Tuesday, April 17, 2007

10 reasons it's good to be home

You know what it's like - you go away on holiday, you eat too much, you sleep 10 hours a day, you do very little of anything that smacks of work... and then you have to go home. So, on Sunday night, with the post holiday blues, I decided to draw up a list of 10 reasons I was glad to be home. A bit of a "count your blessings" exercise if you like. It probably has no relevance to learning, but what the heck, here goes...

1. My bed.
I LOVE my bed. We have a fat, down-filled duvet (dooner to Aussies, I don't know what it's called in North America) that I use all year round. On holiday, we had sheets and blankets that kept falling off. Also, we had twin beds on holiday. At home we share a standard double. Much cosier.

2. Driving
In Spain, they drive on the right hand side of the road, in the UK it's the left. I have never driven on the right. Nor has my husband, but he was daring enough to have a go, so we hired a car. Our first trip was to our hotel, 70 or so kms from the airport, which we had to undertake in the dark, since we landed around midnight. All the unconscious means my husband uses to judge his position turned out not to work so well on the other side of the road, and I spent the entire journey in stark terror, as we ventured far too close (by my estimation anyway) to the edge of the road. I was NOT a good passenger, and I opted there and then out of trying my hand at driving. Coward. I know. The morning after we arrived home, I slid behind the wheel of my car and tootled up to the shop to get milk. I appreciated again the first sense of liberation one gets on becoming a driver. Which brings me to

3. My car
I don't have a fancy car. I drive a silver 2006 model Peugeot 307 HDi. It is my second one of these. I traded in the previous model when it went out of warranty. When I got that first one, it was a 3 month old ex-demo model and the newest car I had ever owned. Oh, sure, my husband has had newer, fancier cars, which have been a dream to drive. But this was mine. I have always had a thing about cars - I spent my very early years side by side with my Dad under cars, acting as his toolhand, and my stepdad later taught me to service and maintain my own car so that I wouldn't get ripped off by unscrupulous mechanics, so I was often to be found with grease up to my elbows, face first under the hood of my car, tinkering contentedly (I wouldn't know where to start on the modern models, however!). I tend to drool over cars in a way usually associated with the male of the species. From they day I got that first Peugeot, I stopped drooling. Sure, I would still like to own a 1979 MGB in British racing green or pillar box red, or an Audi of almost any description (just not the TT - you can keep that), or a nice Mustang or Buick (both of these are in short supply in the UK), but I'm content.

4. My cats
I have two moggies. Molly and Daisy. While we were away, our neighbours fed them and kept an eye on them. They came to no harm at all - they are cats, after all, and very self-sufficient. When we got home, they were somewhat startled - it was 2am after all - but they quickly recovered their equilibrium and told us at great length about the adventures they had had during our absence. Of course, they tried to persuade us that they were starving and hadn't been fed in two weeks, so needed double portions immediately, but the evidence was against them. They grudgingly conceded defeat and lavished affection on my husband. Note: they are my cats, and John is a dog person. No matter - they both adore him and allow me to feed them and change their litter and clean up after them and brush them and and and

5. Being understood in shops... and understanding the replies
In spite of having a foreign accent, I never have trouble making myself understood when shopping in the UK. In Spain, I was often unable to explain what I was looking for, and even when I was (for example: "donde esta la leche" - even if it isn't correct grammar was close enough so that the shop assistant knew I was looking for the milk), the rapid fire answer left me looking blank. I have similar experience when we go to Sweden to visit my in-laws. My Swedish is now good enough so that I can frame questions and make simple statements, but I'm bamboozled when these elicit a response from the natives!

6. Finding the products I need
The whole time we were in Mallorca, we never once saw any fresh meat for sale. We could buy processed meats of various descriptions, and the restaurants were obviously able to source the stuff from somewhere, but the supermarkets didn't stock it, and we didn't see a single butcher. We also got confused about where to shop for other things. Pharmacies only stock medical type items. If you want nail varnish, cosmetics or aftershave, you need to go to a perfumery. Neither of us smokes, but we noticed that supermarkets don't stock cigarettes - these must be bought from a tobacconist.

7. Business hours
We needed to find a pharmacy on one occasion. We knew of 3 in the town, but none of them appeared to be open for two (week)days in a row, even though their business hours, posted outside, were shown as 10-2 and 4-6. On the third day, they were all open, even outside of those hours. Many shops close for two or more hours over lunch time, but then they stay open until 8 at night. Nothing much is open before 10am. I'm sure if we were to live there, this would become normal, but we're accustomed to the hours in the UK, so we kept getting the timing wrong.

8. Church
We attend a very lively, pentecostal, charismatic church in the UK. We didn't see any churches at all in Cala Millor. We know they exist, since we saw evidence that people had attended a service. Chances are, of course, that any church would have been Catholic, so the service would have been even more alien to us than even the language difference would indicate, and we would have been unable to participate. Of course, we observed Easter together as a family (no Easter eggs - those aren't available in Spain), but we missed the wild and woolly bunch with whom we normally spend our Sunday mornings.

9. Familiar etiquette
I have no desire to imply that Spanish or German (the nationality of most of the other holiday makers) people are rude, but the protocols are different. Several times, we would hold a door open for someone, and they would march straight past us without even acknowledging the act, let alone thanking us for it. We felt very slighted. No doubt we frequently offended people in our turn by not observing some or other protocol of which we were unaware. Perhaps we offended by holding the door open, thereby implying that they were incapable of doing this for themselves!

10. Dog poo
No, I haven't returned to a mound of the stuff. Quite the contrary. In the UK, dogs must be on leashes at all times if they are outside of their homes, and their owners must clean up after them or face a fine. Many people ignore this rule, but most are pretty good. I have never seen a dog wandering about on its own in the UK. We saw several in Mallorca. Even when the owners were with their dogs, though, and even when the dogs were on leashes, there was no attempt to clean up their - ahem - leavings.

And one thing I will miss...

It appears that the nanny state does not exist in Spain. At least not in the same measure as it does in England. It seems people have a measure of freedom that has been lost here. Of course, this has its downs as well as its ups. Some of the issues I've covered above are the result of that freedom. And there are other negative points, too - smoking is still permitted in many restaurants in Mallorca and, where there are signs that say that it is forbidden, the people smoke anyway. I saw a woman backhand her child across his face in a store, and no-one turned a hair. In the UK, she would have been in serious trouble.

However, the State has not seen fit to dictate to people about every last aspect of their lives, and they get on with the business of living, raising their children, ruining their health, running their businesses and walking their dogs in the way they see fit. In the restaurants, the proprietors were prepared to let us make the choice as to whether our children may drink wine or sangria, rather than citing a rule about ages. There don't seem to be rules that govern every little thing (or perhaps there are and people just ignore them, like the prohibido fumar - smoking prohibited - signs) which means that people have to take ownership themselves, and be grown-ups.

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