It all began three summers ago. A fresh college graduate, I was going to move to a tiny 5,000 person village in rural Spain, without speaking the language or knowing a single soul. I promised my family I’d only be gone for a year, and that I’d come back to New York next summer, ready to get a traditional job and accept a “normal” lifestyle.
. . . OOPS.
Three years later, what was meant to be a one-year adventure in Spain has turned into something much, much deeper. This country has turned into my home. I have lived in three different cities of Spain; from tiny Fregenal de la Sierra, to bustling and boisterous Madrid, to the enchanting city of Granada. I have learned the culture, lifestyle, quirks and ‘isms’ of three different Spanish cities, all unique and equally wacky. I have eaten enough tortilla and jamòn to feed the entire Real Madrid soccer team for 10 years, drunk enough cañas to form a second Mediterranean Sea, and formed friendships that will last a lifetime.
As I leave Spain, this time without a return ticket back, I sit here again thinking about the life lessons this country has taught me. Of course, my experiences were polar opposites in the 3 million person capital vs. the tiny sheep-infested pueblo. Sure, those Spanish city people rush to work and plow down anyone in their way, pass their neighbors without saying hello, and they might not even give you dos besos and a huge smile when they first meet you.
However, this country is full of “pueblo people” at heart.
No matter where I’ve lived, whether in Fregenal, Madrid or Granada, certain values have remained a thread throughout the culture and the lifestyle. What’s more, each city has taught me something bigger about life, and how I want to live it:
1. Money doesn’t make you happy. It really doesn’t.
Mom and dad could tell you time and time again that money doesn’t buy you happiness, but you don’t believe it until you see it. And here in Spain, you see it every day. Spain has one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe, with some of the lowest wages. On top of that, Extremadura is the poorest region in Spain, and Andalucia comes in at a close second. Talented young people with Masters degrees are unemployed or working as low-wage waiters until they find something better, which ain’t easy. But you know what? Somehow, they always find time to tomar algo with friends, and are filled with good humor, smiles and a lust for life. You’ll see a wealthy, well-dressed lawyer at the same tapas bar as a blue collar worker, drinking the same beer and eating the same tapas. ‘Cause it’s not about the fancy bar, nor the decadent 18€ cocktail you can afford, but the simple things; a caña and some good laughs.
2. The good things in life are better when shared.
In fact, my neighbors refer to our group of friends as “la comunidad!” Yes, that literally means “the community.” My friends who are sometimes unemployed and always underpaid, are without fail always ready to offer me a glass of wine from their pueblo, a bit of cheese, a chair and a few minutes to sit and chat. I used to follow their generous offers up with a big “muchas gracias tio, next time I got you!” but quickly learned that if I said that, I get yelled at to shut up, chill out, and just enjoy.
The first time I shared one plate and two forks with seven people I was horrified… Now it’s just my everyday life.
I’m constantly amazed at the generosity in which people share their lives, their time, their things and their food. They’ve taught me what it means to share without expecting something back in return; just company.
3. Enjoying Life is #1. Work Comes Second.
When I promised my parents I’d come back to New York after my year in Spain, I thought what I wanted was a high-powered job in an NYC-based communications agency. That job would entail working endless hours in the office, paying constant attention to your e-mail when you’re not in the office, and basically, well, giving up your personal life. I mean, that’s the thing to do if you’re a young, intelligent, driven person, right? WRONG! All wrong.
If there’s one overarching theme I’ve noticed in Fregenal, Madrid, Granada and well, all over Spain; it’s that there’s ALWAYS time to enjoy life. Whether it means spending all Sunday having a BBQ in el campo without a thought for Monday, finding time to take an after-work evening stroll through the barrio, or getting some tapas with your roommate on a Tuesday night…
You work to live. You DON’T live to work.
That doesn’t make you a bad employee, nor lazy, nor unmotivated. It just means you value your life, your happiness, your friends and family.
Spain. I leave you with these final words:
Well, first off: I’m 100% going to be suffering from jamón withdrawal. If any of you amigos Españoles out there want to ship me packets of jamón to my home in NYC…I’ll love you forever. Like really. Para siempre.
Now, Spain, on a more serious note. You’ve given me more than I could’ve ever dreamed of three years ago. It’s time to go, but you’ve taught me life lessons I’ll keep with me for the rest of my life, wherever that path takes me! I know I’ll always have a casa here, and lifelong friends that I can call familia. But right now, there’s a new adventure knocking on my door, and I’ve gotta open it. To my home away from home:
This ain’t goodbye. It’s hasta luego.
Stay tuned to find out my next international adventure, to be revealed in a few weeks 😉 –Besazos, AWC