So remember that girl I mentioned who was from Mizzou too (by the way, her name is Leigh)? Well she ended up being my roommate during my two-week homestay with a Señora! I have to say it was pretty comforting to have someone to talk to that completely understood my college experience, and we even had quite a few mutual friends. It was pretty strange to be in a place so far from Columbia and still have someone who knew what Sparky’s Ice Cream and Shakespeare’s Pizza were. So Leigh and I ventured off to our homestay together, both struggling with our suitcases, and instead meeting some guy at the hotel rather than the Señora we would be staying with. But we went with the flow and assumed it must be some relative with a car who decided to help out.
Well… we were kind of right. The guy was actually the nephew of one of the people who helped coordinate everyone’s homestay. Apparently, our Señora wasn’t answering her phone and now he was in charge of us. He finally got in contact with her (while driving a tiny car in the insanity that is driving in Madrid), and I guess she wasn’t expecting us until the following day. I could tell when we arrived that she was a bit flustered. We greeted her with the customary “dos besos” aka the two cheek kisses (HINT: always go to the left first unless you want an awkward first encounter with someone) and dragged our suitcases to the room we would be sharing for the next two weeks. Leigh and I could tell that she probably wanted some time to tidy up and cook, so we politely excused ourselves to take a walk around the area and get our bearings.
Once we returned, we found out a bit about our Señora. By the way, you only call a woman here a “Señora” if she’s basically retirement age. Other women here would find it offensive. Her name is Constanza (like Constance in English), she’s a painter, has had numerous art exhibitions, and has lived in Madrid for most of her life. We also found out pretty quickly that she is a very good cook. At this point, most of what happened those first couple of days is a blur, but I’m pretty certain Leigh and I just chilled out the rest of the day since we were wiped out from orientation. At dinner that night I was really forced to use all the Spanish I could considering Constanza barely knew English. It’s not only hard trying to think of something to talk about with someone you just met but even more so in another language.
So the next two weeks were spent living in Constanza’s apartment in Salamanca (a pretty posh neighborhood in Madrid, which I will never be able to afford in my lifetime), going to Spanish classes for 3 hours each day, wandering around Madrid and constantly using google maps, and attempting to think entirely in Spanish every day. Here are some highlights:
1) That time I realized that it is possible for me to get ready in 20 minutes. As most of you probably know, Europe has different power outlets here. Which basically means don’t bother bringing a hair dryer, straightener, or curler. Well in the U.S. I always dried my hair, and now I was faced with an entirely different morning routine. I kept showers fast, aiming for about 5 minutes, to help conserve water and not hike up the utility bill. My hair air dried for the rest of the day, make-up was extremely brief, and I only had so many options when it came to what to wear. In a way, it was kind of refreshing. Also, when you’re in a city full of people you don’t know, you start caring less about what you look like.
2) That time the wifi (pronounced wee-fee here) wouldn’t work, and Constanza ended up on the phone yelling at her service provider. After my failed attempts of trying to fix the wifi and typing in all possible passwords, I asked Constanza again if she knew anything more about it (I only have so much phone data a month and was quickly burning through it). Well she ended up calling her provider, and we got it fixed! Then the conversation quickly turned into her yelling at them about how they were stealing from her and making her pay way too much for extra services she didn’t even want. It was one of those terrifying and slightly funny moments, and Leigh and I didn’t know if we should just slowly back away or just stay where we were. After she hung up I was terrified she would be mad at us, but she just smiled and said, “Well I guess there’s no use yelling.”
3) That time we ate 100 Montaditos for lunch every day. Let me just tell you that this restaurant is one of the best creations ever. We (other auxiliares and I) basically ate this every day before class and never got sick of it. You can get 3 sandwiches and a drink (even alcohol if you want!) all for under 5 euros. I’ve never been more in love with a sandwich place (sorry Jimmy John’s and Sub Shop). One drink popular in Spain is tinto de verano (tinto = red wine, verano = summer) and you can get a big glass of this for less than 2 euros. So everything about this place is perfect for me. Ok, now I’m considering going after writing this, and it’s certainly not hard to find one nearby.
4) That time Leigh and I didn’t eat the meat. So here’s the back story. I had been gone most of the day doing a trial run to visit my school. Leigh was back at the apartment and let me know that Constanza had left dinner in the kitchen for us and had to go. I get back, we grab the food, and Leigh mentions that she checked the oven and microwave and saw nothing there. We had plenty of food anyway so didn’t question it. After finishing dinner, we decided to get churros and chocolate as a celebratory “We finally found apartments!” treat. Well we return to our Señora’s apartment, and very quickly she comes into our room and asks, “Why didn’t you eat the meat?” Leigh and I look at each other dumbfounded, and I just ask her in Spanish, “What meat?” She goes to the kitchen, grabs a pan, and shows us some cooked meat. That’s when we realized that we didn’t check the stove (there were usually pots or pans on it so I paid no attention to it earlier). I tried explaining in broken Spanish that we didn’t know there was meat on the stove and that it wasn’t that we didn’t like it, we just didn’t know it was there. Well at that point I could get the feeling she thought we were ungrateful and wasting food. She then went back to the kitchen and returned with another dish from the freezer we had the night before. I guess she thought we were probably starving and asked if we wanted to eat this. We politely said we were fine and she replied, “Okay, I’ll make it.” At that point we gave up and tried to down some spaghetti after already stuffing ourselves with churros. Luckily, the next day she didn’t seem to be holding a grudge. And that’s why you always leave a note.
5) That time almost everyone ditched class and three of us were stuck answering every question. The second week of my Spanish classes, our favorite professor had to leave and we had a new teacher. Let’s just say that she didn’t make learning Spanish very fun or engaging. Class was basically spent going over grammar rules when I thought the point was for us to be conversational and learn some real, everyday language. Well at one point it got so boring that during our break time a bunch of people left. So in a class of normally 12, we had 3… And that hour and a half was spent considering if I could safely jump off the second story balcony. As we struggled to come up with answers, the lower level class next door was having a fiesta just to belabor the point of how awful this class was going.
6) That time I had REAL tortilla española. As I mentioned before, my Señora is a very good cook. One night she made a traditional Spanish dish, tortilla española which is similar to an omelette but so much better. It’s typically made up of eggs, potatoes, and onions, but you can add other ingredients if you desire. I had it once at a tapas restaurant in Kansas, and it was all right. But here, it was AMAZING. I asked Constanza if it was difficult to make and she said yes, it was very time consuming. So I felt pretty lucky to get to experience this classic dish, homemade nonetheless.
7) That time I learned how bad other homestays were going. My homestay had its highs and lows and by all means, Constanza was a very sweet, generous person. But at times I just didn’t feel at home or I wondered why she liked housing foreigners if she wasn’t going to ask us much about our own culture and lives. Let’s just say that some other people had it a lot worse. Two girls I knew were staying with a Señora who I was pretty sure was in it for the money, not the cultural experience. She accused them of stealing her spoons, never ate with them, scolded them on a daily basis, and said one girl broke her door when she clearly hadn’t. As much as I was ready to have my own place, I’m sure these two were on the verge of tears of happiness when they finally left.
8) That time I ate tuna and bacon and almost threw up. For our last dinner, Constanza made a sort of lasagna. I told myself at the beginning of my stay that I would be adventurous and try new foods. One plus of this was that I learned I liked ham if it was prepared in a certain way. The downside was that I had to eat two foods I absolutely hate. Well the tuna fiasco happened earlier in my stay, and luckily it was a night when Constanza wasn’t eating with us. The smell of canned tuna already makes me want to throw up so when I bit into a potato salad with tuna mixed in, I disgustingly spit it out on the spot. The bacon though was another story. First off, yes I don’t like bacon. Yes, I know you probably love bacon. Well the lasagna (probably not exactly what it was) had a mix of chicken, ham, and… bacon. I did my best to pick around it, but then Constanza started talking about how we had been such good eaters and other students who had stayed with her just picked at their food and didn’t finish it. Okay, so now the pressure was on for me to finish that meal. Somehow I did it (with the help of a lot of bread), and let’s just say I never want to eat bacon again as crazy as that sounds to you carnivores.
So there you go! An experience that I don’t entirely want to repeat but don’t entirely regret either. At the end of our stay, Leigh and I gave her our gifts. I brought a Starbucks coffee mug that had the San Francisco skyline on it, and she loved it! Apparently, she loves collecting coffee mugs. And despite all my worries about doing the right things and not offending her, she told us we were very polite, well-mannered, and good eaters (YOU HEAR THAT, MOM?!). Score one for America!