Spain has opened me up to a lot of new experiences. A I began to fit into Spanish culture, I realized that Spain does things a bit differently from the U.S. In fact, there are a lot of things that I feel that the United States could actually learn from Spain and even adopt. That’s right. You’ve cheated me out of good soda for far too long, U.S. (See #4)
Smaller is better
After picking me up from the airport, my dangerous taxi driver sped through the Barcelona streets. As she drove, I couldn’t help but marvel at the tiny streets with lanes the sizes of alleys. Their cabs look kind of weird, I thought as she piled our luggage into the car. Naturally... the cars are small, too.
That’s not the only thing that is smaller in Spain. They don’t give you a meal that can feed three people here either. My delicious Spanish meals came in smaller portions which, although a little unfortunate because I enjoyed the food, was a lot better for my figure.
Clean and reliable metro
I’d marvel at how clean the subway is in Barcelona. I’d walk down the stairs and never have to hold my nose and brace myself for the stench of pee and garbage like I had sometimes done when I took the metro in D.C. (and always when I visited New York.)
What's more - the trains came at such regular intervals! The wait time conveniently showed on an LED display. Not to mention, the wait time was accurate. (*cough* D.C.)
I’d have to wait three minutes max in the morning for a train in Barcelona. Compare that to 15 minute waits on D.C. metro mornings and if we’re talking late nights, you might as well go and plop down on a bench because you were looking at at least a 30 minute wait.
However, it did take away a bit of fun because I couldn’t laugh at grown people running to catch a train.
Greeting with a kiss
Photo: Olivia Mathieson
I was a bit taken aback when the father of my Spanish host family greeted me with a kiss on each cheek. It was my first Spanish greeting. They really do that here? I thought.
I don’t know what I thought the Spaniards did. I knew countries outside of the U.S. didn’t all do the American hug or the formal and impersonal firm handshake, but I was still somewhat shocked.
I remembered how when my cousins and I would play make believe years ago, we’d become movie stars with towels on our heads for hair and pencils for cigars. We’d kiss the "fans" on each cheek and say, "Hello, darling." Cheek kisses were something only the social elite did.
But this was their "hug." It was personal and warm like the kiss you give after you tuck your child into bed. I admit I didn’t like the intimacy of it so I only fake-kissed each cheek.
This was one of my most beloved things about Spain. It wasn’t the tortilla, bread, sangria, or paella I longed for when I landed back in the U.S. It was the soda.
Now, I’m not even a soda person. I might indulge in soda a few times a month. But the soda, man. My friend warned me before I left because he’d studied abroad in Spain before, but I couldn’t quite fathom its deliciousness.
The orange soda tastes like freshly-squeezed oranges in each sip! It made me wonder what fake stuff they were putting in our soda back in the U.S. I was quite mad to have missed out on real soda for so long.
My friend and I cried as we shared one last bottle in the airport before our plane back home boarded. We had to savour it one. last. time.
Photo: Richie Diesterheft/Flickr
"What are these huge bins I see on every block?" I asked my tour guide as she showed us around the city of Barcelona. There were these big, colour-coded recycling bins on every other street.
Spain is big on recycling. A lot of us try, but most Americans don’t really care about being green or environmentally friendly. In Spain, non-recyclers are in the minority. The government readily facilitates it with all of those bins on the curbs. It’d be hard not to recycle.
The European Union in general makes a greater effort to recycle and has a goal to recycle 50 percent of its waste by 2020.
Do better, U.S.A.
Appreciation for music and movies from other cultures
Photo: Joe Diaz/Flickr
"Most of us watch American movies because they’re the best," the father of my host family said (in Spanish of course.) I agree, because I’m American. It made me think about how well American movies do internationally. Movies must be Spanish dubbed or have subtitles, I thought.
But I still don’t understand why American music is so popular.
One afternoon I came home early to the mother of my host family playing some American song on her laptop as she cooked lunch at two in the afternoon. She saw the confusion on my face. "I like the melodies," she said (again, in Spanish.)
Whenever they’d play the radio in the house, all I’d hear was American music. Go to the pizza place down the street and they’re playing American and British music videos. The clubs played nothing but American songs. I finally got tired and told my host family that I didn’t come all the way from America to Spain to hear American music. Where is the Spanish music?
They eventually sent me to a concert to see a Spanish band so I was happy.
My short time in Spain prompted me to wonder why a lot of this stuff wasn’t happening in the U.S.A. I guess that’s why I’m going back to Spain soon.
Layla A. Reaves is a freelance writer and editor whose current goal is to fill up the pages in her passport and become fluent in Spanish and Mandarin along the way. You can check out her personal blog here.
This post originally appeared on Las Morenas de España, an online community that is redefining the black experience in Spain. The brand seeks to provide information, inspiration and encouragement for people of colour living here or interested in moving to the country.