Sunday, April 3, 2011

A culture shock preview

Hello again everyone.  As many of you know, my sister, Alex is planning on visiting me in the summer.  She is quite excited and it will be her first time abroad.  Having lived here for 3 years, to me, San Sebastian is normal and not much really surprises me any more.  Of course there are the random days that something that I have never seen happens or something out of the ordinary goes on, but normally I just lead a normal life but it just happens to be in another country.

So, lately I have been thinking...what culturally shocking things have I become immune to?  What things will Alex see with new eyes that I have learned to overlook?  And it's quite a funny thing to think about, because when I really set my mind to it, I realize there are things that are a bit strange that now I just accept as normal - but for Americans it's definitley a different cup of tea.  Here are a few things I think she will notice right off the bat...but things I no longer bat an eyelash about:

Breakfast:  Now normally we are accustomed to toast, maybe some eggs, or a bagel or something filling for breakfast.  It is afterall said to be the most important meal of the day.  Here...breakfat isn't such a big deal though.  Most people have a strong coffee and a few cookies - not chocolate chip or anything, but something similar to graham crackers.  Healty digestive cookies.  I often eat yogurt with granola, fruit and raisins, but that is out of the norm for a Spanish person.  Alex will soon experience the exciting breakfast of galletas y cafĂ©.  Don't worry Mom -I won't let her catch onto the cigarette and coffee breakfast I see a lot of people enjoying each morning!

The Toilet:  Here it's not called the bathroom.  If you have to go to the bathroom in a bar or a restaurant, you don't do the polite thing and ask 'Excuse me, where is the bathroom?'.  No, you ask 'Excuse me, where is the toilet.' I mean, I guess since there is no BATH in a public restroom it stands to reason.  On top of that, in the bathroom in most American homes, what do you have?  A plunger, right?!  Well here, I don't know a single person that owns a plunger, instead, they have sitting comfortably next to the toilet a toilet-bowl cleaning brush standing in a little bowl of a bleach-like solution.  You never seen poop-tracks in the toilets of someone's house, because it is common courtesy here that if you poop, you wash the toilet bowl.  I quite like the idea.

Napkins:  Now you may think that napkins are a decent-grade of paper that you use for your meal and later throw away.  Here, the idea of napkins has been downgraded quite a bit.  Napkins here are almost as hard as cardboard (don't even think about blowing your nose in one of these babies) and normally say Eskerrik asko, which means Thank You in Euskera.  Also, they are so bad, you go through atleast 5 with each meal.  Think minimum 1 per pintxo.  And when you are finished with it, don't worry about throwing it in the garbage because 1) there are no garbages in sight and 2) you just throw it on the floor along with your bread crumbs.  Later, someone will sweep it up. I once saw a lady chuck her dirty napkin from across the bar towards the bar stools where most of the garbage already was - I guess making it easier for the sweeper later?  Normal...

Meal Times:  I am quite accustomed now to the strange eating times of the Basques and Spainards.  Breakfast is quite early in the morning - right when you wake up.  Between breakfast and lunch you normally have a little snack because Lunch doesn't happen until atleast 1pm.  You can't possibly get a good lunch menu anywhere before then, and unless you want McDonald's, it's worth the wait.  Later, around 5 or 6pm, the merienda usually happens.  A fancy way to say snack again, half-sandwiches or fruit are the meriendas I normally see my students with.  Dinner commences around 8pm at the earliest.  I have gotten used to eating dinner no earlier than 9pm.  Alex, craving dinner around 6pm will be sorely disappointed, and by 9pm her tummy will be growling as loud as ever!

What to Drink??  This question only has a few answers, water is not normally one of them.  The choices I normally stress between are wine (red, white or rose....uffff tough decision) or beer (I also like beer mixed with sprite, sounds bad but its delicious).  To order a water (always bottled) or a Coke is MORE expensive always than a glass of wine or a cup of beer.  Go figure.  On top of that, it is accepted that water wouldn't even cross your brain as an option while eating out.  Awhile back I went to the doctor for my yearly physical and here is what he asked me:  'How often do you drink?'.  Not, 'do you drink' because come on, everyone knows that everyone drinks socially here - its just a part of the life.  No one would ever understand a person who GASP doesn't drink at all!  Knowing that Alex doesn't drink, I will introduce her to a world of beverages here...she has no idea what she is in for.  She can always order a Coke, but it's gonna cost her!

I am sure along with the temperature, language, hours and the fact that she will be halfway across the world, she will be in quite enough culture shock - but it will be good for her.  And if we go to Paris, oh God, even more culture shock!  We will see..but until then, I will easily amuse myself by thinking of things that will make her eyes pop out of her head.


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