A Matter of Time Adjusting to the speed of Spanish life has slowed down Sara and David. BY SARA WILSON
Courtesty of Coral Wilson
In New York City, life moves at lightning speed. Business is conducted every second of the day, subways empty and fill in endless waves of motion, and people barely stop long enough to eat. In New York City, time may still be measured in seconds, minutes, hours but these units of measurement take on new definitions when applied to the NYC lifestyle –so much so that "New York Minute" has become a term to indicate the fast, hectic pace of life in the Big Apple.
As a private chef, my husband David became more than familiar with the term as he often found himself racing against the clock—to get 80 perfectly plated dishes in front of 80 elite guests, to stock the Manhattan apartment with fresh meals while delivering food to a Connecticut estate. However, we grew to dislike the term when David was looking for a job as a waiter (between private chef jobs) and the manager at one restaurant asked him in a condescending tone if he knew what a New York Minute was. Never mind that David had had extensive restaurant experience working in some of the nicest restaurants in Paris and Southern California. In a New York Minute, the manager had decided that David was not quite quick enough for the job.
The hurried pace of life in New York City was exhausting, at times; however, since arriving in Spain, I’ve found myself longing for just a bit more of that speed. It’s not that the days pass slowly here because they don’t. And even though it doesn’t help that siesta time distractingly breaks up the day and delays things from being accomplished, it surprisingly does not drive productivity to a grinding halt. Rather, it’s just that the overall pace of life is slower. There’s no sense of deadlines to meet or appointments to make. Life happens when it happens, and, try as you might you can’t speed up the process. We’ve learned that—the hard way.
Upon returning to Spain, David spent days trying to restore our internet at home. Either the system was down or the clerk didn’t want to help or they were missing bank information, but invariably the end result was always the same: David would walk away empty-handed and I’d head to the library for WiFi. Now, we’re back to the same stage that we were at when David left for the U.S. We are expecting a call to arrange a time to set up the DSL. We’ve been waiting for that call for about a week now.
A week or so is just a drop in the bucket when compared to months—three to be exact. Our scooter broke down in October and we haven’t seen it since. We’ve traveled to Paris, we’ve crossed the Atlantic to the U.S., the seasons have changed and still no scooter. And it’s not even close to being fixed. In fact, three months later and we are still just waiting to hear whether the warranty will cover a new engine (yep, the engine went kaput). The guy at the shop tells us to call back tomorrow, but we’ve been waiting long enough. David has screamed, hollered and shouted, but to no avail. There’s not much we can do. And so we wait. And we walk, or hike rather up steep, ever-climbing roads that lead us through Altea’s old town and beyond lugging bags of groceries and occasionally a 5-kilogram bag of cat litter and a 6-kilogram bag of cat food to our apartment, which has good views for a reason.
With normal life moving at snail’s pace, it’s not surprising that all things bureaucratic nearly come to a dead halt. Since July, David and I have been trying to get my residency (getting my NIE, which is the number for tax purposes was accomplished swiftly in the beginning, but actually getting my papers to live and work here has proven more difficult), but when David, in exacerbation, complains that it’s been six months since we first applied, the immigration officer doesn’t even blink. "This is nothing!" she says. "Usually, people wait at least a year." Somehow, that doesn’t make us feel any better.
Things in Spain move so slowly that, sometimes, life can’t wait and just moves on. Being Jamaican, my mom was only granted a visa for 16 days when she came to visit over Thanksgiving. She was supposed to leave by November 30th, but when we had to spend my family’s whole vacation looking for—and moving into—a new apartment, we went to the police station to file an application in order to get her visa extended until December 15th. She left on December 9th. To this day, we still have yet to hear from the police station.
Units of time may be systematically measured in seconds, minutes and hours, but there’s a whole other element that plays a very significant role in the passing of time. Just like youth makes summer vacation seem like a year and a broken heart makes the passing of each day seem like an eternity, culture sets the overall pace of life. New York City barrels along in high speed while Spain moseys along in low speed.
Six months in, David and I are stuck somewhere in the middle. We don’t expect things to happen in a New York minute, but, if we could get our scooter back some time this year, that would be nice.
Sara Wilson is currently working as a freelance writer and lives in Torrevieja, Spain with her husband. She has kept a record of her adventures living abroad which you can find here or on her blog: http://sarawilson.wordpress.com. Contact her directly at email@example.com.