I try not to have unrealistic expectations for most things–people, rush hour traffic, the final installment in a book series, new versions of Apple products, Game of Thrones characters, myself. But I am guilty of idealizing places. This comes partly from a love of travel and culture and all things far away and different, and also from a smattering of absolutely magical, short-term visits to European cities. So when I arrived in Madrid, I arrived with high expectations, and in a way I set myself up for disappointment.
I expected that I would be able to buy stamps at the post office. My first visit to Correos became the first in a series of dreadful encounters with the Spanish postal system. (This translation might not be 100% accurate, but it’s pretty close.)
Woman Behind the Counter: What do you want?
Me: I’d like to mail these letters, please.
WBtC: They don’t have stamps on them.
Me: I know. I’d like to buy some stamps.
WBtC: Have you been to the tobacco store?
Me: Um. No. Is it nice?
WBtC: That’s where you buy stamps.
Me: At the tobacco store?
WBtC: [yelling] Next!
Me: I’m sorry, I don’t understand. I can’t get stamps here?
WBtC: Does this look like a tobacco store to you?
Me: No. It looks like a post office…
I expected to speak Spanish like a Madrileña by the end of my first year in Madrid. It turns out that it’s really, really hard to learn Spanish when you spend 80% of your time teaching English immersion classes. Admittedly I didn’t put much effort into learning Spanish over the past year, and it turns out that learning a language isn’t effortless even when you’re surrounded by it. Plus, I fell into the trap of meeting a lot of lovely people who happened to be native English speakers, or who were non-native speakers thrilled to have an opportunity to practice their English. Mostly I was just lazy.
I expected to become a night person. Dinnertime in Madrid is around 21:00 or 22:00, and the nightlife doesn’t even get started until after midnight. I figured I would adjust to this and become a night owl. No such luck. I found myself yawning and staring at my watch while families with young children were just sitting down for dinner at the table beside me. I was always one of the first of my friends to go home on a Friday night, and while I know I missed out on some good times, I’ve had to accept that I’m going to be a morning person in any time zone.
I thought I’d travel around Europe every weekend. Sure, RyanAir flights are cheap, but I quickly learned that I would have neither the money nor the time to make this kind of crazy travel feasible. Plus, I didn’t feel pressured to travel that often, because…
I thought I had one more year in Europe. But, always full of surprises and arbitrary decisions, the government of Madrid didn’t renew my work visa, and in September I suddenly found myself unable to work legally in Spain. Now, it’s not particularly difficult to work illegally in Spain, but this kerfuffle felt like a sign that I should move home for a bit and concoct a new life plan.
I was really lucky, because I was able to hang out in Spain for about a month after my last day of work. I went to Valencia and Barcelona and Lisbon and got in a lot of quality time with some fantastic friends.
I haven’t quite decided how I feel about being back in the U.S. I feel more confident in my ability to buy stamps, but less confident that I am not going to be shot while in line at the post office.
I always feel better about life when I’m planning an international trip, so I’m trying to decide on my next travel destination. I’m torn between visiting new places and old friends in Europe, or exploring a different continent. I’m open to suggestions.