Viva la France

We arrived in Dijon! It was a rather long ride from Strasbourg but we did it. We rode thru the picturesque town of Colmar, ‘Little Venice’ they call it, with their canals and centuries-old architecture.

We had a long way to go so we set off to go over the nearby mountains through a National nature preserve. Before our climb started, we made a pit stop to see the main square in the village of Munster. I think cheese is a big deal to the Munsters (not the same ones from 60’s American TV) because they have attractions around it.

But what I really wanted to see were the storks nesting on the peaks of the Hotel de Ville and the church. It’s pretty amazing how they build such huge nests on the top of nothing.

We rode twisty mountain roads for 150 km. A lot of ski areas I’d like to come back to one of these days. And I got to see my first alpine ski jump, sans the snow. But it was still cool.

About 30 minutes outside of Dijon we came upon a very old Chateau in the village of Gy. It was built over the course of six centuries and is in a state of delapidated charm. The roof could use some work. I loved it!

Finally, we made it to Dijon. We are staying in the nicest hotel here. Not because I made the selection. I walked the Camino and slept pallets in churches and bunk houses with 50 other sweaty people for 6 straight weeks in the heat of a Spanish summer. As long as I’m horizontal, I can sleep in the top of a flagpole. Jeff? Yeah, not so much. He’s a bedding snob. If the sheets aren’t a minimum of 600 tc he develops a rash.

So, when I was reading off potential hotels at our last stop on the way to Dijon, he nixed anything that didn’t have the word ‘Grand’ in it. That left one possibility and he knew it. It is weird. He’s not picky about much, but of the few things he is, hotels are at the top.

The concierge ran out when we pulled up. To help with the luggage – such as it was – strapped to our bike. Then he escorted Jeff and Precious to the underground garage, where they locked her up safe and sound in an actual cage. I think Jeff felt vindicated for choosing this hotel because of that alone.

Tomorrow is May 8. It’s the anniversary of the end of WWII and the French flags are flying around town. Stunning walk around the old town.

In some places, the building looked very Diagon Alley, rather than Burgundy. But that’s just my own bias.

Next Stop: Toulouse!

Just One More Thing…

After driving to Los Angeles and staying in a hotel overnight, we made it the the consulate a bit early for our appointment. Their website details EXACTLY how you’re supposed to do everything, down to printing two copies of the document check list and the order in which those documents must appear in the packet. It emphasizes how important this all is and I checked and double checked it all. I had Jeff go through the instructions on the website himself, in case I missed something. Here’s how it actually went.

We got there early – I’m never, ever late to anything. And this appointment is too important to be left to chance. There weren’t any other people there to get visas at the moment we arrived, so they took us early.  Good sign – I thought. And they’re really nice people. I know they want to help us get our visa.

‘Just pull the financial documents out and let’s go through them first. That will be the thing that will keep you from getting the visa so if they are good, then the rest is easy’

Seemed logical to me. So out I pulled the holy scriptures of our financial picture – thick dossiers of everything and several months worth of statements.

‘Yeah – we don’t need all this. Just the beginning and ending balances. And being that this is February 5th and your January statement looks like it would have ended on the 29th – we will need that too. Why don’t you have that?’

I was incredulous. I had everything – EVERYTHING – related to our financial picture. It had all been translated for hundreds of dollars. And it all came down to our last bank statement??

‘There was no time to send it to Boulder to the translator and get it back in time for this appointment – 6 days later with a weekend in there.’

‘Well, we’re going to need that since it’s past the 29th.’

You could visibly seem my mouth hanging open. But of course I said, ‘OK’. I would get it.

Then they wanted to know why my translations weren’t ‘stapled by the translator’. I said I didn’t know. They were very concerned unstapled translations might be rejected in Spain. Jeff and I looked at each other. We could staple them ourselves but we remained silent.

‘Please consult your translator and ask why she didn’t staple them.’

I said I would and reached out to her in email from the consulate. Oh, No You Didn’t! She came unglued! She told me in her official translation certification, they expressly said that official translations are never stapled, she never staples, and she thinks it renders the documents unofficial. I was beginning to feel like I was caught between Mom and Dad and they were in a fight.

Ugh. Then we were told we needed more copies of our 10lb packets, so we had to walk across the street and get some made and bring them back. Great! We were all set – the guy gave me back some copies and we went back to our hotel to pack up and get Jeff’s motorcycle to the port of Los Angeles to ship it out. Then my phone rang.

They were very sorry but they had given me the wrong papers and I needed to come back across town and give them back to them so they could give me the correct ones. I will admit to having a melt down in the hotel room. The Gods of Document Hades were having me on again! But what could I do?

I went back through LA traffic and they squeezed me in to sort it out. It only took an hour. I left there and drove down to the port to meet up with Jeff – more than an hour away. I had all his gear, that was shipping with his bike, in the trunk of my car so he couldn’t complete it without me. This delayed us getting out of LA. And I know from experience, you never, ever delay getting out of LA after noon. Or it will take you FOREVER!! You will age on the drive from San Pedro to San Bernadino. It’s like dog years.

So at midnight last night – we rolled into our driveway. Yes  – midnight. And this morning I’m going to our bank to explain to some nice person that I need to get those statements stamped again. And then I’m going to scan them and send them to our translator, who has promised to do them quickly and get them back to me via overnight post, so I can overnight them to the consulate. She’ll probably put 50 staples in them just for spite. But I’m tired thinking about it.

I know we aren’t alone. While I was sitting there in my second consulate visit yesterday morning – I noticed almost everyone had a ‘Just one more thing’ to go take care of. Three weeks – we need that visa in three weeks so we can get on a plane. Crossing my fingers that our ‘Just one more thing’ is really ‘The last thing.’

The Slow Roll

The next 30 days – Please, Please, Please give us a visa – has become our linguistic transition period. I’m +Babbeling, and Rosetta Stoning. I’m watching strictly Spanish TV and even trying out some of my new language on Jeff.

‘Let’s Go’ he says, to move me along to the store.

‘You mean ‘Vamonos!’ I say, with a wave of my hand. I’ve begun gesturing with my arms a lot more – like my new favorite Spanish actresses.

He rolls his eyes, but I’ll be the one laughing when we land in Spain.

‘Como llegamos al metro, por favor?’ I’ll say at the airport, to the first official person I see – right out of the gate. Jeff will be confused but follow in my wake – as he’ll have no other choice, being that he hasn’t been studying up for hours a day with La Casa De Papel and Velvet.

For our visa applications, we had to pay an official consulate-approved translator to translate our bank statements – and a host of other documents. So when we went to the bank to get them stamped and signed, the manager suggested that we switch our language preference to Spanish going forward. That way, next year when we want to renew our visas, we can just print them, get then stamped and we won’t be out the $400 to have someone certify that numbers in English are numbers in Spanish.

Seemed like a great idea until yesterday when we got a fraud alert via text on Jeff’s phone. And yes, now it’s in Spanish.

‘What the hell is this?’ asked Jeff, confused. ‘I think it’s telling me there has been some fraudulent activity on our account – but I can’t tell what it is.’ he groaned. ‘Shit! We had that guy at the bank change everything over to Spanish!’

I smiled. Seemed like a good idea at the time. So we logged into our account and Yup! its all in Spanish. Nothing like jumping into the deep end. So I called and got things straightened out, charges reversed and cards cancelled. They’re researching some of the stuff from a couple of days ago and today they sent me an email update – in Spanish. Jeff laughed.

‘See. Now YOU get to decipher what the hell this says.’

‘No problema!’ was my reply. And I sat down and figured it out. Sure, I had to look up a bunch of banking mumbo jumbo (Oh, how Google translate still owns me) – but I did pretty good before I broke down and used ‘the Google’, as my Mom calls it. And, if I’m honest, I’m a little proud of myself.

Not that I haven’t had my doubts about what we’re doing, the closer it gets. Serious doubts about how mad we must be to just up and move across the world. But I feel sure, when the days comes, I’ll do it with a hearty ‘Vamanos!’

 

 

 

Talking vs. Communicating

Communication and understanding are the key to a happy life. I know this from the harsh reality of experience, as I’ve not always been the best at either of these. I guess time grants you wisdom and perspective – if you decide to pay attention.

In thinking of our preparation for moving to Spain, we joined several Facebook groups for Expats already living in our chosen city, and some specifically for Americans moving to or already living in Spain. It’s been eye opening and in many cases invaluable. But sometimes, it’s been ugly.

Hearing how some of my fellow countrymen speak about people in their chosen country of residence hurts. The harsh reality when they’ve discovered that the culture in Spain isn’t American. Surprise! They do things differently there and the people who run the country won’t bow down to ‘The American Way’. In reading their posts, I sometimes wonder why they don’t just go back to Kansas, or North Carolina or Virginia if they find it so hard to deal with.

It also made me examine myself. When I was still working, I did business with people from other countries, notably France, and decided it was a good time for an ‘Intercultural Communications’ class. It wasn’t because I couldn’t talk with the people in La Ciotat, France – where the other company resided. They spoke English. It was because we couldn’t communicate effectively, and I couldn’t figure out why.

We would have a daily call at the beginning of our day and then end of their work day. We would ask for things and they would always agree to do them. But then, they started missing dates on projects and their people were clearly stressed and working ungodly hours to meet our demands. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. So I flew to France.

Meeting with them face to face, I learned that in France – The Customer is Always Right – even if I was wrong, they would never tell me ‘NO’. In developing software, this is the killer. In the US, I would make demands of my engineers and they would tell me ‘You’re crazy if you think we can do that in that amount of time.’ I would ask them to help me be more realistic and they go away and think about it and come back and we would negotiate. My job was to push, their job was to push back. We both understood our roles.

The French team just said ‘Yes’ to every idea I had. But soon, I realized I had to give them permission to tell me I was ‘Full of it’. It made them uncomfortable at first, but we started working well together. And on that trip, I got to hear my team on the phone, from the perspective of the team in France. I was able to see their faces as my people in Seattle spoke, and how it landed 7,000 miles away. It wasn’t pretty and I went back home and we changed our approach.

So taking the ‘Intercultural Communications’ class was eye opening too. I learned that different cultures have different power hierarchies and power distances, and dynamics that are not ever discussed but are ingrained since birth. It’s the subtle things that govern how people interact. And it’s the agreed upon method of communication that everyone, except outsiders, understands.

So, when considering moving to another country, it’s imperative that we learn how to communicate effectively. Its not just being able to order a cafe con leche in a cafe in the right language. Or asking for directions. It’s the subtext and context that’s most important. And it’s cultural sensitivity and empathy.

We are the way we are in the US, because of our Puritanical roots and our cultural belief in manifest destiny and some sort of divine right. We’re taught that in school and by all the cultural cues we receive subliminally. But in Spain, the people are also a collection of their history and experiences. A history that stretches much longer than our Anglo-Christian view of the world. The Spanish people of today are a result of those experiences, just like us.

Jeff and I’ve had a lot of discussions about how, at times, we just won’t get it.  And we will trip and fall. But the most important things is, we need to approach it without judgement. And we need to stop, take a deep breath, and try to understand it from their perspective. With intercultural communications, there is no ‘right way’. There is just empathy and willingness to understand. Its the only way to get along in this life, even in our own country. And we’re committed to it.

Spollywood

In the US, we have Hollywood. In India, they have Bollywood. I have no idea what they call it in Spain but I am dubbing the Spanish movie and TV industry Spollywood! Seems to follow some sort of convention and I think it has a nice ring to it!

Lately, I’ve been consigning myself to just Spanish TV and Movies, to help train my ear for the language. At the beginning, it seemed everyone spoke very fast. It was like listening to a ‘Chipmunks’ movie where they speed up the recording. But slowly and surely, it’s starting to slow down. And while I still have subtitles on in English, I’m starting to tease out words on my own and also to mechanics of the language.

This also requires me to be completely present. I can’t follow the drama or action while doing something else, like packing boxes. It doesn’t work that way – I tried. I have to sit down and pay attention. No multi-tasking on my phone or on my laptop, either. Nope – Spanish visual arts require my focus, and they are getting that 100%.

And, I’ve discovered there is some amazing Spanish produced TV and movies. Where has this stuff been in my life before? They’re original stories, too. Something the US film industry struggles to come up with. I finished the ‘Spanish Queen’ with Penelope Cruz. Very funny. And I’m obsessed with the series ‘Las Chicas del Cable’ on Netflix. Wow! Talk about drama and strong female characters and brilliant casting.

I’ve noticed other differences too. There is a lot of shouting and more arm waving than we have here. But I like it – it’s expressive and helps heighten the drama. Spanish TV is less provincial than we are. If they have something to say, they say it. If it means taking characters to uncomfortable place where the audience might squirm in their seats? Bring it on! It’s actual ART!

Jeff sat down with me last night to watch a couple of episodes. He laughed when he saw the costumes and the cars.

‘1928 – right in your sweet spot’ referring to my preferred costume drama period for cinema for 1900-1950. ‘But without a war.’

At first, he was on his iPad and then he got sucked in. I explained the plot and who the characters were.

‘Carolina is the horrible one who is Francisco’s secretary at the phone company. She is after Alba/Lidia, to expose her secrets and destroy her. And Carlota is confused if she wants a girl friend or a boyfriend. And Francisco, we can’t decide if he’s a good guy caught up in difficult circumstances, or if he was a good guy who is now a bad guy.’

Soon Jeff was looking over the rim of his glasses. I could tell he was enthralled. Just like me.

I haven’t thought much about what our life will be like on a day to day basis when we finally get our visas and land in Spain. But now I know what our evenings will entail. A bowl of popcorn and some world-class entertainment!

Learning the Lingo

OK – It’s past time to get serious about my Spanish. With everything else going on, it’s been easy to put it off. Sure, the first level on Rosetta Stone was relatively easy. And then it got harder. And then my excuses got more creative.

‘I’m hungry, tired, need to work out, there’s a fire, I’m congested, my leg hurts, I need to shred.’ and on and on. Like a toddler at bedtime. Yes, I’ll admit – I’m not the ideal student. So I went online today and searched for ‘How do you learn a language quickly without trying that hard.’ Go ahead, Google it. There’s a lot out there.

Then I Googled ‘Should I push through when I’m failing Spanish or should I start at the beginning again’. Yup – kind of long search term but again, I got some helpful hints. The best advice was from a guy who suggested that perhaps I shouldn’t over think it. ‘Just have fun with it.’ he offered. But I’m super competitive and I hate failure – So I’m not finding it fun. Maybe I should Google something about that – but I don’t think I’ll like the answer. So I went another way.

Another site said I need to immerse myself. ‘Don’t bother moving to a foreign country to learn the language.’ it suggested – oops, that’s just what I’m doing – ‘Just listen to music, watch movies and tv in your chosen language. You’ll master it in no time.’ So now I’m committing to only Spanish films and tv on Netflix. There are a few. And as to music? I think one of the Iglesias family and I might become fast friends.

One of my biggest problems is that I have taken other languages in the past. German in high school and Arabic in college. I was never fluent in German but my Arabic was pretty darn good and I found, when I would try to speak German and was at a loss for a word, I would fill it in with Arabic. So I sounded very odd.

Now, when I’m learning Spanish, I’m not filling it in with Arabic, but with German. What!? So if worse comes to worse, I can join a German expats group in Spain and communicate with them just fine in my dually broken German/Spanish dialect – that is all my own. I pray there is one of those who will accept me until I’m able to communicate effectively in my new country. I suppose, if I get desperate I can head down to Morocco and someone there might understand me.

Today, I thought I would make sure I had all the tools in my arsenal. I bought Babbel for my phone and instead of being on social media in line at the grocery store or in the waiting room at the Dr.’s office, I’ll be learning Spanish. Strangers may look at me funny as I repeat random phrases into my phone, to no one, but what do I care? – we’re blowing this pop stand. They’ll never see me again after February. And if I see someone I know? Well, they’d expect nothing less.

The Packet

Yesterday was a big day. We got all our financial records stamped and signed. This is something that has no legal value in the US. We don’t sign or stamp our bank statements or investment statements – but when we enter Spain, they apparently want to see this ink scribble and the stamp with the name and address of the institution. Our banker told us we could order one online for $30, but he went ahead and did it anyway. Seriously, Spain. You gotta find another way to feel good about bank issued financial documents.

But either way, we came home and I got out our packets. These are the individual collections of our documents that I’ve been assembling over the last 4 months. Included in that, is our declarations to support each other financially, and all other means, since some of our money is held separately. Jeff laughed when the person who notarized them was baffled at why we needed them.

‘Doesn’t the act of getting married cover this? I mean, do you have a prenup?’

‘No – we don’t. But in Spain, apparently getting married doesn’t really buy you anything financially.’

The person wrinkled their brow.

‘Huh.’

This brings me to the acquisition of our marriage certificate. I had one from when we were first married, so I had it Apostilled. Then I found out that I had to get a ‘fresh one’ because the consulate doesn’t like old versions ‘because you might have gotten a divorce since then.’

Well, I know a lot of people who have been divorced – myself included – and none of them want to move to another country with their ex-spouse. Not one.  And to go further, in the US, marriage certificates are just a record of the marriage taking place. They are not tied to a divorce decree. So I could get my previous marriage’s marriage certificate, and it would have no reference to our divorce. It’s useless.

But I got the newer version and got that Apostilled. BTW – it looks exactly like the first version – except the date of the stamp on the back. It’s now part of the packet that is about 2 inches thick for each of us. Then I called the State Department to check on the Apostles for our FBI background checks. Even with overnight delivery, both to them and the paid envelope to send it back, it won’t be here for another 10 days. Ugh. I’m not sure what we would have done if we didn’t use IDVetting to expedite our background checks.

So I reviewed the consulate check list, and sent off what I had to the ‘Sworn Translator’ from the list that the consulate publishes. This person lives in another state and will send me her translations via email, I will check them for accuracy (except I don’t speak or read Spanish), then I pay her and she overnights them to me. She’s feeling OK on the timing of the background checks, if I can get them to her right away when I get them. I’m less comfortable with things coming down to the wire – but I’ll take her word for it.

I’ve included other documents that others have mentioned they were asked for after the fact. Tax returns and birth certificates, even though we have passports and you can’t get a passport without a birth certificate. But it’s all in there.

I can almost see the finish line and as I went through our packets and touched and checked off each document, I felt a sense of pride. Not one of them was easy to get. Not one. And some cost a chunk of money to acquire. But here they are, sitting on my kitchen counter, just waiting to be judged for accuracy or relevance. I’ll hold my head high when we go for our appointment. If they give me credit for the sheer weight of it, I feel sure we’re in.

 

 

What if it All Worked Out?

As we’ve gone through the last few months of preparing to move to Valencia, we’ve spent time with friends and family. It’s been wonderful to connect and reconnect with people we haven’t seen in a while. They always have questions about the details and our decision.

I’ve also had to stop some of the subscriptions that we’ve gotten over the years. Things like a monthly massage club I belong to at a local Spa. And at times, I’ve had to explain why I’m stopping the service. Moving out of the country is one of the reasons I can stop contracts early.

When I explain what we’re doing, usually there is some kind of surprise. Always, there is a ‘Wow! Seriously? Why?’. Then I have to explain that we are indeed moving, that we love Spain and can’t wait to experience living there. And then I invariably get, ‘Are you sure its not just a mid-life crisis?’

My response? ‘Yes, that’s exactly what it is! Except I prefer the term ‘Mid-life Revelation.”

They always look at me like I’m crazy. But if its a subscription service, the contract is voided. If it’s people I know a bit better, they sometimes have an off the cuff list of all the things that could go wrong, might become a big problem, or reasons we might reconsider. Then there are the things that ‘they’ve heard’. That someone they know, who knows someone, has had a terrible time with. It goes something like this:

‘I’ve heard their health care is like the third world. My friend’s went there and they had to go to the emergency room and it was awful. You know it’s socialized medicine?’ When I tell them that none of this is true and that our medical insurance is 1/5th of the costs is is here, with 0 deductibles, their mouths hang open. ‘Well, they certainly never tell you that when they talk about socialized medicine in the US.’ I laugh – ‘Yeah, I know. But it’s true.’

‘I heard, from a friend, whose daughter had a Spanish boyfriend, that their taxes are terrible over there.’ To this, I explain all the things that are supported by their taxes. Things like top notch higher education, social safety net, and a host of other things. Their roads, infrastructure and transportation systems are much better than the US. You don’t have to own a car to get around the country at reasonable prices. But no country is perfect. We should know.

‘Living in Europe is expensive. You’ll run out of money really fast and you’ll be back here before you know it. With nothing left.’ I love this one. It sounds more like a wish than a statement of reality. When I tell them how much a house or apartment costs – they choke on their drink. ‘How is it so cheap?’ they ask. I respond with ‘I don’t know. But even their groceries and home furnishing and clothing is about 1/3 of what it is here.’

Then the conversation often turns.

‘Well, you know we’ve always talked about maybe moving to somewhere cheaper. Keep me posted on how it all goes. We might consider it.’

I don’t blame them. I used to be in the ‘What if…?’ crowd. My husband, Jeff, has helped me let that go. When ever I went negative over the years. Coming up with all the disaster scenarios that might go wrong. ‘What if this happened? What if that happened?’ he would respond with, ‘What if it all worked out beautifully? What if it’s the best thing we’ve ever done?’

He helped me go from always preparing for the worst, to looking for a path through. And then looking at the bright side. It doesn’t mean we’re not prepared for challenges on this adventure. It just means that we’re more focused on the upside and all the fun we’re going to have heading off into the unknown. And as we do this, I think we can help others think the same way.

 

Thank You for Your Service

On Friday it was clean up day. I had to wait until 5pm because in the midst of all the things I have to do – I’ve been summoned for jury duty at the US District Court for Monday. I’ve got nothing else going on.  I was terrified because every single time I’ve been called for jury duty – I get seated on a trial. I just have that kind of face, I guess. It just seems like something I would love to do right about now. NOT!

Moving on. We submitted our FBI background checks in way back in September. So I worked my list and after combing the FBI website and finding nothing useful, I pestered people in Washington DC until someone gave me the super secret phone number to check on the status of our background checks. It came with a warning ‘Don’t abuse this.’ What am I going to do, crank call them? Anyway, I’m sure I’m on the naughty list there.  But it’s getting down to the wire and I need to make sure we can get these babies Apostlized by the US Department of State and translated in time for our appointment at the Consulate in January.

Today I got the news – they haven’t even opened the envelope that contains our fingerprints, check and forms. The woman I spoke to told me that they might get to it in early January. I had a small coronary. Deep breathing helped but, yeah – that’s not gonna work.

So I found another service (authorized by the government) that became available since we submitted them before, and we’re getting new fingerprints tomorrow and overnighting it to them. We will get it back by the end of next week (fingers crossed) – assuming my finger prints can be captured in a way that the FBI finds suitable. Then I’ll send them off to the State Department – and finally the translator.

I also heard back from my 401(k) plan administrator. Just this week, in a side note in an email from the Consulate relating to something else, they reminded me that all my bank statements and 401(k), investment statements, etc. must be signed by a manager or higher at the bank or firm, with title, phone number, dated and stamped. Huh?

I had never heard of this before. I said as much to the person at the Consulate. She said that it just has to be at the bottom of the statement ‘anywhere’ but it ‘must be done or we can not accept your documents as certified proof that you have the funds.’ So, let me get this straight. My monthly bank statements, sent to me by my actual bank, investment firms, etc. are not considered certified, even though the bank, etc. is the one mailing them to me?

So I called and after being transferred, then transferred, then transferred and then put on hold for 30 minutes and heard the entire sound track for Downton Abbey – not unpleasant – while they called another company, I found out that my 401(k) administrator has been changed in the last 3 months and that they aren’t sure they a)get me 3 months worth of statements, and b)they don’t get what I’m even talking about with the signatures falderal, and why I need it. So I spoke slowly and deliberately. I sympathized with their confusion, I told them. ‘Spain? Ha! What are you gonna do? I don’t get it either but that doesn’t mean I don’t desperately need it. Pleeeeease HELP ME! I BEG YOU!!’ So they called me back today and they’re doing it. I could hear the guy on the phone shaking his head when he heard my small sobs of gratitude.

I’m also baffled that this little gem wasn’t in the instructions on their website under the heading ‘Proof of financial funds’. But it’s not the first time I’ve heard this concern that we might spend all this time, money and aggravation to move to Spain, so that when we get there, we can become indigent dead-beats. Even though I’ve assured them, I can stay home in the US and be a deadbeat, if I was so inclined. Eating Cheetos all day, watching Real Housewives of some Horrible City and drinking carb loaded sugary drinks and not showering. It would take zero effort. And I wouldn’t even have to consult the FBI to do it!

Our landlord in Valencia looked at me like I was insane when I explained it that way. Perhaps they don’t have the equivalent, like ‘Real Housewives of Barcelona’, although the word ‘real’ is actually a good thing in Spain. And involves a lot less fake, over dressed woman beating each other up over too much wine and silly misunderstandings. So that’s a good thing.

Anyway, after all that nonsense today, I phoned the jury summons number to check on my status for next week and…They said I’m off the hook. I have satisfied my jury service with just a phone call, because they have no trials for me to judge next week! Somebody up there took pity on me today. And they actually said ‘Thank you for your service.’

 

The New World

It’s funny. My whole life I’ve been taught that the US is the great experiment. My country is where the term ‘Melting Pot’ was first coined. Mass immigration in the late 19th and early 20th century from the rest of the world – namely from Europe and Central Asia filled the US with new blood, new ideas, new traditions. And the cultures that were landed on our shores are what made us who we are today. Here in Spain, I feel the same way.

I walk down these streets and I see people from all over the world. I hear languages and smell food cooking that is distinctly not Spanish. The people here seem to embrace or certainly tolerate those from other countries. I’m not saying there is not skepticism. Certainly, me being from the US has caused some people to pause. I see them look at me like ‘Why are you moving here?’ and sometimes it requires me to provide additional documents. Some assume it’s because of our current political situation in the US, and they tell me so. But overall, the people I’ve met that are both Spanish, and from other countries, have been welcoming and hospitable. They just want to get to know me. And I find I want to get to know them.

The Schengen agreement in the EU means that there are people in Valencia from all over Europe. The PA I hired is Latvian. She speaks many languages but her Spanish has been invaluable in helping me navigate. I’ve looked at apartments that are owned by Iranians and others who are not from here. All of this is the international soup that makes me feel like we could make this home. We won’t be the odd man out, because so many are from other places around the world.

It is interesting, though. I’ve traveled all over the world. But I was always going to go back to the US – that was home. So even if I was in a country for an extended period of time, I knew that the US is where I would return, eventually. But it will be different now. We will be the ones coming to a new place – to build our lives. Living with people whose language we are terrible at speaking. Trying to navigate a system we don’t really understand.

It makes me stop and think back. Have I always been patient with others who have come to my own country from the outside? Have I had expectations that they ‘Should just know’ how our system and culture works? That they should be able to communicate effectively and jump into the flow at the same pace as the rest of us who were born into it?

Coming here has held up a mirror for me, and given me a different perspective on how we treat outsiders in the US. Maybe we could be more patient. Maybe we could allow those who seek a different life amongst us, to reshape us and make us better, more compassionate people. Maybe the New World isn’t a place, but a state of being. The State of Kindness.