Things Not to Expect in your Spanish Flat

“Oh, yeah, amigdalitis isn’t strep, Cat, it’s tonsilitis.” Immediately visions of guy Rimbey’s tonsil operation in the fourth grade had me queasy again. I asked Kelly what to do.

“So you just need to heat a glass of water in the microwave and then…” Stop right there, chiquilla. I don’t have a microwave. Come to think of it, I have very few appliances, save my olla express, miniprimer hand blender and the unused flatiron grill I got Kike for Christmas last year.
I thought back to arriving at my apartment in Triana not four years ago. Eager to meet my roommates in 1ºD, I didn’t bother to look around the flat to see what it had to offer me. After all, I found it on the Internet and Melissa, who was to become a good amiga, didn’t go into much detail about what we had – or what we didn’t. I just rolled with the punches, you could say.

Taking stock of the appliances and kitchen supplies later, there were: random cutlery, unmatched pots and pans, a paella maker, a low-power microwave, a broken iron and a hot water heater. The TV was a mystery to turn on, but the gas-lit water tank took the cake. Literally, because I had no oven to bake one in.

My piso when I arrived, circa September 2007
Gas tanks, or bombonas, are ugly orange excuses for hot showers or boiling water. Buy one of these suckers and you’re guaranteed four minutes of hot water (we had a shower schedule) if it’s full. We learned to turn off the water while shampooing, respect our shower hours or wash our hair in the biday, use the teeny water heater for soups and tea and deal with lighting the stove.

I came to love that house on C/Numancia, even with all of the broken things and heavy wooden furniture. Our landlords gave us permission to paint, gave us money for new pots and pans and Sanne’s boyfriend brought over a toaster. We even got a sandwich maker, which was used seldomly because it was a PAIN to clean.

Enjoying a lighter and cuter painted salón

Moving into Kike’s house was a treat. He has an oven and an electric water tank heater, so I can take long showers right after he does. But where’s the microwave? And the dryer? I’ve had to make toast in the oven, fry hot dogs and follow the weather forecast in order to have my clothes hang dry on the line outside my fourth-floor apartment.

If you’re thinking of coming to Southern Spain and expect to find everything in condition like your house back home, think again. Here are four things you’d be lucky to find in an older house:

Central Heating

When I tell people I’m from Chicago, they usually remark, “Ooooh, it must be so cold there!” Yeah, sure, it’s a frozen tundra in the winter, but at least we have sensible coats and heat our homes. Because Andalucía gets so warm in the summer, the houses are more equipped for the hot months. this means white walls, tile floors and a thing called a brasero under your living room table. You’re better off buying a big rug and extra throw blanket from IKEA, along with a small space heater. Just don’t leave it on when you’re not around or at night!


When my host mother had to deal with my vegetarian roommate who hated fish, she asked one question: Well, what do I make? Emily suggested simply buying a frozen pizza, but poor Aurora couldn’t even figure out how to turn on the oven! even my boyfriend, a born and bred Spaniard, uses the oven for very few things, relying instead on the stove top.

Automatic Stove top

Yeah, that’s the other thing. As I mentioned above, the whole stove thing is tricky. You need to find the nearest dollar store, buy a bit box of matches and turn on the bombona tank. Then, careful enough not to singe your hair or burn off your fingers, turn the stove dials and throw the match on it. At least, that’s how this anti-pyro did it. These oven are practical to save gas, but they sure suck. I am happy to clean and re-clean my vitro ceramica!

Clothes Dryer
Ains, the crux of my existence. I hate that my underwear gets hung out the balcony for all the neighbors to see, and I hate that line that I have to iron out of shirts. After four years, I’ve mastered how to adequately hang things so that they’ll dry, but I hate the fit and missing that the out-of-the-dryer feeling. My requirement for our next house? You guessed it – a dryer.

Just My Luck

Well, I’ve managed to do it again. Two years ago, on our first day in Valladolid, I locked Emily, Madre and myself out on our balcony. Emily climbed through the bathroom window and let us in. Apparently Spanish terraces lock from the inside.

This morning, I was cleaning off the terrace while Eva was having a smoke and I closed the door so that I could wipe down the windows. Eva said, “A few weeks ago, before you arrived, I locked myself out here. It took me 20 minutes to get in.” and I said, “You silly girl! How did you get in? Did someone come?” And she said, “No, but now we must find a way in since we have locked the door.” DUH. I stayed calm, thinking, Melissa won’t be home for a few days, but I at least have a sheet out here so we can keep warm and we could really scrub down the balcony. Eva can light one of her stubs when she wants a nicotine fix. Eva tried to use the broom to pry the door open, and I considered taking the door off the hinge. I didn’t find any hinges.

Then, I got an idea. I knew my keys were on the desk where I’m writing from. It’s right next to the window. I figured I could stand on the outside of the terrace’s wrought iron gate and grab them, after I’d maneuvered them to the side of the desk next to the window. I would have climbed through the window, but there are bars on them. My plan was successful. As Eva held me around the waist, I grabbed the keys and climbed back onto the terrace.

So now we had keys, and I was considering jumping from the first floor down to the street and walking in and retrieving my roommate. She wouldn’t let me. I flagged down a lady walking with some grocery bags, son in hand. I kind of explained to her what happened then threw my keys to her. She came and got us and told us to lay off the bottle. I just said, “Uh huh, ok!” But we were inside!!

Other than that mishap, things are fine. I met the Sevilla team for a drink and to discuss the semester’s work. One of them is from Chicago, so we got along immediately and have since gone and eaten together. I like teaching a lot, too. When I leave, the students will stand by the door and wave their hand and say, “Goodbye American teacher!” The other teachers in the school are all very nice, too. One of them invited me to a horse race this weekend, or out to a movie. Too bad he is about 60. Oh Raf.

If I’ve got one complaint, it’s that I haven’t made a ton of friends. I wanted to go out last night and experience the nightlife, but no one was going out. Well, except Kelly, but she didn’t call me until 2 am and I was already sleeping. I need to suck it up and go out on a school night and just sleep during the day!

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