I'm definitely trying my best to live like the Spanish do. I don't generally bitch at how low the salaries are here to my coworkers and in-laws, but this is a great place for me to vent. It keeps me from snapping and screaming at people here in English. I understand that it could be worse... at least I'm not in Germany, right?
The salary thing is definitely one of those things that takes some getting used to about Spain. But I don't think that everyone should get the idea that all the people in Spain are living on $25,000 a year. They do have a large middle class here, so the majority of people are not rich, however, there are many, many people who are driving Mercedes and BMWs and it's not all "old money."
The thing here is that if you are a manager (director) you can earn serious cash. My friend Diego at Terra is earning double what I am because of when he was hired, who he knew and the fact that he's a manager of a group of programmers. In the tech companies I've worked at in the U.S., project managers were considered important, but not MORE important than the programmers (except maybe if they were really senior or owned the company or something). One person organized, the other produced. Many times the programmers earned much more than the managers. Here it would never function like that. It's all about being The Man In Charge. I give you orders (you pion), so therefore I get paid more. Go figure. So if you're a manager/director, you get a bigger salary, the company car (a perk I forgot to mention at the first company - after 3 years they take over your car payments for you on a new car), and you dress in the 3 piece suit and go to lavish lunches with wine every day, etc. You know how many banks are in Madrid? Too many. You think they actually do any work in those places? Nope. It's just filled with middle managers earning good money.
That reminds me of the other thing that I forgot:
9) It's all about who you know. Both to get the job and to go up the corporate ladder.
This is true in the U.S. to some extent, but it's also a general rule that you can earn an average of a 15% pay increase by moving laterally into another company. Here, however, seniority is much more important than your skills or your job, so moving laterally only makes you less important, so no one ever leaves their jobs and coming to a job as a new recruit means you're treated like crap and paid the same.
The BIG question in my life right now is what to do in the next few years. 30-35 are the prime earning years and being here earning so much less than I could at home is ridiculous. Do I stick around here and hope that in a couple years I can work myself into a manager position to earn some decent money so I can save for our futre (education, braces, etc.)? If I could do that, the benefits would be great: Longer vacations, less bills, less health costs, less food costs, etc. This entails that I could deal with Spanish culture and learn the language well enough to advance in a company. Oof. No lo se.
But the other big maybe is going to the U.S. Ana's English is not good enough for her to land a job right away. For the first year or so she'll probably take classes and take care of the Little Prince. So that means that if we go back to the U.S., I'll have to earn enough to pay for all the additional expenses and save money. Moving expenses, mortgage, cars, health, bills, etc. etc. Going to the U.S. is a one way street until you're completely out of debt. You can't come back to Spain saddled with American-style debts. It just won't work. If we return now so I can earn some decent cash, we won't be coming back for a decade or more except for visits.
To keep extending my anxieties to pure philosophy: Will life at home with more money mean a better life? That's a real question. I can't imagine having a ton of expenses and bills, both my wife and I working like crazy, fighting traffic in two unpaidfor cars while our latchkey kids whom we never see, come home to an empty house from some random public school in California where they are getting a great education in Gangster Rap and Gap commercialism. That would suck worse than the four smokers in an elevator like I had this morning.
But then again, I can't imagine my kids growing up in Spain, learning how to swear like a sailor and smoke at age 11, thinking of women as inherently inferior and considering Jamon Iberica and fried calamaris the finest food on Earth. ;-)