Expat Voices: Johanna Bailey on living in Spain
The freelance writer from USA has lived all over the world, but no where beats Madrid and Barcelona as her favourite cities in terms of food, shopping and high quality of life.
Name: Johanna Bailey
City of residence: Barcelona (after having lived in Madrid for 2 years)
Date of birth: 17 June 1975
Civil status: Married
Occupation: Freelance writer / Stay-at-home mom
Reason for moving to Spain: We moved here because of my husband’s job.
Lived in Spain since: May 2008
What was your first impression of Spain?
To be honest, I don’t remember any one overwhelming impression at first, except I suppose the daily schedule in Spain was a bit of a shock.
I moved here from Switzerland where everyone has lunch at noon, dinner at 6 and is in bed by 10 or 11. The restaurants are closing there at the same time they’re just opening for dinner in Spain! I’ve never really adjusted to having lunch at 2pm and we still eat early since we have little kids.
It’s hard for my husband though because he often eats a huge late lunch at his job with everyone else so doesn’t really feel like coming home and having dinner just a few hours later!
What do you think of Spanish food?
I think Spanish food can be very very good or very very mediocre. The trick is in figuring out where to get the good stuff. After having lived in both Madrid and Barcelona, I’d say that overall, I’ve had much better culinary experiences in Barcelona. There seems to be a lot more variety here as well as more innovation.
I’ve recently started a food website where I plan to post the recipes of Spanish friends and neighbors as well as a little about their culinary background and culture. There are so many regions in Spain, each with their own food traditions and I find the differences really fascinating.
What do you think of the shopping in Spain?
I love it - so many amazing independent designers. In Madrid, I loved browsing around the Chueca and Malasaña neighborhoods and in Barcelona, my favorite place to shop is in Gracia. Lately I’ve become absolutely obsessed with the Spanish shoe brand Vialis!
What do you appreciate most about living in Spain?
I love the pace of life here. People really know how to relax and I think there is a good balance between work and leisure. I also enjoy learning all about the local culinary traditions in Spain and naturally, I love eating good Spanish food!
What do you find most frustrating about living in Spain?
After having lived for so long in New York City where everything is open pretty much all the time, I find the limited opening times of shops to be frustrating.
On principle, I admire the dedication the Spanish people have to their leisure time but from a more practical standpoint, it can be really annoying. There are several shops in my new neighborhood in Barcelona that I still have never seen with their shutters up, even after having lived here for two months.
What puzzles you about Spanish culture and what do you miss since you’ve moved here?
What puzzles me:
• It puzzles me that Spanish people put their children to bed so late. Aren´t the children all completely exhausted since they still have to wake up relatively early to be ready for school? More importantly, aren´t the parents completely exhausted? As a parent, those few hours in the evening that I have to myself after my kids go to bed are golden!
• The Madrileño practice of dressing your children in identical 1950s era clothing is puzzling (and quite funny) to me.
• It puzzles me that so many of the men working in cafes in Madrid look as though they haven´t changed the style of their eye-glasses since 1963.
• It puzzles me that when I say Adios to people, they invariably respond with Hasta lluego (even if I am unlikely to ever see them again), while if I say Hasta lluego, they will almost always say Adios (even if I'm likely to see them two hours later.)
• Kissing etiquette is puzzling to me. I never know when it is necessary to do it and when I can give it a pass.
As for what I miss, it’s mainly food-related items. I miss American-style desserts such as coconut cream pie, key lime pie, good brownies and cookies, cupcakes, etc.
I also miss dinner parties since as a rule, it’s not really the custom here to invite people to your home for dinner. We still do it with our expat friends but whenever we’ve invited Spanish friends, they seem a bit confused and do things like show up saying they’re not that hungry because they just ate lunch.
How does the quality of life in Spain compare to the quality of life in other countries that you’ve lived in?
I think the quality of life here is great. I’ve lived in the USA, Japan and Switzerland and overall, I’d say that Spain is my favorite.
My five-year-old's interpretation of the origins of La Diada de Sant Jordi
If you could change anything about Spain, what would it be?
I would like restaurants to open for dinner at 7pm instead of 9pm.
I would also like for there to be more part-time daycare options. It’s difficult to find nurseries with half-day options and almost impossible to find one where you can send a child only a few days per week. For parents who work full-time, the 9-5pm schedule is obviously great but for those of us who really don’t need to send their kids to a full-time daycare but who’d still like a bit of free-time, or who have a part-time job, the lack of flexibility can be frustrating.
What advice would you give to a newcomer?
Join as many groups as you possibly can- even if you only pick up one friend from each one, it´ll be worth it later on.
And if you already speak some Spanish, start out from the very beginning speaking ONLY Spanish to the Spanish people you meet, even if you know that they speak a decent level of English. Otherwise, you’ll wind up speaking English to them most of the time and it’ll take you much longer to become fluent.
Try to take some classes, even if your Spanish isn’t very good. There are a lot of things you can learn just by watching (i.e. cooking, art classes, etc) and in this way you’ll both meet people and improve your Spanish.
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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