I like to socialize. I thrive on being around people. Most people know that about me. That’s one thing I did enjoy about being a restaurant manager. I was constantly dealing with people. Making sure our guests were happy, making sure my employees were doing a great job, working together with my co-managers to make sure our ship was sailing well. And being a Witness really demands significant social interaction too. And I like it!
So imagine someone like myself being on the other side of the world, coming to no one and having to start all over. I knew I had to get integrated quickly to try and get to know people as quickly as I could. I was excited that David, one of my best friends from back home, would be visiting Europe to vacation with me at the end of March. I knew it would be the boost I needed to keep going and feel a little taste of California even while in another continent. We made VERY ambitious travel plans that included Paris, London (for one day), Paris (again), and San Sebastian all over the course of one week. But as excited as I was for that, I definitely needed social time to tide me over until then.
I’d get together sometimes with the other 20-somethings in the hall. A few times my neighbor, Guillermo and I would go to each other’s places, have a couple other young ones from the hall over and watch movies, such as “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (that movie is so weird, but so great) or “Toy Story 3” (I can’t think of ever seeing a better animated movie; watch it again!). Of course, visits to his place would afford me more opportunities to get my Wi-Fi fix like a heroin addict.
When I got here, I met a sister named Carmen, followed shortly thereafter by another sister named Veronica. Both of them are from Southern California, so that instantly drew us to each other. It was a nice relief to have times where I could speak English as fast as I wanted, throw in slang, make references to the “405”, Trader Joe’s, Pizookie (can you tell I’m missing those?) and other things that were distinctly American. By comparison, I know the brothers like to get some freedom to freely speak Spanish when we aren’t around too, so it all balances out.
We have gotten some great opportunities to go out while we’ve been here. Zaragoza is a much mellower town than Madrid or Barcelona, so you’ve got to be aware and with the right people to find fun things to do in the city—because they definitely exist.
One thing that definitely comes to mind when people think about food in Spain is tapas. These are Spanish style small plates that sometimes are served on little pieces of bread. They can be topped with a ton of different things… exotic cheese, savory salmon or cod, a mix of peppers and meat, the options are really endless. One place that was really cool was a tapas place in an area of Zaragoza called “el tubo”. This is a series of “tubes” or alleyways that are packed with little restaurants, plenty of bars, Roman ruins (yeah!! They’re rad!!), and plenty of places to hang out. We went to one bar where you choose a tapa AND a drink (even beer and wine) for just 2€. Seeing as the Euro and the dollar are super close in value right now, imagine that. You could get a beer AND a mini-appetizer for about 2 bucks! Insane huh? And I was glad to have experienced Zaragoza natives there to catch me before I accidentally went through with my order of blood-laced meatballs. Yikes!
The following night, I went home and changed after service we went out again to a nicer tapas place. I definitely enjoy service, but getting on the bus and going out without a tie, collared shirt, and service bag was a huge relief. Still, the plates were cheap, maybe 2 or 3€ with inexpensive beer and wine. (Notice I didn’t say “cheap” beer and wine, because it was good stuff!) These had toppings that were more intricate than those we’d had the night before, with a classier atmosphere. It felt like those trendy new restaurants that you’ll find in LA, or like something in the Anaheim Packing House. Even though alcohol isn’t expensive, it’s cool that it’s not the mentality of people here to just get drunk for really cheap. They come out, drink AND eat, and aren’t looking to get wasted. They just want to be out and enjoy themselves, even having some drinks outside the bars in the “tubo” alleyways. Nice and mellow.
After that second night out of tapas, it had gotten late. It was approaching midnight and some of the buses had stopped running. My walk form the center of Plaza España to my apartment would’ve been quite a trek at this point (and at a low temperature… low 40’s). But that’s where Junilo and Lindsay came to the rescue. They’re a super nice Canadian pioneer couple who’ve been in Zaragoza English for about six years. Lindsay suggested that Junilo take me back home on their Vespa.
A Vespa? I thought. I’d never been on one before! It sounded super European, so I was down to give it a try! We got to their apartment and Junilo got suited up, as did I…. in Lindsay’s helmet and dainty white gloves haha. It was pretty funny squeezing my big head into her helmet and getting saddled up behind a Filipino-Canadian man who’s about half my size. I gripped onto the handles down to my side and we pulled off.
The next five minutes were probably the best five minutes of my life.
That Vespa ride was SO FUN!!! I definitely recommend that for anyone. I’m not gonna lie, being a 230 lb guy on the back of the scooter was scary; I was afraid I would tip us both over and fall to my early death under the tiresof a Citroen. But we made it home. I felt like a little kid on the back of that Vespa. I could NOT stop grinning. It was so fun and exhilarating winding through the streets on the frigid evening. Definitely a huge highlight!
The next night Alex and Maria organized a “cheese party” for the congregation. I’ll be honest, this does not sounds like something I’d be into attending back at home. But I knew that things are different here, and social time with the hall would be important. I had it in my calendar and I was excited to go. My excitement was well placed. The party was really well attended by most of the congregation at a clubhouse in their apartment complex. There were plenty of types of exotic cheeses that people brought to share and sample, a surefire way to cause some internal plumbing issues for all of us the next day. But it was worth it.
We played some games after. Some of us played the card game “Spoons”, except with toothpicks, made it twice as fun was fun. Everyone also got involved in another pretty hilarious game. Everyone was divided into two single file lines of about 20 or so. We had to pass a pillow over our heads to the person in the back of the line, who had to run to the front of the line and start the process again. The first team to have everyone complete the circuit won. Also, super fun! We also finished with this ninja style game, where each person goes in a circle striking a ninja style pose to smack the hand of the person to his left or right. It’s a bit hard to explain, but pretty fun to play. Again, these were things I wouldn’t normally be inclined to do on a Saturday night at home, but I had such a great time. I felt like I was in the picture for a Watchtower lesson on social gatherings haha. But it was a great time to expand my association with my new congregation and enjoy a night out with them.
It got to the point where I was actually able to turn down invitations! What?! That’s when I got more to the point where I thought, “OK, I made it, I actually have friends here.” Aitor’s family had me over for lunch multiple times, I would go to people’s homes in the afternoons and evenings, it was just great overall to feel that social energy form the congregation. The invitations from different friends form the congregation were constant and always really appreciated.
I was really liking it here.