For a variety of reasons, our family decided to move to Spain for a year.
We uprooted our Durango teenager and grade schooler, left our jobs, found a friend to take our dog and packed up our house. It is an amazing experience and our hope is we will come back bilingual and with a better understanding of more of the world. Even though we hope to incorporate some traveling, it's not a vacation.
It's the little things that make you realize you're in a new country on a new continent. These things aren't expected because they are things you don't notice until you try to act as if nothing is different. Just like learning language, we all grow up learning how to function in our world. So, in addition to learning how to speak in a new country, it takes time to learn how to act, as well. For the next year, this column will focus mainly on what it is like to actually live in a new culture.
First things first: the food. People tell you about the amazing food in Spain. So far, I have found that to be true, but it also depends on what you like to eat. If you are a breakfast lover, you are out of luck. The American fare of eggs, pancakes, burritos, etc. cannot be found. However, if you are a fan of big, filling lunches with lots of rice, seafood and ham, you are in luck.
I feel like every meal is like going to a fine restaurant for cheap. There are no burgers and club sandwiches on the menu. Choices at even the quicker restaurants include a variety of fishes, rices, rabbit, pork, lobster, roast suckling pig and octopus, all in fairly large portions. One meal around 3 p.m. each day provides the majority of your calories (well, healthy calories – the beer and chocolate croissants for breakfast are another matter).
Obviously, living somewhere precludes the option of eating out every meal like you would on a vacation. So, the struggle is to feel like you are in Spain in your own home during meals. We have enthusiastically embraced the coffee and chocolate croissant for breakfast, as well as the jamon and cheese baguette for the mid-morning snack.
Tapas at 11 p.m. are only for special occasions on the town when you have kids, so we've been having melon, bread, olives and cheeses for tapas around 8 p.m. This leaves the main mid-day meal. We have cut back on beef, fallen in love with a specialty jamon pizza and tried to incorporate rice dishes and seafood.
The big obstacle to cooking like a Spaniard is getting foods from the market to your table. You really need to grow up cooking in Spain or have a strong affinity to learn (luckily, Mike, my husband, does). Ham, the meat of choice here, is bought in large slabs, all shrimp have their heads, mussels have their beards and fish can be presented with their tongues hanging out. Legumes must be soaked, broths must be made for rices, and rubbery squids must be chopped and marinated. The mid-day meal doesn't just take a long time to eat, it takes a long time to prepare.
Embracing life in a new country requires letting go of old cravings and habits. Spain makes this easy by not even offering familiar options. It's actually nice not to be catered to as Americans. You either figure it out, go broke or go hungry.
Sally Shuffield is a Durango resident living in Spain for a year with her family. Follow her blog at www.sallyshuffield.net/spain-blog.