We’ve been keeping a list of things that are perpetually different living in Spain. Things we will never get used to. I mean, it’s not like the entire country – or the EU in general – is going to look at this and say ‘Wow! We never realized. We’ll make changes with immediate effect.’ That’s never going to happen. But when we encounter these things it just makes us go ‘Oh yeah. I remember this now.’ And sometimes it makes us go ‘What the actual…? Ugh.’
#1. Lights on a timer. I think this is a hold over from after the Second World War trying to conserve energy, and there is a part of me that understands and appreciates it, in theory. But the implementation of it in practice? Well, mileage varies. For instance in our elevator in our building. Adjustment have been made recently. Jeff came home last night with a smirk on his face. I wanted to know why.
‘Well. Now I know our neighbor two floors down really well. The light in the elevator went out as the doors closed. The old man is 4 feet tall and I think he was nervous riding in the dark with me. So I turned on the flashlight on my cell phone and he stopped breathing like he was going to have a heart attack and thanked me profusely for it, as he practically jumped off at his floor.’
Stairwell and landing lights never stay on. Push them and run! And then there is the bathroom. It’s hit and miss when we go into a cafe bathroom and the light remains on the entire time we’re in there. It can get interesting when there isn’t a toilet seat (somewhat common in Europe) and you’re unfamiliar with the layout. Often, when one of us returns to the table it’s with a story to tell about the adventures in getting out without feeling the walls for the door knob. Inevitably, Jeff says ‘Well, that was interesting.’ And then he regales me of his most recent adventure in tiled darkness. I keep wet wipes and hand sanitizer in my bag for just such emergencies.
But my favorite was the other day at the Dr. They sent me in to collect a sample for my physical. I don’t know about you, but the gymnastics of that are hard enough with the lights on. When they went off midway through, casting the shoe box bathroom into a light deprivation chamber, I was at a total loss. Waving doesn’t help and you need to hit the switch which has been measured, through a conspiracy between the plumber and the electrician (no matter the length of your arms), to be exactly one inch beyond your clawing outstretched hand, toward where you think the switch might be. It just won’t happen. I know when I came out flustered and red faced my rambling and swearing could be heard by my fellow patients sitting outside the door. It was all in Ingles but I think they got the gist. There should be a sign on the door ‘If you have a cup in your hand its not going to go well.’
I’ve taken to quickly memorizing the position of all the pertinent appliances before I shut the door. It’s like a child’s game of Concentration. Only grosser.
#27. Amazon delivery is always days before they promised. Always. This last week, Jeff ordered some things at 10 pm. They promised to deliver the following week. We foolishly went for a walk the next morning and got frantic calls at 9 am from the delivery guy who was at our door with ALL the items he had ordered. That’s 11 hour delivery! They’d prompted him at check out to choose overnight or 2 day shipping but he just laughed – why bother? I hung up the phone.
‘Oh yeah. I forgot. When I order something from Amazon we need to stay home from that moment until when they say it should arrive.’
The guy told me he would return the next day to make the delivery. We went home and the delivery guy came again after lunch, rang the bell and brought it up. It’s so weird and yet wildly appealing to me. Jeff just finds it incredibly frustrating.
#32. No.This is Impossible.’ We are told so many times that something can not be done. But if you do your research in advance and bring the documentation with you for whatever you’re trying to do, Suddenly! It can.
‘I need XYZ’ or ‘To do XYZ.’
The person shakes their head emphatically. ‘It doesn’t exist. No. Never. It can not be done.’
But you insist.
Sometimes they’ll try to send you to another shop or office across town or give you a number to call. But they’re still insisting it is ‘impossible’. So you break out the ream of paper backing up your request. Papers that have government coats of arms from their website. Or just stuff printed off the internet. They will study these papers with the attention of a Supreme Court Justice. Maybe they’ll call over a colleague for a consultation. Chin scratching and scowling will undoubtedly occur. They may start arguing with each other. There might be a phone call or a trip to the back room where an unseeen oracle resides for just such requests. But finally, they emerge with your wad of papers. They look will around so as not to arouse suspicion.
‘OK. We can do it. But just this once. I will tell you how.’
Why all the cloak and dagger? Why the drama and the subterfuge? I want to say it’s a communication thing. Maybe they just don’t understand what we’re asking for. I get that. But I really think it’s the same method used by US Medical insurance companies when you call them.
First, they say ‘NO!’. Statistically, 50% of people will quit right here. The second call they say ‘We don’t do that.’ Another 30% drop out. Third call they say ‘This is not normal procedure’. And the forth call you feel them start to break down. By the fifth call you have direct line phone numbers and you’re calling the person by their first name and asking how their vacation was.
They’re betting that each round of phone calls will winnow the faint-hearted, who won’t keep up the fight and will just PAY. Any medical provider or insurance company I’ve ever had should have warned the Spanish bureaucracy that I was moving here. I never give up. Nunca!
Our actual list is much longer – but you get the idea. None are insurmountable, and if they drove us too crazy we would hop on a plane and head back to the good old U-S of A. But we’re not doing that any time soon. It will take a lot more than dark bathrooms, unpredictable deliveries and bureaucratic gymnastics to get us to abandon our new home. But if you’re ever in Valencia and you hear shouting coming from the ladies room. Take pity on a girl and help her turn on the light. Cause more than likely, that girl is me.