So we’ve been here a few weeks and what have we noticed thus far? What’s new, what’s unexpected, what’s different, what’s surprising?
I think the top of the list is the different pace of life: much slower. You drive slower, you eat slower, and if you’re trying to speak Spanish, you talk slower. Its not just the difference between living in a big city (like Washington DC) and a small town. I grew up in a small town, and even when we lived in the city, we visited several small towns every year.
People seem more present in the moment, and not in a great hurry to the next thing on their agenda. I have seen some locals walking glued to a smartphone, and even a few driving that way, but nowhere near the number back in the States. Drivers let other cars into line, pull right to let others pass on a narrow road, or even let someone cut a long queue by driving on the shoulder. I think the concept is: if you’re in a big hurry, you must have a good reason, and the rest of us are just glad we are not in a hurry.
That “being in the moment” is not only a function of time, its also a function of simply being. Since people are present with one another, there seems to be a real attempt to have higher quality interactions with each other. For example, workers want to be good at what they do, and want you to recognize them for their quality. So far, I have met several everyday workmen: delivering my furniture, gardening, installing or fixing appliances in my house. They don’t have that “wish I was doing something else” look I was familiar with, and they seemed genuinely interested in whether I approved of how and what they were doing for me.
One example: we arranged for an electrician to fix our laundry room’s fluorescent lights, which were buzzing and blinking. It gave the room the look of a creepy abandoned lab in a sci-fi movie. When he came on Saturday, he realized I didn’t even have a ladder for him to use to get up at the light. “No problemo,” he tells me, and leaves to find a ladder and return. I hoped it was just an issue of bad bulbs, but when he returned, he showed me that the bulbs worked in some sockets and not in others, so it was the step-down transformer attached to the lights that needed to be replaced. He suggested the fixtures were pretty old, and who wants fluorescent lights anyway, so he offered to go to the store and buy replacement lights for me.
On Monday he e-mails me photos of different options from the store. We choose the same basic light, but he explains he can switch out the internals so the light works off a regular bulb: Great! When he arrives Tuesday to install the lights, he realizes the new regular bulb won’t fit inside the old cover. So he takes the lights back to his house where he has the tools to carve a hollow out of the plastic so it will fit. Then he returns to my place, installs the lights and sweeps the floor of the laundry room.
As he is about to leave, he asks if I smell gas. I say no, but he says he could smell it pretty strong, and he has been in my laundry room for several hours over several days. He asks for some dish soap, and he checks the gas connection and it bubbles, indicating a leak. He borrows a wrench I have and tightens the connection and its fixed. No charge.
Now stateside, I would have been installing the lights (with much swearing), or if I contracted someone else to do it, there would have been teeth-gnashing about bulbs, the lights, etc. Oh and don’t even think of fixing the gas leak!
It was not the most efficient process, obviously. But the lights got replaced, everything works, and the electrician showed off some real “McGyver” skills. Everybody went home happy.