The List

Oof. The list of minor projects I want to do are starting to pile up. It's 1 a.m. on Friday and the wife and kid have gone to bed, so I've got a couple hours to program before I should hit the hay myself. I've got my regular Saturday morning stuff to do tomorrow - take out the trash and do the food shopping before the shops close at 2:00 p.m. for the weekend. While I do that, Ana usually bathes Alex and gets him ready so we can do something if we want. It's HOT here in Madrid right now, so we probably won't do much tomorrow during the day. Great! More time with my computer... (I KNOW I won't be on my deathbed thinking that same thought, but there's so many cool things to do that that's how I feel right now.)

Here's some interesting facts I've recently learned about life here in Spain. I bitch about Spain to help me cope with being an American and living here, but there are many things about this country which beat the U.S. hands down.

1) 9 out of 10 people in Spain will go on vacation between July and September of this year. On average, Spanish workers get more than 1 month of vacation a year. It's SO common here that it's planned into every day life and work schedules and general culture. And everyone except the poorest go somewhere like the beach for their holiday. 9 out of 10 people! Think about that. I come from a family where we never took a vacation growing up. How many people in the U.S. have never taken a vacation, or are living paycheck to paycheck and thus never have money to do something like that? My parents, for example, have no idea how to go somewhere without a reason like a wedding or a death. And if people DO go on vacation, it's normally for a week, which they spend half at home catching up on stuff they have to do, and the other half somewhere, but tied to work via a cellphone or something.

Here, there are two vacation periods where everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) takes two weeks and goes somewhere: During the first half or second half of August (because there's a 2 day holiday in the middle, people use that to add to their time off). And during December/January for the Christmas holidays. This vacation time is ingrained into the culture. Everyone asks each other, "where are you going for your vacation?" during this time. The advertising on television is all about different trips. There are more travel agencies in Madrid per capita that probably anywhere else in the world (well, or at least it seems like it. Those and banks.) If you don't have the cash to fly, you go with your family to an apartment on the beach or in the mountains. This is just life. Normal.

More than 80% of Spanish people own their own homes. This is a fact that I got from a recent Economist story. In comparison, only around 65% of Americans own their own places to live. And the prices in Spain rise about 4% a year and have done so since they became a Democracy in the late 70s. No one rents here. My wife would never consider it - it's a waste of money to her. What does this mean on a day to day basis? Well, people live with their parents until they are well into their late 20s. Couples don't get married soon because they're saving up for their condo (apartment or flat, they don't have "houses" here except in the countryside, and even then they're basically right on top of each other). Couples will team up, however, and get on a 2 to 3 year waiting list for their apartment to be built. They'll then apply for tax breaks for the next several years so they can put that money towards the purchase of their place. This is how my wife bought our apartment - she was getting to the end of her tax break time and had to buy something or pay it all back to the government, and ended up buy and remodeling a 1 bedroom in North Madrid. Lucky for me, I never had to live with her parents ;-) ).

Spain has one of the lowest birth rates in the world: 1.2 children per couple. The US, thanks to immigration and wacky religions has a 2.3 ratio... just enough to keep us growing. There's a lot of historical reasons for this (and I'm not a socialist, but here's my take from what I've read) - Spain was kept back from the rest of Europe for several decades because of Franco's dictatorship but when he died, they basically fast-fowarded a generation. The people in their 50s and 60s lived a life out of the 50s in the U.S. The men went to work, the wives stayed at home, that sort of Ozzie and Harriet thing. A normal number of kids in Spain in the 60s was over 5 kids per family. Then they zipped ahead into the 80s and 90s. Now there is integration with the rest of the world and more opportunities, especially for women. Women, who still have to deal with a considerable amount of chauvanism, are just coming into the age where they have options and have no desire to have kids. And in general almost everyone who grew up in that sort of environment swore they would never have that many kids. And the general economy keeps families small. The average salaries are far below the rest of Europe and unemployment hovers aroung 15% (it's BAD in the U.S. right now and it's only, what, 4%?)

The upshot of the low birth rate is that there aren't as many children, and so they are a treated really well by everyone. The Spanish are famous for their devotion to their children and their treatment of others' children. Walking from here to the video store with Alex in a frontpack makes me feel like a rock star. People smile and wave and say hello and ask how old he is, and generally fuss and make room. Strollers are welcomed everywhere and people generally look out for children wherever they go. The sense of community is definitely diminishing (my father-in-law thinks life during Franco was much better) but it's still way above the U.S. where you can't trust to leave your kid alone for two seconds.

Here's a true story: my wife likes to pat cute children's heads if she's walking by them of if they're in line or something. She's not the only one like that at all here... it's very normal. We went to the U.S. and we were waiting in line somewhere, I think it was the airport, and a little kid brushed past us and Ana reached out and touched his head. The kid looked at her like 'what are you doing' and, well, the truth is, so did I. I had to explain to her that you DO NOT TOUCH other people's children. Ever. Maybe if your an 80 year old widow, maybe. But the rest of us in Hands Off.

So in Summary, life in Spain is very livable. If you've got a decent job, your expenses are pretty low, vacations and quality of living is high, your children will be looked after and the education system is good too. I mean there's not much more you can ask for in life...

Oh, yeah. Over 50% of Men smoke here and over 30% of women. Women are smoking more and more, however, to be more 'equal' with men. I can't stand cigarette smoke. I won't have my child living in a country where people smoke in elevators. The thing is that the taxes on cigarettes are so high here that they actually cover the medical costs from cigarette-caused diseases, thus the government has no incentive to promote quiting (socialized medicine too, I forgot to mention that. No one goes without medical care. The birth of our son cost us next to nothing.) Thus as ingrained as vacations are in the popular culture, cigarettes with meals, coffee, at your desk, in the elevator, in the butcher's or wherever you want to smoke is ingrained also. It's fucking disgusting and I hate it and hate living in this country because of it. Ahem. Okay. Otherwise everything else is fine here.

My thoughts are to go back to the U.S. Earn some decent cash and come back here with my wife to retire. By that time the EU will have passed strict no-smoking regulations that Spain will have to comply to and life here might be tolerable...

Okay. End rant. Going to bed...


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