The Top 5 Things I’ve Learned to Live Without

Living in a foreign country has tons of perks. The first that come to mind include: learning about a distinct culture/language, meeting new people, traveling, being independent, trying new cuisines….

Despite its advantages – I’ll be the first to admit that living abroad (after having grown up in the United States) does come with a few draw backs (especially in the beginning). Above all, there are some things that are common conveniences/practices in the US that either don’t exist in other countries or are done in a different way. Therefore it’s inevitable that when living outside of your native country, you are forced to adapt to a slightly different lifestyle.

Below is a list of five things that were a part of my everyday life in the US that are now non-existent here in Spain. At first day to day life without these things was a little strange – but now my current lifestyle feels perfectly normal! It just goes to show that with a little patience and an open mind one can “get use” to practically any type of change 🙂

…in no particular order…..

#5 US units of time and measurement

Ekk! This was a tricky thing to get use to (Hello Celsius! ;-)) A lot of basic units here are different than in the United States. To start – here in Spain when writing the date you put the day first followed by the month and the year. For example, today’s date August 28, 2011 is written 28/8/11! You better believe that in the beginning that seemingly minor detail messed me up a ton (seeing that we always put the month first when writing out a date)!

Also, using “military time” is a common practice in Spain. It’s strange, when you talk about time in conversation you say the hours like you would in the US (for example 7 at night) but when times are posted on a sign or in public places they are almost always displayed using the 24 hour system. (So the example before of 7 p.m. would be written 19:00) Pretty funky huh?

Last but not least, the metric system is used to describe any type of measurement. I’m starting to catch on in terms of talking in kilos and kilometers – but a lot of times I either covert in my head back to US units or use the handy-dandy “app” on my Ipad to figure out the trickier conversions.

Coping Factor: 2 (of 10)

Admittedly, the metric system is a lot more practical than our system (water freezes at 0º and boils at 100º – can’t get much easier than that!) Also, using military time isn’t so hard to get use to – if you can’t remember what 19:00 means – just subtract 12 from 19 to figure out they’re talking about 7 p.m. For me, the most confusing has been to put the day before the month – but I think I’ve finally have that one down too! It must mean I’m adapting well to my new home 😉

#4 Laundry Drier 

Here in Spain, the majority of the time people don’t put their clothes in the drier to dry them (in fact, our apartment doesn’t even have one!) Instead they hang them outside on clothes lines or inside on drying racks. Honestly, in the beginning I couldn’t wrap my head around this one – I mean what if you needed to wear that one shirt you just washed that same day….. and couldn’t wait the 24-48 hours it takes for it to dry!?!

At least I'm showing you my "clean laundry"! 😉

Coping Factor: 3

After my American brain got over the “horror” of not using the maximum amount of energy possible to get something done quickly – I realized that there are a lot of great things about air drying clothes. First of all – you cut way down on your electricity bill. Also, it’s more gentle on the clothes to hang them dry instead of blasting them with super hot air to dry them. The only major draw back is that if you don’t immediately shake out the wrinkles before you hang the clothes to dry to might have to iron them later to get all wrinkles out!

#3 Working out in a Gym

I remember where I used to live in my little Chicago suburb – there was a gym by our house that offered a deal for 20$ a month to high school students interested in using the gym during summer months – it was awesome! Then, after high school, I went to university and used the campus gym for free. I’m not sure what the prices of a gym membership are now a day in the US – but from my experience in Australia and Spain – paying to use a private gym* in another country is quite expensive! (Maybe like 6X more than what I use to pay in high school!)

The "poor man's" workout

Coping Factor: 4

While it’s much more convenient to work out in a nice gym close to your house, I’ve learned that you can still stay active without paying a membership – you just have to get creative!

My top “non-gym” exercises include running outside (which gets a little difficult in summer and winter – but is still doable!), jumping rope, walking, and doing “old school” exercises like jumping jacks, sit ups, push ups, lunges, squats… ect. at home or at a park!

*Luckily I can’t complain about this anymore because our new house in Madrid is located down the street from a “public gym” and there’s no expensive memberships and you can “pay as you go”. It’s super cheap and I’m excited to be able to have access to an actual weight room and a treadmill on the days that are too nasty to run outside! 🙂 Score!!!

#2 American Television

I’ll just go ahead and say it: TV shows in the US rock! We may not be the country with the best health or social security system – but we sure know how to make good television and movies! 🙂 While I never watched a ton of TV in the US, things I do miss include:  The Food Network, TLC, America’s Next Top Model marathons, The Biggest Loser, E! True Hollywood Specials and MTV True Life. Simply The Best!

Can't wait until I have The Contessa back in my life again next time I'm home for a visit!

Coping Factor: 4

I wish I could say that I’ve replaced TV watching with a super cool hobby like photography or playing the piano, but sadly without TV as a major distraction I now spend more time than ever on the internet (mostly reading blogs 😉 ) But honestly when I’m at home I do read a lot and do crossword puzzles!

Also, since there aren’t many shows on Spanish television that interest me, I do pay a lot more attention to the news when it’s on (something I rarely did in the US). I suppose that’s better than watching the Jersey Shore, right??

#1 A Car

Here we are folks – the number one thing I miss here that I use to own back at home. It’s not so much about that actual act of driving that I miss sometimes…. more so the feeling of freedom that I can hop in and go anywhere I desire. At least Diego has his car here in Madrid so I’m not totally without (although his car is manual and I don’t know how to drive it!) Another negative is that I feel like a “mooch” always being the passenger especially on long driving trips. I’m saving up my money though to one day buy my own car to have in Spain. I would love a small Euro car likes these:

It’s funny – Diego’s dream car is a big SUV like we have in the US and mine is a mini Euro car – I guess you always want what you can’t have in your own country!

Coping Factor: 5 

It’s definitely not necessary to have a car while living in Madrid – they have unbeatable public transportation! Seriously, I’ve never seen a city that’s so well communicated both with a subway (metro) and buses. Plus – compared to other places the fares are cheap! In Madrid you can get a 10 ride Metro ticket for 9 euros 30 cents – that means each ride comes to less than one Euro. Pretty sure a single bus ride in Chicago is something like 2$, right?

Furthermore, I feel good about myself that I’m not polluting the air with my car exhaust fumes. I’m also forced to walk a ton than I would in the US. Better for my health, the environment, and my wallet! It’s only on big grocery shopping trips or when I’m running late that I think that I would want to have a car here!

So – tell me readers, which of these things would you have the most difficult time living without?

Do you remember a time while traveling or living abroad when you had to learn to live without something or adapt to a new way of doing something? Was it difficult? Did you eventually get 100% use to it??

All I can say is that it might feel weird for a few weeks, but over time what use to feel strange eventually becomes the normal!

P.S. Exciting new update in my next post on Friday – make sure to check back then!! 😉