and hairs) that are omnipresent here in Spain…. But now, I’m properly addicted to the taste of it. The best part is that the fat is actually good for you (like olive oil and avocado), as long as you are eating the bellota type (meaning, pigs fed on acorns).
- The pueblos. There’s no denying that Spain is a very photogenic place. Most towns have their own distinct character and I have had a lot of fun taking pictures of them.
In all, Spain is a beautiful place full of warm people. It’s just unfortunate how difficult it has become to live here due to the state of the country’s economy. When we eventually move back to the UK, I’m very much looking forward to visiting time and time again (gotta have my jamón fix!).