Travel Adventures

“Why is My Pee in My Purse?” & Other Spanish Cultural Shocks

Well, believe it or not I’ve somehow made it to week three in Spain, the dust has settled, and someone even felt compelled to rent me an apartment! Let’s review everything that’s happened so far.

I got pulled over by the Spanish police while practicing driving my manual car on a hill (WHY DO MANUAL CARS GO BACKWARDS ON A HILL?) because unbeknownst to me, I was practicing right next to where the Valencia football team practices and someone got sketched out and called the cops on me. Whoops.

After getting hung up on many times, and after countless unanswered calls, some lovely human decided to take a risk with the fact that I was a foreigner and rent me an apartment. You gotta love Europe for having a law where you can get a “free PTO” day in order to move. Writing that email to my American boss felt quite weird, I’m not going to lie. “Hi boss, just FYI due to Spanish law I can take the day off tomorrow to move and go to Ikea! KBYE!” Is this real life? Also, IKEA. Why have I never been there before? I thought I had friends, why had they never taken me here before? Anyway, before I get ahead of myself, let me start with my magical “moving-free-PTO-day”.

It was my last day with the company rented car. I work in a town called Paterna, but I decided to move to the city center of Valencia (20 minute drive or bus ride away). Naturally, I had to take advantage of the fact that I had a car to get my three giant suitcases (and the beast) to my apartment. I also had to take advantage of the fact that I had a car to buy furnishings for my apartment; how else would I be able to do all of this without a car?

I took off from my hotel in Paterna early on Saturday morning and (somehow, miraculously) made it safely (DRIVING) to downtown Valencia. The heavens decided to be kind to me this day and there was a parking space right in front of my new apartment. Let me tell you something I learned. Finding parking in down town Valencia is like not having traffic on the 405 freeway at 5 p.m. It’s unheard of. It’s unreal. In fact, I’m pretty sure I needed some sort of special permit in order to park there but LET THEM FINE ME, I thought. I need to get this luggage up three flights of stairs in the most narrow stairwell you could possibly imagine. I’ll take the fine, this parking space is like gold.

My lovely new apartment was built in 1930, so obviously it has no elevator, and…I cannot begin to emphasize just how narrow the stairwell is. I was able to get two suitcases up the stairwell by carrying them, but the beast? Well, I didn’t nickname it the beast for no reason. Weighing a mere 30 pounds less than I do, I had no choice but to drag that guy up the stairs. (All while parked illegally, so it was a time sensitive issue.) Once my luggage was taken care of, I ran back outside and tried to set the navigator to take me to IKEA. Ikea, apparently, was on the other side of the world. Not literally, but damn was it far. Why had none of my Spanish friends mentioned this fact when they told me “go to Ikea” for my furnishings? I had to go on probably twenty roundabouts, four hills, and over 100km per hour on a freeway in order to get to Ikea.

I (somehow) made it and, as an Ikea-virgin, was totally overwhelmed and confused as to how it all worked. Why were there rooms where everything was setup, but you couldn’t buy things from? I wanted that rug, where could I get it? It was all so confusing. Anyway, I finally figured out Ikea, and after spending thirty minutes debating two pillow cases and another two hours getting, well, everything, I made my way out of Ikea. The Spanish don’t get off work until around 7 so I thought I had plenty of time before traffic got crazy, and I thought I’d get lucky with some magical front door parking again. (HA! Spain is laughing at me right now.) I (somehow) made it all the way back to my apartment not realizing that it was, what’s that ladies and gentlemen? Yes, that’s right, the time that kids get out of school. Apparently, my lovely new home is a block away from a school so, parking? What’s that? You know what other important lesson I learned about Spain on this day? Hazard lights in the car in America mean, hazard, warning, danger ahead. In Spain, you can turn on your hazard lights and park, well, wherever the f*ck you choose. In Spain, hazard lights mean “BRB, I don’t give a …” The only possible space (which wasn’t really a parking space) I found was four blocks from my apartment. I embraced the Spanish mentality, parked illegally, and turned on my “hazard” lights. Let them fine me. I’ll take the fine, I thought again.

I had three 70 gallon bags from Ikea, a rug, and a giant plant (which, at the time, seemed like a good idea) to carry for four blocks; all while dodging Spaniards (who could care less that you’re carrying half of Ikea behind them on a narrow street). After the four blocks, I then had to carry it all up the flight of stairs to my apartment. The bags from Ikea were so big I accidentally hit one of them and heard glass crashing. Damn. Anyway. I had to do this trip back-and-forth four times. On my last trip, I saw a parking attendant giving people tickets so naturally I thought I must beat this man before he reaches my illegally parked car.

The sun was setting and I had no idea what to do with the car, so I drove back to my hotel in Paterna (where there are no parking issues because, well, it’s Paterna) to spend the night. The next morning, the first chance I got, I returned my “frienemy”—the car, back to the rental agency. I could tell the young man who heard my “I haven’t driven a manual car in fifteen years” story two weeks prior was proud of me for having made it back in one piece with the car. To be fair to myself; I think I can officially say if I can make it to and from Paterna, drive around (insane) downtown Valencia, and get myself to Ikea and back, I can no longer say I cannot drive a manual car. Give me a city, and a manual car, and my heart will be pounding out of my chest— sure….but I’ll drive it and not injure anyone in the process.

I was happy to be rid of the car. My apartment is in the city center and I can walk anywhere I need to (except work, obviously). I was looking forward to not having my heart coming out of my chest every single day trying to figure out how to not die in a Spanish roundabout. By the way, I’ve learned from my Spanish friends that:

1. There are no official laws for roundabouts in Spain. Anything goes. (This is a true fact, I’m not making this up.)

2. In an office meeting with sixty people, not one person could agree on how to drive on a roundabout. THUS proving my point that the word “clusterf*ck” was invented by someone who went on a roundabout in Valencia, Spain.

Anyway. I spent all weekend cleaning and putting together my apartment. Unfortunately, 1930s apartments don’t have heating or AC. But they do have tile floors and stone walls; therefore, making for one freezing house. On Sunday, I was fed up of being freezing. I got bundled up like I was in the Arctic and made my way to the mall to buy a heater. Well, guess who learned that her apartment is actually colder than outside? This girl. It was so hot outside people were in t-shirts and staring and the girl with a beanie and a scarf as though she just arrived from Mars.

Having a furnished home made going to work on Monday much less stressful than previous days in Spain had been. (You try finding a place to live in two weeks, while no one wants to rent you a place because you’re a foreigner, you have to work full-time, and spend 20% of your time trying not to die in Spanish roundabouts.) Little did I know Spain wasn’t done with it’s cultural shocks for me yet.

Another thing I’ve learned in the little amount of time I’ve spent in Spain so far: visiting Europe and studying abroad in Europe are both very, very different than working in Europe. I realized this fact when an HR lady approached me at work with a little plastic cup wrapped up in plastic one afternoon while I was busy typing away. I saw her coming towards me with the cup and I honestly thought “huh, are we having juice or something?” Nope.

I found out, the hard way, that there is a mandatory law in Spain where you must get a physical, give a blood, and urine sample any time you start a new job in Spain. I was confused with the cup the HR lady was giving me though. I had to….take the sample to the doctor myself? The appointment wasn’t for three days. So, wait. How was I to deliver my pee to this place? Wait, wait, wait. Is she, was she telling me…wait a moment. I have to carry my own pee to this mandatory medical appointment? WHAT?

Can you imagine the law suits in America? First of all, forcing someone to go to the doctor? What about people who don’t like to go to the doctor? And second of all, what are they testing me for? (No one gave me a definitive answer to this.) Third, why must I carry my own pee in my purse? Fourth, does the company get a report of my results afterwards? So. Many. Questions. The whole thing was so bizarre to me. The HR lady thought it was bizarre that I thought it was bizarre but let’s be real— it’s bizarre.

So today, I had to go to this mandatory, invasion of privacy, “doctor’s” apointment. Talk about cultural shock. I had to walk an hour across Valencia, with my own pee in my purse, to get poked and prodded by Spanish “doctors” and tested for…who knows what? Because it’s a law? It gets worse. I was already a bit stressed about this bizarre situation, and it was 11 a.m. and I wasn’t allowed to have coffee so, I was pretty grumpy to top it off. 11 a.m. no coffee and pee in my purse? The whole thing felt like a joke. Well. I have this giant folder that I carry around with me every day with all of my “important” documents. It seems like I need or receive an important document every day. So for now, I carry around this giant folder filled with papers. It has my rental contracts, bank account information, work permits, etc. So I was at this medical examiner’s office and I had to fill out paperwork starting with my Spanish ID number. I should mention, my Spanish ID is a simple piece of paper, sent from Madrid, with my “foreigner ID number” on it. Well, I filled out the paperwork and went through the bizarre “medical” exam.

Once I was back at my office, I had to scan said Spanish ID paper for something else. Suddenly, as the copy is coming out of the machine I notice in big letters a sentence that says “Nationality URUGUAYAN” and I think, what? I’m not Uruguayan? Then I read the paper I’m making a photocopy of, the one that I used to fill out my medical paperwork. That’s when I realize what happened…

When I completed my rental agreement, I was given a photocopy of my land-lady’s ID, just as she was given a photocopy of my ID. To be honest, I didn’t even know I had this lady’s ID number. In fact, I’m not even sure if I’m supposed to have it. It was mixed in between the papers of my rental contract. Well, when I was filling out my paperwork and I was asked for my ID I just quickly pulled out the ID paper. Not knowing I had someone else’s ID paper in the folder besides mine, I wrote it down without even looking at the name or any other information. Yes ladies and gentlemen. I accidentally used my 66 year old, Korean, land lady’s ID number to fill out my medical paperwork.

I’m so, so, sorry land-lady. I’m not even sure what this means. I tried calling the medical office, but you know— it’s Spain. So yeah…I’m sorry— I don’t even know. With that note, I’m ending this blog post because, I don’t even know.

2 Responses to ““Why is My Pee in My Purse?” & Other Spanish Cultural Shocks”

  1. taylor

    OMG.. hahahaha. WOW. I am stressed out for you!!
    AND yes, although IKEA is a nightmare, it has good prices. I can’t wait to see how your apartment turns out!!

  2. Valencia, Te Amo - Alexia Writes

    […] times! So I went into it with the mentality of “it’s going to take me three times.”  I have my folder that I carry with me that, essentially, has my entire life in it and I still knew there was no way […]


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: