My First Weekend
A New Place
Un Nuevo Lugar
I have since relocated from the hostel (above) to a cozy, four bedroom apartment in a district called Barrio San Mames, with three Spanish roommates. However, I have yet to meet any of them since the University of León is still on winter break. I eagerly await for their arrival in order to practice my Spanish and finally meet people from the university. I haven't met anyone from the university since my arrival six days ago, it seems the city is still enjoying the winter holiday vacation.
My luggage arrived the same day I moved to an apartment!
However, my most notable Spanish encounter came when I had to call a landlord in the city to set up a meeting to look at the apartment. I carefully practiced what I would say but of course these things never go as planned. The landlord's name was Paloma and the events transpired like this:
First, I had to ask the hostel manager if I could use the phone. I convinced her that I would not be calling anywhere outside the country and was calling a lady in León. She agreed and I picked up the phone and called Paloma's home phone and asked: ¿Es Paloma allí? (Is Paloma there?). The lady on the other line responded that she wasn't and if she could take a message for me. I simply stated that I was looking for an apartment and wanted to talk to her. The conversation deteriorated after that and I hung up unsure of what exactly to do. I had Paloma's cell phone number but was told to call her home phone first which made me wonder if I should attempt her cell phone. After concluding to myself that I had nothing to lose and everything to gain, I picked up the phone again and dialed Paloma's cell phone number. As I sat in the living room of my hostel, I was feeling confident at this point with my Spanish communication; but the phone was ringing several times now and I was getting worried.
But, then Paloma answered:
Me: ¿Es Paloma? (Is this Paloma?)
Paloma: Si, yo soy (Yes, I am)
Me: Si, me llamo Michael, soy de los Estados Unidos y estoy buscando un apartamento en León. He estado hablando con Alex Prieta Revilla sobre una habitación en su piso. (My name is Michael, I am from the United States and I am looking for an apartment in León. I have been talking with Alex (my roommate) about a room on his floor).
Paloma: She responded too quickly for me to fully understand but it seemed like she had been expecting my call.
Me: (getting to the point) ¿Quieres conocer hoy? (Do you want to meet today?)
Paloma: Eh, hoy, ¿Que hora? (What time?)
Me: Um....Dos. A Le Bon Cafe. (I had found a cafe on the street where this apartment was via Google Maps and figured this was the best meeting place)
Paloma: She spoke too quickly again for me to fully understand. But I understood 8pm and we can't (no podemos).
Me: (I reiterated) A las dos en Le Bon Cafe?
Paloma: Si, vale
Me: Hasta luego, gracias.
Well, I had a meeting with the landlord and more importantly my first full conversation in Spanish (and it was over the phone). However, the part I misunderstood about 8pm and we can't would unravel itself soon enough. I had already packed my suitcases and convinced the manager of the hostel to let me keep my luggage in the living room of the hostel until after my meeting.
So, I set off for the meeting at 1:15pm and stopped to have a quick lunch. I ate some sort of bowl with beans and pork and then a tiny cup of coffee, all while watching the Spanish version of Wheel of Fortune.
Afterward, I walked to Le Bon Cafe and discovered that it was closed. I put two and two together and figured that this is what Paloma was trying to tell me, but it didn't turn out to be much of a problem in the end, for when I turned around I heard English. To this day, I'm not sure if it was Paloma's son but I presume so; he greeted me in excellent English (the only English I have heard since being in León) and then introduced me to Paloma, a small, Spanish woman who could easily be my grandma. We proceeded to the apartment which was only two doors down from Le Bon Cafe and took an elevator to the apartment. It is quite possibly the smallest elevator I have ever occupied and with three people we were nearly touching elbows. I thought perhaps it would serve better as a laundry chute since there is a laundromat next door to the apartment complex.
We entered the apartment and I was immediately impressed by the amount of space, wooden floors and basic set-up. We did a basic tour of the apartment and with her son as my translator I was able to understand Paloma's instructions. There are four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a washer, dishwasher, kitchen and a living room with a television. The room that would be for me, is the smallest of the four but has everything that I need: a bed, a desk and a closet. It's no bigger than a dorm room but the overall price per month plus the apartment's location within León seemed like too much to pass up. I told them I'd like to sleep here tonight and just like that I paid Paloma a deposit and the room was mine.
Eating and Drinking
I have yet to fully adapt to the eating culture here in Spain or the time shops, restaurants and grocery stores open and close. This past weekend, I failed miserably at finding an open grocery store. Saturday, I went out too late in the afternoon; Sunday was the Catholic holiday of the Epiphany and most stores I imagine are closed on Sundays anyway; and the day after the Epiphany is considered a holiday here as well so once again grocery stores were closed. Aside from feeling like I live in 1940s America, I suppose I should embrace this age-old custom of a city shutting down on Sundays and holidays, it allows families and friends to bond and this particular holiday allowed individuals to finalize their winter holiday vacations. But, it has been a royal pain for me. But, this upcoming week, I imagine things will return to normal and I'll feel like I'm living in the right century again.
In addition, the time Spaniards eat lunch and dinner has been so foreign to me for some reason. First off, they rarely eat breakfast it seems, besides juice, coffee or tea and something light like toast. Thus, by noon, Spaniards begin "pre-lunch" by munching on small snacks and drinking something else, often times a beer or wine. They do this until about 1:30 or 2 when they eat an actual lunch, which is the most important meal of the day. It is so important, that workers even get a 2-3 hour lunch break complete with a siesta. Siestas tend to be small naps (10-15 minutes) designed for resting the body before working the rest of the afternoon and early evening. After this extended lunch session, I presume workers work well into the evening, perhaps 7 or 8 p.m. One would think after getting off work at this hour, individuals would want to eat dinner. But no, not in Spain.
From 8 p.m. to around 10:30 p.m., Spaniards will engage in what is known as tapas (tapear, ir de tapas). This activity involves buying some sort of drink (most often times alcohol), and being served small dishes of food known as tapas. And in the city of León, if you buy a drink, you get free tapas. It's an age-old custom in Spain and usually lasts a few hours. Often times, Spaniards will bar hop to numerous bars and nearly intake a mini-dinner with these tapas. By dinner time (10:30 p.m.), individuals have satiated their palates with several tapas and tasty beverages and finally sit down at a restaurant or head home for dinner. To me, it seems tapas is designed solely for socializing as opposed to getting drunk, in any case it is quite the event every night0.
An example of tapas
I've yet to discover whether Spaniards go out again after eating dinner, but I'm sure I will in time. At first, it seems awfully strange but in a sense it is comparable to what many U.S. workers do for happy hour. The only difference is the time of day. U.S. workers get off work at 5 and sometimes imbibe before eating dinner. This is essentially what the Spanish are doing as well, but the elongated lunch/siesta time pushes the events of the day back several hours.
I have had a couple experiences with this eating culture thus far. One time I sat down to eat some Turkish food at around 9:45 p.m. The place had maybe 10 people in it and I was served my meal fairly quickly and finished around 10:20 p.m. In just that amount of time, the restaurant was packed with people, they couldn't wait for me to leave my seat.
Another time, I had no intention of waiting until 10 to eat so I sat down to eat dinner at 7:45 p.m. I was literally the only person in the restaurant while I ate. Certainly, 7:45 p.m. can be considered late in U.S. dinner time but most Spaniards we're probably still getting ready to go out for tapas at that time. Often times, I find myself eating lunch at dinner places or eating dinner way too early. All the preparation in the world could not have prepared me for what time they eat or how often they socialize here. But, it's just different and in time I will come to enjoy it I am sure, but right now these are just a foreigner's observations.
Hasta la proxima.