This past Wednesday, I had to cancel all my plans for the afternoon – including a private English lesson and a coffee date with a friend – so I could sit at home and wait for a maintenance person to come over and repair my washing machine. Much like in the US, here in Spain they’ll give you a vague time (in my case, “sometime after 2”) and that’s about it, leaving you with nothing to do but sit in your apartment and try to be as productive as possible.
The guy finally came around 5:30, and I explained the problem: the last time I’d done laundry, a ton of soap had stayed behind after the cycle ended, leaving my clothes full of bubbles and foam (nothing that quickly rinsing each item in the sink didn’t fix, but still annoying).
As it turns out, nothing was broken after all – I’d just been using too much detergent and too short of a wash cycle, meaning there wasn’t enough time for all the soap to get rinsed away. The repair guy was probably at my apartment for no more than 10 minutes, and although he was very nice and polite to my face, I wouldn’t have blamed him if he’d been thinking I had to come all the way out here because this stupid guiri doesn’t know how to use her washing machine.
Other than the fact that every part of this situation – from my initial phone call to my landlord to the hasta luego I said as the repair guy left – was conducted in Spanish, it’s exactly the type of thing that I might be dealing with if I lived in the US right now. When you finish school and join the “real world,” mierda happens: washing machines break (or so you think), deadlines for credit card bills and student loan payments loom in the future, and trips to the grocery store are sometimes the highlight of the week. Life goes on, no matter which side of the pond you’re on.
When I first got accepted to the auxiliares de conversación program, I hadn’t even bought my one-way plane ticket yet before people started asking me when I was coming back. When I was going to get a “real job.” When I was going to join the “adult world.”
I’ll admit that my work as a language assistant is hardly a soul-sucking time commitment, and it leaves me with a lot of free time once the final bell at IES Valle de Almanzora rings at 2:30 p.m. But my day doesn’t end there. On any given afternoon, I’ll have anywhere from one to four private English classes to teach – oh, and “real” public relations work to do for real clients.
I’m actually using the degree I spent three years and lots of money studying for. I work from my kitchen table with a green tea infusión no more than an arm’s length away, rather than in a sleek agency office in Chicago or San Francisco or even Columbus, but that doesn’t mean the work I do is any less important to my client.
It might not look like the traditional post-grad life, but to me, it’s still the “real world,” and I’m coming into my own in adulthood just like the rest of my peers. I read a great quote once that said something to the effect of “reality is when you’re paying rent,” and just because I’m not living in the US doesn’t make that any less true. I pay said rent on my own (no roommates). I pay off the aforementioned credit card and student loan bills on time every month. I shop at Mercadona instead of Kroger, but the groceries in my cart are more or less the same as what they’d be if I were in America – the only difference is that I pay for everything in euros and sometimes have to do math (like when I decided to make these wonderful muffins over the weekend and had to figure out what size applesauce container to buy: “Okay, this one is 250 milliliters, and I need 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons”).
I’ve started to create a life for myself here, and I’m proud of that – how many people can say they’ve signed an apartment contract and opened a bank account in Spanish?
The thing is, as long as you’re not hurting yourself or someone else, there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to be an adult. My day-to-day life is pretty regular and not the responsibility-free dream Eurotrip fantasy that people seem to have in their heads. (I actually kind of dread telling people back in the US that I live in Spain for this exact reason, as well as the fact that it’s impossible to say without sounding like an asshole.) I’m doing the best I can, even if it’s not the white-picket-fence American dream.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to look up local dentists who accept my health insurance (!!!) that I get from my job (!!!) so I can make a very exciting phone call en español to set up an appointment.
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