“Don’t let fear of striking out get in your way.” -Babe Ruth
After my second week in Bilbao, I realized I lost sight of the initial reason to which I wanted to come to Spain: to immerse myself in another culture. I wanted to experience culture shock. I wanted something new and different. That is why we travel, right?
But I did not know what it was I wanted to experience. I wanted succulent Spanish cuisine, fresh air, foreign friends, and artistic views among many other experiences I was not sure of. But each of those are available to me in the States. And from one first-world country to another, I really did not expect a drastic difference. I knew portion sizes would be smaller, I knew clothing driers would be nonexistent, and I knew coffee or food para llevar (to go) was not an option. I could live with that.
My first hour in Bilbao was euphoric. This red abstract bridge overhang was waiting for us as the bus crossed the river into the city. The Guggenheim Museum, one of Bilbao’s famous attributes, was waiting for us on the other side of the river. It seemed strategically placed at the entrance of Bilbao for all the tourists coming from the airport.
I have never lived in a big city, but always dreamt of being a city girl walking everywhere I go, if possible in heals and coffee in hand (but I doubt I could manage heels and coffee at the same time). The bus ride continued through the city. All we could see was buildings’ old elegant architecture that has most likely been restored after hundreds of years. It is too flawless not to have been restored. This area, Moyua, reminds me of the Upper West Side in New York City. It reminds others of a mini-Madrid. Whichever city it actually resembles, it was electrifying me into a fantasy world.
It was my first time hearing Spanish as a native language. I overheard so many conversations (I couldn’t understand any of it though!) and it pushed me deeper in this dream.
The city thrill wore off with the Metro, however. I’ve taken the Bart in San Francisco and the Subway in New York City before, but I had never taken it during a rush hour as I do every morning in Getxo and Bilbao. During a busy ride, I can smell every smoker’s breath and every body’s odor because we are so close to each other.
Getxo and Bilbao have odors attached to them. As you stroll past different shops, they each have their own scent. It’s mainly a food I do not recognize unless it is a fish. If a store doesn’t have a scent, you smell smoke. Spaniards smoke like chimneys. I am curious to how much tobacco goes through the country on a given day. There is not the same health concerns surrounding cigarettes here as in the States. Spaniards smoke inside their homes (such as my roommates), and they will smoke in front of their newborns. They smoke so much that I am starting to differentiate the different cigarette smells. If it were not for the somewhat recent law that outlawed smoking inside public facilities, I think Spaniards would have a cigarette glued to their lip.
I don’t like smoke. That is strike 1, Bilbao.
When I first arrived at my apartment, I was sadly eager to lie in my bed and check in with friends and family back home (i.e. check Facebook and Twitter). I brought 2 outlet converters and a power strip. I proceeded to plug the power strip into the converter, and the converter into the wall. The outlet did not agree with me and reacted with a loud firework-like sound, some smoke and a few sparks. The lights went out as well as the electricity in the entire building. There wasn’t Wi-Fi to check my social media sites anyway.
After the Jan. 13 firework show, 24 hours of traveling, and a battle against hunger, I attempted to order my first Spanish meal. Little did I know, Spain didn’t condone vegetarian food until sometime in the past 50 years or so and it has yet to catch on as it has in the States. I resorted to the grocery store next so I could make food for myself. I get home to find out my apartment doesn’t have kitchen appliances. My roommate said it is because “electricity is too expensive.”
I cannot say I am truly experiencing culture shock in Spain. I am purely disillusioned. I feel more frustrated than shocked because everything I am “shocked” about I can compare to the US. Both countries have Wi-Fi, but I cannot connect in Spain because it will only connect to one computer at a time. I was fortunate to get a kitchen in Spain, but unfortunate to get a kitchen without utensils. My cold room came with a heater, but also with roommates telling me I couldn’t use it because it was too expensive. Spain has everything that America has, but I just can’t use the utilities.
I need my residential utilities. That is strike 2, Bilbao.
After strike 2, I sat back and realized that I’m not inhaling Spain for Spain. I was complaining about the un-American features that Spain carried. No, I didn’t like getting lost in trails of smoke, or the fishy smells. I didn’t like that even though I didn’t eat meat, I still tasted fish in the vegetarian food.
I forgot about the euphoria I experienced in my first hour of Bilbao when I did see the artistic views of Bilbao and I when I overheard people on the streets speaking such a native language. I need to overcome these American frustrations so Spain doesn’t get a strike 3.
- Learning to get lost without a hand to hold (kristiatkinson.wordpress.com)