What’s it like living in Spain…

What’s it like living in Spain…

I’ve got to follow up on my recent post, Expat Coffee Talk – these are the days of our L.I.V.E.S. mainly because I promised you I would. But you have to read the post above, otherwise you won’t get any of what I’m about to share with you.

So what I can tell you is that the style of life in Spain is pretty much a completely different experience than that of Canada. I’m going to throw in the United States of America just because. I also happen to like the US (minus a few things to obvious to mention); it’s our sister nation so I don’t want to leave it out.

Before I continue, let me just say that I’ve been assumed to be American too many a time because people here me speaking English here. Because of that, too, I’ll be including the US in this post as well.

I’d also like to say that when I’m talking about Spain in this post, it’s always going to be about Madrid the city, unless I say otherwise. I live in Madrid, so I figure it makes sense.

One thing that pretty much differentiates Spain from Canada and most American cities are the beautiful palm trees. Need I continue? I could stop right there because that’s a big difference in alone. I live in a city, a pretty big one, and there are actual palm trees here. It’s so nice to see them. I, as a “cold” Canadian, think it’s pretty cool.

Sun. Say the word out loud, nay, merely think it, and you’ll have the sun at the back of your hands for days on end. You know what the even cooler thing is? That I’m not even talking about summer. In winter there is sun for what seems forever, day after day after day. Why call the season winter even, when my cold Canadian heart knows what real winter means in Canada? You want to talk about sun in the summer in Spain? Please, brace yourself because what I’m about to say is going to make you want to drop everything in North America and come here: The sun is around for weeks, weeks, and weeks on end. What does that look like? Come 8am, say good morning to the sun and expect it to stick around until the wee hours of night. I feel like it’s 5pm, as I’m originally from Halifax, but when I look at my watch it’s actually 10:30pm Spain time. It makes me feel like there’s something wrong with that picture. Let’s give it up for the Spanish dictator “_______” for doing something interesting in a positive way. You know what they about sun: less seasonal depression in Spain because we see the sun all year round. I just made that up, but it’s got to be true.

The list goes on, quite well, I may add. Stay tuned.

Palm trees and sunny days. This is the Spanish craze.

Signing off-

Shamim Sobhani

 

 

 

Expat Coffee Talk – these are the days of our L.I.V.E.S.

Expat Coffee Talk – these are the days of our L.I.V.E.S.

This post has been brought to you by the Chronicles of LIVES – Living in Very Entertaining Situations.

I’m a Canadian who lives in Spain. Forget about the “Canadian” part for a moment. I’m an expat who has chosen to live in a land far, far away that isn’t my home country. Are you American, Australian or from another part of the world and have always wondered why people like me leave their country of origin to go live somewhere else?

Maybe you’re that person that only travels to other countries to spend time on the beaches, a.k.a. all inclusive resorts. If you are then perhaps you’ve asked your expat friends when they’re planning on returning to their country of origin, because surely, they don’t plan on being away from “home” forever….right? “What about being close to your family?” “Raising your kids?” No? Ok, ok, well, I hope I’m wrong. One thing is someone growing up with the same friends all their life, getting married in the same town, having kids in the same town, and having the same job in the same town, but another thing is being presumptuous and expecting everyone else to do all that. There are friends who grow up in the same city and travel to places like Punta Cana and Riviera Maya, and believe that they’ve seen the country, or *cough* *cough* the world.

I digress.

It could be that our expat friends who live away from their country of their upbringing call their new residence “home”. Thank goodness for the existence of diversity of thoughts because I’m an expat and do not call my country of residence “home”. I’m fortunate to be able to call both Canada AND Spain my home. What, you think that just because I’ve left my native land I don’t think of it as “home” anymore? Or just because I’m a foreigner in Spain means that I can’t call it “home”? I actually feel comfortable calling two completely different countries “home” because I’ve been lead to feel that way. Plus, it’s a complicated way of life and I like it 🙂

Maybe you have expat friends who believe that there are no such thing as borders along countries, that if they feel like living elsewhere then they will go do it.

I always wondered how expats do it. Do they just wake up one day and say that they feel like picking up their stuff and moving to a foreign country? What if they don’t even speak the language? What then?

Do expats move to be adventurous? Or because they are adventurous? If by adventurous they mean that they’ve been treated differently because they’re not from that country, or misunderstood because it’s not their native language, then I’ve been there! Like I said, my way of living is complicated but I always feel like it was worth the move.

So, what’s it like living in Spain? I’ll have to leave that topic for another time now, so feel free to stay tuned.

Signing off,

Shamim Sobhani

 

Photo courtesy of Utomo Hendra Saputra

 

A Discourse on Coffee Break

A Discourse on Coffee Break

In a follow-up to my latest post From Canada to Europe. Reflections of an expat, I wanted to share an anecdote about a cultural experience. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you weren’t sure how to act? Living in Spain, I’ve witnessed that Spanish people appreciate time spent with friends. It’s appreciated even more when you’re a foreigner and you try to include yourself in social gatherings. It shows that you care about getting to know them. In my case it hasn’t been any different. I work at a job in Spain where my co-workers appreciate it when I spend my coffee break with them, especially if they invite me. It’s almost a rule of thumb to not refuse an offer like that. “Coffee break” isn’t limited to coffee only. It’s more about drinking something or having a snack with them. To me this means that the Spanish value “people” time. Coffee breaks also provide a space for building and strengthening relationships. I’m all for that. However, I’ve come to face a small dilemma: I’m a busy body and have recently been working on several projects simultaneously (and I enjoy all of them), and so I like to take advantage of the little free time I have and work on them during my breaks. This doesn’t mean that I don’t like spending time with my co-workers; it just means that I like to be efficient. This is a difference I’ve noticed between the Canadian/American culture and the Spanish culture. I’m aware that my co-workers may notice when I´m not around during our breaks, so I thought a temporary solution would be to divide my free time or coffee breaks between my co-workers and my projects. I also thought of getting more data so that I could be around my co-workers while working on my cell phone instead of having to use a computer in a separate office. I wouldn’t want to push anyone’s sensitive button! Is there anyone out there who feels like there could be a better solution? Do you agree with me? Your opinions are welcome!

Singing off –

Shamim Sobhani

 

The featured image is courtesy of Daria Nepriakhina.

From Canada to Europe. Reflections of an expat

From Canada to Europe. Reflections of an expat

I’m a Canadian expat living in Madrid, Spain. Yes, I left Canada to live in Spain, but don’t get me wrong, I’m fond of Canada. Who doesn’t enjoy the benefits of free health care? Spain has it too, though. Canada has great people, and so does Spain. Are you catching onto my point? If not – both countries are cool. Despite the similarities, they are different countries, and within that umbrella comes an array of different cultures. Sometimes the differences in the Spanish culture shine through like the sun, positively speaking, and other times it makes me ask myself if I belong here. I’m not a newcomer, so I have learned some things here and there, but there’s always room to learn more! It’s like a journey. The question of integration always pops up; it never seizes to prove its importance.

Are you an expat and have faced interesting experiences dealing with the culture of your second home? Share them please!

Signing off –

Shamim Sobhani

 

 

 

How to validate a foreigner’s Spanish driver´s license in 9 steps

How to validate a foreigner’s Spanish driver´s license in 9 steps

Are you Canadian, or better yet, Nova Scotian? Even if you´re not, believe me, this post will be useful to you to some extent. If you are from somewhere in the world and you live in Spain, keep reading. This is a sequel to my last post, “10 steps to make the process of obtaining a Spanish driver’s license easier for foreigners”.

After acquiring your Spanish driver’s license, you now have the option of validating it. What does that mean and why would you want to do that? A validated license recognizes and respects that you already have a driver’s license from your home country. If you do not validate it, the government recognizes you as a novice driver. So, if you want to avoid excessive insurance prices when you purchase a car, or you want to rent a car within the first three years of having your new license, you must validate your Spanish license. This process can only be done after obtaining your Spanish driver´s license (going through the written and driving tests).

Step 1: You will have to contact the Canadian Embassy by email which is on its website here. The embassy is located a 2 minute walk from Begoña metro (Madrid). This link will direct you the “consular services” fees for the services I outline below. Before you email the embassy, read the rest of the steps below to see what you’re getting yourself into.

Step 2: The embassy will tell you to request a “driving abstract“, or otherwise known as a “client record abstract” from your province, which outlines your driving history. It costs 18.65 Canadian dollars. Note: Specifically request that the letter date the day, month and year that you obtained your Canadian license (not when you renewed it), because that’s the whole point of giving that letter to DGT, which is equivalent to the Registry of Motor Vehicles in Canada. DGT wants to know the day you obtained your Canadian license (the day you passed your driving test). The embassy will write up a letter for you explaining the classification of the vehicle(s) which you are permitted to drive. The embassy will need your Canadian license to attach it to the back of the letter as an annex. They will also write another letter. These two documents are for the DGT.

Step 3: The embassy will issue two letters for you: a “statuary declaration”and a “statement letter”. The former is a statuary declaration regarding your Canadian license, and the latter explains the information indicated on that license, which is the classification of the vehicles which you are permitted to drive. DGT needs to see these two letters in order to validate your license. I got away with not obtaining a client record abstract. Instead, I just gave my current Nova Scotian license (yes, the actual card and no, not a photocopy of it) to the embassy, which attached it to both its letters as an annex. My Nova Scotian license was going to expire 5 months and I was heading back to Nova Scotia the following month anyway.

Step 4: Pay around 100 Euros to the Embassy for the issuance of those two letters. Refer to the embassy website again.

Step 5: You must get both embassy-issued letters and your driver’s license (or the client record abstract), translated into Spanish, which costs around 115 Euros. The company I used has not given me the best service (that’s an understatement, service was terrible), but they work for the ministry of justice department in Spain and they got the translation done, even if it took them longer than anticipated. This is why I will not disclose the translation company name here. Working for the ministry of justice means that the translation company can officially translate legal documents and you would not need to have the translated documents certified by the ministry of justice. If you don´t understand this gibberish, it just means that it boils down to less work for you to do.

Step 6: As I mentioned earlier, the Canadian embassy initially told me that I needed to request for and receive the driving abstract in the mail from my province, which is Nova Scotia. I would have needed to take the abstract to the embassy myself and make a sworn declaration. I telephoned Access NS and they had no idea what I was talking about. I didn’t know that I was really supposed to ask for a document to show my track record driving history, so they printed out something else. It was a waste of $20. Besides, someone had to go physically on my behalf and pick it up for me, send it to me (another $20 through registered mail). In the end, the document from the Registry of Motor Vehicles which had printed out for me made no sense and was a bunch of numbers all over the place. As I explained earlier, the other option is to use your current Canadian driver’s license and the Canadian embassy attaches it to the two letters it issues. This was the most convenient and economical option for me, personally. When I gave those documents, including my newly obtained Spanish driver’s license, to DGT in Spain, it was sufficient. Spain loves seeing official and authorized Canadian stamps on papers handed into them. I thought DGT would keep that license for their records, but surprise, surprise, they gave it back. There’s no way I could guarantee they would do the same to you, so be prepared to be detached (emotionally) from your license.

Here’s the “client record abstract” I requested looks like so you know NOT to ask for it:

Driver's abstract touched up

I went to great lengths to hide my height as I touched up on it in the picture above. Aside from that, as you can see there’s not much going on in this document. It does not state the day I actually got my license. It’s very…abstract.

Step 7: Three weeks later you will receive a brand new Spanish license in the mail with the only difference being a code in tiny print on the back. When you rent or purchase a car that code is what will open up your options as opposed to the original Spanish license you received when you passed your driving test.

Step 8: Meanwhile, make the appointment with DGT online here, because it the dates are usually booked up a couple of weeks in advance. On the website, in the drop-down button choose “Madrid” as the city and in the second button click on “Renovación de premises de conducción (solo UE/EEE)”. See box below. Book the appointment.

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-11-02-16-pm

Step 9: With the original (English) and translated documents, go to DGT, which is at this address: Calle de Arturo Soria, 125, 28043 Madrid, and fork over 25 Euros by credit or debit card only. No cash. Aside from the documents from the Embassy, you will need to show your NIE (ID card) and its photocopy and your Canadian driver’s license as well as its photocopy. In three weeks’ time you should receive your new Spanish driver’s license in the mail!

Question: Will you get your Canadian license back from DGT? I did, but there´s no guarantee that everyone will. From first and second-hand experience, the way bureaucracy works in Spain is that there is no hard and fast rule. On the contrary, it usually depends on who the person working behind the desk is. Unfortunately.

The quote below from our distinguished Scottish philosopher, Thomas Carlyle, sums it up for me:

Permanence, perseverance and persistence in spite of all obstacles, discouragements, and impossibilities: It is this, that in all things distinguishes the strong soul from the weak

I wouldn’t say I have a strong soul now, and I admit, perhaps it’s a little dramatic considering that I’m talking about something as mundane as a driver’s license, but it’s more than that. It’s about putting in a whole lot of dedication, time and patience to figure it all out while running around in a big city, communicating in a language and culture that isn’t mine. It would have been less of a headache if I had steps like the ones listed above to serve as my guide. I now have a Spanish driver´s licence and its validation to show for what I went through.

Signing off –

Shamim Sobhani