American in Spain

Interview with InterNations

May 8, 2013

Colindres and Laredo from aboveRecently I was contacted by InterNations, an organization I registered my expat status with several years ago and have since been diligently ignoring all their newsletters about meet ups in Madrid. They asked if I'd like to do an interview with them and to be featured on their site. I agreed, but then life got complicated, and they ended up having to nag me several times, but we finally did the interview and they published it. They've given me permission to re-post it here for your enjoyment. Some of my regular readers might not know my answers to some of these basic questions.

Erik: American in Spain

Colindres and Laredo from above

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Spain, etc.

My name is Erik Rasmussen, and I grew up in western North Carolina. When I was attending college in Raleigh, North Carolina, I applied and was accepted for an IAESTE work exchange program to go to Copenhagen, Denmark for six months in 1999. It was an eye-opening experience living abroad for the first time. Matters became complicated when I fell in love with a Spanish girl. After examining a range of immigration options, we chose to go to England in 2001, where we lived together for four years. Then, in June 2005, my soon-to-be wife got a job in Cantabria, and we moved to Spain. We\'ve been here ever since, getting married and having two children.

When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?

Back when I went to Denmark in 1999, I kept a journal, which I posted on the internet. This was blogging back before the word existed. When in England, I had a website where I would post photos and captions, but I never really started a real blog until a year after I moved to Spain, in 2006.

I started it mainly to keep my family and friends informed back home, but I soon found that a community of other expat bloggers came out of the woodwork and started caring more about me and my posts than my hometown friends did. It\'s not such a huge point anymore because of how easy it is to share about your daily life on Facebook, but before Facebook, the only way was to email people with stories and photos, and I never really liked doing that because I never knew if I was annoying people or if they even cared. With blogging, it\'s a matter of putting the information out there, and the people who care will read it, and those that don\'t won\'t. It\'s a good way to figure out who really cares about you.

Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?

My personal favorites are the nerdy ones, like Optimizing Picture To Border Ratio With Phi and Distance to the Horizon, and my Photoshopping fun, like My Peeps and Four Noras, but the ones about our trips, like our honeymoon to the Caribbean, are fun, too.

Tell us about the ways your new life in Spain differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?

Ha! I can barely remember life back home. Having lived in two other foreign countries first, I was much more open to adapting to new ways of living, plus I had been visiting my wife\'s family in Spain for several years before we moved, so my feet were already wet, so to speak.

At home, I never really went out to bars very much, because they were always so far away that I\'d have to drive to them, which sort of defeats some of the purpose. In Spain, I love nothing better than hopping from bar to bar, taking turns buying rounds and snacking on whatever they give with each drink. Oh, and in my Spanish town of 7000 residents, we have 40 bars, compared to my American hometown, which has 20,000 residents and 1 bar.

Most of my culture shock now happens going the other way now, like being dumbfounded when a meal is served in the US without bread. What\'s supposed to go in my left hand?

Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Spain? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?

I suppose so. I did most of my Spanish learning when I was in England, living with my future Spanish bride and partying with a group of Spaniards. I took classes at a local community college and then had a social group to listen and practice with.

Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?

One time, when we were just visiting from England, we had rented a car at the airport and were spending a few weeks with my wife\'s family in Extremadura. A the time, their car didn\'t have air conditioning, and our rental car did, so I was in charge of driving the family around on various day trips. One day I was driving through Zafra, and a guardia civil was directing traffic, with one hand up and another one waving underneath it. I figured he meant for me to go, but apparently I was wrong. He whistled and gestured angrily for me to pull over to the side of the road. At this point, my future father-in-law had a wonderful idea. He said, “Okay, nobody talk but Erik. Let him deal with this.” At this point, my Spanish was pretty weak, but I understood what he\'d said. I stumbled through a “Perdona…americano…” with some shrugging, and the guardia civil decided it would be too much of a hassle to deal with me (plus, he was supposed to be directing traffic), so he waved me on. Whew! I haven\'t been pulled over since, but I always keep my American driver license on the outside of my wallet to play the Stupid Tourist role again if I need to.

Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Spain?

  • Have as good working knowledge of Spanish as you can before you get here; know all tenses and conjugations for at least a hundred basic verbs, and be prepared to take classes when you get here.
  • Be open to new experiences and flavors and lifestyles. Be open to changing yourself. If you\'re a vegan or vegetarian, you might starve.
  • In Spain – and generally in life, but more so, I think, in Spain – if you don\'t complain when people or corporations treat you poorly, you will lose. Banks and phone companies will overcharge you, but if you call them and say, “Hey, WTF, man!” they will say, “Oh, sorry about that,” and lower the prices. It\'s a fool\'s game to overcharge the complacent. Complaining is very well rewarded in Spain.

How is the expat community in Spain? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?

I live in a small town, in which I\'ve met one or two young British and American people who were here temporarily. Just in the past few years, I\'ve seen an explosion of other expat blogs from elsewhere in Spain, and they all seem like good people whose observations often remind me so much of myself a few years ago.

How would you summarize your expat life in Spain in a single, catchy sentence?

My favorite Spanish proverb: “With bread and wine, one walks the path”.