Expat Voices: Alice Driver on life in Spain
American Alice Driver moved to Spain thrice in the past nine years. She moved back to the States last year but continues to have fond memories of Spanish gastronomy.
Name: Alice Driver
Date of birth: 23 July 1981
Civil status: Married
City of residence: Lexington, Kentucky
Occupation: Spanish Instructor at the University of Kentucky
Lived in Spain: for almost two years, but currently lives in Lexington, Kentucky.
Reason for moving to Spain: I first moved to Segovia in 2001 to study abroad for a semester. I then returned in 2005-2006 to complete a year of my Masters degree at the University of Valladolid. In the spring of 2009 I worked as the assistant director of the Kentucky Institute for International Studies program in Segovia.
What was your first impression of Spain?
I fell in love with street life in Spain. I love that people walk everywhere and that the streets are constantly filled with people of all ages. I feel like life in the US is much more segregated by age. In Spain, at 10pm, it would be normal for me to go to a bar and strike up a conversation with a cute little 80-year-old couple. I also became obsessed with tapas and all types of Spanish ham.
What do you think of Spanish food?
I am a foodie, so I organised all my travels around food-related events or goals. I ate percebes in A Coruña. Percebes are barnacles collected from the rocky coastline in Galicia. Men in wetsuits risk their lives scrambling along large rocks that are pounded by the waves or jump into the sea and swim out to a rocky outcrop to collect them. The cost of percebes, around EUR 10 a kilo, is due to the difficulties of collecting them.
I also enjoyed trying famous regional dishes like lechazo (roasted baby lamb) in Peñafiel, cochinillo (roasted baby pig) in Segovia and octopus in Santiago de Compostela. I attended a matanza (the killing of a pig) where I ate freshly-roasted pork while watching men gut a large pig. In addition, I travelled to San Sebastian, the mecca of tapas, for a tapa festival. I passed through La Rioja and bought an entire case of wine, and I travelled to Seville in search of the perfect gazpacho. Spain leaves me in a state of gastronomic joy.
What do you think of the shopping in Spain?
I love the adventurous fashion sense in Spain, which extends to their daring haircuts. I see a lot more mullets, mohawks and bright red hair in Spain than I do in the US. I also bought several pairs of amazing boots in Spain.
What do you appreciate most about living in Spain?
I appreciate the culture and customs related to food. They have big afternoon meals in which family members sit down for an hour or two for lunch. The pace of conversation and eating is much slower than in the US. The fullness of the mid-day meal always amazed me. I enjoyed drinking wine with lunch, having a soup, a main dish, and dessert and topping everything off with espresso and foamed milk. Not forgetting a digestive shot of herbal liquor at the very end. Meals in Spain seemed so extravagant to me, and I was immensely lucky to experience such everyday richness.
What do you find most frustrating about living in Spain?
Any bureaucratic situation was frustrating. When I studied at the University of Valladolid in 2005-2006, I had to apply for an ID card in Valladolid. I arrived in October 2005 and applied for the card. I did not receive the card until March 2006, and I was leaving in May. This is just one example of how slow and difficult it can be to try to do anything official.
What puzzles you about Spanish culture and what do you miss since you’ve moved here?
The only thing I really missed about the US while living in Spain was my family. However, since they love to travel they came to visit me.
How does the quality of life in Spain compare to the quality of life in other countries that you’ve lived in?
I value friendship and food, so in my view Spain offers an excellent quality of life. People are healthier because they walk a lot. They are also happier because they are very social and watch less TV than Americans. They also take time to prepare and enjoy food rather than eating pre-packaged food all the time. They raise their pigs as if they were sacred beings, which is why the best ham in the world comes from Spain. All cultures should have such respect for their food.
If you could change anything about Spain, what would it be?
I would make the bureaucracy more efficient.
What advice would you give to a newcomer?
If your Spanish isn’t very good, search for a conversation partner who wants to have a conversation exchange in which you teach them your native language and they teach you Spanish. This is an easy and cheap way to learn Spanish fast and make friends.
Would you like to add anything that we haven’t addressed in the questionnaire?
Here are some recommended restaurants:
In Segovia – José María
In San Sebastian – Aloña Berri
If you would like to share your perspective about life in Spain and contribute to Expat Voices, send an email to editorES@expatica.com with 'Please send me an Expat Voices questionnaire on life in Spain' in the subject line.
Comment here on the article, or if you have a suggestion to improve this article, please click here.