July 14, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Expat, Spain, Travel, Trips to the US

Who would have thought that a three-week trip back to the States would have me dreading my departure from Spain? I suppose sometime in the last year I crossed a threshold – one in which I became less American and more Spanish.

Whatever the reason, I officially can’t handle being away from my adopted home country for more than a few days. So, in order to buffer the reverse culture shock, I like to sprinkle as much Spanish-ness on my American life as possible. Perhaps you’d like to join?

In order to embrace my inner Spaniard, I employ the following easy-to-implement tactics:


    1. Excessive consumption of Spanish food is essential to my survival. Fortunately, fine-foods grocers seem to have gotten the memo: Spanish cuisine rocks. From olives, to almendras fritas (fried almonds), picos (bread sticks), membrillo (a jam-like substance that, when combined with manchego cheese and bread, is perfection!), tortas de aceite (salty-sweet crackers), olive oil, wine (duh), and MORE cheese – you can find a pretty impressive spread of Spanish grub here in the USA.
    2. I take naps as often as possible. OK, so taking a siesta is by and large unheard of among modern urban-dwelling Spaniards. That said, I consider it my duty to perpetuate the concept on this side of the pond.
    3. Occasionally, I like to linger around all five smokers that still exist in California – just long enough to catch a whiff of cigarette smoke, think of Spain, and then return for fresh air. It’s the simple things that keep me feeling at home.
    4. I frequent Spanish restaurants as much as possible because, let’s face it, socializing is always more fun tapas-style. While I’ve yet to find a legit Spanish restaurant in SF – you know, one that doesn’t serve spicy dishes, hawk tacos, or San Francisco-fy their food – just a slice of dry and bland tortilla española will hold me over.
    5. I order espresso, but not just any espresso – I like to throw in a request for a cup of ice as well. Nothing makes me feel more Euro than a café solo con hielo.
    6. I like to guard my purse and belongings with extreme and unwarranted caution – after all, you never know when a sneaky Spanish pickpocket might come along.

While it’s all fine and well to express my now ultra-Spanish self when in the States, I must remember not to go overboard. Here, the list of things that I must constantly fight the urge to do:


    1. Bumping into cars while blindly parallel parking – so easy, so effective, so fun, but also apparently so not acceptable in the US. That, along with cutting people off, not using my blinker, and avoiding basic traffic laws.
    2. I’m constantly tempted to throw trash on the ground at bars and restaurants as a part of my continued commitment to Spanish tradition. I guess that’s frowned upon here, however. Darn.
    3. I do my very best not to pronounce WiFi “”wee-fee” – as the Spaniards do. It just rolls off the tongue better, though, don’t you think? Weeeeee-feeeeeeee.
    5. 20% tipping? That’s outrageous! Particularly when I’m used to giving only my spare change. But because I don’t like being blacklisted by waiters and bartenders, I try to leave my small tipping habits in Europe.
    6. More than once I’ve tried to pay people in euros. If they were smart, they would take the money and run – after all it’s worth more – but so far everyone seems pretty adamant about sticking with dollars.
    7. And the number one thing I need to stop doing: greeting people by kissing them on the cheek. Every time I come home, I accidentally try to kiss at least a few folks, always resulting in me awkwardly justifying why I almost planted one on them.

Inevitably, just when I get used to all of these silly adjustments, it will be time for me to return to Spain and adapt to the reverse, reverse culture shock. For weeks to come, I’ll be paying people in dollars, dodging kisses, and picking up trash on restaurant floors. Ahh, the life of an expat.

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15 comments

15 Responses to “Embracing my inner Spaniard while in the States”

  1. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures Says:

    I need to write a similar post about Argentina, but well I feel like Spain and Argentina are so similar! Having said that, Argentinean food doesn’t come close to Spanish food.

  2. Fiona Watson Says:

    Great post – the bit about driving really made me laugh. I take it you’re not a jamon lover, as that’s the one thing I have to stock up on when my (Spanish) husband arrives to join us on our summer visit to the UK. However I have to take issue re siestas – modern urban-dwelling Spaniards in Andalucia most definitely do still take them. The summer horario is designed to allow it – work from 8-3, have lunch, take a siesta, then get ready to go out for dinner. I still insist on kissing people twice – that’s one habit I can’t change.

  3. Erin Says:

    @Andi – oh but Argentinian food is sooo good too! Mmmmm, dulce de leche.
    @Fiona – I am very much a jamon lover, but they don’t have good jamon here in the States, so I pretty much have to survive without it (tragic!). I’ve come across jamon iberico, but it’s always limp and lightly colored – not your typical jamon iberico….and sneaking it past Customs is always pretty risky. As for siestas – I know that folks in Andalucia may still take siestas, I guess I just don’t consider Andalucia (or Sevilla for that matter) quite so modern and urban. Perhaps I’ve let my many visits to Andalucian cascos antiguos, and generalizations by northern Spaniards, cloud my judgment? Correct me if I’m wrong! The siesta definitely doesn’t exist in Madrid, that’s for sure (shops may close, but siestas? nope).

  4. Erik R. Says:

    What kills me even more than the tipping, which I hate, is the sales tax. If I order something from the 99-cent menu and get to the cash register and had them my one dollar bill, it always confuses the hell out of them. “Umm…your total is $1.08, sir.” Gaaahhh!! That’s not the price on the menu!!

    My Spanish wife used to order a cup of ice with her espresso when we lived in England, and it always confused the hell out of them. More than half the time, they’d give her ice water. I’m enjoying imagining you in Starbucks getting a big 32 oz styrofoam cup of ice with your little shot of espresso.

  5. Erin Says:

    I love that you just posted this! I was driving around New Jersey this morning and the urge to take off and zoom around everyone, ignore traffic lights and pedestrians, and and disobey traffic laws in general was sooo strong that I had to use all my strength to control my driving. It helped that I was in my sister’s car, if it was my own, I think I would not have been able to control myself!
    I’m also cooking rice and beans, stocked up on plantains, pineapples, avocados – the staples. I feel like I die a little inside without them everyday.
    I get away with cheek kisses while in NJ 🙂 but random Spanish words do come flying out of my mouth on occasion and unbeknownst to me until I notice the blank stares from whoever I’m talking to.
    Ohh these cross-cultural lives can be so challenging at times!

  6. Cat Says:

    Queso tetilla yummm!! Good thing I’m un Galicia before my re-encounter with los USA?

  7. Steph Says:

    Hahahahaha, I do so many of those things when I go home! Especially guarding my belongings with my life (it’s such a habit now that I get anxious when they’re not near me), experiencing tipping confusion, and trying to kiss random people I’ve just met! Ah, reverse culture shock…

  8. SAM Says:

    Funny post! I am pretty happy with the Spanish products in some of the specialty stores too and we are always on the search for good restaurants too, though usually disappointed. Have hit on a couple, and many have been a mix, getting a couple dishes right and not so much on others (calamari for example is completely disappointing in the U.S.). Had some luck on a recent trip to Puerto Rico too (a mix of some pretty authentic Spanish dishes with some new Puerto Rican ones to try): http://twowhotravel.blogspot.com/2011/07/long-weekend-in-old-san-juan.html. I find the same goes for wine, though bummed that the same wine for 3 Euros there will be $15 here. I try to tell myself I should embrace the opposite philosophy and await the Spanish goodies while there and go for the other cuisines and wine that’s good here and harder to get there, but find myself needing those “fixes”:-) Jamon seems a lost cause-the best I see here is nothing-special Serrano:-(

    We all need to go with the wee-fee pronunciation-much better! I find other little bits of accent and words slipping in-esp. between my husband and me. Kind of ironic since our Spanish isn’t that great, but it provides that connection to Spain…

  9. Daniela Says:

    I moved back to the US last May after spending 9 months studying abroad in Spain.

    I still catch myself saying wee-fee all the time. At first my friends were lost when I asked them for their wee-fee passwords but they have since caught on and now they love the word too.

    This post was great! I don’t fell so bad judging the bad tortillas anymore.

  10. Erin Says:

    Ahhh – I’m so glad I’m not the only one suffering from all the switch confusion. I seriously thought there must be something wrong in my brain – like why oh why can’t my mind just accept that I’m in the US!??!!

    Yesterday, upon my return, I immediately did the following: ate manchego cheese (lots), had salmorejo, two glasses of cafe solo con hielo, croquetas (de jamon y carabinero) and some pan con tomate y jamon. Oh yeah, and I had a tinto de verano.

    Feeling much better now 🙂

  11. Stephanie Says:

    Erin, I e-mailed you before I came to Segovia for the summer about what to pack (ha ha!), and I thought I’d tell you I still love following this blog! I’ve been here a month, and I can already empathize with most of your list! Especially “Wee-fee” – too funny! I have a feeling I’m going to try to “dos besos” everyone when I come home!

  12. Erin Says:

    Hope Segovia is treating you well so far! How did the packing go? I swear the two kisses mistake is the worst back home – especially when I do it to someone I’m just meeting. I go in for the kiss, they kind of dodge me, and while I’m chasing after their cheek, I realize – oh wait, I’m not in Spain. Really, really awkward.

  13. Stephanie Says:

    Haha I can picture that situation perfectly, and I’m sure it’s so awkward! Segovia has been great! Love it. I’m lucky I’ve gotten to do a little traveling around the region, as well. My program ends next week, and then I’m heading to Valencia for 4 days. Already can’t wait to get back to Spain 🙂

  14. Cassie Says:

    Ha! I can totally relate to getting over the fear of pickpockets. I stayed in Brooklyn on my way home from Madrid and didn’t even realise how overprotective I was being until my friends asked me why I was clutching my bag so tightly. Yikes!

    Unfortunately, I’ve had to resort to perfecting my own tortilla española to get a taste of Spain (the trick is in the timing). The only “Spanish” restaurant in town doesn’t even have croquetas or jamon (¿que?) and though their paella is delicious, it is NOT Spanish.

  15. Erin Says:

    I totally go through the same thing when I go home – everything thinks I’m so ultra-paranoid with my possessions, and I find myself constantly justifying it by telling dramatic tales of pickpockets. It’s kind of sad to lost such a sense of security….

    I’ve spent countless cooking sessions with my suegra to ensure that should I every be separated from my dear Spain, that I can survive (ie – be able to make tortilla, croquetas and gazpacho – among other things). I’ve yet to find a truly legitimate Spanish restaurant anywhere in the US!

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