Before my trip home this month, it’d been awhile since I’d been to the States. One week short of one year to be exact. And in my yearlong immersion into Spanish culture and customs I thought I had become quite capable of blending in. I was even stopped the other day on the street by a Spaniard asking where the closest metro was. Local? Hells yes, that’s me!
Or so I liked to think. For every exalting moment that I don’t feel I’m wearing a neon flashing “I’m American” sign on my forehead, there are ten where I look up from my plate to find a whole table of aghast Spaniards staring at me. You can take the American out of America, but apparently you can’t take the America out of me.
There are times when I’m fully aware that I am being my unabashedly American self. Like when I skipped the whole way home from Correos holding the box of peanut butter and Cholula that my marvelous mother sent me. Or when I whole-heartedly shouted the U-S-A cheer while watching the World Cup in a pueblo restaurant.
But then there are times when I don’t even realize that what I’m doing screams “USA!” to the Spaniards around me. Here are eight totally American things I do that I had no idea were totally American until moving to Spain:
1. Eating fruit peels
While au pairing with a family in their summer house last month I decided to make them a typical American breakfast. I’m talking homemade pancakes, bacon, eggs, fruit salad — the works. All was going swimmingly until I got to the fruit salad. As I started to dice the apples that familiar feeling of being incredulously watched crept up my spine. I turned around to see the mother, daughter, aunt and cook staring at my apple cutting in horror. I had left the bright green peel on the apples, a cardinal sin in Spanish fruit (or vegetable, for that matter) consumption.
I will never understand why all fruits and vegetables are not fit for eating in Spain until they have been rid of any trace of their vitamin-rich peel. In my opinion fruit looses so much of its fruitiness if you have to sit down with a plate, fork and knife and nicely cut said apple (or peach or nectarine or pear or plum) into peel-free bite-sized chunks. No thanks, not doing it. And my stance on this of course has nothing to do with my serious inability to successfully peel fruit with a knife…
2. Chewing Gum
Apparently I would be such a classy girl if not for my gum affinity. While many Spaniards carry a toothbrush and toothpaste to work in order to brush their teeth after lunch, I far prefer my square of Trident. And yes, I will continue freshening my breath while politely chewing this never-ending minty square for the rest of the afternoon, thank you.
3. Peanut Butter
It is the mark of every true American expat. I still cannot fathom how many people have never tasted peanut butter. It’s so versatile! And delicious! And easy!
And it is a crying shame that the only peanut butter available in Madrid is that horrid worse-than-Peter-Pan brand Captain Mani. I will just have to continue stuffing my suitcases with jars of Trader Joe’s heavenly creamy unsalted. Customs people, please be kind and don’t steal my PB!!
4. Reusable Water Bottles
Glasses of water in Spain are hard to come by. Water never automatically comes with meals at restaurants, getting a waiter to bring you a glass is like pulling teeth and water fountains virtually do not exist. I have come to believe that Spaniards are super-humans. They not only survive on 6 hours of sleep a night, but also have no need to drink water.
I, on the other hand, am American. And in the U.S. we drink a ton (comparatively) of water. So, consequently, I carry around a reusable water bottle. It’s blue and completely and entirely ordinary. You would think it was the new iPhone 6 the way I’ve had people stare at it. “What is it?” my fellow teachers ask? “Can I play with it?” my students say. “Is that really just water?” my friends inquire skeptically. Guys, it’s a water bottle. You can re-fill it. Amazing invention. Getcha one.
5. Having ice at home
Ice in Spain is a luxury relegated to restaurants. The only time I’ve ever seen ice in my apartment is when we are having a fiesta and therefore must have ice to make cocktails. We don’t have an ice maker and I don’t even think we have ice trays. In the two years I’ve been living in Spain I’ve become accustomed to drinking ice-less tap water and, oddly, have come to prefer it. That being said, at home in Texas with my parent’s fridge-front ice machine I’ve been quite enjoying my beverages easily extra-frigid.
6. Eating with my hands
I’m not a barbarian, I swear. But french fries are finger food. As is pizza. And apples. And hamburgers. End of story.
7. Walking around the house barefoot
What in my house in Texas is considered completely normal, in Spain is thought of as a one-way ticket to the sick bed. The first time I lived in a Spanish house (or flat, I should say) was during my study abroad in Sevilla. I’ll never forget the first time I walked into the living room for dinner in bare feet. My host mother gasped as if I was naked, pointed to my feet and insisted that I would be sick by morning if I didn’t put on some slippers. Needless to say I never again left my bedroom without the proper household foot attire.
8. Putting more than one type of food on a plate
One day the summer camp chefs decided to serve the first plate, spaghetti, and the second plate, pork filets and french fries, on the same plate. You would have thought we had told the kids armageddon was upon us. We had girls trying to squeegee their plates clean with napkins and boys sneaking to the trash can to rid their dish of any uneaten spaghetti. God forbid their red sauce touch that pork chop. They were incredulous that we could even be entertaining the idea of not handing out fresh plates. Crazy chavalitos.