When living in Spain starts to feel like America
American expat Cat Gaa laments the loss of the authentic Spain she first fell in love with, as American culture slowly infiltrates Spain's way of life.
I could have easily been in a neighbourhood pub back home in Chicago. Armed with two guiri (foreign) friends and a stomach that hadn’t eaten all day, I ordered a cheeseburger meal, piled on the ketchup and sat down on a couch, directly under drapes of spider webs. It was Halloween and one my friends mentioned that – gasp! – another American friend of ours had received trick-or-treaters the night before in her pueblo (town).
De verdad? Really? Since when does the oh-so-racio Seville feel just like America?
Slowly, Americana has been permeating into this city that's as Spanish as the tortilla. At first, I embraced the introduction of peanut butter onto supermarket shelves (and willingly forked over EUR 7 for it) and made special trips to Madrid for international cuisine.
Eight years on, I sometimes feel like I’m living in a parallel universe as craft beer, Netflix and my favourite holiday are becoming mainstream in Spain.
I’ve long been the guiri who drags her heels when it comes to embracing my culture while living in another. I famously chastised my friends for shopping at the American food store and have yet to set foot in Costco. I do not regularly catch baseball or American football games in bars, nor could I tell you the best place to watch one. Yes, I cook Thanksgiving for my in-laws with American products and dress up for Halloween, but those moments are always reserved for special parties with my compatriots. What I love about living in Spain really boils down to the fact that I love living in Spain.
Cue the hate comments: I didn’t really sign up for an American life when I moved to Seville. And in all fairness, I’m letting it happen.
The line between life abroad and life as I knew it before 22 is blurrier than ever. I conduct a large part of my day in English, have English-speaking friends and watch TV in English. I just picked up a Spanish book for the first time in three years. I consume news in English via my smartphone and had to recently ask the novio (boyfriend) the name of the new mayor in town.
I knew I needed to make a change when the novio suggested we get Netflix as a wedding present to ourselves.
Wait, you mean I can watch a show on a big screen with no need to let the show buffer for 10 minutes? And in my native language? The fun of the TDT system, which allows shows to be aired in their original language instead of dubbing. I will binge watch my American television shows on my laptop. Would that EUR 8 a month be better spent on something else?
While Spain is definitely not America when it comes to lines at the bank, reliable service or a way around 902 toll numbers, I find my adult life becoming more on par with that which my friends are living in the US.
I got more than a fair dosage of Americanism this year, spending more than four months out of 15 in the US. Going home is a treat – Target, Portillo’s and endless hours of snuggling with our family dog – but it’s lost a lot of its sheen now that Seville has Americanised itself, be it for tourists or for Sevillanos.
And at what price? Gone are the decades-old ultramarinos that once peddled canned goods; they’ve made way for trendy bars and clothing chains. While I admit that the Setas – a harsh contrast from the turn-of-the-century buildings that ring Plaza de la Encarnación – have grown on me, they caused a lot of backlash and an entire neighbourhood to address itself. Do we really need a fancy coffee bar to do work at, or a gym with the latest in training classes?
As my world becomes more globalised, I find myself seeking the Spain I fell in love with when I studied abroad in Valladolid and the Seville that existed in 2007. We’re talking pre-crisis Spain, pre-smartphones and pre-instagram filters, and one where a frapuccino every now and then helped me combat my homesickness. The Spain that was challenging, new and often frustrating. The Spain in which I relished long siestas, late nights and a voracious desire to learn new slang and new rincones of a new place.
But how do I get back there? The Sevilla I discovered at age 22 is barely recognisable today. Do I love it? Do I deal with it? I mostly stick around Triana, which stills feels as authentic as it did when I took up residence on Calle Numancia in 2007.
Maybe I’m in a slump. Maybe I’m comfortable. Maybe I’m lazy. Or maybe it’s just the fact that Spain doesn’t present the same day-to-day victories as it once did.
One thing I know for certain is that I’m looking forward to jumping back into the Spanish manera de ser (way to be). I can’t wait to head to San Nicolás, sans computer, and search for castañas (chestnuts), to sleep without an alarm and to remember why and how Spain became mi cosa (my thing).
Do you ever feel like you’re no longer living abroad? What pointers can get me back on track?
Cat Gaa left the skyscrapers of Chicago for the olive groves of southern Spain. Baby wrangler by evening, Cat is the voice behind Sunshine and Siestas, a virtual love letter to Spain. She also runs an expat consulting company dedicated to helping non-EU expats move to and work in Spain. Cat is especially akin to tapas, siestas and the Duchess of Alba. Follow Sunshine and Siestas on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube, Google+ and Snapchat at cmgaa318.
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