Moving to Castellon, Spain when I was newly 26, became quite the journey. After a long flight, I got myself and all my luggage to the Valencia train station. Sweating, tired and arms hurting from trying to maneuver all my bags, I got to the kiosk to buy the ticket. Luckily there was an English option but when looking through my destinations, I couldn’t find Castellon. Hmmm that is strange I thought. One option said “Castello” but after so many hours flying, I was afraid to choose at it didn’t match my destination. So I had to drag all my luggage to the line and wait there and then mumble my way to getting a ticket to Castellon. Apparently, Castello is Castellon, but in the Valencian language. The start of what would be many language challenges over the years.
The first few weeks in another country are usually stressful trying to navigate the system, understanding the cultural faux pas and just trying to figure out everything in your new life. Although it wasn’t my first time living abroad, it was quite an eye-opening experience. Fruit stands and tiny hole-in-the-wall bars at every corner, old men playing bocce in the park, groups of friends both old and young alike drinking beer outside in the terraces. Breakfast consisting of coffee and toast or some small biscuits, later to be followed by 4 more meals including one “bocadillo” around 11. A sense of frustration that when you are free to do shopping, every place you want to go to is closed. Being able to let go and taking a siesta in the afternoon. Getting used to the fact that it appears that everyone is obsessed with ham-and wheew…how many types of ham there are to learn about. Or eating with a group of Spaniards and the meal lasting for more than 3 hours and everyone keeping their napkins on the table (as opposed to what we Americans have been taught-that your napkin on the table is rude).
I learned so much from my years in Spain. I was always a law-abiding citizen in the US, respecting the police, following the rules of society. After being in Spain, slowly over time I adapted to the relaxed way of looking at rules. If I could pay cash for something or “under the table”, I didn’t even bat at eyelash. I learned about myself, how set in my ways I was and how I was so used to American society. I learned about my own country and how people view it from outside. I learned that non-Americans don’t really care about what is happening in the US. I also had a chance to reflect on where my beliefs came from which is always a healthy thing. In the end, I learned how to live in a completely different culture than I had spent the first 25 years of my life doing. I got used to having lunch at 2 and dinner at 9 or 10. After 3 years, I finally started seeing Spaniards for who they were and how they lived with all their nuances. I started understanding why people said they had “their village” but lived in the city during the week. Though I still don’t enjoy eating paella on Sundays as much as the locals, I did come to enjoy going out on Thursdays to a street that was filled with tiny rectangular bars, having tapas and beers and not spending more than 10 euros. I enjoyed seeing families and children and older people (oftenly referred to as the Third Age “tercera edad”) sitting in plazas and just enjoying life at all hours of the day.
There is something so beautiful about the Spanish culture. There is a strong sense of family and friends, having meals together. There is not as much stress as in the US. People don’t often play on their phones when eating out. Villages and local fiestas take center stage. In some ways it is like going back in time (people still pick olives and make their own olive oil or mushrooms during the mushroom picking season) with all the benefits of living in the 21st Century. Going to Spain at 26 helped shape my life forever and I certainly will be grateful for all that Spain has showed me.
To see the beauty I was able to experience, check out this short video on the province of Castellon.