This is a post I've kind of had half-written in my head for about a month now, and just hadn't got round to writing. Then I saw something similar on David Lebovitz's blog (American pastry chef in Paris and seriosuly funny guy) who's done his own list on Paris which inspired me to put pen to paper (or cursor to screen??) and do my own. The only difference is that he's thought of 15 things he'd miss, but I've done a list of just 10 - maybe he likes Paris more than I like Spain ;-) By the way, I can completely relate to his comment about being asked a squillion times a day why he came here! I might just put my answer to that question on business cards and shove them into people's hands as soon as I meet them for the first time.
Like Mr Lebovitz, much of what I'd miss here is culinary, though unlike him I wouldn't miss certain aspects of civic behaviour - he actually claims he'd miss Parisian queue jumping, which Spanish grannies are experts at (Note, I am in no way suggesting here that British people behave well in public either, we misbehave but in a different way, more along the lines of getting drunk and beating the hell out of anyone who glances at us, or alternately showing them our bums).
So what would I miss? (apart from the people I care about, who I would obviously miss terribly):
1. The weather , the weather, the weather.
2. The pharmacies. Spain is the land of pharmacies, there's a pristine, white-walled, well-stocked farmácia on every street corner of every city. And as soon as I walk into one I start to feel better. Pharmacists here are more helpful than the staff in any other vending establishment in the country (my suspicious mind wonders if this is because pharmacies are notoriously lucrative - of course they're smiling and cheerful as they take a 50 euro note off you and ching-ching the till - ok, I know modern tills don't go 'ching-ching'). Pharmacies here also sell magic things - no tubes of dried up Barry M lipstick and Dettol like those skanky corner pharmacies in the UK. No, here you get pots of magic cream made by expert French, Spanish and Swiss chemists that promise to get rid of your cellulite/open pores/lethargy/love handles/unmentionable condition in 30 days - and you know what, a lot of them actually kind of work. You can also get much stronger medication than in the UK, and no-one will ask you if you've been having suicidal thoughts just because you ask for a box of Aspirin which contains more than 5 pills. The jolly men and women in white coats are also on hand to advise you as necessary, take your blood pressure or even check out your skin for sun damage using a scanner. Lots of the pharmacies also retain their original old-school decor with decorative wooden shelves and charming little apothecary jars. My favourite pharmacy on c/Arenal in Madrid reminds me of a Swiss bank -when you ask for a product, it shoots up a sort of suction pipe from the underground drug vault straight to the till. Very James Bond.
3. Throwing stuff on the floor in bars. This is a refreshingly liberating activity for anyone that comes from the UK (otherwise known as 'the land of rules'). 'I've smoked my cigarette down to the butt, no ashtray? Never mind, just chuck it on the floor'. 'What to do with these prawn shells? On the floor'. 'The napkin? That too, just drop it'. I'm not sure this is the practice everywhere, I wouldn't do it anywhere especially smart (and to be honest, I have never been able to bring myself to throw anything more organic than a fag-end on the floor) - in fact a Galician friend's mum says they would never do that 'up there', so maybe it's just a Madrid thing? Anyway, from time to time, I like it (there's something so satisfying about messing up something that's not yours, a bit like the way we fold our clothes when we are at home, but tend to lapse into messy teenagers when we stay in nice hotels).
4. Everyone calling you guapa (beautiful) as a term of endearment, even if you look like you've just done 3 rounds with Mike Tyson.
5. Sea food. The seafood here is great; I came here 7 years ago barely initiated in king prawns and mussels, and since then have moved on to octopus, lobster, clams, and all manner of ugly but delicious things from the sea. I really can't understand why an island race like the British don't eat more seafood?
6. Another bar-related one - the bar/eating out culture. There seem to be delicious (and reasonably-priced) things to eat and drink on every street corner. I have never eaten out as much in my life as I do here; greasy discs of yummy salchichon in spit-and-sawdust 'old men' bars with the most unflattering neon lighting in the world, vermouth for a weekend morning aperitivo, churros dipped in cups of thick gloopy hot chocolate for an early evening treat, canapes galore - foie and caramelised onion or perhaps acorn-fed ham and tomato, paellas by the sea with the saffrony rice catching slightly to the bottom of the pan, creating yummy crusty bits (on second thoughts, maybe the words yummy, crusty and bits should never be used in the same sentence). My God I'm getting hungry just writing this, and can't believe after 7 years here I'm not clinically obese (the real reason I'm not obese is because contrary to popular belief you can eat badly in Spain, and the menu del día at the bar near my office is so gross that I can't bring myself to eat more than a spoonfull of it - hence the skinnyness)
7. Being able to wear sunglasses in Winter and no-one saying a thing. The little fashionista in me will never forget being a 16-year-old A-level student in Nottingham, on my way home from art class one grey afternoon, looking what I believed to be very stylish in black tights, and enormous cream wool belted, tassled cardigan, Justine Frischmann from Elastica haircut and big black sunglasses, only to be hollered at by at least 2 passing lorry drivers 'it's not sunny luv!' - I wanted the Earth to swallow me up. The only time I don't wear sunglasses outdoors in Spain is if it's night-time - this has resulted in me having the photosensitive eyes of a mole, but never mind, at least I look cool.
8. The directness of the people, ok this chafed a bit in the beginning and still does sometimes, but at least in the workplace, it's a refreshing change from all those indirect questions and phrases we use in the UK, and frankly it saves time. Compare: Send me the graphs today, please to Do you think you'd be able to send me the graphs sometime this week?
9. Lack of classism. Ok, when you get someone snobby in Spain they tend to be overtly and obviously so in every sense of the word; but in general it's quite refreshing the way people from different backgrounds mix quite easily when their paths cross. In the UK, I always get the impression that the average man/woman on the street doesn't feel very comfortable conversing with someone from a very different background (whether they're culturally different, have a different accent to them or simply earn a lot more or less than them), it's not that we hate people from different backgrounds, just that maybe we fear we might say the wrong thing and look silly. Although in any country like generaly attracts like, I feel this is less pronounced in Spain at least in public life, and if you (in your chavvy tracksuit and acrylic nails/Barbour jacket, beige cords and riding boots) happen to get stuck in a queue at the airport with someone who obviously comes from quite the opposite background - it's absolutely fine to strike up a conversation with them, and dare I say, have a laugh (obviously you would never invite them to your house for dinner though), the same goes at work - secretaries mix with managers, even go for after-work drinks with them in a way that I don't remember being so common back 'on the isles'.
10. The geniuses. Now don't get me wrong, I don't spend much time hanging out with geniuses, and trust me, the average person here is just as average as anyone in the UK or elsewhere. But amidst the whole sea of normal people plodding about with their business Spain seems to have this ability to create these super-high-achievers in just about every field (this is esceially surprising considering that Spain can be, at times, quite an inward-looking country). Think football (loads of craks), tennis (Rafa Nadal), art (Picasso, Dalí, Miró, Sorollo, Goya, Velasquez...) architecture (Gaudí, Calatrava...), cookery (Ferran Adría...). And many, many more in many fields. (I really am starting to sound like a pelota, or in other words, kiss ass)