10 August 2013

Pesky Little Things

It's easy to romanticize your time abroad when you return to the States. When people ask you about your life overseas, of course you're going to neglect the grittier details and focus on the high points. I love Spain and Europe as a whole deeply, but now that I'm preparing to set off again for a longer period of time, I'm trying to be a bit more realistic with my expectations.

10 Things About Europe That Made Me Miss America

1. No screened windows
Y'all, this was a big one. I live in Florida, where mosquitos are an everyday thing. I don't do well with things coming in through the window. I studied abroad during a fall term in Sevilla, so the first month and a half was a literal hell because of how hot it was...I'm talking over 40 celsius almost every day. My seƱora didn't have the A/C on at all except during lunch, so during the day I would have to leave my window open to get a semblance of a breeze. Let me tell you, your room gets dirtier a lot faster.
2. Extra long laundry day(s)

As part of our homestay, our host moms were in charge of our laundry. You would think this is the greatest thing ever, and in many ways it is. However, my host mom, like most older Spanish women, was extremely thorough in her laundry. Between washing, drying, and ironing everything, our clothes would be gone for about a week and a half (or more) at a time. It got to the point where my roommate NE and I had to go buy extra clothes, particularly socks in my case, because we were always running out of one thing or another.

3. No ice
In the winter, this is actually not a big issue. The problem was the last few weeks of summer in Southern Spain. It is so incredibly hot and many times when you go to a restaurant all you want is a nice, cool glass of water. Well, good luck. It'll probably be cool when you first get it, but lukewarm within about 30 seconds. Fighting heat with heat, I guess.

4. Cyber-cafes/coffee shops

I honestly had never given this much thought, as I am not a coffee addict and had internet at my host mom's place. When midterms rolled around, my roommate and I decided to put in a little bit of effort and at least read our notes over once. However, it is nearly impossible to find a coffee shop to study in, something we could easily do on campus back home. Even the Starbucks were more for social gatherings over coffee than a study zone. In the end, we ended up at a nearly empty Dunkin in some really comfortable couches...and nearly zero studying done.

5. Modern amenities
As has been hinted at previously in this post, certain modern amenities that are commonplace in the US are not as common in Spain. Electricity is significantly more expensive in Europe than here (a situation that has only escalated with the crisis), and Europeans generally have a much more eco-friendly attitude about amenities. Dryers are not common and neither are A/C or heating. While you do get used to it eventually and learn to cope, it's hard to give up if you come from the States. I'm used to having the A/C on nearly year-round because of the Florida humidity, so my first few weeks in Sevilla were difficult.

6. Business hours

Ah, the famed Spanish siesta. It cuts the business day into two parts and effectively shuts down most Spanish cities from about 2 till 5pm. Banks are usually only open on weekdays, and even then only till about 1 or 2pm, making it difficult to reach one in time if you have classes all morning or work. You'll also be hard-pressed to find any 24-hour location, including convenience stores. One of the first debates we got into with our program teacher while abroad was the lack of 24-hour locations. She called them useless and really not essential, but I don't think she gets it: sometimes you just really want some Sour Cream and Onion chips at 3am.

7. Gypsies
My first encounter with the gypsies was outside the cathedral in Mallorca. I had never been to Europe before but I had been warned to watch out for them. Luckily, I was with a local so he steered me in another direction. In Sevilla, however, they're all over the center so a bit harder to avoid. The ones in southern Spain try to get you by offering this plant with healing powers. Unfortunately, while talking to/distracting you, another one may try to take your money. Gypsies are not unique to Spain though: they were all over Paris, particularly around the train stations and the metro, areas sure to be full of distracted foreigners. Like you would anywhere, it's just important to be mindful of your surroundings and keep your belongings close.

8. Lack of public restrooms and fountains

The first time I noticed this was actually at the beach. I had come with my swimsuit already on but a couple of people traveling with me had not. When we found a bathroom for them to change in, it turned out it cost €1,20! Just to use the facilities! There are no free public restrooms on the streets and most businesses won't let you use their restrooms unless you're a customer. And if you're thirsty, best get yourself a water bottle, because I never once saw a public water fountain.
9. No bagels
I absolutely love bagels. They're my absolute favorite to-go breakfast food (because you can't really take French toast to go). A toasted blueberry bagel with extra fluffy cream cheese? Heaven on earth. However, bagels are essentially non-existent in Spain. While a few people tell me they have managed to make them, it's just not the same as stopping by Einstein Bros. or Panera to get a warm, toasty bagel.

10. Poor customer service

This is probably the thing that most irritated me about Europe. Everyone in the service sector gets paid a fixed salary; tipping is not expected or encouraged. While I love not having to tip, it makes me wonder if tipping would perhaps improve the customer service (at least in restaurants). Many waiters are just straight up rude and service can be really slow. It's basically impossible to order, eat, and pay for a meal in an hour or less.

Have you lived abroad? What parts of daily living made you miss your home country?

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