Eight ways Madrid will change you for life

Just a run-of-the-mill gorgeous afternoon in Retiro Park

Last week I was mentioning how it’s inevitable that your new culture will influence your lifestyle and here in Spain, mealtimes are first on the list. But it doesn’t end there. Though it’s hard to wrap your mind around a 9:00 dinner time, the other ways Madrid (and Spain) will shape you are pleasant surprises.

I pride myself on being happy wherever I settle but I’m getting the feeling that Madrid is spoiling me. Keep reading for a few ways I think Madrid has ruined me for life.

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Coming to grips with my “Americanness”

embarrassed to be an american

Somewhere in my college days, I took a couple semesters of French. I remember my professor very well, probably because he was a salt-and-pepper-haired dapper Frenchman who could really pull off a scarf. But also, I remember him because he never minced words when he talked about the differences between the French and Americans.

One day at the beginning of the semester, he told us all to stop smiling so much. I may have recoiled, it shocked me so much. I quickly uncurled my lips. I’m sure they didn’t stay there long. I can’t help it. Smiling is engrained in American DNA, just like the pathological enthusiasm that practically seeps from our pores.

He went on to tell us that in France if you see someone smiling at strangers on the street you assume they’re senile, drunk or without much sense. I had no idea that what I thought was a symbol of being earnest and open was telling legions of French people I was an idiot.
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Seven reasons the Spanish stay slim (even while eating all that ham)

My first few glances at Madrid’s restaurant menus gave me major anxiety. Yes, part of it was that I had a whole new list of food words to learn. But after that, I started worrying how I was going to live here for the next few years and not have to buy new jeans every six months.

Because Spanish food is the delicious cliche you think it is: all varieties of ham, creamy cheese, peppery wine, and olives stuffed with everything you can imagine. There’s really no way to avoid these foods and besides, I didn’t want to! Unfortunately, unless I was going to develop insane self-control (not likely), I was going to have to develop some new eating habits.

Thank goodness the Spaniards are already pros at this and all I had to do was follow their example. Keep reading for seven habits I copied from the locals so I could have my ham and eat it too.

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Fighting indifference and fear on World Refugee Day

Today, June 20th is World Refugee Day. It’s a day to pause and recognize the courage and determination shown by the 65.6 million people who have been forced to flee their homes because of violence, war, or persecution.

But also, it’s a day to fight against indifference and fear.

In his statement today, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, acknowledged these unfortunately common sentiments, saying that political upheaval and violence near our borders makes us want to “shut our eyes or close our doors.”

It’s easy to turn off the news and ignore what’s happening to millions of people around the globe. Or “wash our hands” of responsibility because the problem seems too big. But let’s not do that today.

Grandi called on all of us to take a moment while remembering the millions who cannot return to their homes to ask ourselves how we can become more inclusive, welcoming, and aware.

We can overcome indifference and fear. In honor of World Refugee Day, here are three small ways to do it.

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Bad expat behavior: Three things to stop doing to start adjusting

Last week I mentioned a personal grievance I have with the word “do” in relation to travel because it turns places into things that are either done or not done. This got me thinking about how our thoughts have the power to completely change the way we see things.

This is a big deal for all the expats out there.

Because when you’re adjusting to a new culture and life gets hard, it’s easy to focus on what you don’t like or is different. This seems like an innocent way to vent, but those brick-like judgments will quickly stack into tidy little rows between you and your new neighbors.

Some degree of assimilation—i.e. adapting to your new environment—is necessary to really be happy and settled in your new home. That said, here are three “bad expat behaviors” you should stop asap to keep moving forward.

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9 things Americans take for granted

things americans take for granted
I never thought twice about piping hot water…until I had two years of warm-ish showers

The other day I was listening to a travel podcast where at the end of the show, listeners call in with their questions. On this particular episode, a guy on the line made a joke about a “law” in Europe against serving ice cold beverages. He was joking, but also cheekily bemoaning his lack of a Coke-induced brain freeze on his Spanish vacation.

Anyone who’s lived outside their home country or traveled a fair amount would probably scoff at his comment. But, it got me thinking. No matter which culture is yours, you can’t help assuming that “things” are done in a certain way. Normal is subjective so of course, it’s surprising to see life done differently.

As my wheels kept turning I realized there were a ton of things that weren’t a “given” when I moved abroad. Keep reading for a few.

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A few things to know before moving to Madrid

NoLongerNative is a kind of chronicle of expat life blunders. But I’m noticing that instead of learning from my mistakes, I usually go make them all over again. You know how it goes, once you get far enough away from those embarrassing stumbles you kind of forget it all.

That said, it shouldn’t surprise you to hear me say I arrived in Madrid with a suitcase full of assumptions and expectations carrying over from my first ‘life’ abroad, the two years I lived in Bogotá. I had a certain mental timeline of how quickly things should move. I thought that if something took two weeks in Colombia, it’ll probably be twice as fast here!

And so, settling in for the second go-around is coming with a new set of lessons.

I mentioned the first a couple of weeks ago, that I was surprised my Spanish vocabulary needed a tune-up. Even if you didn’t learn in Colombia, the Spanish you learned in high school is not the Spanish spoken in Spain. While it isn’t necessary to speak Spanish and visit Spain, some proficiency is necessary to visit government offices and do all the paperwork things that go along with being a foreigner.

Keep reading for a few more of the surprises I’ve had these past few weeks as I’ve been settling down in my new city.

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When your own culture catches you off guard

reverse culture shock

When you face a cultural quirk in your adopted home it’s easy to chock it up to the fact that it’s a funny (or irritating or charming!) part of life abroad. However, it’s bewildering when those shocks are coming from things that used to be second nature. Robin Pascoe, writer and expert in all things expat, likens repatriation to wearing your contacts in the wrong eyes: everything looks almost right.

I’m no stranger to reverse culture shock. This blog has been an important place where I can talk about my changing ideas of home, of adopting aspects of a new culture or having a hard time going back to the U.S. 

But, like regular culture shock, no matter how easily you move between worlds you still experience it to some degree. I’ve learned to stop expecting things to be the same when I return to San Diego. The thing that always gets me though are the unexpected ways I’ve changed.

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Ciudad Perdida: The ‘Lost City’ of Teyuna, Part I

from top of terraces
From the highest terrace of the ‘lost city’

Who wouldn’t want to see a recently rediscovered ancient city? Bygone civilizations, ruins, and abandoned places have always captured people’s attention—just think of ancient Rome’s obsession with the pyramids or the excavation and tourism of Pompeii and Herculaneum in the mid-18th century. Relatively speaking Colombia’s Ciudad Perdida is a new kid on the block, which is why we found ourselves in the middle of the jungle over the long Easter weekend.

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