1. Banks and institutions that stay open for a reasonable portion of the day
Banks, but also any institution where people often need to go in-person should be open for more than 4 hours a day and ideally 5 days a week plus Saturdays for a limited schedule. I understand that this is expensive, but if my school requires me to be there from 9am-4:30pm every day and you want me to go make a change to my account any time between 10am and 2pm, get on it. Additionally, branches should be able to perform the same tasks regardless of the location. There were a number of times that I took off work to go to BBVA or Vodafone and I was told I had to perform certain transactions in the branch where I opened my account. Huh? If I work in Las Rozas, how can I be expected to make it to Calle Princesa in the 4 midday hours the branch is open? Or, now that I’m back in the States, I certainly can’t be expected to buy a plane ticket just to shut down my bank account. If you are a national or international company, things should be standardized. Standardized policy and regulation in general would be good, actually. Not “I didn’t have my café con leche yet today, so it’s not happening. #sorrynotsorry.”
2. TJMaxx/Marshall’s/Second hand shops
One day a colleague from Spain and I got to talking about the lack of second hand shops or places to donate old clothing in Spain. When I lived in Madrid, there were countless times that I passed trashcans on the street overflowing with clothing and it truly pained me. (Occasionally I damn near sorted through the stuff myself). There were so many people who could make use of those clothes, especially now with the crisis. Not even just limited to people of a lower-income- poor college students, hipsters and more love second hand clothing. My mom and her friends have the means to shop pretty much anywhere they want, but they really enjoy going to TJ’s and Marshall’s to find the best deals on brand names.
The UK and Germany both have TKMaxx (the European version of TJ’s) and lots of great second hand stores so it would seem to be something in the culture. My Spanish colleagues tell me that it’s a matter of pride. I thought back to when I was leaving Spain and offered many of the things I couldn’t bring back to the U.S. to my boyfriend at the time. His grandfather reacted by asking if I thought they couldn’t afford to buy those things for him and that he couldn’t accept. I was shocked at this reaction and hadn’t even considered this possibility. To me, it’s completely logical to give your things that are in perfectly good condition to others if you can’t use them, but even offering seemed out of the question due to a certain kind of (in my opinion, misplaced) pride. (The idea that many Spaniards seem to need to consult 7 different members of their family before making any decision is a topic for another day.)
3. Over-the-counter medication
One thing I love in Spain is that pharmacies are small businesses that are rarely branches and usually owned by families for generations. (See America? With your big conglomerate CVSs and Walgreens, who are the socialists now?) However, in Spain you have to ask for almost any medication, regardless of if it requires a prescription, from the pharmacist. This isn’t that convenient, but sometimes the famous Spanish colas (long lines) make it frustrating and it also means you can only get medicine in a pharmacy, as opposed to the U.S. where you can find them in most supermarkets. I realize that this is probably done for safety measures. But when it comes to over-the-counter, low dosage medicines, I take a more libertarian approach that people should take responsibility and read the instructions. It also means there’s a whole separate store for every-day items such as shampoo, body wash, etc. that can be found in pharmacies in the U.S., making it easier to do one-stop shopping. Also, no big containers of pills like they have in the U.S. Granted, I understand this is probably a lot safer. But I’ve gotten pretty angry at Spanish medicines and having to pop the low-dosage capsules out of those damn child- AND adult-proof packages when I have a migraine and just want a giant jar of Tylenol.
I enjoy Spanish food. I love that Spaniards eat and cook Spanish food and have a rich tradition of doing so. I understand as well as anyone that sometimes it’s all about the simple stuff (hello, macaroni and cheese is not exactly complicated yet it’s ever so comforting.) However, Spanish food can be fairly bland after a while. As an American, I grew up eating the traditional meat and potato dinners of my Irish and German-American roots, but living in such a culturally diverse country meant exposure to lots of different types of cuisines such as Indian, Mexican, Japanese, etc. Not only did we eat these foods in restaurants, we often cooked them at home and our pallets became more accustomed to different flavors like curry or soy sauce as a result. Like any good Spaniard, I enjoy a good tortilla española pretty much any time, but it means that most Spaniards are totally averse to anything with spice. When I go to an ethnic restaurant in Spain I usually have to send the food back to get it spicier, even though I always specify that I want it spicy. The chefs have just become so accustomed to catering to Spanish taste that they fear making something too spicy. Their version of “spicy” is what a Mexican restaurant in the States would call “mild.”
And I don’t just mean spicy spices. What about thyme? Oregano? Dill? The list goes on. A number of spices enrich the flavor of the already great dishes Spaniards prepare, though my suggestion to do so could be blasphemy. At the very least, adding something other than salt to dishes would help to accustom people to other flavors, making it easier to be a more adventurous eater and traveler.
5. Job opportunities before the age of 25
I love that waiters and shopkeepers and the like in Spain are paid a livable wage and don’t have to grovel for tips from (generally unworthy) customers. I also think it’s great that tertiary education is available to all regardless of finances and that students aren’t under pressure to have to work while they are studying. However, I think the U.S. has it right in its encouragement of people from all walks of life in getting some sort of gainful employment from an early age. Not only does it encourage hard work, it means that teenagers aren’t sitting around outside of the mall doing things they probably shouldn’t (like starting to smoke at 14.)
When people get used to working to some extent from an earlier age, they develop an understanding of the value of a dollar (or a euro, as the case may be) earlier and are more prepared to live an adult life. Spain has a big problem with first-year employee training. A lot of time and resources are spent training new employees, not just in their jobs but in the general ways of the working world, which they are getting at 25, 26, 27, etc. years old though they could be getting it earlier in life, even if just from working a few hours a week over the summer or while studying. The way the society is set up now and how the culture encourages things means that even Spaniards who want to get a small job do not have the opportunity.
Runner-ups included: More films and TV shows in original version, obligatory evaluations for teachers, being PC, and Thanksgiving (Ok, I know Spain didn’t have Pilgrims landing on their shores who befriended the natives long enough to break bread before giving them diseases, but turkey and pumpkin pie is freaking delicious.)
Bonus: All things peanut butter. Because let’s be honest – sometimes Nutella just doesn’t cut it.