Know the System!


This weekend, a sales associate learned that we were visiting from the States and he asked RF, “It’s a lot different here, isn’t it?” At first, we both said no. I mean, sure, there is a language barrier. Though, for the most part, we feel like city life is city life. People here do all of the same things that people do in most other cities around the world – go to school, go to work, spend time with family, meet up with friends, walk their dogs, celebrate holidays… However, as we talked about it, we decided that every city has its systems. Simple or complex, obvious or not, they can take some time to learn.

One of the biggest “system” differences that many people generally know about Spain is the idea of afternoon siesta and late-night dinners. It’s actually taken us some time to notice these differences because of our work schedules. In fact, later dinners work in our favor.  Since we typically work anywhere from 2 pm-10 pm to 5 pm-1 am, wandering out for dinner around 9 or 10 pm doesn’t seem odd to us at all.  Siesta, though, was another story. We actually barely noticed it until we decided to work from a cafe one afternoon last week. As we walked home around 5:30 pm, we realized that there are many more shops in our neighborhood than we had ever noticed because we had always gone out for lunch around 2:30 or 3 pm when they’re all closed for siesta. Who knew?!  Of course, we’re still trying to figure out exactly what people do during siesta! Do they really nap? Do they pick up their kids then take them back to school? It looks like they might! But it’s all still a mystery.

Restaurants have their own systems, and sometimes it seems like each one has their own unique ways.  RF quickly learned the importance of clarifying “caffe” when ordering a mocha after getting a hot chocolate.  Not that he minded, exactly…but he missed the anticipated caffeine.  We had burgers over the weekend and bemoaned the seeming lack of available condiments.  However, as we were finishing, I realized that there were, in fact, the same old squeezy bottles of ketchup, mustard, and mayo up lined up at the end of the bar – diners just had to go up and grab them.  We also haven’t figured out when the server brings your check and when you go up to the counter to request your check and pay. Suffice it to say, you’re wise to pay attention to what others are doing as you eat.

Much like the US, grocery stores offer both carts and baskets to use while you shop. The baskets in Spain are nicer than American baskets because they have two handles – a shorter one for carrying the basket and a longer one for rolling it, because yes, these baskets also have wheels!  Oh, and when you go up to the counter, do not rest that basket on top of the counter or you’ll get a good tsking!!  The first time we did this, the cashier shook her head at us, came around the counter, pulled down the basket and demonstrated that there was a bar along the outside of the counter we were to use for balancing the basket against while securing the other side with our hip.  Aha!  Lo siento…sorry about that.

Today, we stopped in several stores in search of a lint roller. In the states, we would need only find a Walgreen’s. Pharmacies here are generally pretty clinical places that primarily offer drugs, first aid supplies, and select personal care items. So, we didn’t think that would be the best option. We looked in a larger grocery store. Nope. We tried a Clarel which carries the magazine, makeup, nail care type supplies that an American pharmacy does. Nothing. I asked the office staff at our building. “Oh, you should go to a Chinese store.” Say what?!  A Chinese store?? “There is one out and down the street to the left. Or, some clothing stores will have them. Maybe Zara.” Um, ok… I guess we’ll be going to figure out the system of a Chinese store tomorrow.

Yep, as much as city life seems like city life on the surface, I guess I have to concede that things really are different here.


2 thoughts on “Know the System!

  1. Pingback: Adopting New Traditions | year of months

  2. Pingback: The Chinese Store | year of months

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