While waiting at the airport in Barcelona I started to think back on the last six weeks we’ve been in Spain. I was a peregrina for five of those weeks, and a visitor for the entire six weeks. As with anyone traveling abroad you immediately find the cultural differences and maybe even long for the comforts of home you left behind. While I love to travel and learn about life in the rest of the world, Spain is not my home. I’d like to think I now know the country a little bit better than when I arrived, and maybe take all that I’ve learned to make me a better visitor to the next country or city I travel to. It’s a good feeling to want to come back home and I’m thankful that home is the United States.
There’s no way I can recap all that I saw, people I met, and every experience but I occasionally think of a few observations I had along the way. Let me say this here first – these are my observations based on my own experiences. They may be considered generalizations and not representative of Spain in its entirety. Just like not all Americans sound like George Bush and are obese. I apologize in advance if I offend.
While in northern Spain (or specifically, the Camino) I noticed the following:
- Many people do not cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing.
- Soap and toilet paper in public restrooms is a nice to have but not standard practice. I tried not to think about the people handling your food using the same restrooms and not washing their hands afterwords. Let’s just say those two rolls of biodegradable toilet paper we bought at REI, were gone by the end, and we restocked with imitation Wet Ones towelettes several times.
- Spaniards tend to speak loudly and closely. ¿Como se dice ‘space cushion’? I don’t think they are trying to be rude, but it just is part of being so social.
- Spaniards know how to party. Many are quite social and boisterous in groups. With a daily siesta and late sleeping and eating schedules, the Spanish lifestyle is about family and friends and not ruled by timelines. I think Jonathan read somewhere that the Spanish sleep one hour less than other Europeans.
- Religion is important. Even the tiniest of towns were built around the church. Old and new generations seem to respect and grow up with Catholicism and even churches that seem modest from the outside are rich on the inside; whether architecturally or by ornamentation. I’ve said this before, if Spain needs money, they need not look further than the church.
- Dogs and cats are not pets per se, but usually are functional and serve as security or ‘free agents’. As an animal lover, seeing dogs chained up or left in the cold rain without food and water or shelter nearby was difficult to see at times. In the rural areas this was really evident. I know some of the larger cities definitely embraced the little ‘handbag-sized’ dogs as pets but it was quite different from the US. Sometimes it was cute though. Like the time we watched this little dog help the farmer herd this cow. The cow looked so annoyed, but the dog was definitely the one in charge (or the cow at least let him think that).
- Smoking is still cool? Catch my drift? I realize smoking is wildly popular globally, not just in Spain. I think Europeans seem to be more accepting of smoking and smokers than here in America. Like all the cigarette machines that have pictures of people running or being athletic which is amusing. I just wish people were more considerate of those around them when smoking. You aren’t allowed to smoke in restaurants, bars and public buildings but they don’t aggressively enforce that in the more rural areas. For awhile we were always running into this older couple who were always smoking cigarettes and a pipe. Even when walking the Camino. (They were not carrying packs.) When you’re wet, cold, tired and trying to get ready to walk another 15km you really don’t enjoy having smoke blown in your face. Or we’d get to the top of a long, steep climb and there they’d be in the one place you could sit and rest, puffing away–downwind.
- Food is simple but good. We Americans love to add-on or accessorize our food. Whether it’s in the form of hot sauce, spices, syrups, foams, sprinkles, coloring, etc. We like to make it our own and have it just the way we like it. In Spain, we never saw a bottle of hot sauce and if you wanted salt and pepper you had to ask for it, unless it was with the olive oil and vinegar for your salad. That’s right, there aren’t ten different salad dressings to choose from. Just oil and vinegar–why would you need anything else anyway? No mustard or mayonaise for your bocadillo. Just bread and jamon, and sometimes queso. No soy milk or hazelnut syrup for your latte. Just coffee and whole milk—and the biggest sugar packets ever. No artificial sweeteners, real sugar. I think it is so nice to have so many choices, but at the same time, it’s nice to not have to think about it. Why do we complicate things so much sometimes? It’s nice to go back to the basics every now and then. That said, I was happy to reunite with my Tapatio.
These were the observations that were top of mind. I’m sure I’ll remember more later on. I knew we were close to home when the man across the row from me on the plane starting coughing over the rows in front of him and not covering his mouth and immediately the flight attendant scolded him, “Sir, please cover your mouth!”. Ahhh…home sweet home.