Expat Voices: Audrey Hill on Seville, Segovia and Madrid
American Expat Audrey Hill showed up in Segovia with two bags and a desire to learn Spanish. Years later her study semester lengthened into years of the nostalgic Spanish lifestyle.
Name: Audrey Hill
City of residence: Segovia, Madrid, and Sevilla
Date of birth: September 5, 1980
Occupation: Student and Private English Teacher, now writer/editor
Reason for moving to Spain: To study abroad and experience living and working abroad
Lived in Spain: Jan. to Apr. 2002; Mar. 2006 to Sept. 2007
What was your first impression of Spain?
My first impression of Spain is a scene set in Segovia on a cold, blustery day in January. The bus full of study-abroad university students from Kentucky had just arrived and deposited us directly in front of the millennia-old aqueduct. I rolled my two suitcases onto the cobblestone streets and was greeted by 20 señoras in high heels and fur coats.
It was truly a whirlwind experience struggling to keep up with my señora (how could she possibly manage to walk that fast in stiletto heels?) while trying to take in the sights, smells, and sounds around me: terracotta tile roofs, quaint churches, roasted pig, and pedestrians—people were everywhere.
What do you think of Spanish food?
At first the food was all unfamiliar, but I was fairly open-minded and willing to try new things. Though I did grow to love it (particularly the Spanish omelet, churros, café con leche, and ham), I would still not say that the food is one of Spain’s biggest charms, especially for Americans, who are used to so much variety in their food.
At my house, it didn’t take long to learn exactly what to expect: breakfast consisted of Cola Cao (Spanish equivalent of Nesquik) and magdalenas (sweet little pastries); for lunch we were served some variation of soup, a fried piece of pork or chicken with limp and bland cooked vegetables, both soaked in olive oil and an orange for dessert. If we were lucky, we might be offered some salad. Dinner would either consist of left-overs, or, most often, French fries and fried meat or fish.
My time in Sevilla taught me what and what not to order at restaurants, and how to cook with Spanish ingredients and what to expect in their supermercados.
I also grew to love the fact that Spaniards aren’t afraid to know exactly where their food comes from, even if it means that carcasses of recognizable animals are displayed in the windows of the carniceria (butcher shop) and restaurants.
What do you think of shopping in Spain?
People-watching on the streets of Spain felt to me like watching models walk down a runway. Everyone always seems to be dressed in the most stylish of clothing, and is never seen in sweats and a t-shirt. I loved seeing the newest styles, even if I couldn’t afford to buy them. Zara and Mango are great, affordable shops.
What do you appreciate most about living in Spain?
In Seville I appreciate the gorgeous weather and lovely, winding streets. I also love the history of all the buildings in Spain; everything is so old compared to American standards.I love the traditions of Spain, the century-old festivals, and the slow-paced lifestyle. I love the passion of the people of Spain, and the patriotism they feel. I love their gusto for football and their pride for anything or anyone Spanish.
I have attended a matanza (or a festival focused on a pig slaughter), several bullfights and flamenco shows, football matches, and even had the chance to participate in a romeria (pilgrimage) with a Spanish friend. I could never have done these things in the United States, and I feel so lucky to have experienced so much.
What do you find most frustrating about living in Spain?
It is often frustrating being an American in a foreign country because people have such strong ideas and opinions due to inaccurate depictions in Hollywood films and politics. I found out that many people assumed I was pompous and privileged, not to mention ignorant. I worked hard to combat these notions.
I remember some Spaniards being impatient with foreigners, growing annoyed and even making fun of them if they struggled with Spanish. I had hoped that they would be forgiving with language mistakes. Of course, many Spanish people were also extremely kind and patient with the language barrier.
What puzzles you about Spanish culture and what do you miss since you’ve moved here?
Spanish people are strong-willed and unapologetic for the way they are. It was shocking to me, for example, that patrons of restaurants would whistle, yell and gesture for a waiter to bring them another drink. Yet these actions are not considered rude but standard. I learned to behave in the same way, because if I didn’t I would never get any service.
Apologies were rarely made for bumping into another person on the sidewalk. In fact, I was told by my students that Brits and Americans say “I’m sorry” too much. I did find myself missing the politeness of American culture and the “fairness” of waiting in line for your turn.
How does the quality of life in Spain compare to the quality of life in other countries that you’ve lived in?
I have always felt that life is what you make of it, and that one can find happiness anywhere. I did not find it difficult to be happy in Spain. Although as an English teacher I didn’t make much money, I was able to make enough to buy the things I needed and to travel around Spain.
I could rent an apartment in a prime location, use public transportation, and I managed to stay in shape by running through beautiful Maria Luisa Park. I ate well and relaxed often by reading or sunbathing on the rooftop terrace or going out to bars for a glass of wine with friends. I couldn’t have asked for anything else to have improved the quality of life in Spain.
If you could change anything about Spain, what would it be?
My only complaint is that there seems to be construction going on all the time in Spain, which contributes to the noise factor. Perhaps it was because I was in a city, and the buildings are old and a new subway is being constructed. The noise of constant drilling and workers screaming becomes tiresome.
What advice would you give to a newcomer?
Enjoy your time here! If you don’t like it at first give it at least three months to get accustomed to the new traditions and culture.
The people are kind and open, the wine, olive oil, and pork products are delicious, and the scenery and architecture is gorgeous.
Get out and be sociable, because that is the only way to meet people and Spaniards are some of the most sociable people I have ever met.
Don’t worry if you don’t get invited into your friend’s house; Spaniards rarely visit the houses of anyone but family. They go out almost every night for a drink, sit outside during the warmer months, and socialise with friends all the time.
Don’t be surprised to see children and even babies in bars at midnight; the parents are not neglectful, just normal Spanish parents out for a drink with friends.
Speak Spanish as much as you can, and practice! Become part of an intercambio by meeting up with Spaniards a couple times a week to practice your Spanish and help them with their English.
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.
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