20 Oct

María Ángeles, the department chair at my Instituto where I am an Auxiliar de Conversación, always asks me why I think life is so much more simple here in Spain than in the US. It is a difficult question to answer, really, other than to say, ¨It just is.¨ But I have been giving it some thought and here are some of the the major differences between the US and Spain.

Although those of you in the US may disagree with me about the convenience of having the availability of twenty-four/seven shopping at Wal-Mart, Kroger and Walgreen´s, I disagree. To me, it gives me the feeling that if I procrastinate (which I am very prone to do), then I can go anytime, cutting into the time I should be relaxing. Here in Spain, the grocery stores and pharmacies are open until 2130 or so (930 pm) Monday through Saturday, so you must plan your day and time to go. The 24/7 rush in the US and always on the go without a minute to stop makes me feel like I shouldn´t stop to smell the roses, because there is somewhere else I could go, there is someone I else I could visit, something else I could be doing.

I know what you are thinking! You cannot plan to be sick on a day other than Sunday — this happened to me last weekend as a matter of fact. But who´s to say that resting in bed really isn´t the best medicine? Why do we wait until the last minute? If it is truly an emergency, there is the hospital emergency room. But for a stomach virus? or a sinus problem? Waiting twenty-four hours may seem an eternity but certainly not life-threatening.

I tried to explain to María Ángeles that in the US you must have a car if you want to go anywhere because most cities are not designed for walking nor for public transportation like they are here in Spain. While driving, we are inundated with information. There are signs everywhere that our brains feel compelled to read: on church billboards (God answers Knee-mail), regular billboards (who are you voting for this election?), signs for businesses, and general signs pointing you to where you are going. Unlike the international driving signs used in Europe that rely on symbols universally understood without words, the US uses signs that rely on words: ¨slippery when wet,¨ ¨one way,¨ ¨detour.¨

This constant processing of information taxes my brain and gives me an overwhelming feeling. When I rented a car last weekend in Spain, I did not feel this constant overstimulation of my brain to have to read everything I saw. I simply was watching for the signs to get me into and out of Bilbao and to my destinations. What a refreshing experience. So much more simple.

Since my conversation with María Ángeles, I have discovered another way in which life is more simple or at least less obtrusive, and that is TV. In the US, our thirty minute programs are interrupted every five to seven minutes with at least two minutes of commercials. Here in Spain, the program continues for at least twenty minutes, has five minutes of commercials (and they even tell you ¨we will be back in five minutes¨) and the program returns. It is not a constant changing and bombardment of information. I am able to follow the program, begin to understand what is going on and I don´t miss my DVR (especially the expense!)

Probably what I have noticed the most is that people here take the time to just relax and be. They enjoy each other´s company. Around 1930-2000 (730-800 pm) the town comes alive with people taking their daily walk. Families, couples, elderly people, young people, people with dogs, single people. The cafés are bubbling with excitement as gente fill each other in on the day´s latest gossip. The parks crowd as more people stroll through the beautiful paseos and chat with each other about the trials and tribulations of the day. What a beautiful tradition! Simplicity at its best. We do not take the time to do this in the US. Take the time to just relax and enjoy each other´s company. In a public way, walking, rain or shine, for an hour or two, just because. We are too busy rushing  to soccer practice or going to the gym, running to the store or shopping for something we really don´t need.

I may have perhaps oversimplified the simplicity idea. But since I have moved here and am living very simply, with basically one suitcase full of clothes and a few pair of shoes, in a well furnished piso (apartment), life is much easier and happier than ever before.


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