Sorry about the delay in this post, but I’ve been on vacation. So the theme of this week’s blog is “Spain And All The Crazy Sh*t We Learned About It”.
Ken and I decided to take a trip for our 25th anniversary, and we had a family meeting. “Where do we want to go?” we asked. T immediately suggested Spain, because he’s taking Spanish in school and wanted to practice speaking to real Spanish people instead of other teenagers who were equally limited in their ability to converse in another language. Ken and I had no real preference, and since we’d never been to Spain, we thought it was a good idea. In retrospect, it was an INTERESTING idea. Mostly because Spain is a very strange place. Don’t get me wrong—it’s a gorgeous country with lovely people, but it certainly has its quirks. So here are some of the more annoying things about Spain, from a Canadian’s point of view. And let me just qualify this first by saying that a) I HAVE actually been to other countries b) we were in 8 different cities across Spain so I’m not just making a sweeping generalization based on one place and c) I realize that foreign tourists to Canada probably think we’re weird too:
1) Everyone in Spain speaks Spanish
While this might seem like an obvious statement to make, what I mean is that very few people speak anything OTHER than Spanish. In a country renowned for its tourist industry, I was expecting that people who regularly worked WITH tourists, like waiters, hotel staff, and souvenir shop owners might be capable of speaking a teeny bit of English, or French, or anything else for that matter. But out of 8 cities, which were all tourist-y destinations, it was amazing how few people were able to say or understand the most simple English words. Like the cab driver in Madrid, who regularly takes people to the airport, but who was unable to tell us the cost of the trip or ask what terminal we were going to in English. I’m not Anglo-centric by any stretch, and I certainly don’t assume that everyone in the world should all speak English just for my convenience, but it struck me as odd that people who rely so heavily on tourists make so little effort to communicate with them. It worked to our advantage though—by the end of the trip, I knew more Spanish than most Spaniards know English, and I could say all the important stuff, like Uno vino blanco, por favor (one white wine please), Uno mas (one more), Quande questo… (how much…), Donde esta el bagno? (where’s the bathroom), and several other handy phrases. Spanish isn’t that hard actually, and once you realize that Spanish people don’t pronounce words even REMOTELY like our phrase book told us to, we were all good, saying Grathias instead of Gracias, and substituting “th” every time a word had a “c” or other random letters like “z” in it. Our phrase book wasn’t much help at all, actually—it seemed like more of a joke book, or like the guy who wrote it, Rick Steves, just enjoys f*cking with tourists. For example, under the “Ordering Food” section, the last entry was “Solo como insectos”, which means “I only eat insects”. In what possible world, or restaurant, would you EVER say that?! He also gave translations for things like “This is better than sex” (when a waiter asks you how the food was, which didn’t happen very often because they really don’t seem to care), “Can I buy your hat?” (to a police officer who has pulled you over for speeding, and who will most certainly find you endearing and charming when you say THAT), and many other bizarre statements and responses that might just get you thrown in a Spanish jail. The best part was that the word for “pickpocket” was in almost every section of the book, and I had to wonder if maybe Rick Steves was all pissed because he got his wallet stolen in Spain and this book was his revenge.
2) The Spanish schedule is insane
As I said before, for a country that relies so heavily on tourists for its income, Spanish people seem to have very little interest in accommodating them. In fact, the Spanish schedule seems deliberately designed to discourage tourists. In every city we visited, this was the typical day: nothing opened until 10 or 10:30 in the morning, everything closed down for “siesta time” at 2:00 pm until around 5:30 (or until people FELT like re-opening), and even then, the vast majority of restaurants wouldn’t serve FOOD until 9 pm. People eat dinner in Spain at 10 o’clock at night! Thousands of tourists roaming around, and everything locked up tight. I don’t know how they get anything done, or make any money, but they seem very happy sleeping and drinking all afternoon while the rest of us wander around, starving and lonely. We spent our first two days in Toledo, an absolutely beautiful place, but it’s a ghost town until at least 8 o’clock at night. We couldn’t buy food on the first day because the grocery stores were closed, and the vast majority of restaurants (like LITERALLY hundreds because it’s a tourist town) don’t serve food after 2 in the afternoon. I discovered that Doritos and pistachio nuts really ARE the breakfast of champions—and quite often, also the lunch of champions.
3) The Spanish Diet. Whut?
I can’t believe that Spanish people aren’t regularly dropping dead in the streets—they’re like heart attacks waiting to happen, based on the stuff they eat. Cured meat, eggs, and fried potatoes—I could feel my arteries hardening after three days, and after 6 days, I started craving broccoli. Seriously. I have never seen so much meat in my life—every city we went to had an even more bizarre kind. In Toledo, every restaurant had a deer leg propped on the bar. If you wanted cured venison, a guy would slice you off some. From the deer leg. On the bar. WITH A HOOF. As we got further north, it was like each city was trying to outdo each other in terms of what disgusting things were on the menu. There was a phrase in our Rick Steve’s Guide to Spain that at first seemed like a joke—“I don’t want anything with eyeballs”—but no, it was actually legit. Suckling Lamb. Suckling Pig. Tripe. Pork Cheeks. Whole Rabbit. Bull Testicles. Fried Cow Foot. In Avila, I ordered “Plate of cold assorted cured meats and cheeses”, just to try it, thinking it would be chorizo, or prosciutto—something normal. After eating one of the two meats on the plate (neither cold NOR assorted), I realized I was eating someone’s brain. (Ken said I wasn`t, but it tasted and had the texture of what I imagine a brain to be, and then I started to worry about mad cow disease, or becoming a zombie). Of course, the big thing in Spain is something called “Tapas”, which apparently means “small dishes of animal parts with maybe some cheese from a sheep”. It was rare that there were any actual vegetables on the menu, and if it said “vegetables”, you had to be careful, because it didn’t always mean ACTUAL vegetables—the menus were very loosely translated into a pseudo-English, and the servers mostly didn`t know what you were ordering unless you pointed at the English and tried to find the corresponding item on the Spanish menu. In Segovia, I ordered a dish that came with “steamed vegetables”—by this time I was seriously in need a carrot, or SOMETHING without feet or eyeballs, but when it came, it was just a limp mound of shredded onion and cabbage. So I ended up eating a lot of fried potatoes, or tortilla, which isn`t actually a tortilla, but a kind of quiche with eggs and more potatoes. We DID have some really good meals though, but mostly in Italian style restaurants, or places that specialized in grilled beef. Plus, the wine was either super-cheap, or actually came WITH the meal, so after a while, you didn`t really care what you were eating and the eyeballs started to look rather friendly.
4) Spanish Tourist Sites
The one thing we noticed about a LOT of tourist sites was that, although the admission prices to everything were WAY cheaper than Canada (7 Euros to get in to the Royal Palace, which is absolutely stunning, was built in the late 1700s and houses some of the most priceless Spanish treasures, versus $30 to get into Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto, which has fish) there was incredibly high security that you had to go through in order to see them. It was bad enough that we had to ALL show our passports to every hotel concierge in order to register for a room, but the museums and art galleries were all really heavily guarded. To get into a lot of them, you had to have your bag x-rayed, then go through a body scanner. It was especially bad at the Museo del Prado in Madrid, where there were cops and army guys on the streets all around it, carrying machine guns. Yes. F*cking MACHINE GUNS. For an ART GALLERY. Did it make me feel safer? No. It did not. Of course, most of the artwork is very heavily religious, with a multitude of depictions of Jesus—baby Jesus, crucified Jesus, haloed Jesus, and of course our personal favourite, Giant Badass Jesus (from the Toledo Cathedral)—but also some very weird paintings of the Virgin Mary, who apparently had tremendous aim and could launch her breast milk across a room at people, according to several paintings we saw. I don’t know if that’s a legitimate superpower, but I could totally see her in The Avengers.
5) Spanish Toilets
All I’m going to say is “Newsflash, Spanish Ladies. The rest of us learned a long time ago that you can’t actually catch diseases from toilet seats. If you REALLY don’t want to sit directly on it, please just line it with toilet paper like the rest of us, rather than crouching above it and peeing all over it, which just makes things nasty for everyone, or putting the seat up and peeing right into the bowl, which means now I have to touch the seat WITH MY HANDS to put it back down.” Enough about that topic. Public bathrooms are gross no matter where you live.
Overall, it was a fantastic trip—we saw some amazing things, met some great people, ate weird food, learned to function in a foreign language, and it all made us appreciate being home so much more. And at 2:15 today, I’m going grocery shopping. Just because I can. I love you, Canada.
Monday: I realize that my son is the best son in the world
On Monday, Ken, T, and I decided to take the high speed train from Madrid to Toledo for a day trip. Anyone who knows me well knows that I always plan for the worst case scenario, and because I’ve heard of instances where high speed trains derail and kill everyone on board, I spent the first few minutes on board coming up with a solution.
Me: I have to tell you something.
Me: If the train starts to derail, you need to turn around in your seat, wrap your arms around the headrest, and brace your feet against something. That way you won’t be thrown around the train car, which is how most people die.
T (looks up at the headrest): OK.
Me: Aren’t you going to make fun of me for worrying about it?
T: Why would I do that? It’s good to have a plan for everything.
Yep. I raised him right.