Haz el bien, y no mires a quién. -Spanish Proverb


North Dakotans have feelings too

While those of you back State-side enjoy one of the warmest winters in recorded history, Europe has been experiencing quite the opposite: lower-than-normal temps and some of the heaviest snowfall on record.

Places that don’t normally see any snow all year have been witnessing steady snowfall through the past week, from here in Bilbao all the way over and down to Rome.

some of my students enjoying a rare opportunity to have a snow fight during their coffee break

You can check out some great photos of the frigid winter all over Europe by clicking here.

For the purposes of this post, there are two types of people in the world: those from notoriously cold locales (such as North Dakota) and those from mild or warm locales. We will call them Frosties and Toasties, respectively. Sometimes a Frosty such as myself goes to live in a Toasty place. But even Toasty places have their colder days. On days like those, this conversation occurs thousands of times between Frosties and Toasties all over the world:

Frosty: “Brrr! I’m sooo cold!”

Toasty: “Pffft! Whaddya mean, you’re cold!?! You’re from (insert name of Frosty locale here)! This is probably “t-shirt weather” for you!!!”

Frosty: “Umm, not exactly. I mean it still feels cold to me just like it feels cold to you…”

Toasty: “Nah, you should be used to it! You probably have thicker skin!”

I’ve experienced this conversation on numerous occasions in my life, but it has occurred with record-breakingly high incidence over the past week or so, and it’s really starting to get on my nerves. It seems I’m the only Frosty for miles around, and all these Toasties just can’t believe that I would be able to feel the cold like they do.

Yes, I’ve felt -40 degree wind gusts several times in my life. Yes, I’ve shoveled piles and piles of snow and scraped ice from my windshield hundreds of times. But you know what the difference is between cold back home and cold here? The exposure. Back home, we’re prepared and equipped for the cold, and we limit our exposure to the outside air (house–>car –>work–>car–>house) because it can be truly dangerous to be out for too long. I would venture to say that my exposure to cold has been, overall, higher in the past week than in any week of North Dakota winter in my life. Though the temps may not be as low here, I feel overall less equipped for lower temps here and am exposed to cold for much longer periods of time. Why?

1. I walk everywhere. A few years ago, I got a new car and had an autostart system installed. I started my car from my bedroom, waited 10 minutes or so, walked outside and into a nice, pre-warmed vehicle. Then I drove to where I was going, got out and walked another minute or so in the cold before I was back in a nice, warm building. I was only in the cold for a minute or two at a time.

As mentioned in a previous post, I now average about 3 miles on foot each day just in commuting and errand-running. That means that even if I’m power-walking, I’m out in the elements for at least 40 minutes each day.

2. It rains a lot here. Rain makes you wet. Being wet makes you cold a lot faster.

3. The heating systems in buildings here pale in comparison to those back home. The school I work at is miserably drafty, especially on Mondays after the heaters have been off all weekend. Then I come home to my very typical Spanish apartment with one tiny heater on the wall in each room, right below the window. Most of the heat, then, goes up and out the non-insulated window. On some days, it seems the only moment of the day that I’m sufficiently warm is when I’m in the shower.

To my Fellow Frosties: keep fighting the good fight. We’re tough, sure, but we feel the crappy, cold rainy days just like anybody else.

To the Toasties: You mean well, I’m sure. This repeated convo is just part of normal small talk that occurs between two people who grew up in very different climates. Just think about it next time you jump down a Frosty’s throat for making a comment about an unusually cold day. You’re most likely not the first person to think of these comments, and they get old fast.

Whatever your background, if you’re like me, you’re just looking forward to the day very soon when the weather will turn and we’ll be soaking up the sun once again 🙂

Playa Ereaga, Algorta, Spain (October 2011)



a pain in the mane

I was a Groupon virgin until last week, when I decided it was time to “get my group on” with this deal:

Translation: for just 25€ (a 130€ value), I could get my hair colored, cut and styled….PLUS, I could choose from one of three “special treatments,” and for fun they were throwing in a cranial massage and a shine treatment finish. Sign me UP!

I bought the Groupon and walked the few blocks from my apartment to the salon to make my appointment. It was a small place–just 3 hair styling “stations” and two stylists working. I walked in, told them I’d bought a salon package on Groupon and asked if I could make an appointment for the next day, Saturday. ¿Sí, muy bien. A las 10:00 o 11:00?”  I took the 11:00 appointment and was on my way, skipping along happily at the thought of the steal of a deal I had just scored.

I woke up excited for the day on Saturday, reviewed my Spanish haircut vocabulary (bangs, layers, blend, trim) over breakfast and headed out the door. When I got to the salon, I was immediately taken aback by the number of women inside. There were the same two stylists that had been there when I made the appointment, but now about five additional women were there as well. “Surely, some of them must work here,” I thought. I stood there shaking out my umbrella and wondering if anyone was going to acknowledge my presence. Nope. I figured any minute one of the stylists would approach me to get my name and “check me in” for my appointment in some way, as is standard in every salon I’ve ever been to. Nope. 3 minutes. I’m quickly realizing that the only two people doing any sort of work are the two ladies I saw yesterday. There’s another older lady aimlessly pacing to and fro between them, but everyone else in this joint is a client. Ooooh boy.

5 minutes. One of the stylists looks up from her work and motions to the only empty chair in the joint, telling me to sit. The chair she has deemed as mine is an abandoned stylist station chair that sits opposite the three still-in-use stations, still bolted to the floor, facing a large mirror. The table and drawers have been removed, so now it is just a chair, off by itself, facing a mirror. I am now sitting in a hairdresser chair, looking at myself in a mirror. Yesss.

10 minutes. Ok, I’m annoyed, but this was a really good deal. I’m gonna stick it out. Gathering from many experiences I’ve had as a retail customer in this country, I don’t even think the term “customer service” exists. I just need to keep that in mind. I become complacent and read the last 18 hours of posts on my Twitter feed.

20 minutes. I notice the older pacing lady is now assisting with washes. I wonder if she’s one of the stylist’s mothers. I figure this is a family business. I assume the staircase at the back of the salon leads to their home flat. I find this very European and cute.

30 minutes. I realize the two sylists are cycling clients through a haphazard (albeit relatively efficient) chain of highlights, rinse/treatment, cut and dry/style: starting one thing on one client while the other waits for the next stage to be complete, and so on. I think about how, “where I come from,” you have a stylist to yourself for the 2 hours or so of your cut/color/style. I wonder what my old stylist did during the downtime. I consider that this crazy hair-styling assembly line may actually be a better system.

40 minutes. The elder, pacing, hair-washing woman approaches me-. “Sweet, my turn!” I think to myself. She doesn’t even look at me. Instead, she turns to a small crockpot-looking device filled with green goo on the table next to me. I didn’t even notice it until now. She walks up to the mirror directly in front of my chair, stirs the green go with a wooden stick, scoops some out, and slaps it on her face. Without a flinch, she rips it off, ridding her face of any lady ‘stache that may have been. This is happening 2 feet in front of me. Our legs are touching. I wonder if she’s crazy. No one else in the salon seems to be fazed by her public display of her personal hygiene routine. Am I just that uptight?

50 minutes. Lady Beard has finished her facial wax self-treatment. I frantically refresh my Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds in desperation for news from “normal” outside world.

60 minutes. Ok. That’s it. I said I’d only wait an hour. Gotta draw the line somewhere….I mean, I had an appointment, after all! It was an hour ago! I prepare my “storming out speech.”

70 minutes. …but what good is storming out going to do? They’re not really concerned about “bad reviews” in Spain, and they’re sure as shiz not gonna care if some American girl gets her brugas in a bundle over waiting an hour for their services. If I leave, I’m going to have to try to get a refund from Groupon AND go back to the drawing board on getting my hair done.

80 minutes. It’s 12:20pm. Some girls with noon appointments swing by and ask how long it will be until the stylists are ready. The stylists tell them about 30 minutes. They smile and say they’re going to run to the market and be back later.  NOOOO PROBLEMA :-D!!! So…are appointment times just a suggestion? Like…a suggestion of when you should wake up in order to make it to the salon an hour or so AFTER your actual appointment time? Cuz I missed that memo. Maybe this is something that should be included in Spanish culture classes, you know, right along with the info about the Spanish siesta and the dos besos (two kisses) greeting custom. I have a Spanish minor, after all. I should be in on these things.

90 minutes. That’s it. This is stupid. I’m hungry. I’m leaving. In five minutes.

95 minutes. One of the stylists approaches me, identifies me as “The Groupon one” and leads me to her chair. I surrender and hope for the best.

The appointment itself went pretty smoothly. They have to know what they’re doing with the way they run that place. It may be a little bit, uh…below my standard of “normal,” but somehow they make it all work.

And at the end of the day, like they say, “it’s just hair!”

post-salon: touched-up highlights, no more split ends, significantly lower blood pressure