Friday, August 21, 2009

Run for the Border

Yesterday was a happy happy day. And one that surely made my wonderful expat sister very jealous. I met a good friend out for lunch as I usually do once a week or so. We headed to the nearest mall as we frequently do. We wandered up to the top floor where the restaurants are as we, you guessed, usually do. And what appeared above as we climbed the escalator?

The Border.

The figurative one of course. It appears that Taco Bell has expanded into Western Europe!! This made my day. It would have made my month, if I weren’t about an hour and a half away from two weeks of vacation. The menu, the colors, the hot sauces – it’s all nearly identical to back home – and I was able to have my beloved Nachos Bell Grande right here in Madrid!

One of the workers did comment on my requesting the “Fire” sauce – spicy foods are not exactly a mainstay in Spanish gastronomy – and I am not 100% convinced that it was the same sauce as back home…

We - virtually - discovered earlier this year that a Taco Bell had opened in one of the big malls outside of Madrid but considering that I am car-less it seemed unlikely that I would get out there. This other mall, however, is here in Madrid and a direct 20-minute metro ride from my house.

Ahhhh…. Life is good.

Monday, August 17, 2009

One of the best things about Spain

Check out that ingredient list...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Dressed in black

Not too long ago I had one of those expat experiences, that we all hope to never go through – or that we hope to at least postpone as long as possible. I was a little torn over if I should even blog about the situation. But my mind was made up when I searched the internet for some information on what to expect over here and came up with almost nothing. I decided that, although it’s entirely likely that my blog never shows up on a google search, I would at least contribute my impressions to the internet world – impressions from my first Spanish funeral.

When word came early one morning that a close family member had passed away, I wondered what was next. I already knew a bit about the main steps to be taken but, obviously, had never taken them before. The immediate family of the departed handled the paperwork at the hospital - I heard from my mother-in-law that it didn’t go all that smoothly; the doctor didn’t fill out the death certificate correctly and they were forced to return later to correct things.

Midday things moved to the funeral home. The one chosen was relatively “state of the art” (outdoor gardens, chapels, and 20+ individual parlors set up with sofas and private restrooms) and walking distance from my in-laws’ house. Nacho remembers playing soccer in the park there when he was younger. Traditionally the immediate family stays at the funeral home the entire time – from the moment the deceased is brought there until the funeral. Friends and other family comes and go throughout that time – more or less like a wake in the States. Although the immediate family traditionally stays overnight (or even over two nights if the timing is really poor), my mother-in-law told me that nowadays a lot of people set a time, midnight, for example, when they close and lock the room and go home to try and get some sleep. That wasn’t the case in my experience, however.

As this is Spain after all it seems important to note that there is no smoking allowed, at least where we were, much to the consternation of many of the visitors. However, as to be expected, there was the ever-present cafeteria where smoking is permitted. I haven’t spent much time in funeral homes in the States, but I don’t recall any coffee shops there… I suppose it is intended to accommodate the lengthy stays of the families.

In Spain, funerals take place quickly compared to American standards. Burials/cremations cannot occur less than 24 hours after the death but typically they are scheduled to be as near as possible to that time. The rule is that if the death happens in the morning, the funeral will be the following morning. The same goes for a death in the afternoon. The problem arises when the death happens in the evening or at night, due to that 24 hour rule… those people are typically buried the morning of the 2nd day – perhaps the reason for why the funeral in this case was pushed to 2:30pm the following day despite being an early morning passing. Everyone seemed a bit miffed by this but I got the feeling that it was something to talk about more than actual annoyance.

Regarding this same idea – a quick anecdote. When we were living in Florida we met a number of other Spaniards. One of our good friends there missed his father’s funeral because, although he left almost immediately upon hearing the news, he missed the connecting flight down to the south of Spain.

What I was most surprised by was the clothing people wore to the funeral. I chose my most conservative, black dress and closed-toe shoes. Imagine my surprise when many of the others in attendance were dressed in bright colors, flowered shirts, shorts and Capri pants, cotton tank tops… This is, after all, the country with “strict” guidelines about the length of the dress you can wear to a wedding depending on if it’s during the day or the evening. Nacho said perhaps it’s because it’s the summer and people tend to be more casual – more so even in August than in other months.

A sign was posted outside the chapel at the cemetery stating that the flowers placed there would be donated at the end of the day. Despite that fact, many people were taking flowers from the arrangements. I understand wanting to take some of them home – particularly the ribbons and notes adorning the flowers. And this was probably the most motivating thought. However, there was also the thought, “why let the gypsies get them?” I have no idea if this is true or not but apparently a commonly-held belief is that many of the gypsies selling flowers on the street corners came by their wares by visiting the city’s cemeteries…

After the funeral was over there was no mass gathering at the family’s house. People simply went on home. The government allows you three days off work (counting the weekends) for the death of a close family member (seven if it’s the spouse – common law or otherwise); “close” meaning parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, and siblings only. I was surprised to find out that no provisions are made for the hours needed to attend a funeral of a family member beyond that relation or for a friend. I asked my boss what I could do, expecting that the funeral would be in the morning hours. Turns out my only option was to take a vacation day, so I intended to do just that. When he saw me the following morning (since the funeral ended up being in the afternoon) he made a comment that convinced me that he thinks I had an interview or the like and had given him an excuse the day before in order to get out of work. I’ll save my thoughts on that one for another post, however.

En fin, other than the logistical differences, clearly death is one of those things that unites us. Another of those equalizers. We may honor it in different ways, show our grief with different colors and customs, mourn for different lengths of time, but when it comes down to it, the feelings of loss are surely the same.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Trusting neckline

An interesting little tidbit that came to me the other day…

I was writing an email to my friend, talking about bridesmaids dresses of all things, when I mentioned a strapless dress. Sometimes my mind thinks in Spanish and writes in English. Or vice versa. This was one of those times. As I wrote “strapless” the Spanish word, or phrase in this case, popped into my head.

Palabra de honor

This translates literally to “Word of honor,” but really just means your word. As in “give me your word…” How fitting that such an expression is used to describe the strapless neckline.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Roll Call

There are a couple of people that I don’t really know, but that I still see on my daily commute to work. I commented on this to a coworker of mine who lives near me and catches the Metro at the same stop. He said that he doubted he pays enough attention, or is really awake enough, to really recognize anyone. And he has a point. The 4 people that I see on a regular basis in the mornings are identifiable not by their faces, but by some other defining characteristic… let’s run down the cast of characters.

  1. Blind Man: There is the blind man with the cane and a khaki photographer vest. (Yes, I realize the irony of this but truly that is what it looks like to me.) I can tell if I am on time or not by when I encounter this man. If he’s already up on the street I am in trouble – running late. If I see him on the escalators, I am doing okay (various degrees of okay depending on which of the 3 escalators we’re on). And if I see him get off the train then I am ahead of schedule. Sidenote: There is another blind man with a dog who I see only occasionally and typically not in the mornings. He’s easily identifiable not only by the dog but also by the endless stream of conversation he carries on with the dog. “That’s a good boy. Are you tired, boy? Maybe you can sleep a little until we get off. Then you’ll have to wake up and lead me up those stairs.”
  2. Airport Employee: Dressed daily in green pants and a striped white and green shirt with a green color, AE is clearly not a morning person. She and I first “met” when we both went for the same open seat. I was oblivious to her until I was sitting down (yes, I won) and saw her giving me the evil eye. It continued on for the rest of the trip. I don’t know if she really is an airport employee or not, but her uniform combined with her disembarking the train each morning at the stop that connects to the airport line makes me think so… although I feel sorry for any travel-weary passengers dealing with her first thing in the am.
  3. Red Dress Lady: I don’t know this woman’s story. I know only that she gets on one stop after me and wears the same outfit – a patterned red and brown dress topped with an entirely out of place open button-down white shirt – at least twice a week and frequently thrice… I think that were I to wear the same clothing that often I would at least choose something a little less llamativo.
  4. Big Head: Seriously, this guy has one of the largest heads I’ve ever seen. He lives a couple stops up from me and actually works in my office. I can’t manage to get up the courage to say anything though. I mean, what do I say? He probably doesn’t recognize me at all and I can’t exactly tell him WHY he stands out so much to me.

All of this does make me wonder if I am a constant figure on anyone else’s morning commute. Perhaps Blind Man recognizes my footfall and judges his timeliness accordingly. Or perhaps Airport Employee still gives me the evil eye when I’m not looking…