There is just nothing like living in another country to broaden one’s perspective. Since arriving in Spain, I’ve discovered that almost everything—from gestures and language to packaging in the grocery store—is a little bit different. It’s one thing to read about and study other countries; it’s something entirely different to daily encounter little differences that cause you to scratch your head and say, “oh…but I thought everyone did it this way”. For example, I enjoyed a delicious vegetable stew the other day, prepared by my wonderful host mother, only to discover (with a shudder, I’ll admit) that that “unusual” soup ingredient that she’d mentioned and which I’d eaten with relish was blood sausage. (It was probably for the best, because, had I known what morcilla was beforehand, I highly doubt that I would have enjoyed my meal so immensely.) When Puri saw the look of disconcerted comprehension dawn on my face as I looked up the
word for said dish after lunch, she calmly explained how black pudding is made and pointed out that we eat far more questionable animal products in the form of hotdogs and hamburgers. She’s quite right, of course, and it’s been interesting to think since, in light of that experience, about how the “psychology of food” works.
Now, don’t get me wrong—when I say that Spain is “different”, I don’t mean to imply that it’s dramatically different from the US. As in most modern, developed countries, houses, clothing styles, transportation, and the amenities of life are all about the same, with the one exception in Alicante being the absence of heating and air in houses. You see, since the weather here is rarely extreme, there really isn’t all that much need for AC and heat. Even so, I confess that I sorely felt the lack of air conditioning during my first couple of weeks here. As the seasons have changed, though, and it’s become a bit chillier, the absence this particular amenity has been really made me think. Perhaps having buildings toasty warm—almost to the point of discomfort—inside makes our bodies less able to adapt to seasonal changes of temperature? Being without heating and air has also made me realize how often I flip a switch when I feel hot or cold when really, I could sim
ply put on warmer clothing or drink some iced water and get the same effect in a more economic and environmentally-friendly way.
Call me a comfort-loving American (guilty as charged), but when I was first adjusting to life in Spain, the idea of not being able to control the temperature of my surroundings whenever I wanted was rather disconcerting. However, as I’ve seen that yes, it is quite possible to live comfortably—albeit in an area with a mild climate—without heating and air, I’ve also become much more sensitive to body-temperature phenomena like these: Cold? Solution: more clothing, hot tea, and/or blankets. Hot? Solution: don’t drink hot tea, wear cool clothing, and sit outside in the breeze. All that isn’t to say that I’m going to stop using heat when I go home (hardly)…but the experience of living in an area where almost no houses even have a heating and air system installed in them has certainly made me more thoughtful about the way I view stewardship and the way in which something I consider a necessity may actually only be an unexamined habit of living. Really, then, as in a
ll areas of life, when it comes to our expenditure of energy, balance is the key; and I think I’ll return home a bit more balanced.
Another “little” difference that is obvious but which still struck me as odd at first is the absolute absence of a vitally important holiday, which is celebrated by festivities all around the world (right?)…yes, Thanksgiving. Well of course no one in Europe (or anywhere else in the world except in the US, for that matter) commemorates the first thanksgiving meal held by the pilgrims in the New World out of gratitude to the Lord for his provision. In fact, if you type the word “Thanksgiving” into Google.es (the Spanish version of Google, which automatically appears in place of Google.com when one is in Spain), you will immediately pull up perfectly natural questions like “¿Qué es Thanksgiving?” (“What is Thanksgiving?”) and the subsequent explanation. In fact, I just had a conversation with my elevator friend (dubbed thusly because she’s a delightful former teacher whom I always seem to bump into in the elevator in our apartment), and she was under the impres
sion that Thanksgiving was the American version of Christmas. My mother was also quite surprised to hear that, today, November 24th, was the day of my final exam for one of my classes. I will be celebrating the holiday this afternoon, however, by having a Thanksgiving meal with my study abroad group at the home of our esteemed professor, Armando. I’m also going to attempt to make buttermilk biscuits without real buttermilk (which, like cranberries, doesn’t seem to be sold here in Alicante) and using an entirely different system of measurements. So I think I’ll need 440 grams of flour?