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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

An American in Spain: How My Life in Galicia Differs from My Life in Boston and a Link-Up

We travel to Spain every year. Village life in Galicia is a bit different than the life we have here in the Boston area, but it is lovely nonetheless.

We are blessed with family and friends who we look forward to seeing every year, and having a home base in Spain allows us to to explore areas near and far from our home base near A Coruña

Village life can be different from my life here in the States. Here are a few examples based on my own experience. Other regions may have different customs, but for me, this is what I have noticed. 

  • Spaniards don't hug. You get two kisses in greeting, one on each cheek (more like cheeks lips involved), but no hugs. Sometimes, I still make that mistake when greeting my relatives. Men, like here in the States, shake hands. 
  • There are animals everywhere. Our neighborhood is farmland that abuts the ocean. It's spectacular. Here is a piece I wrote about the road we take the to the beach. It is lovely, punctuated by small farms. There are cats that visit us every day, as do our neighbors' dogs.

  • There are no screens on the windows. Every year, on the first night in our house, I wake up like a colander, spotted with bites, until we get the new mosquito plug-ins from Carrefour's or Gadis' market. There are shutters on the windows that keep out birds and light for night time sleeping and siesta, but occasionally, mosquitoes or small flies get in. The plug-ins help. And I don't know anyone with air conditioning. 
Hogar, dulce hogar...Home, sweet home. 
  • Like most of Europe, we have bidets. You flush toilets by pushing one of two buttons on the top of the toilet. One is smaller and one is can guess why. 
  • Our refrigerator is small, as are our sinks, stove burners, and washing machine, compared to the ones we have in the States. We have a gas stove and we light the pilot every time. 

  • We line dry our clothes. I plan my laundry around the weather forecast. 
  • We go to the closest town's market for our food. We only use the supermarket, like Carrefour's or Gadis, for things we can't get at the mercado, and you pay a Euro deposit to use the cart. Twice a month, we go to the feria, a bigger outdoor market. You can read more about the Feria in Padrón here. We also get fresh fruits and veggies from our uncle and aunt. Check out their garden here. 

  • We have two cooking areas in the house. One area houses the main kitchen and the other is for grilling (and storing liquor and drying chorizo). 

  • We use gas tanks, called bombonas, for hot water and cooking, located and regulated in the kitchen, under the sink.

  • The baker comes to the house every day. The bread we buy is round and hearty; it's delicious. They have longer baguette style breads as well, but in my opinion, it does not come close to the deliciousness of the pan Gallego. We don't eat toast. We eat bread with every meal. The baker, by the way, can also bring you a cheese and a newspaper, and maybe even an empanada, if you ask the day before. 

Bread with the famous pimentos de Padrón.

Galician Empanadas

  • We use the metric system...kilometers, liters, and kilos...oh my!
  • We don't have wifi at the house yet, since we're not there full time, but more and more businesses have it and will share their wifi codes, if it's not public already. 
  • People grow food, not lawns. Space is used to grow kale, potatoes, onions... whatever you want. There may be courtyards and small grassy areas for entertaining, but everyone, (around us anyway) grows food. Everyone around us also has hens for eggs. Some have chickens and rabbits for meat. And some have pigs or milking cows. 
  • Produce is half the price that it is here. You buy food in kilograms or kilos (2.2 pounds). Fuel is our biggest expense. Tolls can be pricy too, but there are roads where there are none. For example, you can drive all the way from Madrid to parts of Galicia (about 5-6 hours) toll free, but then the road from home to the mall, for example, in A Coruña, may cost close to $5 US. 
  • We are on 24-hour military time. 

Just past midnight. 
  • We recharge our minutes on old unlocked phones and we have Spanish numbers. It's like a pay-as-you-go service until we're there full time. 
  • It's all Spanish (and Gallego), all the time, except for conversation between my husband and me. It can be overwhelming. I am learning every day, and my Spanish is much better when I am there, but language fatigue is real. 

  • Going out to eat is not expensive. Menus of the day include a bottle of wine, a liter of water, two full courses, dessert, and coffee for about $12-$14 US. A beer or glass of wine is about $2 and comes with a tapa. A cafe con leche is about $1.20 and probably will come with a cookie or pastry.
Cafe con leche
  • Most cars are manual shift cars with diesel engines and the gas station attendant pumps your fuel, which is sold by the liter. 
  • There are not many traffic lights where we are, but there are traffic circles, or roundabouts, at all of the intersections, and there are speed bumps that can take out your undercarriage, if you're not careful.
  • Eggs and unopened milk are not refrigerated. And we don't buy eggs from the store; everyone we know has hens, so our eggs are fresh.
  • Peanut butter is hard to find. Nuts, in general, are expensive because they are imported. 
  • You can buy an entire leg of ham (ex. jamon serrano) at the supermarket. 
  • When we are traveling, dinner in Spain does not happen before 9:00 (21:00) and many businesses still close for siesta, reopening around 5 (17:00) in the afternoon. 
  • There is always time to stop for a coffee. 
  • You're almost always a stone's throw from a Roman ruin or a castle...a history lover's paradise.
  • Seafood rules this region. Gallegos love their pulpo (octopus) and sardines.
Grilling up sardines with Tio. 
  • Public transportation (buses and trains) can get us from the village to anywhere in Europe. 
  • We are 3 kilometers (1.87 miles) from the beach, so we go to the beach just about every day to walk and visit our beachfront bar for a coffee or a drink and tapa.  And the sunsets (around 21:45-22:00) are spectacular every night. 

I love my time in Spain. While the rain in Spain certainly does fall in green Galicia, the summer time sees better weather, with more sun than rain. My life has a slower pace. There is always time to talk, as Robert Frost says in his 1920 poem, A Time to Talk. Everything still gets done in time, but there is always a time to talk. This requires letting go of the idea of a quick errand or trip to the bank, but in the long run, it's about building and maintaining relationships. 

From my experience, the Spaniards work hard, but they work to live, not live to work. It's hard to explain cultural differences without sounding critical of your own; however, it took seeing how others live elsewhere to know how much I want for my own friends and family here in the States. I want them to work less hours and live with more freedom to do what makes them happy. I want people to make a living wage where they receive access to health care and vacation time to spend as they wish. 

Isn't that all anyone wants? 

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This month's featured blogger is Ashley from Cómo perderse en España. An Atlantic Canadian expat currently living in Burgos, Spain teaching English. Her blog is filled with very useful tips for anyone thinking of moving to Spain, such as setting up housing and in-depth articles about local festivals and traditions. Last month Ashley linked up a post about the Sampedros Summer Festival, check out her post and say hello on Facebook and Twitter !


  1. Oh man, I want that baker to come to my house.

  2. Oh. They don't hug?? Ive traveled extensively. Not yet to Spain. I will file that away :-)

  3. Leanne@crestingthehillJuly 8, 2015 at 7:59 AM

    it sounds wonderful - very European :)

  4. Sounds great!! I'd love to come visit you there sometime!!

  5. Fresh bread delivered to my home, I love it! Your post was wonderful, I can almost feel the sea breeze and smell the bread.

  6. Sounds like you have the best of both worlds, Kelly!

  7. I loved traveling to Spain but to actually live there for an extended time sounds fantastic. The food and the entire atmosphere was so laid back and fun. Mosquitoes love me, unfortunately.

  8. It's a treat, for sure. Pan Gallego is like no other.

  9. It's funny how different cultures can be. I'm still learning.

  10. It is a real treat, Haralee. Thanks so much!

  11. It really is a blessing, Nancy. I'm excited to go back. :-)

  12. We must have sweet blood, Rebecca. :-) The food is amazing, regardless of the region. So much to see and do and taste.

  13. Wow. I really enjoyed reading this. I think what I loved most was the daily visit from the baker. How wonderful is that?! There are some similarities I've experienced moving from Texas to Australia (line dry clothes, gas stove, smaller appliances or NO appliances - I wash dishes by hand, etc).

  14. Oh how I miss Spain! I studied abroad in Madrid and 2003 and sadly have not been back. I remember asking where I could buy peanut butter. The first person I asked looked at me with a disgusted look and asked why I would want to eat that. At the grocery store (because you couldn't get it at the local market!) they took me to the butter because I asked for "mani de cacahuete" (apparently that's what you would said in South America). And oh, the language fatigue! But it sounds like such an amazing time to be able to go there and spend time with your husband's family and really be immersed in the local culture. I really enjoyed reading this post!

  15. Hi Kelly! Welcome Back. This post is one of my favorites and I read it twice yesterday just for your fun insights. I particularly love that photo of you grilling the sardines, what fun. Your wrap up is so excellent too, working to live rather than living to work, a lifestyle in general we could use a bit more of, even taking time to enjoy the basic simplicities of life, having time to talk... I love the bread delivery too, what a special treasure. I admit I am not a fan of the smaller refrigeration and stoves. I spent 8 weeks with a friend and combined our three kids for 8 weeks in London years ago, never did get used to that smaller size space in the food preparation. Also appreciate the ease of public transportation. Spain is such a wonderful country with so much rich history, beauty, culture, and great food too. Looking forward to hearing your adventures over the summer. Hoping you have wifi! Sending Big Hugs!

  16. I really love this post Kelly, for many reasons. I marvel at how different it is elsewhere, and I too want those things for everyone. Simple things that we take for granted here. Things we think are not possible and may not be here but are there. Stuff I like to think about. The working culture in the U.S. is the cause of a lot of our problems.

  17. GREAT GREAT GREAT POST KELLY!! These are so many of the simple observations that really do make life different here and I had no idea there were also bidets in Spain! Everything you mentioned is the same as Italy. Actually, we are on the 6th floor (in Italy it would be called the 5th floor) and I DID have screens installed on all of the windows. Just this week we are having work done and I've had to have a few removed and it is strange how insecure I feel all of a sudden with my son in the house. yet, Italians raise their kids with no screens!!

    I will be sharing this, and thank you for co-hosting the linkup!

  18. I guess some of the differences are simply due to older (like way older) infastructure, but like you said there are mosquitoes where you are so things like screens would make sense! So interesting how things are so different when we all have access to the same technology and advancements!

  19. Having the baker come to the house every day is real old world charm. It's simple, but still, with access to modern everything. I love it!

  20. Thanks, Bev! It is such a wonderful, rich, blessed experience. Our family and friends there are so kind, so generous, and a lot of fun too. We are learning more every time we go as well. On the peanut butter note, my Galician family knows it by manequilla de cacahuete, but my mother-in-law calls it manteca de maní, and she spent 30+ years in Uruguay. Anyway, I'm okay with a month without peanut butter. It leaves more room for the amazing cheese and dulce membrillo. :-)

  21. contented travellerJuly 11, 2015 at 10:30 AM

    People grow food, not lawns. Loved this statement and also finding out a lot more about what it is like to live as a local

  22. cool! How lucky are you Kelly that you get to go to Galicia every summer! My old Spanish teacher was from Galicia and he absolutely loved it. Of course, unless you're a fisherman you tend to leave the region for more opportunities. I've always wanted to visit because of his descriptions. #weekendwanderlust

  23. In so many ways, your description of Galicia reminds me of my time in Penang, Malaysia -- how small the appliances are, the 2 kitchens, the gas tank in the kitchen, military time and so on. When I returned to the USA, I really understood why it's nicknamed "The Land of Plenty." Everything in America is so big, almost ridiculously oversized.

  24. These are great comparisons! Much of what you described for Spain is similar to life in Lithuania!