A few comments reported in a recent Thomas Cook Vacation survey: "When we were in Spain, there were too many Spanish people there. The receptionist spoke Spanish, the food was Spanish. No one told us that there would be so many foreigners.”
"It's lazy of the local shopkeepers in Puerto Vallarato to close in the afternoons. I often needed to buy things during 'siesta' time — this should be banned.” (CLICK HERE)
While the complaints above are so extreme as to be ridiculous, we are repeatedly surprised by just how different things are abroad. Over and over I have had to confront my own expectations about everything from time schedules to how business is routinely done.
- For example, when we rented an “unfurnished” apartment here in Girona, I was shocked to discover that, while there were built-in lights in the bathroom and hallways, there were no lights in any of the other rooms. Lights are considered “furniture” here in Catalonia, reflecting your personal taste. We had to pay an electrician to install hanging lighting fixtures.
- We were surprised to learn that there was no property manager to notify when we had problems with the air conditioner and sink in the apartment. We learned that, in Girona, it is usually your realtor who has to take care of any issues that come up. Unfortunately, they have limited authority.
- Two months before our residency cards expired we went to the local Office for Foreigners and tried to renew them, only to be told that it was too soon. We made an appointment and returned a month later. They took three months to get us the cards. In the meantime all we had were the expired cards and the receipt that said we had made application to renew.
- Getting documents notarized is a routine matter in the USA. Most banks and even UPS and AAA offices have employees who are notary publics. Not so in Spain, where a notary is higher in status than an attorney and much more expensive. I’ll write a blog post in the near future about notary options for expats.
- Local family-run shops often don’t post their opening and closing hours, and, even when they do, you may go there and find them closed. Perhaps an emergency came up or there was a seasonal change in schedule not noted on the printed “horario.”
My first reaction to these local customs was to think, “That’s the wrong way to do things!” As I became more accustomed to the expat life, my reaction became, “We don’t do things that way in the USA.” Finally, my reaction has become, “Isn't it interesting, the way they do things here!” One of the joys of the expat life is to have one’s unspoken expectations confronted and brought to light. It is part of the adventure of living abroad.
A Catalan friend told us, “Expats come here because they like our life style—and then they want to change it!”
Instructions for bloggers often advise, “When you are stuck for a topic, write an article titled, “10 things . . . .” I had vowed never to write such an article, but my list of “don’t expects” kept getting longer. I will write an article in the near future called, “X Things You Shouldn’t Expect When Moving Abroad.”
I welcome your comments about how your own expectations have been challenged by living abroad. I’ll try to include some in the upcoming piece.