My first trip to Europe was in 2000 when Theo and I enjoyed a belated honeymoon in Italy. Between then and the start of this trip, I had been to Europe to more times (Paris, Barcelona). We've been here for over three months now, and getting to know each place, from Istanbul to Edinburgh and Stockholm to Konstanz has been pretty easy.
It wasn't until a few days into our stay here outside of Seville that I realized I was experiencing culture shock.
First, I’m not used to the timing of things around Spain. The siesta is real and I feel annoyed about it. My sleeping and eating rhythms are not really in synch with those of the Andalusians. We often find ourselves ready to do something - visit a museum or go shopping or run an errand or eat a snack when things are closed or just barely open. Life in Seville seems to really start at 8 p.m., and well, I'm ready to be home, fed, and cuddled with my kids and a book or a movie.
Also, I'm having a weird twist on culture shock in this little village - we have to drive everywhere for everything. If we want to do anything or eat anything, we have to drive to get there, and the drives aren’t short. That is very much like our Maryland life (except for the driving distances, which are much shorter there), and I am surprised by how foreign it feels to me now that we’ve spent more than three months being able to walk out our door to find food and entertainment. I’m glad for it, too, though, because it reminds me of an intention I set for this trip. That intention was to get closer to real, normal life in many places than the average tourist experiences. We didn’t want this whole trip to be styled like a vacation - hotels, tourist hotspots, high-season, etc. We didn’t want that kind of glossy, arms-length experience for a year.
Finally, the attitude toward service and hospitality is noticeably different here. Restaurant waitstaff seem to be more indifferent to our presence, less peppy than in the U.S. and possibly more annoyed at the language barrier than in any other place we've been so far. Theo knows a little Spanish and uses it often; we definitely try to make communication as clear and easy for others as possible and never expect English to be spoken. Our stay in Konstanz acclimated me to living in a place where the overall English-fluency level is lower than in the big European cities, so what I think I'm picking up on is something a little bit different but I'm not quite sure how to describe it. The reactions and reception to us in the village is different, too, in that we are obviously not from around here - we're not even Spanish - and it's not summer so people are just wary. Why would two Americans with kids come to this village in October anyway?
All of these bits of culture shock sound like downers, but they're really not bringing me down. (The four days of rain, however...) On the contrary, noticing them made me smile. They are gifts: the rewards of this adventure. Sure, I'm traveling to get to know the world, but I'm also traveling to get to know myself, my family, and my American home a lot better. This case of culture shock made me curious, and that's a good feeling.