March 2, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Food and wine, Madrid, Spain

Recently, I’ve met a slew of new American expats, both firmly and not so firmly planting their feet in Spain’s red soil. Like myself, many move here hoping for adventure, others arrive following romance, and, almost always, everyone dreams of speaking the Spanish language overnight. But then, reality hits, and suddenly you’re in a foreign country, adapting to an odd food schedule, bizarrely inefficient processes, and smoky bars (wait, no, NOT smoky bars as of January 2nd of this year! Just had to rejoice in declaring that news again). The first months and even years are full of growing pains. You often don’t feel you belong, you feel like you will quite simply never speak the language, and you begin to miss good sushi with every ounce of your being.

And then, you remember that you are in SPAIN. Every day, for the last three years, I kid you not, I remain grateful that I’m here. Through the blunders, kleenex and curses, I try to remind myself of my favorite things (and we’re not just talking raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens here). And, sure enough, with time my favorite things have begun to heavily outweigh my “unfavorite” things.

So, when the Spanish dog bites, and the madrileña bee stings, here is the list of fantastically Iberian things that keep me singing the country’s praises.

The food. Period.

Duh. Really, do we even need to go over this? If I weren’t married, and could marry a physical object, it would be the tortilla española. And not just any tortilla, but rather my mother-in-law’s tortilla. Yes, it’s that darn good. It transports me to food heaven – furniture starts to look like bars of chocolate, people look like gingerbread men, and my beloved tortilla is the center of my universe. Joining this food love affair, as I’m sure you all know, is manchego cheese, jamón, croquetas and even pulpo (octopus). Spain, dear Spain, my life wouldn’t be complete without these delicacies.

The people

While waiters may not be the warmest of folks (they don’t really get paid tips – you’d be bitter too, right?), rest assured that most any given stranger will go above and beyond to help you. Three years of living here and I’m still blown away by the fact that when I ask for directions, people often either walk with me to my destination or even drive me there (remember the fellow with the mystery zucchini?). I remain in awe of the over the top hospitality I receive when visiting an acquaintance’s home. And then I’m just plain comforted by the simple way a group of people I hardly know always makes me feel like I’m part of the club. In fact, when my father visited Spain for the first time last summer (for that trivial little event of ours), he felt so welcomed and embraced by the culture that it has literally taken him months to stop marveling over Spanish hospitality.

Rhythm of life

What rhythm? You don’t hear it? I hardly do either, and that’s because the rhythm is ever so faint. If the US were a fire hydrant, Spain would be a rusty faucet slowlllyyyy dripping water. At first, this drove me mad, MAD I tell you. Why doesn’t the line go faster? Why is EVERYTHING closed on Sunday? And why isn’t anything open between 2:00pm and 5:00pm!??? But then, my rhythm slowed too, and gradually, with the surprise of frustrating idiosyncrasies having worn off, I now no longer get fussy. Here, people live in the moment, and that’s OK – they take time (LOTS of time) to have the most basic of lunches, they walk slowly through the city streets, they always pick up their phones to chat with a friend. Sometimes it can be positively aggravating, but now, more than anything, it makes me a better person because I’m able to enjoy life more fully (that’s what I tell myself anyway).

Car lifestyle

Yes, I’m following the heartfelt bit about me being a better person, with my perspective on car lifestyle. Sounds shallow, but hear me out. In Spain, people pretty much don’t car about their cars. Bump, ding, scratch, scrape, dent – no pasa nada. Double-park for an hour? Sure, why not. Park over a crosswalk? Meh, go for it. This probably sounds like the makings of chaos, but for me, not so! For every time I’ve been blocked in a parking spot by a double-parked car, I’ve probably conveniently gotten 50 things done by being able to do the same myself. Meanwhile, when I get a scratch on my own car, I laugh and chalk it up as another fabulous battle scar. I guess I just never realized how liberating driving could be until experiencing the stress-free disorder of the Spanish roads. Again, it’s all about living in the moment. Who gives a flying tortilla about my silly car?

The Metro

Seriously, the Metro is Dios‘s gift to Madrid (just as the tortilla is to my food universe). What a magnificent system it is – and I can say this too as I’ve seen a metro/subway or two in my day. New York, London, Tokyo – all just child’s play, really. The Metro, in all its glorious efficiency, can take you virtually anywhere in Madrid for a euro (sometimes more if you leave the city limits). Everything is immaculate, clearly marked in Spanish and English, and bedecked in colors and numbers so that you never get confused. I love my car (to the extent that I don’t care at all what happens to it), but my life could easily go on without it given this city’s spectacular transportation.

There you have it. My favorite things about Spain. I would advise that you keep this list handy in case you too get blue, but I realize that might be counterproductive if you don’t actually live here. Instead, I prescribe a trip to the España ASAP! I’ll treat ya to some tortilla while driving you around wildly on the Spanish streets and talking on my cell phone with a friend. You’ll feel right at home, I promise.