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My Experiences in Spain

Traveling and living in Spain for a couple of years, I experienced many things new and different to me. Some were funny and some weren't.

Me posing by a lake in Spain

Me posing by a lake in Spain

Adventure in Spain

Back in the mid-’70s, I was only in my early twenties. Still a kid by all the wisdom and experience I have had since then. I was married to a US Air Force carrier man who was sent to Spain even before we celebrated our second anniversary. Back then you would go on a Tour of Duty (TDY) alone for only a year and a half or agree to stay 3 years and take your wife/family. I found out that I was expecting our first child only days before we left for Spain. My mother was not too happy. It meant that she wouldn’t be able to see her first grandchild until he/she was 2. Still, I was happy I wasn’t being left behind so I decided to embrace the adventure.

One of our first outings to the zoo in Madrid after the baby was born.

One of our first outings to the zoo in Madrid after the baby was born.

Missed My Flight

My husband decided it would be nice to ship our little Volkswagen bug to Spain to be with us although how he finagled that, I don’t know. We drove from California to Newark, New Jersey to catch the flight from there. He was sent on ahead on a military transport and I caught a commercial flight. Thinking it would be the last time I got to talk to my mom, I called her collect one last time from the airport and got so engrossed in the call I failed to hear my call to board… and you guessed it. I missed my flight. I stood there watching as my plane and luggage taxied away from me. The attendant said, too bad, you missed it. And unlike me, I started crying. I felt the enormity of being alone in a big city with no funds and no way to even get word to my husband that I missed my plane. I’m thinking it was the pregnancy that made me so emotional but the attendant didn’t know that so as I’m blubbering louder and louder, attracting all kinds of attention from other commuters, he was humbled and apologetically trying to find me a new flight to Spain.

It all turned out okay. I got on a flight that made several stops, in the Azores, Lisbon, Madrid, and after was headed to Athens. I felt like I should have stayed on the flight.

My husband wasn’t even worried about me.

“The gladdest moment in human life is a departure into unknown lands.”

— Sir Richard Burton


All Different

Spain was an experience I will never forget. Everything was different: the food, the people, the daily routine, the prices, the money, the furniture. We stayed in a furnished apartment on the first floor. In America, the first floor is the ground floor. In Spain, the ground floor of this apartment complex was a bank. The first floor was one flight up. There were no elevators so I was happy to be on the first floor. We had no washer or dryer but there was a laundry mat on the base. I found it was too hard to get to the base for laundry so I bought a scrub board and washed cloth diapers by hand every day and hung them to dry in the balcony. When we first got there I thought that it was interesting that it seemed to be “laundry day” because so many people had clothes hanging out on the balconies. Later I understood that every day is laundry day.

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”

— Gustav Flaubert



Another reality was the hot water and stoves were connected to a tank of butane. The Butano man came around twice a week and you had to run out on your balcony and catch him by yelling, “BUTANO” or do without hot water and cooking until the next time he came around. I got pretty good at figuring out how much butane I would need for the week and budgeting for it. In the states, we had natural gas piped in and got a bill for as much as we used at the end of the month. In Spain, you pay as you go or do without.

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”

— Ibn Battuta



Haggling For Prices

In Spain, I would often shop at the neighborhood farmer's market. I had my favorite stalls I would visit and I always paid the price they told me. That’s the way we do it in America. I had lived there for about 7 months when one day, I was standing behind a very small elderly lady arguing with the stall vendor. Only just beginning to understand what was being said I became very interested in the conversation. She said the bananas were too small to pay such a high price and he told her to go elsewhere. I thought, how rude to say to the elderly such a thing.

She suggested a lower price and she wanted different bananas, so he made several rude remarks and she quipped back but he brought out a better bunch of bananas and she paid the lower price. This was a very surprising conversation to me. I had never heard haggling close up before. When she said I'll see you tomorrow and he said okay, I realized they were friends and they did this regularly. Only then did I realize I had not only been paying too much but the potatoes he had been giving me were often spoiled and he had saved them for the stupid American on purpose.

Suddenly I was mad. I stepped up and asked for potatoes and watched as he pulled out a bag from the back of the shelf that he obviously had been saving for me and probably had at least one bad one like several times before. I couldn't think of all the Spanish words I wanted to say so I just looked at them and said in my meanest voice, "I don't like these." He was so surprised that I was catching on, a little smiled played around his mouth. He took the bag away and pulled out a better bag from the front of the shelf. I was so pleased to have caught on that I didn't even haggle over the price; I paid and left. He never tried to give me bad potatoes again but I never got the hang of haggling for a better price either.

Here in America, there is no haggling. You pay the price they want to charge you or take your money elsewhere.

“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.”

— Seneca

Me carrying my 3 month old daughter on my back in Europe.

Me carrying my 3 month old daughter on my back in Europe.

Final Thoughts

I don’t know if things have changed in Spain. I imagine some have and some haven’t like everywhere else. It was a wonderful experience to live in another country for a time. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

Have you ever lived in another country and experience things different from your country’s way of doing things? Did you find the experience rewarding or not? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

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