After a week here, I've been writing down some thoughts on being back in the U.S. as I think of them (though while I couldn't sleep the other night I thought of a ton more, but now I can't remember them). Here they are:
There's a different cadence to conversations here. I don't get the Spanish give and take but the American English, I do. It makes a huge difference to understanding what's going on around you and relationships between certain people (you can hear when someone is kissing someone else's ass. I miss a lot of that in Spanish).
Bosses aren't as formal here. I've gone to eat a couple times here with my boss. My last boss was American too, so I ate a few times with him. The rest, I've never had lunch with.
Free Sodas, coffee and hot chocolate. 'nuff said really.
People here like their job. They want to make it an enjoyable part of their lives. I don't work as a line cook at McDonald's... My job is not miserable. But most people in Spain give off this sense that they hate every second of being at work, even if they're doing the same sort of job we're doing here.
Respect and responsiblity. I don't feel that I'm being commanded to do something here. I feel that I've been hired and given responsiblities and that I'm being held accountable to those responsiblities. The difference is subtle - maybe even illisionary - but significant.
No ties. No suits. Jeans are fine every day.
No 2 hour lunches. Lunch starts at around 12:00 and is done in 1/2 hour max. Back to work.
Fear of foreign countries. There's a general feeling - so thick you can prick at it - about crossing the border. It's ANOTHER WORLD. And it is, but sometimes I think Americans can get a bit carried away with the differences. The problem is twofold: 1) We rarely travel to other countries and 2) because the U.S. is such a melting pot, being "American" means that you're from everywhere. If we do meet someone from another country (I work with two Pakistanis and a person who left the former Soviet Union at the age of 14), they're quickly "Americanized" so that we really don't get that sense that they're from someone else. They're Americans to me, without a thought about it. I will ALWAYS be the American in Spain - there's no diversity. If I live there until I'm 100 I'll always be the American.
I love this country. It was weird at first, but now 3 days later, it's home.
TV: What the FUCK is up with the 4 "WarTV" stations? Christ, it's 24-hour non-stop "we're gonna attack Iraq". CNN, FoxNews, MSNBC, and Headline News all trying to bump up their ratings scare mongering and crisis making. By the way, I like the old Headline News format better.
TV: Wow. There's a lot of stations. I thought I was caught up to the rest of the world having cable in Spain, but it's nothing like cable in the U.S. God Bless American TV.
TV: I really like TLC and the Junk Yard Wars. I saw an episode where two teams had to build a carrier for a bucket of faux-toxic waste out of spare parts and race. It was really interesting. HBO's "Live from Baghdad" was interesting also.
TV: Wow, there's a lot of shows I've never seen. They talk about Survivor a lot. I've never seen it. I really feel out of touch with a lot of popular fads lately.
Mobile phones: Bend is in the sticks - out in the country by a ski resort. I was in Walmart the other day with a bunch of other middle-to-lower-class Americans and yes, they had mobile phones. T-Mobile was pushing BIG in the mall, which I thought was interesting. I had heard about T-Mobile buying Hiptop, but I didn't realize that they were pushing normal phones too. But Americans seem to really really dig the "flip phones" all the phones, even the color ones, were all the flip models. I hate the flip phones. My little Alcatel is awesome and tiny... I wonder what's up with the flip models.
Mobile phones are called cellphones. I need to switch my brain while I'm here.
Electricity: There are electrical plugs everywhere. The switches on the wall are smaller here, and they flip the opposite way as in Spain, up for on, down for off. In Spain it's down for on, up for off. (who knows...) I love the fact there are 50 plugs in every room.
The toilet paper and paper-towels seem wider here. That may be because I've only seen them again in work and at the hotel where they may be more "industrial sized" but I'm not sure. They're all definitely softer though. I think the Spanish think it's a sin to have soft tissues.
Paperwork: I had to fill out 2 dozen forms - literally - to join this job. Everything from my W4s, to drug test paperwork, to 401k, health care, life insurance, etc. etc. I also had to sign paperwork saying that I acknowledged the employee handbook and harassment policy. In Spain, I never saw either.
No proxy server here. All my software on my laptop is paid for. Spain doesn't put a lot of weight on paying for their software.
Everyone has a desk and a phone. The Spanish normally share their phones - especially developers who are treated like shit and given no respect whatsoever.
Airport Security: I was anal probed at the airport. Somehow I beeped as I passed through the machine and ended up going through a 5 minute routine which included taking off my shoes (to be x-rayed again), holding up my legs like a high-kicker, taking off my belt, folding down my pants, etc. Additionally, some lady dropped her scarf as she was walking down the concourse and some airport guy comes running up behind her (passing the scarf on-route) telling her she dropped her scarf, and escorted her back to pick up the scarf, walkie-talkie by his face ready to call in the big-guns if this scarf turns into some sort of James Bondesque blast-o-scarf... Fucking ridiculous. And this is in Seattle.
Wow. Websites come up REALLY fast here. There's decent bandwidth from my new office, but nothing extraordinary - it's just that I'm a LOT closer to a lot of websites and you can feel it. Sometimes I think that what I just got was being cached, so I refresh just to make sure.
Christmas: I love how all the houses here are all lit up with tons of lights and all the stores have Christmas music playing and on TV there's shows like Charlie Brown Christmas. It's awesome. In Spain, the real season starts on Christmas - where most people will get together on Christmas Eve for a big dinner similar to Thanksgiving for us. Then for two weeks until the Three Kings Day on January 6th, it's sorta like an American Christmas. But there's not that many lights and the songs are different. I prefer ours. From the town you can see all the houses lit up at night along the hillsides (we're in the mountains here) and it's gorgeous. Hundreds of homes all with lights for Christmas. Fun!
I am a rock star. People find out I'm living in Madrid and it's like I'm Neil Armstrong and I just got back from living on the Moon. Even people who've lived outside the U.S. are really interested, sorta like "what's it like out there? Same as I remember it?"
No smoking. Anywhere. If you smoke, you're banished to the outside stoop and we're all allowed to make fun of you and pick on your habits and your smell. I love it. God Bless America.
Did I mention the free soda?
Cars are huge here. You knew that, but it's worth mentioning again. I got to the little airport here in Bend and they had a "compact" car waiting for me and I almost died laughing when I saw it. It's bigger than any car I've rented in Spain - even the more expensive ones - in the 2+ years I've lived there. We're in the country here, so naturally almost all the cars in the parking lot are SUVs or Trucks. They're HUGE.
Also, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) made all the bathrooms huge too.
People are bigger. Taller and wider.
Christ, the whole damn country is bigger.
I woke up at 4:30 a.m. last night (jet lag) and there was cool stuff on television. Lots of infomercials (we have those in Spain too - the same ones, just dubbed), but lots of movies, news, reruns, etc. America is TV Land.
People here are actually Democrats or Republicans. I've been sorta getting used to being the only guy around that was one or the other, but my coworker was going off on "those Democrats in Massachusett's driving the taxes up" and it dawned on me that I was back in the U.S. I, ahem, politely told him I was a Democrat.
Wow. Stores close early here. The whole time schedule is shifted back at least 2 hours. People arrive at work really early, go to lunch around 12:00 (it's no earlier than 2:00 p.m. in Spain) go home around 5:30-6:00 and the stores close "late" around 9:00. I tried to get a Sub at a local Quizno's at 9:05 last night and got denied. Amazing. I instead headed out to Barnes and Noble (again) because I knew they close at 10:00.
I LOVE Barnes and Noble. I loved it before, but now that I drink coffee (a habit I picked up in Spain) it's even nicer with it's coffee shops in the store and its quiet corners. What a wonderful store.
We use A.M./P.M. here. The rest of the world is on the metric system and 24 hour time. We need to catch up.
The amazing options for lunch here are amazing. And I'm in a small mountain town. I had junk on Sunday (Taco's, burgers, etc.), Ravioli's with fresh Squash squares on Tuesday, Japanese yesterday, Chilli today. Who know's what we're eating tomorrow.
There are lots of chains here. Restaurants can be privately owned still - I've been eating lunches at local places all week. However, if you're going to go buy something, you go to some sort of chain: Walmart, Target, Staples, Gap, Eddie Bauer, Victoria's Secret, Nike Factory, etc. etc. Generally, if I'm getting something to eat normally, I eat at chains too: Outback Steakhouse, Wendy's, Arby's, Domino's, Quizno's, etc.
American bathrooms have stalls. Spanish bathrooms have closets with a toilet ("water" "closets"). I'm bladder shy so I prefer the latter.
Have I mentioned how big the fucking cars are here?
I went to the movies last night, when did Previews become commercials? I sat through at least 7 or 8 tv-grade commercials before the previews started.
Coffee creamer. I really like the Hazelnut stuff we have in the office. I'm going to buy some to take home. But, if you think about it, artificially-flavored dehydrated milk in watered-down coffee is pretty disgusting. Most Spaniards - hell, most of the world - would agree on that point.
My wife asked me to buy some deodorant for her after I told her about my $100 shopping spree at Rite Aid. There's no such deodorant in Spain that actually works, and anti-persperant is illegal or something, so I have to smuggle it in. I bought some NiQuil too... two big bottles. I hope they don't nail me for drug-running.
Ben and Jerry's rules. I had a cone last night even though it was freezing out. Ahhhhhh.
Man, I love talking in English.
Notebooks or "legal pads" have lines on them in blue that are probably 1/2 an inch apart. In Spain you can't find a notebook with lines, they're all grids like in your high-school math class. God knows why.
Tips: Having to tip really adds to the bill at a restaurant! I had forgotten since there's basically no tipping in Spain. Also, here there's a place on the credit card slip when you're in restaurants for the tip. There's none of that in Spain either - even at American-style restaurants like Friday's...
Hamburgers and Bacon: I had a BLT for lunch and the bacon was awesome. Crisp and 98% meat. In Spain, the burgers and the bacon are made from the "extra" stuff that comes from a cow or pig. The meat is horrible and the bacon is 90% fat. I've gained at least 3 lbs since I've been here this week chowing down. I had Chilli two times yesterday. MMMmmmm.
One of my coworkers and I spent lunch chatting about our extra projects. He told me about his OSX utilities he's developing and I bent his ear about weblogs and mobile phones (errr. cell phones). The Spanish for the most part don't have extra projects like us.
Buildings here are made out of wood. My office is made out of wood as is my hotel and all the houses around. Who knows why. Also, houses here are the norm, not apartments or shared buildings like town houses, etc.
Have I mentioned how big those damn SUVs are?
NPR Rocks. I've been listening to NPR so long online, I'm almost surprised when I turn on the radio at night and it's on the air. C-SPAN BookTV also rocks. I've seen 3 or 4 author talks on it this week and it's always incredibly interesting.
That's it for now...