Hatchet Expat: Savoring the mundane

“El Mundo o El País?” said the flight attendant, extending two newspapers out in front of me.

“The World or The Country?” I asked myself, not thinking much of it at the time. I noticed a man in business attire across the aisle reading El Mundo.

The world is larger, I justified. “El Mundo, por favor.”

At the time, I didn’t realize how profound the question actually was. As I plan trips to France, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany and the Czech Republic, I can’t help but wonder if I’m approaching my study abroad experience with the wrong perspective.

Madrid is both the largest and most populated city in Spain, and I could spend a lifetime here without ever leaving. So, as I look forward to the three months I have left abroad, I plan to follow this mantra: Think small, and you will get big results.

After all, the little things are what have had the strongest impact on me in Spain. I tasted the best coffee I’ve ever had at a tiny bar I only entered because it was the closest place to escape the freezing temperatures outside. On another occasion, I stared with amazement at a colossal Miró painting consisting of a simple line and somehow wanted nothing more. I travel via Metro almost every day, knowing I might walk through the sound of a bassoonist, an electric guitarist and an accordionist – some of the more ordinary performers I’ve encountered.

I’ve quickly learned that though I can’t get enough of Europe’s popular tourist attractions, the memories truly worth remembering are the ones you can’t photograph.

After eating churros con chocolate at the famed Chocololatería San Ginés, the taste of the thick, melted chocolate is now somewhat cloudy, whereas I can easily remember the sight of that elderly local slurping it down right out of the cup. Though the massive cross at El Valle de los Caídos amazed me in its sheer size, what really sticks out in my mind is when a Spaniard yelled at my friend for not eating a sandwich that had fallen on the ground.

They say time flies when you’re having fun, and my newfound appreciation for the little things in life has made that phrase ring true as ever. I make a point to apply this important lesson to the simplest moments of my day, in keeping with the European lifestyle. Rather than chug their coffee as if playing a game of caffeinated flip-cup, the Spanish allow the taste, aroma and warmth to sink in. Even at McDonald’s, they relax and converse on cushy swivel chairs. Instead of running to catch the train in the morning, they walk and catch the next one, arriving punctually the Spanish way: 15 minutes late.

There’s one thing I’m sure of – on my way back home, when the flight attendant asks me, “El Mundo o El País?” I’ll say, “Ninguno, gracias.” I would much rather stare out the window at Spain’s hazel-colored landscape, polka-dotted with olive trees.

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