Written by Mike
As April begins I cannot help but reminisce on our first six months in Spain: the whirlwind of craziness at the beginning; the slow, but very enjoyable adaptation to living in a new country, the new friends we’ve made, and most of all, the differences in culture. Some of these differences were completely foreign to us at first and some were actually very familiar, but with a distinctive twist. Here are a few of my favorite/non-favorites so far.
Meet your Meat
For the most part, the various departments and organizational structure of a supermercado are very similar to its American counterpart: produce in the front, frozen and refrigerated items next, rows of dry goods, and seafood/meat departments in the back. It is here, at the back of the store, where there is a literal meet and greet with your meat.
Most meat departments in the United States display their raw meat in either shrink-wrapped packages, or neatly stacked in a temperature controlled, display case. In Spain, they have modified their display to include hanging slabs of pork, beef, and rib meat from the ceiling above the main display case! Perhaps it is a bit too up close and personal, but hey, at least you see exactly what you’re getting! Since I am “mostly” vegetarian (I adhere to a “tools” not “rules” philosophy for most things) and have a slightly twisted sense of humor, my initial reaction the first time I stepped into a Spanish meat department was more “totally gnarly man!” than “ewwwww!” Even at Christmas time, when there were entire baby pigs wrapped in plastic in the frozen section, I still did not waiver. (Although due to my morbid sense of wonder, I probably did stare at the poor, lifeless piglet a little longer than a normal person would.)
Speaking of Wilber, it doesn’t take one long to figure out that Spaniards love pork! Mostly jamón and, my personal favorite, chorizo. In fact, since being in Spain, I have eaten parts of a pig I never thought I would ever consume: intestines, pig face, and pig ear. Yes, you heard that right, pig face and ear! And all delicious! I will spare you the details on the pig face but will give a quick pointer on eating the ear: make sure to finish it while it’s still hot. The cartilage starts to get a little chewy and tough as it cools off!
Lastly and probably my favorite part of any supermercado, is the orange juice station. Here one can purchase fresh-squeezed orange juice for a modest price; no added sugar or chemicals, just straight OJ! Curiously, I was never a big OJ drinker before I moved to Spain, but to be fair, never actually had the pure, unadulterated version. Plus being a machine nerd wanna-be and easily entertained by gears and moving parts, I get a 60-second bonus by watching the machine slice the oranges and extract the juice with Ninja-like ease.
People who know me moderately well know that when it comes to food the number one, Mount Everest of disgustingness, all-time hated consumable, is the slimy-textured, vomit-inducing taste of mushrooms. They’re just god awful! And there is no picking them out of the food either; their gross juice contaminates everything like contaminated soil in a toxic waste dump. This loathing goes way back to my childhood where I would find creative ways to dispose of the fungi invaders on my plate. One of my favorite methods was to sneakily discard mushrooms into my napkin when no one was looking, and then just toss the wad of grossness into to the trash when taking my dirty dishes to the sink…but I digress. In Spain, mushrooms have a couple of different names: the entire mushroom is called hongo or champiñón, but the top of the of the mushroom, or cap, is called seta. While there are no formal mushroom restaurants in Logroño, there are multiple pincho bars that serve up mushrooms on a stick – mushroom caps, or setas, to be exact. Cooked in garlic butter, stacked on a skewer with shrimp and served with a slice of a baguette, this “delicacy” seems to be a favorite among the Spaniards. Unfortunately for me, I am usually the only mushroom hater on pincho night, so like the good team player that I am and the allure of more vino, I join my group inside the mushroom bar and watch incredulously as they happily consume their grody Smurf houses!
It’s a dirty subject, but someone has to write about it!
If you have read Elle’s post already, you know how clean Logroño likes to keep their city, and judging by the levels of cleanliness in other cities that I have visited, I would say the this might be the standard for the entire country. Not only are the city parks and streets immaculate, but the piso’s I have been in seem be under this same code of cleanliness. When I started to teach English privately (I make home visits), I was amazed at how clean the Spaniards kept their piso’s. To this day I am still paranoidly mindful to not leave even the slightest mess (easier said than done knowing my klutzy ways!) while I am visiting.
While apartment living in Seattle, I was given the option, for the first time in my life, of separate areas for trash, recycling and compost in the building I was living in; no more running my recycling to the nearest Whole Foods store! Here in Longroño, they have put a unique spin on this concept of waste disposal where instead of being able to dump your trash or recycling in your building, you must take it down to the street and dispose of it in specific, color-coded bins.
Initially, I thought that these visually cumbersome bins were kind of an eye-sore and didn’t make much sense in the overall cleanliness and aesthetic of city, but they’ve sort of grown on me and now I see them as a unique quirk. I’ve asked some of the locals about their opinion of these giant, colored trash bins taking up precious parking space on the street, and they seem more or less indifferent. BUT! They did tell me about a newer method of waste disposal in some areas of the city where there are small trash chutes on the street that lead to underground bins. Apparently when the garbage trucks show up to collect the trash, these underground bins are raised to street level via lift. After getting this info, I searched all over Longroño for these underground trash bins to no avail…and then I visited a very beautiful city in the Basque Country called Vitoria-Gastiez. Even though I did not get to explore the entire city, it seems that this underground method is their preferred means of waste management – no colored bins to be found! To get a better idea of this concept, here’s a similar method of trash disposal in a city just north of Logrońo.
Before I moved to Spain, I had always lauded myself as an anal-retentive clean freak (partially due to my obsession to declutter), however in my estimation, it seems I have met my match! The “master” has become the student!
I won’t spend too much time on this subject since I view restrooms like I view Reggae music: there’s always the same stale odor, and if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen (heard) them all. With that being said, being one to frequent the many bars and restaurants in the La Rioja region, I have seen more porcelain in the last six months than I probably have in the last ten years. During this toilet tour I have seen some pretty unique decor and even some surprises.
MUSIC AND FASHION
Run to the Hills
So naturally, one of my first curiosities early on was the music scene. I wondered if the live music was going to be heavily influenced by the Flemenco style or was it going to be all DJ’s playing some brand of homogenized, mind-numbing Euro techno. But to my astonishment and glee, Heavy Metal rules the day in Spain! And not just any Metal…80’s Heavy Metal! The music I grew up with as an angsty, head-banging teen is still alive and well today! I can walk into numerous cafés in Logroño and expect to hear Iron Maiden, Metallica, Guns n’ Roses, ACDC or Pantera blasting from the speakers! In fact, during our first weeks in Logroño, while walking home one night, I came across an Iron Maiden tribute band during the San Mateo festival playing on an outdoor stage. They. Were. INCREDIBLE! Any musician or fan will tell you that you can’t be some schlub, novice musician and pull off Maiden with any sort of authenticity! I guess I am not totally surprised of this major musical influence in Spain since Europe (United Kingdom) was the birthplace of Heavy Metal. And let me tell you, Spaniards love Iron Maiden! Even the younger generation, some of whom are my students, are familiar with the classics! I feel so honored to be teaching English to a group of little metal heads!
If you’re looking for the latest rundown of popular fashion styles in Spain, you might want to leave this page and reference a more credible source than a guy like me, who wishes that capes would come back in style. But what I can tell you is that Spain, well at least Logroño, is in the midst of a mullet mania! Many mullets, of every shape and size! And being a purveyor of various mullets in the past (Andre Agassi was my mullet idol in high school), I look upon my fellow Spaniard mulletarians with pride and a bit of judgement as well. (Yes, to all you haters out there, there IS such a thing as a GOOD and a BAD mullet!)
But not to be outdone, I have also observed a nominal amount of rattails (yes, I had one of these too!) and mohawks as well. Being surrounded with such a collection of eclectic, old-school hair styles, and since I no longer have to bow to a corporate dress code, I do frequently ponder the possibilities of growing back a blast from the past. But knowing my pragmatic ways and how annoyingly slow growing out one’s hair can be, I seriously doubt this muse will ever materialize. (Breathe easy, Karrie!)
I have seen many mullets since living in Logroño, but the guy below (who I’ve seen multiple times around town), gets the gold metal.
Another unique stylistic item is the satchel. Worn by men of all ages, this accessory comes in all kinds of fancy shapes and sizes, and is apparently a carrier for ones keys, wallet, phone…and other things? I’m not sure what else the modern male must carry with him unless it’s work-related items. Knowing myself, if I ever got to a point to where I needed extra cargo space to say, go to the store, I would definitely think about downsizing my pocket contents. However, I am not totally opposed to this idea! Being a former fanny-pack carrier, I have experienced the convenient consolidated togetherness of the phone-keys-wallet combo, so the thought of empty pockets while being out and about, is a very tantalizing prospect. But I am prone to the occasional absentminded episode, and would for sure lose a satchel! The nauseating thought of being locked out of my apartment, and replacing my phone and the contents of my wallet, will more than likely keep me from trying this stylish trend.
ODDS & ENDS
This could be a spot where I go on a major rant, but I will spare you all my soap box and leave you with this small, but very annoying example: Below we have two inhalers that have exactly the same medicine. One requires a prescription and will cost you ninety-five American dollars without insurance ($15 co-pay with insurance), the other is available, over the counter for TWO EURO (roughly $2.46 USD.)
Quite simply, there is a lot of cigarette smoke in Logroño. Even though smoking is prohibited in most buildings, practically every block has some sort of café or restaurant, and that means outdoor seating, and outdoor seating means cigarette smoke. Lots of it. Of course me being an asthmatic means that it doesn’t take much smoke to cause some issues, so you can imagine that having to constantly dodge toxic clouds on the sidewalk can get pretty annoying. Good thing the inhalers are cheap here!
With such incredible artistry, who needs words.
When I was exploring the very hilly Vitoria-Gastiez (the city with the really cool, underground garbage chutes!) back in January, I came across this very interesting way to get to up to a higher street.
And finally, one of my all-time favorite things about Spain: Drinking beer at IKEA!