My relationship with Spain: Love-hate

First, a couple of random stories.

Remember the physical therapy I’m supposed to do for my neck? Well, I’ve been going for the last three weeks now. On my first day, I was careful to dress appropriately. Meaning, I wore pants. If we all recall, my doctor made me take off my shirt and used massage oil to massage my entire back telling me that this is what the physical therapist would do as well.

It was really really hot that first day and I was wearing a dress. But before PT, I changed to be sure I didn’t have to strip down to my underwear in the event of having to remove my shirt. I arrived at PT excited for my free massage, and nervous. I was really hoping my masseuse physical therapist would be young and cute as opposed to old and creepy. I wondered if I’d have my own private room.

However, imagine my surprise when I arrived in a great big room of people over 50 doing a variety of exercises involving pulleys and weights. I gave my name to a lady in scrubs and she led me to a machine and told me to sit under it for 10 minutes. It was a heat lamp. “Where’s my massage?” I wanted to ask. But I was patient and sat for 10 minutes.

She then led me to a chair with some ropes and handles and instructed me to alternate pulling with each arm for 10 minutes. I sat next to a 90-year-old man doing the same exercise. Again, I was patient and waited out the 10 minutes.

Next, she sat me in another chair and hooked my back up to a bunch of wires. “This doesn’t have to be unpleasant,” she said. “It should feel like ants.” The machine sent electric currents into my muscles. They tensed at once and, yes, it did feel like tiny ants as well. I did that for—you guessed it—10 minutes.

After that she said that I should wait for the masseuse, Luis. Not cute, not young, but not creepy. I waited. And waited. See, there are tons of people at physical therapy. People show up whenever and leave when they finish all their stations. We all have to wait for others to finish to use the machines or the pulleys. But by far, the thing we wait for the longest is Luis. There are tons of patients and two physical therapists: Nuria who is the hooker-upper of pulleys and the turner-oner of machines and Luis who is the mover of body parts. In fact, one guy told me he’d heard Luis has the best hands in Madrid.

Well. I didn’t have a private room. I didn’t have to take my shirt off. No one stuck their finger in my mouth. In fact, I think the first day, Luis only massaged me for like 5 minutes while I sat in a chair. I almost didn’t come back.

But, I figured, what else do I have to do for an hour in the afternoons? And I decided to have an open mind and see if I started feeling any better. I’m glad I stuck with it (tomorrow is my last day). I actually made a few friends there, since older people like to chat and all. I am the token American and they like to talk to me about other people they know from America, or things they know about America. One lady winks at me all the time. One of the nuns that is a patient there calls me “guapa”. Physical therapy is a screamin’ good time!

Anyway, I chalk it up as another Spanish experience. And Spanish it is: lots of waiting and old-fashioned equipment!

Another story is that yesterday, I decided to send some of my winter clothes back to myself to make more room in my suitcase for when I travel home. I did this last time and it wasn’t too expensive to send things by boat, but it did take a few months. So I bought a box from the post office (they gave me the biggest box ever by mistake) and filled it with my giant winter coat, some sweaters, and a few other things I wouldn’t need for a while.

The problem was that I didn’t have any packing tape (just regular Scotch tape) and I didn’t for the life of me know where I could get any. I decided that I would use some of the regular tape just to hold it together until I got there, and then I was sure the Post Office would have the packing materials necessary to finish the job. I was dreading lugging the box there (it wasn’t heavy, just bulky to carry) so I tried to find the Post Office nearest to my house using the internet. I really should know better by now!

As I was walking out, Joaquin—my apartment building’s doorman—saw me and offered to help open the door. Then he was like, “Are you going to the Post Office with that?” I told him I was, and he said, “Wait, I’m going to get you a cart.” He brought me a little cart to put the box on so I wouldn’t have to carry it. Then he was all, “What the eff kind of tape job did you do on that box?” (remember, he is speaking Spanish so I’m loosely translating.) He grabbed some heavy-duty tape out of his desk and taped the shit out of my box for me.

I carted the box to the nearest post office. I saw the signs for the post office, but didn’t see an entrance. I walked and I looked and finally asked and the guy was all, “You can’t MAIL stuff from this branch, dummy!” So I carted my box to the other one, which is what I should have done in the first place.

So, I wait in line patiently at the Post Office. I get to the front and I have to fill out a long form. The lady doesn’t weigh my box, she inputs the size and the computer estimates the weight. Then she tells me it will be EIGHTY-FIVE EUROS to mail it by boat. I looked at her, stunned. I contemplated wheeling the box home, explaining to Joaquin and ripping off his tape. Then trying to fit all this stuff in my suitcases. Not worth it, I decided.

“Do you take credit cards?” I asked. “No.” (Of course not!) I only had fifty-something Euros on me. She told me there was an ATM just down the street and I could go get money and come back and pay. So I did. And for a while I wanted to cry (I hate spending money. Absolutely hate it.) But then I got over it and came home and made spaghetti.


I’m not sure what kind of vibe I’ve given off on this blog about how I feel about Spain and living here a third time.

It’s true that my first two experiences in Spain were amazing. The first time, I had no idea what to expect and had the most perfect study abroad experience ever, for a variety of reasons. I left wanting more. The second time, it was completely different but so much fun to be with one of my best friends and such a rush to make it on my own (illegally). I almost stayed another year, but didn’t.

And after I got over the culture shock of re-entering the U.S., I came to appreciate living there. It’s hard to put my finger on why everything seems easier in the States, perhaps the only reason is because it’s where I grew up and it’s what I’m used to. But either way, I wasn’t as excited to come back to Spain as I had been in the past. It was a free Master’s and an escape. A do-over of sorts.

And then I found myself here and I was faced with the reality of once again living in a foreign country. I will say that this time around in Spain, a lot of the “charm” had worn off on me and I stopped seeing everything different as being cool or quaint or interesting and saw it more of what it was. Annoying.

Just kidding! I love Spain.

Not really.

Kidding again!

Kind of.

How about some lists. Here are some things that I do NOT love about Spain:

  • Technology. It seems that Spain is really far behind the U.S. technology-wise. For example, my roommate does not know how caller ID works on our home phone (and as a result, we do not have it). Other examples are the doctors offices I visited not having computers, physical therapy being based on pulleys and weights instead of machines, looking up places on Google maps and finding that 99% do not have a website to tell you more information.
  • The food. I know. I used to LOVE Spanish food! I really did. The problems are two-fold for me now: First, they are almost all fried. Second, every bar serves the EXACT SAME THINGS. I could write out the standard menu for you here, but I won’t. There are only a few tapas and every bar serves them, which just gets tiring. Also, I have never been a big fan of the cured ham cut from the entire leg of pig. I don’t like the smell! I can eat it once in a while, but Spaniards all believe it is the best thing ever and if you tell them you don’t like it they will either dismiss your comment as a lie or be deeply, deeply offended.
  • Customer service. While in the U.S., we have a policy of “the customer is always right” in Spain, their policy is “well, that’s too bad.” Examples: the last time I lived here I wanted to send some gifts home for Christmas. Two weeks before Christmas I headed to the Post Office with the goods. I asked the lady how long it would take and I think she told me a month. I said, “Well, is there anything I can do? I’d like it to arrive before Christmas.” She said, “Well, you should have sent it earlier.” Another time in Mallorca, I got downstairs for our hotels breakfast ten minutes before it was supposed to end. I came down and asked the man there who I gave my ticket for breakfast to and he said, “You can’t eat. Breakfast is over.” I said, “No, I have ten minutes.” He said, “Five. They’re going to start clearing away the food.” Sick of getting this kind of crap everywhere in Spain I said, “Breakfast doesn’t end until 11. I’m here, I’m hungry and I want to eat. There’s still food. I want to eat it!” He gave in but told me the machines for juice and coffee turned off at exactly 11 so I better grab some while I could. Annoying. There are other things, too. If your restaurant service is bad? Oh well! If you don’t like your food? Too bad. If you want to substitute/change/alter any dish? Go home and cook it yourself! They will not change it. You have to wait for everything. Everything takes longer, there’s nothing you can do about it.
  • Social inequalities. The U.S. is far from perfect in this regard, but Spain has a long way to go in regard to being politically correct and accepting of people’s differences.
  • Grocery shopping. That post says it all. I just want to be able to get what I want, when I want at the grocery store!

However, there are things that I like about Spain.

I can’t think of any right now, but I’m sure there are some.


Here are some things I like about Spain:

  • Speaking Spanish. It’s fun to have a mental challenge everywhere you go. It’s like a puzzle trying to think in your head of how to say what you want to say to the cashier/old lady at PT/lady at the Post Office. Some days it is incredibly hard and mentally draining, but other days I feel good about my Spanish and feel awesome at being able to get by almost anywhere.
  • Social norms. I like that it’s polite to say good morning to people when you see them in the morning or good afternoon when you see them in the afternoon. It’s polite to greet people on an elevator and say good-bye to them when you leave. It’s expected that you will greet everyone at a social gathering with two kisses and give them all two kisses individually when you go. Overall, I find that Spaniards are more affectionate with each other, and I especially like that it’s fine for men to hug or put their arms around each other. This translates into a warmer community, I think, of people who greet one another and occasionally make small talk. I can’t explain it it’s just (besides on the Metro) a more friendly community atmosphere.
  • I like that Spaniards are pretty direct. If you do something that bothers them, whether they know you or not, they will just tell you. It’s not offensive, they are just letting you know. It takes a lot of mystery out of interactions and makes things less fake.
  • I like that Spain is a country rich with tradition and culture.
  • Madrid. I still love Madrid and think it is one of the prettiest cities ever.
  • Other Americans in Spain. Something happens to Americans living abroad together. Friendships abroad form faster and are more spirited than other friendships. It makes the abroad experience that much better!

So, there you go. Spain and I have been through a lot, but I’m going to get right out and say that I’m not too sad to be leaving and going back to the States. It’s almost like being at summer camp. At first showering outside and sleeping with flies buzzing above your head (this is an analogy remember) is a fun, rustic part of the experience. But eventually you just want to be home with what you’re used to. And that’s where I am now.

Also, I can bash Spain all I want but if you say something bad about this country, I will get very angry. Thanks for understanding.


About juliemcg

Marketing, writing, editing, traveling, social media-ing woman from Colorado.
This entry was posted in life, Madrid and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to My relationship with Spain: Love-hate

  1. Lauren says:

    You are so funny. I miss you.

    I’m glad you didn’t have another awkward hot oil massage situation. Like, haven’t you had way too many of those in just this one year back?

  2. robin inks says:

    everything you said could be said by me about the DR. customer service sucks. technology and doctor’s offices are waaaay behind. they heart fried food or rice & beans soaked in oil. but i also love the same things about the DR. really you should come visit and compare the differences!

  3. pablo kenwa says:

    i’m gonna have to comment on this…

    “* Technology. It seems that Spain is really far behind the U.S. technology-wise. For example, my roommate does not know how caller ID works on our home phone (and as a result, we do not have it).”

    explanation: your roomie is dumb. most people DO know what caller ID is. and telephone mobile technology is not behind the US. in fact, a lot of european and asian technology doesn’t make it across the pond.

    “Other examples are the doctors offices I visited not having computers, physical therapy being based on pulleys and weights instead of machines”

    seriously, where have you been going?? i’ve been here for a loooong time, and i can tell you ALL of the doctors offices i’ve been to were equipped with computers… with a universal health care system which i help to pay, i wouldn’t expect any less.

    * The food. I know. I used to LOVE Spanish food! I really did. The problems are two-fold for me now: First, they are almost all fried.

    almost all fried? no way! spanish is supposed to be one of the healthiest diets out there. but if you don’t like jamon, the yummiest thing on earth… then no, spanish food is not your thing then 😛 but hey, it’s all a matter of tastes 😀

    * Customer service. While in the U.S., we have a policy of “the customer is always right” in Spain, their policy is “well, that’s too bad.”

    i’ll give you that. customer service in spain compared to other countries is awful. but saying you can’t do nothing about it is completely false. all places are required to have complaint forms. if you don’t like the service of that particular place, ask for one. you’ll see how that makes a difference…

    * Social inequalities. The U.S. is far from perfect in this regard, but Spain has a long way to go in regard to being politically correct and accepting of people’s differences.

    i don’t understand this point. what do you mean by people’s differences? i think legal gay marriage, universal health care, a ministry of equality, a big chunk of the population being middle-class helped to quench “social inequalities”.

    * Grocery shopping. That post says it all. I just want to be able to get what I want, when I want at the grocery store!

    umm… no idea. i hate shopping in general haha.

    have fun back home in the US. you’ll always be welcomed back in madrid 😀

    • juliemcg says:

      Thank you for throwing in the typical Spanish responses.

      My roommate is not dumb. She is a 33-year-old professional who has her own very nice house and works in finance. I’m not sure if you’ve been to the U.S. to truly appreciate technological differences (like DVR, etc. and not just the existence of it, but the amount of people who own and have it and use it every day) but until then I think you should just take my word on this.

      The doctor’s offices I’ve been going to are privately paid through my insurance and are in Barrio Salamanca where I live. I can’t offer any explanation for why they don’t have computers.

      Social inequalities I’m talking basically about racism. When you see someone with dark skin on the street, you almost always know that he is begging for money or of a lower social class. That’s what I mean. I do respect the fact that Spain has gay marriage. The U.S. could learn a thing or two from them. Spaniards also have a habit of generalizing Asian people into “chinese” and not knowing about other people’s cultures, using their race features to describe who they are, etc.

      I hear over and over again that Spanish food and the Mediterranean diet are so healthy, but have not seen any evidence to that (except maybe yogurt and fruit for dessert). Perhaps traditional home cooked meals are, but in this post I’m specifically talking about the bar menu: Tortilla, croquetas, calamares, pimientos del padrón, etc. All fried.

      • Carmen says:

        Our health care system is one of the best in the world, and we do have a computerized system that functions really well most of the time, whether in America, if you are not wealthy or lucky enough, you better not get ever sick unless you want to spend most of your life paying medical bills.We are a European country, and we are aware of the new developments in the computer/technology department.( Just because your roommate is not prepared enough, or does not know how to use a caller ID, you should not make the blatant generalisation that all Spaniards are technology challenged).
        I´ve been a lot of times to the States, and I am currently living there, and the level of inculture is almost obscene, the standard say when I speak to an American and tell them I´m from Spain, “oh, you are from Mexico, no, Spain, is a totally different country, you know the one that discovered you in the first place”. You see I just made a blatant generalisation just to prove my point.
        About the customer service, I´ve suffered 3 days between airports and hotels with no compesation whatsoever from the American airline I was flying with,aggravated with the rudeness and misinformation that characterised the employees that I had the pleasure to speak with.
        And last but not the least, I am sorry, but an American, saying that our food is bad is just priceless. Even what we consider spanish junk food in here is much better and healthier than your daily american meal.

      • juliemcg says:

        Carmen, thank you for reading and thank you for your comments. I didn’t just generalize about my roommate, I lived in Spain for a cumulative 2.5 years and, I’m not saying all Spaniards are not technologically savvy, but comparitively speaking Spain is behind the U.S. I don’t see any way you can argue with that.

        I agree with your blatant generalization about Americans. Most Americans I talk to about Spain picture Mexico when I talk about it. We definitely have uneducated people here. I’m not offended by that.

        I don’t know how eating fried food can be considered healthy. I’ve been much healthier since returning from Spain, mostly owing to the wide variety of foods that are available at grocery stores here. I know that different regions in Spain have different typical foods, so perhaps where you come from the food is healthier than in Madrid where the typical tapas are: tortilla española, calamares, chorizo, queso, pimientos del padrón, etc. I don’t know what you think the “typical” american eats, but I enjoy eating fresh vegetables, sandwiches, etc. (and not bocadillos.)

  4. Pingback: 2010 in review « Third time's the charm

  5. Interesting. Thanks for the post.

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