1) Family and friendsDon’t get me wrong—the Internet has made staying in touch extremely easy and completely changed the dynamics of moving abroad with Facebook and Skype. But there’s nothing quite like physical face-to-face human contact, replete with hugs and fragrances, contact that doesn’t depend on a sketchy WiFi connection to have a conversation. This doesn’t even begin to cover the act of hanging out together over a common activity or a shared meals, or going on walks or to the movies. I miss my family and can’t wait to catch up with friends over a good sandwich or coffee—the easiest way to “be present.”
2) Speaking EnglishI know I’m pathetic, but speaking Spanish can kind of wear me out after a while. I like that I can consciously turn off my brain and tune out ambient Spanish spoken around me, but at the same time the accent they speak here is really difficult to comprehend and sometimes I get brain-farts on basic household words like “pliers” or “biscuits.” Everyone is an expert in at least one thing, their mother tongue—and I’m looking forward to being able to speak without thinking (not that kind of speaking without thinking, but without consciously forming sentences, just letting it roll out). Speaking the beautiful language that is Spanish is so very satisfying, but I’m no master of it yet.
3) Global foodI’m a fan of Spanish food: get me a tortilla sandwich, a simple plato combinado of grilled pork, french fries, salad, and croquetas, or even some pickled anchovies (they taste better than they sound) and I’ll be a happy man. But the thing about Europe is, each country, and every region in each country, has its own local cuisine that virtually all bar-café-restaurants serve, and it can get kind of repetitive eating the same things over and over again. Especially in the smaller towns in Spain, you won’t find much international food outside of kebap + pizza joints or Chinese restaurants. In contrast, my hometown of Plano (and neighboring suburbs) is home to immigrants from all over the Americas and Asia, so I can pick from South Indian, Greek, Vietnamese, and Salvadorean food should a craving, uh, attack. One of my first meals when I get back will be a good chicken tikka masala from “my” Indian restaurant.
4) DishwashersMy least favorite chore is doing the dishes by hand. Although in the apartment we do, in fact, have a dishwasher, we never use it because (my flatmate tells me) it uses a ton of water and energy, so we’ve stuck to the sponge-and-dish soap method instead. I know it really doesn’t take that much time at all but when you’ve just cooked a multi-pan-and-utensil dish or baked cookies, it can be really intimidating when you see all the dishes stacked up. I know dishwashers can’t clean everything (frying pans can be finicky) but I love the idea of just throwing forks and spoons and plates and cups in and just…walking away.
5) DryersOf course Spain has washing machines, but virtually no one here has dryers. How do they dry clothes, you wonder? Let me let you in on a little secret: there’s a way people have been drying their clothes ever since humans began to wear clothes (read: time immemorial). It’s this simple thing called line-drying. Spaniards also hang-dry socks and underwear on clothes racks, and you’ll see tablecloths, shirts, and dresses flowing in the breezes over your head if you walk down any apartment-lined street in Spain. In the winter, socks and undies can take around a week to dry inside, and if it’s raining outside, you’re straight out of luck for towels or jeans. I also miss that little trick of throwing loosened jeans into the dryer every so often just to tighten things up.
6) Convenient business hoursI’m a fan of having naptime built in to the daily schedule (as well as a lunch break long enough to actually cook something healthy, sit down, and enjoy eating it), but Spaniards hold so rigidly to the hours of 9am to 2pm and 5pm to 9pm, and are completely closed on Sundays, that it can be really inconvenient if you need to do something outside of those hours, or feel like eating real food at noon or 4pm. And don’t get me started on the lack of 24-hour-type things. Man’s gotta sleep, but when man doesn’t, it’s nice when something is open. Get ready for me, 24-hour Walmart!
7) Quiet coffee housesLast week I meandered into what I had thought was a quiet, chill cafetería that played good music and served good coffee and desserts. I brought some things to read and was looking forward to a calm, air-conditioned hour or so. Oh how wrong I was. I had come in around 7 or 8 for some churros con chocolate, or at the tail-end of the post-siesta coffee time. The closer we got to 9pm, the more people showed up. And if you know anything about Spaniards, it’s that they are not quiet people. There’s a running joke among us language assistants that “inside voices” simply don’t exist here. And most people don’t wait until you’re finished talking but just start talking, louder, over you in a never-ending cycle that basically ends in yelling (not angry, but just loud). So by the time I paid for my churros it was a mad-house in there, making me pine for laid-back Starbucks-style coffee houses.
What have you missed most about home if you’ve spent a significant amount of time away? Add to this list below!