Suffice to say that it’s been an uneventful couple of weeks here in Santiago. I’ve got very little news for my fans (meaning my parents and approximately three friends who actually bother to read my blog) so, instead, I thought I’d write a post similar to this one that I wrote when I was in France (for which, by the way, I am growing more nostalgic by the day…). Here is a list of a few of Spain’s quirks that I’ve found especially noticeable.
- Fast? Pero qué significa? I was warned that the Spanish couldn’t do anything fast or on time, but I’m not sure that I quite realised the extent to which this, ahem, cultural foible seeps into every aspect of la vida española. Going to an event that’s scheduled to start at 9:00? Don’t bother turning up much before 10:30. Need to get somewhere fast? Then best leave plenty of time if you’re going by foot because no doubt you’ll get stuck behind someone who is walking excruciatingly slowly and is apparently oblivious to the fact that tienes prisa but can’t get past them because they’re taking up the whole of the very narrow pavement. I get more annoyed by this total lack of urgency than I should: I’ve been conditioned to expect everything to start more or less on time and, when it doesn’t, it disconcerts me. Flexibility – something that I readily admit to often lacking – is necessary, but reminding yourself that all this waiting around feeling like time is being wasted is good for personal growth isn’t awfully helpful when you’re trying to speed-walk past a couple linking arms and blocking the pavement.
- The day starts about four hours late. Everything about the day in Spain is delayed by about four hours to what I’m used to. For example, my flatmates usually get up at about 10.30am, eat lunch at some time between 3pm and 4pm, have a siesta (yep, Spanish people actually do this), and go to bed at 2am. At least, I think 2am is accurate, but I wouldn’t swear to it because I can count on one hand the number of times that I’ve still been up at midnight since arriving in Santiago. Nights out don’t really get going before about 1.30am, as I found out on Friday when I went out for my first, and quite possibly last, time in Spain. The British custom of starting pre-drinks at 8pm would be a fatal error. I find this relaxed approach to tackling the day quite cool but, unfortunately, am far too used to early mornings and fond of early nights to be able to adapt to it in three short months. Something for the future, maybe.
- Living expenses are, comparatively, so low. Certain things in France – wine, mainly – made me balk at UK prices, but Spain is on a different level. Obviously, as an unpaid intern, this is a huge advantage for me. My rent and bills comes out at around €200 per month; my best friends in Oxford pay £85 a week. Food is inexpensive, both at the supermarket and in restaurants. Bizarrely, I’ve managed to spend the entire second part of my year abroad in two of Spain’s only cities where most bars offer free tapas with every drink – and we’re not talking peanuts and olives here. Think generous slices of tortilla and chunks of local cheese on fresh bread. To my delight, I recently found a cafe that does takeaway coffee for €0.80. The size of Santiago means that I can walk everywhere, thus meaning that I don’t really spend any money on transport. In summary, whilst I’m not earning any money, I’m also not spending a whole lot of it either. However, I am in the process of preparing myself for the shock of returning to the prices of the UK (which are, I now realise, extortionate by any standard).
- “Pero hablas bien español!” Refreshingly, the Spanish, unlike the French, do make a considerable effort to understand non-native speakers’ attempts to speak Spanish without immediately switching to English upon detecting the accent. Much to my amazement, people compliment me on my Spanish on a fairly regular basis – something that happened very rarely in France, even during my final few weeks there. Of course, I remain convinced that my ability to string a sentence together alludes me at least 50% of the time, but it’s still a relief to be understood. There was a particularly embarrassing exception to this last week: I repeated the word cortado (basically a macchiato) about ten times before being understood. Needless to say, I have not been back to that cafe since.
- Everyone does an Erasmus exchange. Okay, not literally everyone, but it is fair to say that I’ve met far more Spanish people who have been abroad as part of their degree than I have Brits. In fact, studying abroad is something that seems to be far more accessible for students, regardless of their degree subject, in many European countries than it is for us. There are so many things to be learnt from spending time abroad as a student, and it seems a shame that the majority of students in the UK are never presented with the opportunity.
Despite sharing a border, France and Spain are, in some ways, starkly different. I’m very glad that I’ve been able to spend a decent amount of time in each of the two countries – language skills aside, living abroad is an eye-opening experience in more ways than one.
Speaking of France, tomorrow I’m leaving Santiago for the weekend to go to Porto to visit Matt. I’ve never been to Portugal and I’m pretty excited. As a reminder of the (many, many) hours we spent together at the château, here are some lovely photos of my fun-lovin’ co-intern (he’s probably not reading this)…
I’ll write next week about what I get up to in Porto; until then, adios amigos!