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Postcard From Valencia #4

Is there something about living overseas that introduces paralysis in making decisions?

A few days ago, The Husband and I were in the biscuit aisle of our local supermarket, causing a small traffic jam, because we couldn’t make a choice of which packaged biscuits to buy. Even when I gave up in embarrassment and confusion, stalking off with our two carts (it’s complicated) and an “oh just pick the ones you want” over my shoulder, he still caught up with me after five minutes, empty-handed, mumbling something about buying more biscuits later.

On the surface, this shouldn’t be so. We have been a couple for more than 35 years. We know each other’s likes and dislikes thoroughly. And one of us has a passing acquaintance with written and spoken Spanish. Yet here we were, retreating in the face of Oreos. What gives?

I chalk it up to a natural limit on the number of decisions a human being can make, in the absence of sufficient data, in a single day. As that limit is approached and eventually passed, every choice becomes steadily harder to take until you finally stop being able to decide which cookies to buy. Because when you live overseas, especially in the first year, almost all your decisions lack sufficient data. Should you buy this badly needed new pair of shoes even if they won’t let you try on the right one (see below)? Should one outright complain to the landlord about the heat or just hint at it and hopes he picks up on it? Should you buy the fresh fish you’re pretty sure is cod or try out that new one? Just what is merluza anyway? It gets to be exhausting. And time-consuming.

Our newest rule is to take whatever time you think you will need for x action or decision or task and triple it, because you know it’s going to take you three times longer than you planned anyway.

Of course, we know this won’t be the case forever. Eventually, our reserve or experience will provide the data we need to make better, faster, choices. We chose to live in another country and culture, after all. If we wanted it simple, we could have stayed back in the States or wherever we started. Until that blessed day arrives though, we’ll probably just avoid the cookie aisle.

In other news, I am delighted to report that my interview with the All About You podcast has dropped and you can access it here. I admit it felt odd to be the one answering questions instead of asking them, but podcaster Sheila West did a fine job of putting me at ease by asking well-considered and interesting questions.

The walking has picked up a lot since The Husband and I each bought a new pair of shoes, after concluding that our feet weren’t meant to hurt quite so much from just walking, even over cobblestones. (Referenced above). Buying the shoes was a triumph of persistence and my Spanish over passing setbacks. The first was that the shoe store was fine with trying on the left shoe of any pair we were considering, but not the right shoe. For the life of me and with all my Spanish skills, I could never get an explanation for this rule.

The second hurdle was their peculiar procedure for paying for the shoes. After we settled on the pair we wanted, we turned in the left shoe we had tried on and they sent us to the cash register, without any shoes. Then, while we sat in an extraordinarily long line, they brought up the pair to the counter to await your arrival. Of course, this system presupposes you were 1) aware that you needed to remember the shoe manufacturer, color, and Spanish size and that you would be able to report all these vital details to the counter staff in Spanish. It took me two passes through the line to get away with my new shoes.

But oh, what a delight. Already in two days, I have walked more than I did all last week and with no more discomfort than if I had been walking on a cloud. Really, they make all the difference. Tomorrow, we have our first visit from a cleaning crew from All Cleaning Valencia, a company that got its start in Miami but now is here (I have yet to get the whole story of how this happened, but I am on it for tomorrow) and a crew from Valiant, the company that made and service the water heater for our apartment will come to check our system, fix whatever might be faulty and explain how to use it. The weather for January in our experience has been amazingly warm (it’s 10 January and I am writing in a short-sleeved shirt) but still it would be nice if the radiators kicked on say about thirty minutes before we got up.

With any luck, this will be the week we get to start visiting cultural and historic things around Valencia. Nearby our flat are some botanic gardens and an attached plant research lab that is on the list to visit. And our beloved Torres de Quart, so close and tall but, yet to be climbed, at least by us. Of course, pictures from all those things.

Now I must walk to the DIA store for some bread and other things as we are eating en casa tonight, probably tuna sandwiches and a caldo (soup) of some sort.

Signing off from Spain I am,

Yours Truly, David Robeline

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