I Can’t Handle the Holidays

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Living in this country as a single, childless immigrant, I’ve come to realize that I depend entirely on exterior conditions to keep me sane, and that’s not good. Stores must be open. The sun must be shining. I must live in the city center, where I am guaranteed to see people in the street at all times. These little tonterías keep me happy. If one day they should go away, I know it won’t be long before I throw myself off my balcony.

So that’s my little Achilles’ heel.

One question visitors to this country often ask is, why does Spain observe so many holidays? Barely a month goes by without at least one week becoming partially paralyzed by some random bullshit holiday, usually in deference to some saint only old ladies care about. And this year’s winter holiday has been relentless: Christmas Day followed immediately by the Catalan holiday San Esteve – two days of complete shutdown — then, by golly, the weekend! — then New Years’ right smack in the middle of the next week, which runs completely half-assed because every business or service that can shut its doors, will; then another weekend, then Kings’ Day on January 6th, where everything’s closed again.

Which means that today, January 7th, is the first official day of business as usual, after nearly three weeks of limbo.

Absolutely brutal. I’m wiped out from this shit.

Of course, you’re hearing the perspective of someone who hasn’t left town for even one day. I, along with a few of my cash-poor or schedule-crimped friends, am the exception to the rule. Everyone knows the Spanish have a talent for getting out of the city whenever the opportunity presents itself. I wish I had that ability. But I’m too slow, disorganized and obsessive-compulsive. I need to plan for weeks ahead of time. Besides, I never realize another frigging holiday has snuck up on us till we’re already halfway through it: when I finally come down from my apartment at 4 pm and find that everything’s closed.

I know: I’ve only been living here 10 years. You’d think that’d be time enough to figure out the schedule. In my defense, though, even Spanish people are sometimes caught off guard.

Anyways, it might seem that Spain has this excess of holidays in order to give its citizens an excuse to get away. But that’s not true.

The real reason there are so many holidays in Spain is because that way, it’s impossible to really get anything done. And that is what life in Spain is all about: jobs must be left half-finished; important details must be overlooked; the same phone call must be made five or six times, each call dealing with a different person with a different set of excuses, and having to start from zero each time. Spain is about no one taking responsibility for anything, and on the occasion that some extraordinary individual does take the trouble to solve a problem, that person will not be rewarded for their initiative. This is the Spanish way. If things weren’t done in this manner, you would have no idea what country you were living in. And what fun is that?

I mean, as an American, I made a deliberate choice to drop everything I had, leave all my friends, my career, and everything I knew for a different life. A Spanish life. Not a French or Norwegian or a Japanese life; a Spanish life. The life I wanted.

I fell in love with Spain and dammit, love is for a lifetime. One of the unfortunate things about the U.S. are the people who chant that mantra, “U.S.A.: the best country in the world!” These are usually idiots who haven’t traveled anywhere. The truth is, Spanish society has many lovely things that the U.S. doesn’t — an appreciation of beauty, an emotional expressiveness, and, most importantly for me, a lack of general aggression — and that’s why I’m here.

So while I might be occasionally frustrated by the internet disappearing whenever it rains, or having to beg the waiter to bring me a menu, then take my order, then bring me my food, then the check, then not complain to me about how hung over he is from last night’s clubbing because it’s not professional and I don’t care, I consider it a tiny price to pay in exchange for not having my brains blown out while standing in line at the supermarket.

2 comments

  • Being from Israeli, I strongly identify with you regarding not knowing when the holidays are. The regular calendar for everyday use is the standard Gregorian one, but the one used for holidays is the Hebrew one, which is known by nobody. That means that Passover falls somewhere in the March-April tandem, for example, but nobody knows quite where.

    But then my spontaneous being does make sure that I catch the holiday and ride it like a wave. 😉

  • Drives me crazy too… My son has finally gone back to school after week upon week of fiesta this, fiesta the other, I’m so relieved to get back to what stands for normality in my home!

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