4 Ways Spain Makes Me Feel Stupid

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I wouldn’t say I’m the smartest person in the world or anything, but I know I ain’t the dumbest. I mean, I generally manage to be a fast learner in any subject. I can read and write in full sentences…in a few langauges (toot toot). I watch just as much TED Talks as I do Real Housewives of Atlanta. And I have a fancy piece of paper that says I graduated from college, or whatever. But apparently, none of that matters since I’ve moved over to Spain. At least once a day, I screw up something incredibly simple and it makes me feel like I’be dropped at least 15 IQ points.


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In America, doors are pretty simple. A quick turn of a key unlocks them, and a small twist of a knob pushes them open. Easy, right? Well out here in Madrid, things are different. Nine times out of ten, a knob on a door is only there for decoration – IF the door bothers to have a knob at all. And then there’s the small matter of locks. My first night in Madrid, I probably spent 10 minutes outside my Airbnb having a panic attack because I couldn’t figure out how unlock the damn door. All I could think was, “Shit, it’s the first day of my year abroad and I’m already going to have to sleep on the street”. Thank God the roommate was home and managed to hear me. She let me know that in order to properly lock/unlock the door, I had to turn the key FIVE FREAKIN TIMES. I’m sure I looked as pitiful as I felt being bested by a giant slab of metal and wood that day.

Floor Plans

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So my thighs I have quickly learned that in Europe, the ground level of a building is considered floor 0. The actual first floor starts at what Americans consider the second floor, and depending on the building, the entrance can be as low as level -1 or as high as level 2. I’ve been living in Spain for more than a month, and I still VERY frequently enter a building and end up at the wrong door because I’m still a floor or two above/below the apartment I’m looking for.

“Hola, aquí esta la oficina de administración?”

“No, no, no! Esta dos puertas más arriba!”



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Americans have 4 main coins in our currency: pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters – worth 1 cent, 5 cents, 10 cents, and 25 cents, respectively. And no one really cares about pennies (poor guys), so that  makes it only 3 coins that we use the most. Well in Spain, that is definitely not the case. There are 8 coins in heavy rotation: 1 cent, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, 1 euro, and 2 euros. My little ol’ American mind simply can´t grasp the concept of carrying so much change at once. Everytime I have to pay for something, finding the right coins becomes a full-blown archaelogical dig. I can always count on a symphony of sighs from the line of people waiting behind me.


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In case you didn’t know, I’m a native Chicagoan. Most of the city is fashioned like a grid (with perpendicular intersections). Grid cities are my favorite because they’re the easiest to navigate and simplest to memorize. Because of that, I´ve sort of prided myself on having a good sense of direction all my life…aaaaaaand then I got to Madrid. Bruh, the streets are laid like someone threw some string up in the air and paved the roads in whatever fashion they fell.

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left: Chicago; right: Madrid

I´ve started leaving up to an hour before I need to arrive at my destination, just to accomodate the HIGHLY likely chance that I get lost on the way. The sad part of that, though, is that it rarely ever seems to make a difference.



Has anything ever made you feel stupid abroad?


About Lauren Victoria 87 Articles
Lauren is a Chicago native and budget traveler obsessed with foreign languages, neuropsychology, dancing, and applesauce. She recently quit her full-time job in social services to be a human English dictionary in Madrid, Spain.