10 Differences Between Spain and the USA – Revisited

There are many differences between Oregon and Spain...

There are many differences between Oregon and Spain...

By Regina Winkle-Bryan

Sometimes I wonder at how my life has changed. I grew up in Portland, Oregon, but after 9 years abroad (how the hell did that happen!!!!!!!!) it is clear that I am no longer that girl from the NW (well, maybe in my heart!). Here are some of my favorites differences between my birth country and my adopted country:

1. VACATIONS (let there be relaxation)

In Spain everyone one gets one month off in the summer, and many additional holidays throughout the year. We don’t do that in the USA. I like the Spanish system better. Let’s all pray that this doesn’t disappear as social service are cut left and right.

2. YOGURT AND EGGS (Robert the Frenchman always told me, “Yogurt darling, is not a breakfast food”)

It took me a long time to accept yogurt and omelets as a dessert and a dinner dish. In the NW we eat yogurt for breakfast….I now eat it for dessert after dinner at 10pm! The same is true for ‘pan con tomate’, which is a favorite here in Catalunya. It’s toasted bread with garlic, tomato and olive oil…and a little sprinkle of salt. I didn’t get why people were so crazy about it at first, now I love it.

3. CAFE CULTURE (café con leche, por favor)

Ok, ok, back in Portland there was a lot of hanging about cafes, but NOTHING in comparison to Europe. People here know how to linger for hours over a coffee and a newspaper. They do not feel guilty for doing so. I have adopted this philosophy, but sometimes I feel like I should really get back to work.

4. EATING LARGE LUNCHES (burp!)

Lunch is the sacred meal of the Spanish day. On Sundays in Spain almost everything, yes everything (even Ikea) is closed, save the restaurants. One should eat and drink for hours, starting with tapas at 2pm and then on to soups, salads, fish, and Spanish rice. Follow this up with Crema Catalana, or even yogurt if you must…..Drink wine, drink cava, drink espresso and then have a siesta. This is enjoying life. Back home I think this sort of extended eating was reserved for special dinners and maybe Thanksgiving. While I love long lunches, I have a hard time relaxing, work-a-holic that I am. Gradually Spain, and my main-squeeze A, are breaking me of this. Many times A and I host these long lunches in our flat, even though it’s tiny!

Lunch lasts for hours in Spain

5. SALAD DRESSING (oh the selection….how I miss it)

I love living in Spain, but gawd I miss the selection of US stores at times. I could really go for some creamy blue cheese dressing. Unless I make it myself, it ain’t happening here. In Spain it is all about the olive oil and vinegar, which is great, but I bore easily.

6. LEAVING THE HOUSE AT 10PM (fiesta?)

When I go home I am always shocked at how early people want to meet for drinks or dinner. 5pm? 7pm for dinner? In Spain on a Friday we meet at 10pm for dinner, or maybe later. It is fine to show up at a party at 11pm. My goodness it’s tiring. This is why the siesta is so important. Personally, I don’t mind going out at 10 or 11, but eating dinner that late on a daily basis drives me nuts. I eat around 8pm, which has been a big change for A, who always ate around 10 or 10:30pm……even on a Monday!

7. FLAMENCO IN THE SUBWAY (ole!)

Now, granted this is not an everyday occurrence. I have seen this a few times in my seven years here in Barcelona, where a group of people get on the train, usually around the Besos stop, and the singing, clapping and dancing commences within the subway car. Last year I saw an impressive performance as one man danced a sort of drunken flamenco while five women sang and clapped. No one on the full train paid them any attention. Amazing. Never saw that in Portland. About a week ago coming home from the market I heard a howling and looked over to see an old man on a bench, quite alone, singing a heartfelt flamenco song to himself. No big deal. My preferred music is the blues, and flamenco is very much Spanish blues; I dig it.

8. THE WORD ‘FUCK’ (pardon me)

The word fuck in Spanish is Joder. It is used frequently here, by everyone from the little 10-year old school child to your grandma. It is yelped out in surprise, “Joder!”, it is hissed in disappointment, “joooooooooooder…”, it is accompanied by other words, “Joder macho!”, it is used to say “don’t fuck with me”: “No me jodas!”. I was shocked by the use of Joder at first.

In Spain, Fuck is not just for truck drivers, it is for us all. I try to imagine joder translating over to my native Portland….At the grocery store –  Clerk: “Sorry we are out of rye bread, miss.” Me: “Fuck, and now how will I make my sandwich?!”…hmm, no, I don’t think that would go over well.

UPDATE: Thanks to A, my use of ‘joder’ is even more complex. I can express many levels of feeling ‘fucked’; if that’s not a sign of fluency, what is?

9.  CHEAP WINE – BOOZERS PARADISE (bring us the bottle!)

As you readers may have noticed, Nancy and I like ‘el vino’ or wine. In Spain wine is very cheap. When I go to Portland for a visit a glass of Pinot costs the same as a bottle of red here. Joder!

Salud! Cheers to cheap wine!

10. HONK IF YOU WANT (the longer the better)

One must never, ever, and under any circumstance, honk their horn in Portland, Oregon. I honked my mom’s car horn when she was driving me to meet up with my father last year, and she scolded me for the rest of the drive. She assumed, rightly, that people would think she was honking at them (I was honking at my dad, who was on the side of the street), and that made her very embarrassed. She is not alone. People in the NW do not honk unless there is a serious reason, like a bear on the hood of your car or a child darting out on their bike. Here in Spain the same rule does not apply. Honk freely and expressively. Honk furiously. Honk at a parked car. Honk at someone crossing the crosswalk. It is not likely that anyone will pay attention to your honking. It’s more like musical self expression.

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19 Comments

  1. Kirsten Carpentier
    Posted November 15, 2010 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    I love this article!! And the long meals, cafes, and cheap wine. And one more thing you should add…Spain is so much more colorful than grey Portland!
    Remind me to tell you next time we talk how some people HONKED repeated at me at a red arrow light. Finally they got out of the car and told me to move…even though the light was red. Made me so mad!!! They aren’t from Oregon!

  2. admin
    Posted November 16, 2010 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    So rude….! You’re right, they are not from Oregon.

    R

  3. Dana
    Posted April 19, 2011 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Joder, you hit so much right on the nail- Dontcha just LOVE this country!!! I also love the many uses of coño- SO useful for So many occasions.

  4. admin
    Posted May 3, 2011 at 3:58 am | Permalink

    ha, that’s a whole other post, explaining coño

  5. Sam
    Posted December 21, 2011 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    Great, fun article!!!

  6. admin
    Posted December 21, 2011 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Sam!

  7. Posted December 21, 2011 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    Love it! I agree about the salad dressing – I started to make my own. Also, my latest post is about Rajoy trying to eliminate the puentes!

  8. Posted December 29, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    I love your insight! Having been to Spain & also living in Portland, I share your observations! My daughter is going to Spain in a few weeks – hope you both can meet sometime! Thanks for your blog!

  9. Piper
    Posted May 20, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    This is a great post, I’m giving a lesson to my students in the Basque Country about differences between here and back home…aka Portland. It’s nice to have a few extra points to talk about!

  10. admin
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 3:38 am | Permalink

    Glad you found it helpful! Write back and let us know how your trip to Basque Country goes. It is a beautiful part of Spain with high spirited people!

  11. admin
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Piper, I am also from Portland (Oregon, right?) Did you choose Basque Country because it’s so like the NW?

    Regina

  12. Piper
    Posted May 23, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Actually I was just placed here, I originally wanted Valencia! As soon as I got here I immediately saw how similar it is to the great NW; mountains, beaches….RAIN. I love it here, unfortunately my masters program at PSU is calling me so I have to leave in just over a week. I highly recommend people visit this region, though. Bilbao is a personal favorite!

  13. admin
    Posted May 23, 2012 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

    So glad you enjoyed Bilbao. It is amazing in Spain how regions differ and there are many subcultures. Hope you get back soon! Let us know when you come back.

  14. catanonim
    Posted September 15, 2012 at 1:14 am | Permalink

    Thanks. We might as well have the wonderfully simple Catalan dish ‘pan con tomate’ which you mention in the local Catalan language: “pa amb tomàquet”.

  15. admin
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 1:45 am | Permalink

    Yes, it is delicious, especially with high quality olive oil!

  16. admin
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 1:46 am | Permalink

    John, yes you are correct and win a visit with the Pope. I know that is exactly what you want.

  17. Posted January 23, 2013 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    Good article – thanks !

  18. Miguel
    Posted November 28, 2013 at 5:39 am | Permalink

    Just one comment… “Joder” has different meanings. One is “To fuck”, but the most common (the meanings you mention) is not that one, but “To disturb” or “To annoy” (i.e. “Fastidiar”) which, obviously, has nothing to do with “To fuck”.

  19. admin
    Posted November 28, 2013 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    I don’t know Miguel….like JODER, FUCK also has many meanings…one is like annoy as well, as in, “Stop fucking with me.” Right? However, the point of this post was that people use JODER more freely here in Spain than most English speakers use FUCK. Or maybe I’m wrong. What do other English speakers think?

    Thanks for your thoughts on JODER! A useful verb, if ever there was one.

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