Different kinds of differences

Some of the differences we experience daily in Spain we expected, some we would have realized if we’d thought a little more, and some we just didn’t see coming.

I was ready for the transition from dollars to euros, at least in the abstract. In practice, it’s interesting to consider contrasts I hadn’t thought about. While US bills are all the same size no matter how much they’re worth, I’d forgotten that euro bills are different sizes based on the bill, as well as being different colors. They’ve got lots of coins I’m unaccustomed to, and that’s fun, though I’m still a bit slow marshalling them at the grocery checkout.

Here’s one I didn’t remember. A piece of paper, something whose characteristics are essentially outside our notice, all of a sudden looks a little strange when it’s longer and narrower than we’re accustomed to. A4 is 210 x 297 mm (8.3 x 11.7 inches). Cue segue to metric vs. what-do-we-call-that? Archaic?

I haven’t had much need to worry about centimeters to inches, but ounces and pounds to milliliters or grams or kilos follows me all around the grocery store. I can keep one dimension in mind pretty well (as in 1 kilo is 2.2 pounds), but when I’m trying to satisfy my curiosity about how the cost of apples in Spain compares to the cost of apples in New England, I have to keep two conversions in my head at the same time: euros per kilo compared to dollars per pound. Of course, it’s not a comparison with a practical application: these are the apples I’ve got and the money I’ve got, and so these are the ones I’ll buy. But mental math is good for postponing cognitive decline, I’m told, so I’ll continue the exercise. As a point of interest, many fruits and vegetables seem to be less expensive here, which is pleasant. Also, there are lots of fruterias, or fruit and vegetable stores, and prices tend to spread over a wide range. I’m currently fond of a fruteria near one of the grocery stores which sells 5 kilos of oranges (for those of you keeping track, that’s 11 pounds) for 1 euro ($1.38 today). I’m a dedicated orange lover, so they see me there a lot.

I know in many cultures we take electricity for granted, but I can no longer take for granted that if a thing has a plug on the end of a cord, I’ll be able to find a spare adapter to allow me to plug it into the wall to access that electricity. We brought a handful with us, but I still find myself pulled up short when I’m expecting  “plug and play” speed, and I have to go look for the one I saw last. “Making all electrical plugs standard throughout the world” made Lisa’s very short list of things she’d ensure got done after the apocalypse (redesigning all airports made that list as well, an ambition inspired by a particularly trying slog through JFK airport in January).

And here’s a difference I didn’t see coming, and if I don’t continually keep watch, there are consequences. Lots of people in Valencia are fond dog owners; we see the evidence all around us as people are out walking large dogs, medium dogs, and mini dogs in little sweaters. But we also see the evidence all around in little brown piles on the sidewalks, paths, courtyards and streets. I actually made it more than a month before I stepped in some and carried it home on my shoe. I don’t have statistics on dogs per household in Valencia vs. my town in the USA, and I don’t know what city ordinances govern this particular byproduct of dog ownership. Maybe I’m just spoiled by my neighbors at home who always have their special tool with them when they walk their dog. In any event, this is an unlooked-for difference from my normal routine that I’m now carefully looking out for.

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