Wednesday, July 25, 2012

On Madrid

Madrid, I've decided, is not very much like the rest of Spain. It just doesn't seem quite as...Spanish. Since I've been here, I've more often felt like I'm in a slightly-strange America than really in Spain.

Here are a few reasons why:
I live next to an outlet mall, meaning clothes are not (nearly as) ridiculously expensive. Said outlet mall is open on Sundays.
People wear flip-flops everywhere, and no one stares at them like they're from an alien planet.
I have seen people walking around with coffee. From Starbucks. Walking and drinking at the same time!
There are foreigners absolutely everywhere. Most of the other people I see around me seem to have Central/South American Spanish accents.
Everyone seems to be in a rush to get where they're going.
Most people out on the streets don't look like they're on their way to a fashion show.
I had ethnic (Indian) food the other day, and it was of excellent quality and actually kind of spicy.
The nearest grocery store doesn't close during siesta. 
The grocery store also has a sizable international section. (In addition to there being American-themed stores!)
Can we talk about the Peanut Butter Crunch there? YUM, but why does it have to cost €5 a box???
 I know this is just an affliction of big cities; in general they tend to seem more international than the rest of the country. Paris is the same, London, etc. There are lots of opportunities in big cities, and you can find basically everything you could possibly need. But I find myself longing for real Spain, where life isn't so rushed, there aren't as many chain stores, and people get dressed up to go out in the streets. Oh, and also where it isn't 30°C or above every single day.

Luckily, I'll be headed back to my lovely cool Galicia very very soon. Until then, I'm going to keep taking advantage of all Madrid has to offer.

Seeing the sights (or trying to anyway)

Oh, yeah. And I guess Madrid isn't SO different from the rest of Spain--I attempted to go to the Temple of Debod (an Egyptian temple given to Spain as a gift) the other day, and was thwarted. I'd checked the opening hours specifically before going, and got there right on time to find the scene below, AKA 3 security guards chilling out on the steps "guarding" the temple while not letting anyone inside. And that, my friends, seemed very Spanish to me.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

SE-just GO already-VIA!

It will be no surprise to those of you who know me in real life to hear that I can be kind of stubborn. OK, really stubborn. And I don't like doing the same things that everyone else is doing. But then, 2-3 years after the craze is over, I get curious about what all the fuss was about, finally do/watch/read/experience the thing, and get left saying things like "Guys, wow, The Office really is hilarious; I just watched all of the episodes in one weekend and couldn't stop laughing...guys? Hello?"

...So anyway, that's what happened here. Everyone's been telling me for years that I need to go to Segovia, that the Roman aqueduct is breathtaking and that the old town is very cute, and that there's a neat castle.  But far be it from me to do what other people tell me to do, no way! It's my life and I'll do what I want/ It's my mind and I'll think what I want... (thanks for the life philosophy, The Animals)

But of course, I eventually caved and now I have to admit that everyone was right; Segovia is actually pretty awesome. 

There's a Roman aqueduct, like everyone said, and it is cool to think that it's still here after several thousand years. 

Also, said aqueduct is HUGE and that makes it even more awe-inspiring. Those Romans, they sure were something, huh?

And like everyone said, the old town is super cute, with buildings that look like the one above. This building actually made me feel like I was back in another highly-recommended Spanish city, Salamanca. 

And here's me, hanging out in front of a weird fish fountain. I'd have rather gotten a photo of the pretty castle, but my camera is an official Battery Monster and decided to die just before we got to see it. So it exists now only in my memory...and, you know, in real life.

Moral of the story? I could probably change my life philosophy of never listening to anything that anyone tells me until years later, and I might get to enjoy cool things sooner. But then I'd also have to listen to people telling me "I told you so!" and I don't think I could handle that. Besides, if my way works, why change it?

So now I get to tell you that you should go to Segovia if you ever get the chance (but I won't fault you for not listening to me for a few years)!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A Few Summery Observations

This is the second summer I've spent in Spain, and I keep noticing things that are particular to the season that are very different from the way we do things in the US.

One example I noticed at the pool in the apartment complex where I'm living for the summer. One girl was trying to learn how to dive in, headfirst, and a whole bunch of people were showing her how. I realized that I have absolutely no idea how to dive headfirst into a swimming pool, and thought about why that might be. I realized that almost every single swimming pool I've ever been to in the US has tons of those signs embedded in the floor with a picture of a person diving and their head hitting the bottom of the pool and lightning bolts coming out of it.

[image from ...don't ask me what it was doing there!]

But here, nothing of the sort. I've continued my observations, and have seen people continuously diving into the shallow end of the pool (3ft deep or so) and not coming out without any lightning bolts around their heads, or other cartoonish signs of pain. What gives, America? Why are we so cautious about this?

Another thing is sunscreen. I've spent a fair amount of time researching European sunscreen lately, after an incident where I went outside for too long with Spaniards (who burn less easily than a pale thing like me) and returned looking like a lobster. 

I was determined after that to get myself some sunscreen, so I went to the chino (it being right around the corner and usually cheaper than any other store) and picked up the only sunscreen they had, which was SPF 4. I thought to myself that this seemed ridiculously low, but figured maybe they measured SPF differently in Europe...after all, they measure everything else differently, why not that? I used it and mostly didn't get burnt, but then asked a work colleague about it and she was shocked and immediately went into overprotective Spanish mother mode, saying "You can't just go around only using SPF 4! People only use that at the end of summer, when they're already very brown! You'll get completely burnt! Go to the pharmacy, that's where the good sunscreen is."

So then I dutifully went to the pharmacy to pick up some real sunscreen. Since in the US, we usually use sunscreens with SPFs of very high numbers, like 70 or 80, I was looking for something like that. But the highest they go here is 50. I was also shocked at the price on the bottles. I ended up getting a small bottle (50 ml, or 1.5 oz) of SPF 40, because it was all I could afford at the time. And that cost me €10. 

I later did some research on the different labeling rules because I was wondering why sunscreen here only goes up to SPF 50, and I learned that the EU has stricter laws in order to limit false claims, which the US doesn't have. So that US sunscreen that says SPF 80 might not actually protect your skin better than one that says SPF 50. I also learned that the EU requires sunscreen here to protect against both UVA and UVB rays, whereas US sunscreen only legally has to protect against UVB rays (UVB rays are the ones that burn you, but UVA rays can give you cancer). Thus why European sunscreen is so much more expensive--it protects you better, and it's actually labeled correctly!

In the future, despite the expense, I'm only going to buy European sunscreen, if I can help it. Once again I have to ask, what gives, America? Get your act together, sunscreen-wise!

Now I know why all these people aren't worried about being exposed to the sun: their secret weapon, superior sunscreen!

The final observation I have (for now) on summer in Spain is something that I'll probably never get over, no matter how long I try to get US cultural norms out of my head. Why do Spanish kids wear either no swimsuit at all or only half of one?? I understand that we're puritanical in the US and that little girls don't really need a tiny bikini top when their chest looks no different from a little boy's chest...and that even a grown woman or man doesn't need to be ashamed of their body, that anyone can go swimming nude if they want to. But the little naked or half-clothed swimmers will never stop looking weird to me. And I will never be entirely comfortable on a nude beach, despite trying to seem "cool" with it. Some aspects of your native culture never leave you, and for me, this is one of them. I will probably always be slightly more ashamed of and awkward around the naked human body in public than Europeans are. Thanks for that one too, America. 

What other summertime things does Spain do differently? Are you as awkward on a nude beach as I am? Have you, too, been foiled by confusing sunscreen labels? Tell me about it!