Thursday, September 30, 2010

Huegla General

Yesterday in Spain there was a huelga general, a general strike.  The strike was organized as a protest against the Socialist Prime Minister’s, Zapatero, Labor Reform which cut the cost of firing a worker (only 33 days of severance for every year worked as opposed to 45 days), decreased public investment plans and reduced civil servant wages (by 5%).  Zapatero claims that these measure will help bring down the budget deficit and unemployment (which is currently at around 20%), however many people over here believe that Zapatero is punishing the workers for the mistakes that the banks made, while the banks got millions of Euros in bailouts.

The strike came to my front door as I was woken up at about 9:30 by all the noise.  I live 2 blocks away from Carrer de Sants, a main street in Barcelona and it was one of the routes they chose to march.  I can only imagine how many people were marching down that street on the way to Plaça d’Espanya.  Even though my culture classes were cancelled I was still suppose to have my language class at 11 (but I wasn’t planning to go), but then I checked the e-mail my teacher and ISA sent me saying that picketers were blocking the entrance to school.  Oh joy.

As I didn’t want to be in the thicket of things, I stayed home and watched the coverage from the news.  What I saw really astounded me.  There were protests all over the country in all the major cities and a lot of them turned violent, especially the ones in Barcelona (however, the violence wasn't caused by the strikers, it was caused by an anti-establishment fraction).  As far as what I saw on the news, there was news footage of them setting the street garbage bins and cop cars on fire.  Protestors also threw rocks at SWAT like police cars.  Some people harassed storeowners who decided to stay open for the day.  Other protestors stopped cars on their way to Barcelona to “inform” them of their right to strike and to get them to do so.  In Madrid, there were literally guards with riot gear posted at the entrance of a Corte Inglés (the national department store).

I also noticed that a lot of people were carrying Catalonian independence flags during the protests.  I think some people here were using the strike as an excuse to get rowdy with the police and try to “advance” the cause of Catalonian independence.  I asked my Spanish teacher about this and she said that basically anytime there is a national protest some Catalonians take to the street to demand independence for Catalunya. 

Here are some pictures of the strike, courtesy of El País (the national newspaper)  The first three are from Barcelona, the last one is from Madrd:

The labor unions over here are claiming that it was a successful strike.  About 70% of the country didn’t go to work and electricity usage was down about 17% for the day.  However, a lot of people stayed home for two big reasons:
a)     Public transportation:  The services were extremely limited.  In Barcelona, the metro was only open between 6-9 and then again from 5-8 and even then service was very limited.  I walked around a little bit too (at around lunch time, hey even the protesters gotta eat right?) and I didn’t see a single bus in operation.
b)     Safety:  Why would you go to work if you knew that you would encounter angry protesters?  Hell, even if I did have class yesterday I wouldn’t have walked to school, I didn’t want to get caught up in the drama.  My host mom decided to stay home too for the exact same reason.

So the big take home message here is that not everyone in Spain was on strike.  A lot of them wanted to go to work but they were unable to. Another big take home message: not all protesters were violent.  Of course, the violent actions are the most extreme and therefore they make the news. 

Do not think for a second that the entire country wanted to or participated in this strike

P.S.  Rhetorical question: Did the people who organized the strike go on strike and if so, from what?  Organizing the strike?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

La Mercè

I’ve said it a million times but I’ll say it again: people over here know how to throw parties.

Last weekend (Sept. 23-26) was the local festival here in Barcelona, La Mercè.  It honors the patroness of Barcelona, Mare de Deu de la Mercè (the Virgin of Mercy), but more importantly it’s a showcase of the most important aspects of the Catalan Culture.  Here’s a day-by-day account of what I was lucky enough to see (as there was so much to see, this post is very very very long…).

*If you would rather see what La Mercè was all about rather than read about it, scroll down to the end of this post for my two-part youtube video*

Thursday night, I went to see an alternative rock group from Valencia called Obrint Pas.  I happened to stumble across them when I was still back in the States, so of course I was thrilled that they were going to be in Barcelona as a part of BAM (Barcelona Acció Musical), Barcelona’s musical scene during La Mercè.  They sing in Catalan, and it’s usually about very nationalistic/independence themes about the Països Catalanas (Catalan-speaking territories).  For some reason, I thought it was going to be very low key, which of course I was dead wrong about.  The concert was held at Parc Fòrum, which is apparently the park where the youth of Barcelona go to party.  Literally, as far as my eye could see there were circles of young people drinking and smoking, not to mention the amount of trash, bottles and plastic bags everywhere. 

Since the home is reserved for family, people party in the street or in bars/clubs.  So, I guess it’s very common to buy a two-liter bottle of pop, mix some alcohol into the bottle and pass it around your circle of friends, right?  Oh, and people were rolling and smoking joints like it was nobody’s business.  This whole scene was kind of culture shock to me, because back in the States the cops would be all over the place, riot gear and all.  However, the only cops I saw were the ones directing traffic, pedestrians and security to get into the concert area.  The concert itself was pretty good, I only recognized three songs but it was still a good time.  It was insane though and when I say insane, I really mean insane.  There were people yelling in Catalan, the band was firing up the crowd, people jumping up and down and random mosh pits everywhere. 

Friday was the actual holiday of La Mercè, so everything except restaurants was shut down.  At around one, in the Plaça de Sant Jaume (the main plaza in the Gothic quarter), there was a castells competition.  Castells are literally human towers and it was quite a sight to see.  There were three different teams of castellers (the human tower builders) from neighborhoods in Barcelona, Sants (where I live), Sagrada Família and Gràcia.  They tried to outperform each other by building the tallest and most elaborate towers.  There were some that were 5-6 levels high (a horizontal collection of castellers is considered a level), and there was another cool one that was 5 levels high with a vertical stack of casterllers in the middle.  I was in awe of the skill it too to build these towers; I still don’t know how they managed to do it without falling over like Jenga pieces.  Oh and my favorite part: who was the bravest person that would climb to the top of the castell?  It was always a little kid with a helmet and they would only stay on top long enough to raise their hand up to get applauses from the crowd.

Later on Friday was La Mercè Cavalcade, the main procession of the Gegants, the 9-10 feet tall protagonists of La Mercè.  There’s a person inside each gegant that makes it walk, run and dance.  However, there’s no electronics involved; the person inside the gegant has to be strong enough to have the thing on his/her shoulders and be able to run and dance in it without falling over.  Just like the casterllers, it takes a lot of skill and it’s incredibly difficult.  The gegants were all very unique; there were traditional ones like the Barcelona giants, the Eagle, the Lion and the Dragon Monster but then there were ones that made me laugh (like the one that looked like Ronald Reagan and a pigeon with boobs).  Also, there were many marching bands that played traditional Catalan tunes with a special type of pipe and drums.  The whole procession marched down Las Ramblas (the most famous street in Barcelona), down to el Barrio Gótico (the Gothic Quarter), past the Plaça de Sant Jaume and finished up at the La Seu (The Gothic Quarter’s cathedral).  We were lucky enough to get a great spot in Las Ramblas where we could see everything and it was definitely a cool parade to watch.

On Saturday we checked out the traditional Catalan dance, Sardana, in Plaça de Sant Jaume.  A lot of Spaniards consider this to be a very lazy and boring dance but I found it to be quite moving, especially considering the history behind it.  When Franco came into power not only did he outlaw the public use of Catalan, but he also banned sardanes.  He was in power for more than 30 years, so for a dance to survive that long under repression is quite an achievement.  Maybe for this reason, a lot of the older participants looked very serious when they were dancing and the music was at times very somber.  To dance you first have to put your belongings in the center pile and then join the circle.  Each dance usually lasts around ten or fifteen minutes and then the participants take a little break before starting again.  At first there were maybe only three circles in the plaza, but later when we came back the whole plaza was filled with dance circles, sometimes even a circle within a circle. 

Later on Saturday night all Hell broke loose; no, literally all Hell broke loose.  Near el Barrio Gótico the gates of Hell opened up and out poured the Devils and Dragons into the streets of Barcelona in what is known as Correfoc (Catalan for “fire run”).  This was by far the highlight of the festival.  Although it’s a recent tradition (it was created in the first few years after Franco’s death), it is one of the most popular traditions in Barcelona.  The procession combines huge dragons, ferocious beasts, devils and drum lines.  There were several types of dragons as well as beasts (examples: a three-headed dog, Gaudí’s dragon from Parc Güell, a demented looking pig, and a T-rex).  The people running the festival would attach some sort of tube looking thing (think roll of coins, but much bigger) to either the mouth and/or tail of the dragon/beast, light it, and then it would run down the street chasing people brave enough to get in front of it.  I don’t really know how to describe the flames other than they were huge sparklers on steroids.  When the gunpowder ran out, there would be a flash followed by a very loud BANG and then the people in charge would have to attach another tube to it.  There were also several different styles of shooting off the flames.  Most of the dragons/beasts would sway back in forth while moving down the street, others would aim the flames directly at the participant’s feet while others would shoot flames onto the sidewalks (where I was standing), showering the spectators with flames. 

The Devils were the experienced participants of the festival who dressed up in cloaks and used a pitchfork/spear to fill the streets with flames.  Back behind each block of Devils, there were one to three people who would attach the tube to the Devil’s stick and then light it.  Once the stick was lit, the Devil would gleefully run back up to the other Devils, often with a little hop in his/her step.  The tubes themselves would rotate on the stick so that it moved around in a circle, dispersing the maximum amount of flames everywhere.  As the Devils ran down the street bold spectators would follow the Devil, huddling around him/her as the flames danced around them.  Most of these people were covered head to toe in clothing so as they wouldn’t get burned, but I did see a couple of guys wearing nothing but shorts running in front of dragons and then huddling around a Devil.

After each block of dragons/beasts/Devils a drum line would follow and provide some really good beats.  They sounded like tribal music and they really got into the spirit of things too.  They would enthusiastically bang on their snare or base drum while jumping up and down and screaming at the top of their lungs.  They really added to the whole atmosphere of the Correfoc and, being a band geek, they were really fun to listen to.

Sunday was unfortunately the last day of the festival but it went out with a bang (pun intended).  At ten o’clock all of Barcelona gathered at the base of Montijuïc (the main hill of Barcelona) to watch Piromusical.  It’s also probably the most popular event of the festival because the entire plaza was filled, from the fountain all the way pass the round a bout.   The show was an awesome musical fireworks display that took place against the gorgeous backdrop of Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.  There fireworks were set music with near perfect timing as the Magic Fountain of Montijuïc put on a show that would rival any fountain in Las Vegas.  Before the last block of fireworks, everyone lit a sparkler and held it up in the air; it’s a cool little tradition that the locals do.  Overall, it was a great way to end what was a truly remarkable weekend.

All and all, there’s one word I can use to describe the festival: incredible.  I’m so happy that I chose to study here in Barcelona.  I’m so happy I decided to study in the fall, because if I didn’t I wouldn’t have been able to experience La Mercè.  I may sound obnoxious at this point, but I’m just so happy that I get the opportunity to spend three months here in this city to learn not only the language but also to learn about their traditions and culture.  Though I love the rest of Spain, my heart now officially belongs here in Barcelona and it will forever be in Catalunya.

Of course, you can see all my pictures from La Mercè, here, or you can check out the sidebar.  However, to get the real feel of what it was like to be at La Mercè, you should check out my two-part youtube video of it at the bottom of this post (just click on part 1 and/or part 2).  It gives you a taste of the castellers, the Cavalcade, saradanes, Correfoc and Piromusical.  As with the rest of this post, the videos are pretty long (2 parts, about 6 minutes each), but here are the times you can go to if you want to see a specific part:
Part 1 - Sardana: 0:11           Castells: 1:38            Cavalcade: 3:45
Part 2 - Correfoc: 0:06          Piromusical: 3:19

¡Espero que disfrutes!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Mom, I've Fallen in Love....

It’s official; I’ve fallen in love with Catalunya.

Saturday was another day of sightseeing.  We went to La Boquería, which is basically a giant market off of Las Ramblas with fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, candy, spices, nuts and pretty much any other thing you could possibly think about eating.  I didn’t take pictures this time because it was really crowded with locals and tourists taking pictures, lol.  I’m going to go back later this week and hopefully it’s not as packed.

After a little descanso, we headed out again to tour some of Antoni Gaudí’s masterpieces.  We first went to Sagrada Familia, the massive and elaborate church designed by Gaudí.  It is truly incredible.  One of the façades is of the Nativity and the other one is of the Passion.  The Passion wasn’t actually designed by Gaudí because he didn’t leave any plans of how to complete the church, so other architects are designing the rest of it, channeling Gaudí spirit as they go along.  Of course, it decided to rain when I was there so I didn’t take any pictures, grrr.  One interesting note:  construction on the church began in 1882 and will not be completed until at least 2026.

Parc Güell was the next stop.  We took the metro and had to climb up a huge hill to get to the park and it felt like I was in San Francisco.  We went back to all the really cool parts and ventured around the park a little bit more.  Off the beaten path there is a hill with 3 big stone crosses and apparently this is the hangout spot of the young pot smokers of Barcelona.  There was this guy in leopard pants/shirt playing his guitar and shaking his hips like he was Elvis and then there was a group of teens just rolling up a joint.  Um, maybe this is why it’s off the beaten path…

Today, we went to Montserrat (Catalan for “jagged mountain”).  It’s a giant mountain about an hour away from Barcelona by train.  To get up to the mountain you can either ride on a cable car at a 45° angle or you can take the train.  Naturally, we opted for the cable car and we made the right decision, being suspended over the side of the mountain is a pretty cool experience. 

Once we got off the cable car station we ventured into town.  There’s a famous monastery there along with a museum, but we chose to take a hike and climb the mountain to its summit, Sant Jeroni.  The hike up there was extremely tiring (about a 2 hour hike uphill), but we were rewarded at the very top with a spectacular view.  At the summit there was a viewing platform that had crystal clear 360° view of the mountain and the rest of Catalunya.  Seriously, it was perhaps the coolest thing I have ever seen in my life and I cannot even begin to describe how amazing it was.  So, I suggest you look at my pictures, here, and let me know if you see faces in the rocks too.

This is why I love Catalunya, it truly has everything you could possibly want.  Want to go to the beach?   Go to Costa Brava and Sitges.  Want to explore nature?  Well then go to Montserrat.  Want to uncover what it was like to live in Roman times?  Hop on a train and go to Tarragona.  Modern art lover?  Head on over to Figueres to see Dalí’s museum.  Gaudí admirer?  Walk through Barcelona.  Seriously, there is so much to do in Catalunya that you will never be bored.  There is truly something here for everyone and I would highly highly recommend it to anyone who wants to go to Europe.  If you’re planning a trip to Paris, make sure you cross the border and spend a week down here.  Trust me, it’ll be worth your wild.

Don’t believe me?  Then check out my pictures from Montserrat, Gaudí’s Barcelona and pictures of Catalonian Nationalism off in the side bar or by clicking the links.  I will be updating Gaudí’s Barcelona later this week after I take pictures of Sagrada Familia and I will be updating the Catalonian Nationalism over the next three months.

On a side note, my comprehension of Catalan is actually improving.  My host mom was speaking Catalan to her granddaughter on Saturday and I was able to catch a lot of what she was saying.  It’s actually a really cool sounding language and I can’t wait to start my Catalan class next Monday!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sun up to Sun Down: A Week in Catalunya

Yesterday I didn’t even realize that I’ve been in Barcelona for a whole week until my host mom said something.  Wow, time really does fly by when you’re having fun and when you’re really busy.

I started my Advanced Spanish Language class on Friday and for this week and next week it’s 2 and a half hours long, Monday through Friday.  However, class actually goes by pretty quick thanks to the variety of activities that are meant to improve our conversation skills.  For example, our first chapter has to deal with love and all things romantic, so as an activity we all went on a speed date.  Our instructor gave us each a photo and based on the photo we had to come up with persona to be during the speed date.  I was given a photo of a tennis player, so I got to work and came up with the character of Rafael Tenorio: a 35-year old tennis player born to an Italian mother and a Spanish father who enjoys taking long walks on the beach near his Italian villa with his dog, Ferrari.  In my mind, he’s part Rafael Nadal and part Don Juan Tenorio.  It was a great way to practice Spanish and it was probably the most fun I’ve had in a Spanish language class since Señora Szymanski’s Spanish 4 “aventuras.” 

In addition to the language class, I’m taking three more classes: one about the history of Barcelona, one about society and politics in Spain and an introductory Catalan course.  However, these don’t start until Monday, September 27th so until then I just have the language class.

ISA also organized some tours for us, one of the whole city and a couple focusing on a certain aspect of the city.  The first one was a bus tour of the city, hitting all the major sites in Barcelona.  The best part of that was that we got to stop at Parc Güell, which was designed by the architectural genius Antoni Gaudí.  I got off the bus and walked around the park in absolute awe of what I was seeing; the last time I felt like that was back when I visited la Plaza Mayor for the first time back in 2008.  The park is so unique that I cannot possibly compare it to anything else, there’s just nothing else like it in the whole world.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me, so I guess I’ll just have to go back.  Oh what a shame :p

Another tour was of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter.  This is the original part of the city and it’s been very well preserved.  In fact, you can go see four Roman pillars that formed part of the temple, back when the city was called “Barcino.”  There was also a little church in a hidden part of the barrio that bears the scars of the Spanish Civil War.  Hitler (he helped out the Franco’s Nationalists during the war) bombed Republican-held territory during the Spanish Civil War as a way to perfect the “art” of dropping bombs.  Well, German planes dropped one in a plaza where some children were playing and the church was hit by some of the shrapnel.  However, instead of fixing it, the church left the scars there as a memorial the children who lost their lives.  This is why I love tours.  Yes, they are very touristy, but you get the background to the buildings and places, which adds to your appreciation of what you’re looking at. 

The other tour I went on was a tour of Gaudí’s “La Pedrera.”  It’s a very famous apartment building in the ritzy part of Barcelona (Passeig de Gràcia).  Again, it’s very hard to compare it to anything.  On the second floor is a Gaudí museum that explains his inspiration for his work and it also houses some miniature replicas of his buildings.  On the roof are giant ventilation towers, but they look more like the statues from Easter Island.

All the pictures will come in due time, I just need to go out and take more before I upload the albums.  So far I have albums of the Gothic Quarter, of Antoni Gaudí’s work, of Catalonian Nationalism, and of other parts of Barcelona.  Hopefully, they will be up by Sunday night, so check back then if you want to see a lot of pictures!

Tomorrow I have a Picasso tour, so I’ll let you guys know how that goes.  Further down the road, there are some very exciting things coming up.  On September 24th and 25th, Barcelona is holding its annual local festival “La Mercè."  It’s full of free live music, correfocs and castellers; if you’re curious as to what they are look them up, but if you want to be surprised just wait till the 26th!  Oh, and then the following weekend I might be spending it in Paris…

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Madrid, Toledo and BARCELONA

Well, I made it to Barcelona all in one piece!  On Saturday, I left Arantza’s apartment at 7:45 (it was sad to say bye to them) and rolled my luggage though the noisy Getxo sidewalks to go to the metro station.  Even though it was a Saturday morning, I thought that all the drunks wouldn’t be on my train, because I was heading towards the city (all the drunks should be heading away from the city towards the suburbs).  But alas, as the metro pulled up I saw that it was packed full of drunk people; I forgot that there was a festival in Plentzia and now everyone is heading back home.  Luckily I managed to spot out the car that was the least packed and found a spot to put all my luggage.  The bus ride wasn’t too bad and I also found out that the movie “Twlight” sucks as much in Spanish as in English.  I arrived at the bus station in Madrid and took a taxi to the hotel.

The tours of Madrid and Toledo were great.  I got placed into the Spanish-speaking group, so all our tours of la Reina Sofía, El Prado, and Toledo were all conducted in Spanish.  On the first night there I did something that I regretted not doing the last time I was in Madrid: tapas.  My roommate, John, and I went to a little bar in La Plaza Mayor, sat on the terrace and ate delicious tapas (hot fried chorizo and croquetas) with some sangría

The second day was the day of museum trips.  We went to the modern art museum, Reina Sofía, at 9:30 and then to the classic art museum, El Prado, at 12:30.  Both tours were really good and I liked seeing all the art works that I got to see last time I was in Madrid.  After that, we relaxed a little bit before heading out to do a lot of sight seeing.  We went to la Plaza de España, el Templo de Debod, el Palacio Real, la Plaza Mayor, la Puerta del Sol, the two main fountains, and el Parque Retiro.  Whew…

The next morning we went off to Toledo, the religious capital of Spain.  It’s a great old city and it’s what I think of when I think of Spain: cobblestone streets, gothic cathedrals and narrow alleyways.  We went to a monestary that Queen Isabel built to thank God for being on her side (Monasterio De San Juan De Los Reyes), a Muslim-style church, and the place where they keep El Greco’s masterpiece “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz.”  We then ate at the same café I ate at last time I was in Toledo, and that damned McDonald’s was still there…

And now the moment you all have been waiting for…my first thoughts from BARCELONA (it is the title of the blog after all :p )

Quick thoughts:
  1. Spanish is actually spoken on the streets.  This surprised me because I came to Barcelona thinking that people would only be speaking Catalan.  However, all signs, advertisements and metro stops are in Catalan and I do hear a lot of people speaking Catalan on the streets and metro.  We also got a basic English-Catalan or Spanish-Catalan book at orientation today, complete with a quick grammar lesson and pronunciation guide.
  2. The fusion of the old and the new is absolutely amazing.  I love gothic architeture but I also love modernism.  Barcelona is a perfect balance of both; it has its own Gothic quarter with the narrow streets, impressive cathedrals and cobblestone roads but you can definitely spot Dalí’s and modernist influences.  It’s truly the best of both worlds
  3. The people here are definitely proud of their Catalonian heritage.  In my time here I have only seen one Spanish flag being flown that wasn’t on a government building.  There are many Catalonian flags on the balconies of apartments.
This Saturday is a holiday, the National Day of Catalonia (also called Diada in Catalan), so I plan on checking out the festivities; if it’s anything like Aste Nasugia in Bilbao then I’m in for a real treat. 

Sorry about the youtube videos too.  The internet here in the apartment fades in and out sometimes (I’m pirating internet again, arrrrrrrgh) so I’m going to have to go to the ISA office to upload them and I will let you know when they are there.

One last thing before I go to bed (I got class tomorrow!): My pictures from Madrid/Toledo can be view here

Bona nit!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Off to the Next Adventure

Well, today is my last day in the Basque Country.  It’s been a blast and I’ve learned a lot in two and a half weeks.  Arantza and Maren have been very kind, helpful and knowledgeable, not to mention extremely fun to be around.  If I get a host mom that’s as good as Arantza, I will be very happy.  I’m going to miss them and if I ever when I get the chance to come back to Spain I will definitely be making a stop their way.

Now, I’m off to Barcelona, my home for the next 3 and a half months.

Tomorrow, I’m taking a bus from Bilbao to Madrid to meet up with my program.  We’re doing a two-day tour of Madrid (the capital of Spain) and a day tour of Toledo (the religious capital of Spain).  I have been to both cities before and they are both absolutely amazing.  The view of Toledo from the hills is breathtaking and Madrid is just so full of culture and history that two days there will barely scratch the surface. 

Tuesday, my ISA compañeros and I move into our housing in Barcelona.  I can’t wait to finally meet my host mom and to see Barcelona with my own eyes.  I’ve been waiting for this moment for a good 2 years now and now it’s finally here!

As a result of all the tourist shenanigans for the next three days, I will probably be without Internet.  If I get the time, I will try to upload the pictures from the two cities and post links on the sidebar, but I will not be blogging.  I will try to blog about Madrid/Toledo on Wednesday and my first thoughts about Barcelona on Thursday/Friday.  Also, I’ll try to upload my first three YouTube videos of Getxo/Bilbao, Plentzia and the fireworks show when I get to the hotel in Madrid (internet connection pending).  I tried to upload them from the apartment but my laptop told me it would take 6 hours to upload them to YouTube, hence why they’re not there yet.

My first two photos albums, Getxo/Bilbao and Plentzia, should both now be complete.  If you would like to see them in their entirety, just click on the links.

On another note, I added a new sidebar that lists the different topics of this blog.  For example, if you’re only interesting in learning more about the culture of Spain, click on the “culture” button and it will take you to the posts that I have label as a culture-related post (e.g. this post is labeled “housekeeping”)

One last thing: If you have a g-mail, yahoo, AIM or twitter account you can become a follower of this blog.  This will allow you to post comments on individual blog posts; I really value your opinion and I would like to know your thoughts about what I post.  To do this, scroll down and click the “follow” button at the very bottom of the sidebar.

Until I post again, ¡hasta luego!

P.S. On a funny note, I was walking through the old part of Bilbao, Casco Viejo, on Thursday and I got stopped two times: one time to answer a survey (“vives en Vizcaya, ¿verdad?”) and another time to give directions. My answers to both requests: “no soy de aquí.” 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Culture Shock 101: The Main Differences between Spain and the United States

So, I have been in Spain now for two weeks and I’ve loved every minute of it.  I don’t think I went through any culture shock and I believe I’ve adapted very well to the Spanish way of life; things that once seemed novel are now just a part of my daily life.  However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any striking differences between the two cultures…

The following are what I perceive to be the differences between Spain and the United States.  Note of caution:  My observations are based only on Michelle’s host family and on only one part of the Spain; I would hate to say that it describes what all of Spain is like, because, as I discussed in an earlier post, Spain is made up of many cultures/nationalities.

With that, let’s begin (¡Cuidado!  This post is fairly long…)
  1. Sense of Time: The pace of life is much slower here than it is in the States.  Most shops close down for an hour and a half to two hours during the afternoon for lunch.  The only businesses that stay open during that time are restaurants, cafes, and large department stories in the bigger cities.  A lot of people also take month-long vacations during either the month of August, but others may only take a week or two off.
  2. Family and Friends: They are very important to Spaniards.  It’s very common for the children to live at home until their late twenties and for adults to take care of their elderly parents.  Every day I see someone wheeling their elderly parent around in a wheelchair, whether it be to the beach or to a café.  It’s also very common to go out every night to meet up with some friends or family at a local café.  There, you drink a couple of glasses of wine and talk long into the night.  It's uncommon to hang out or have a party at your house, this is reserved for special occasions and holidays (instead, people hang out in public).  Meeting someone for the first time is also a little bit different.  Girls greeting girls kiss each other on both cheeks as do men greeting women; men greeting men is just a firm handshake.  Public displays of affection are very common amongst young people (a.k.a 20-year olds making out on the subway, on the street, ect)
  3. Food: The biggest meal of the day here in Spain is lunch, which they eat between 2 and 4 and it's usually a two course meal followed by a piece of fruit for dessert.  Breakfast is usually something light, like cereal/toast and a coffee (though their coffee is basically a shot of espresso).  They usually eat dinner between 10pm and midnight, but it’s also fairly light.  They eat a lot of pork products (ham, bacon, pork loins), seafood, eggs, bread, potatoes, beans, soups, rice and leafy vegetables.  After meals, it’s very common to sit at the table for an hour (or more) and talk, while enjoying a couple of cigarettes (if you smoke) and some more wine.  This is really different from the States where usually at home we just eat and move on.  I think this might have to do with their sense of time and the importance they place on family and friends.  I really like this, because so far there have been a couple of really deep and interesting conversations at the dinner table (Their view of America, what kind of animal you would be in the next life and why, the different languages and dialects of Spain, for example). 
  4. Space: Everything is a lot smaller here than it is back in the States.  Houses are expensive and not very common (an average size house back in the States would cost hundreds of thousand of Euros over here), so most people live in apartments.  Arantza’s apartment is considered one of the nicer ones, but it’s still even less space than the first story of my house back home.  Local shops, cafes and bars are also pretty small; at times, you feel like you’re on top of the other customers.  There are no SUV's over here and very few vans.
  5. Smoking: Smoking is very common, and this is probably the only aspect of their culture that I do not care for.  They smoke after meals, light up while watching TV, and smoke inside restaurants and cafés.  The government labels on the cigarette packages are also very direct.  They say things like "Smoking can kill" and "Smoking gravely injures you and those around you" in big black letters on the front of the box.
  6.  Public Transportation:  Gas is very expensive and it costs 1,000 Euros to take the test to get your license (if you fail and want to take it again, you still have to pay the 1,000 Euros again).  Because of this, most people take public transportation to get from point A to point B.  I’ve taken the metro everywhere, all the way from downtown Bilbao to the little fishing village of Plentzia.  I love taking the metro; it’s inexpensive, fast, reliable and convenient (plus you don’t have to worry about traffic and idiot drivers).  The bus system is also very good. 
  7. Fashion: Everyone dresses very fashionably over here; you would not be caught dead wearing a pair of sweatpants outside in public.  Kids my age dress kind of the same as we do back in the states (Guys: jeans, sneakers, graphic t-shirt) but middle aged and older people dress very nicely (they dress like they’re going to church on a Sunday morning).
  8. US Imported Entertainment:  Dubbed American television shows are on in the afternoon (shows like Bones, Cold Case, NCIS) and I’ve heard a lot of American music in bars.  One cool thing: before going to commercial, the TV will tell you how many minutes of commercials they will show (we will return in 70 seconds).  Most of the movies shown here in movie theaters are American films dubbed in Spanish and a lot of the theatre productions are American musicals that have been translated into Spanish.
  9. The Spanish of Spain: For words that have the letter z and c (if it comes before e or i), the consonant sounds like a lisp; this is only found in the North and Central part of Spain.  Personally, I like it creates a distinction between certain words, so that you are able to spell the correctly.  For example, in the Spanish of Mexico, the words cazar (to hunt) and casar (to marry) are pronounced the same.  This would not happen in Northern/Central Spain because the second consonant in cazar would be “lisped.”  There are also some vocabulary differences between the Spanish of Spain and the Spanish of Latin America.  For example, coger is a verb that means “to take” in Spain, but in Latin American Spanish it’s the f-word (this is probably why we weren’t taught this verb in my Spanish classes).  So if a Spaniard was to say “¿Coges el bús?” (Do you take the bus?) to a Mexican, there will probably be a big misunderstanding….
  10. Miscellaneous: A lot of people don’t walk their dogs with leashes, but the dog does stay close to the owner.  Also, dogs crap on the sidewalk and the owner doesn’t have to pick it up.  There is no personal trash collection.  There are big containers on some of the street corners and you have to go out and throw your garbage in there to be collected.  All baby strollers also come complete with their own personal umbrella for the baby.
Well I hope you have a better idea of what life is like over here.  I will probably be updating this list in future posts when I see more differences between the two cultures.