Just a short list of all I didn’t know before arrival:
1. Grocery shopping is a complicated task. Let me introduce you to every type of seafood you’ve never seen, so stocked up it might take a week to identify each individual fish (hello, Mediterranean diet!). Then we can peruse the store and try to identify pictures that indicate the difference between dish soap and bathroom cleaner. Let’s move on to the dairy section. Wish me luck, because there are so many varieties of milk in this world, we will never be able to decipher which is the one (all unrefrigerated, I might add) that we will bring home. And kilos versus pounds? Help!!
2. Café, peluquería, café, peluquería. Repeat, repeat, repeat. But don’t you dare try to go to either between the hours of three and six. You may or may not receive service. But when you do enter, you will come out with beautiful hair and a belly full of fresh food and about the best coffee on the planet.
3. The world CAN function between the hours of 9 and 2. Set your alarm, strap on some excellent running shoes, and you just might make it to siesta on time. Or enjoy #2.
4. Tagalong to #3, rush hour is in the early afternoon. Watch where you’re driving—or walking—motos speed in between cars, and cars spin around roundabouts like there’s no lane and no tomorrow.
5. Everyone is nice. OK, OK, there might be one mean person in Spain. But I haven’t met him or her yet. They’re all accommodating, competent, know how to use the technology that none of them seem to have, and smile every time they see you stumbling over their native tongue. They will go out of their way to show you where to walk, to tell you how to fill out forms, to guide you along this intricate path of becoming one of them (but you will never be one of them).
6. Bed time for all ages is some time between 10 and 2. Usually more like 2.
7. There is an indescribable beauty to hanging laundry out the window of a courtyard shared by twenty neighbors, whose parrots perch and chirp, whose voices carry across in speedy Spanish that opens up the world to a better place.
8. Don’t buy a car. Gas costs more than you can even fathom, and there will be so many beautiful palm trees to walk under, so many types of architecture to admire, so many beautiful people to see along the street, that you’ll never notice the difference.
9. Make yourself a resident before making yourself a taxpayer. This order suits all.
10. Ayuntamiento: loosely translated: place of help. Courthouse, registration, school information. You will be guided to one ayuntamiento after another, but eventually, just like all things Spanish, you will arrive just where you need to be: Home.