I never, in a million years, thought I would be buying a wedding dress in Spain. That being said, just a few years ago, I never thought I would be this happy, this in love, and this inspired. So here, standing on a little black box in the middle of a pink marble dressing room, wearing 15 pounds of white silk and a 5 foot diameter skirt, it’s impossible not to smile and reflect on how incredible life can be.
I’m also smiling because I look ridiculous. It’s a very similar style to the little girls we’ve seen dressed in white, poofy communion dresses, waddling behind their moms on the way to church on Sunday. Read: an oversized cupcake. With puffy princess sleeves and a floor-length veil. But, having no way to communicate rather than miming “something tighter” (not the easiest charades move), I try on three similar giant dresses, each one slightly more hilarious than the last.
Let’s just say the experience of buying a wedding dress in Espana has been… interesting. After making an appointment through email (with the help of Google translate), I’m greeted by two women in their 60’s - one stout and round with a tall bun of brown hair; the other with bright orange curls and pink lipstick that goes well beyond her lips. They sit me in front of a book of dresses that I awkwardly thumb through, before getting fed up and saying very loudly “cuánto dinero tiene usted.” I’m in the process of (slowly) learning Spanish, but after traveling through Latin America, I’m quite familiar with the words “cuanto” and “dinero.” I write my budget on a paper and, with a shrug say “mas o menos,” “more or less,” one of my favorite Spanish expressions. Their reaction is clearly not positive. Evidently these giant cupcake dresses cost serious coin.
After two minutes of loud banter (assuming about my sub-par budget) the two disappear and come back with four dresses. I’m steered into the pink marble dressing room, which has mirrors on all four sides, and handed a pair of scary tall (5 inch +) sparkly shoes and a floor-length half slip with three tiers of lace. I put on the slip and wait for the first dress, feeling like I could fall out of the tall shoes and off the black box at any minute. Both women come in, and one motions for me to bend my knees and put my hands above my head. Feeling like I’m acting out a summer camp song wearing nothing but a bra and lace floor-length slip, I mirror her and stretch my arms up. A minute later, I’m miraculously dressed. It’s impressive - one women slips the dress over my head, the other reaches under the skirt and tugs down the layers of silk. The first pulls at the back and pins the straps and the other pulls my hair, twists it into a bun, and sticks a veil on top. Assuming this is simply how it’s done here, I decide to let go and submit to the two Spanish shopkeepers manhandling me through three more dresses. After each dress, I’m asked “esta, o otra esta?” and by the end, I have evidently chosen my wedding dress through a quick process of elimination.
The final dress (which I don’t care for in the least) hangs outside as I get dressed. When I walk out, one of the women writes the price ($100 euro above my budget) on a business card, and places her hand on my back as she walks me toward the door. She literally opens the shop door, steps outside with me, and waves goodbye. The whole process takes less than half an hour.
Walking home, I can’t help but think about that TLC show, “Say Yes to the Dress.” I’m having fantasies of my girlfriends and sister sitting among gorgeous white gowns, sipping champagne and gabbing in English as the friendly shop owner chooses dresses that are actually my style. But, like everything right now, this is a new (and somewhat hilarious) experience that I’m happy to have had.
A few days later, I try again, visiting the store of well-known Spanish fashion designer, Rosa Clara. Some aspects are similar (my budget is too small, I put on the slip thingy and the towering rhinestone heels and am dressed by two women) but the overall experience is much more posh and friendly. The dresses are beautiful and, after two more shops and a few days of deliberation, I end up moving forward with a non-poofy dress that is absolutely stunning. Now, with four months before the wedding (yes, I (now) know this is late to buy a dress), I just need to find shoes with a shorter heel and less glitter. Should be easy enough… right?
We’ve been in Valencia for a few weeks now and are sloooooowly (at a super relaxed, non-rushed, Spanish-style pace) adjusting to life here. Bouncing between feeling excited, overwhelmed, capable, and lost has been a bit exhausting; especially with all the wine, 10pm dinners, and such. But every night, when we go to bed at 1am (or later), we think about all the things we’ve learned so far. Here’s a complete list of our first attempts...
A first attempt at Siesta
The siesta is real. Even in Spain’s third largest city, everything shuts down between 2pm - 5pm-ish every day. Seriously, the city becomes zombie apocalypse level empty. Luckily, we found a grocery store that stays open during this time resulting in the best, most relaxed shopping experience of. all. time. It’s like going to Safeway at 4am… completely deserted.
With the exception of one afternoon when Megan was in a fever-induced flu-like daze, we have yet to sleep during siesta. We’re trying to adjust, but American cultural tendencies are still too deeply rooted in us. We just think about all the things we can get done while everyone else is sleeping and eating. Anyway, we’re hoping to adjust to the slow pace at some point. Either that, or we’ll be the most productive expats Spain has ever seen.
An attempt to open a Spanish bank account
One would think that, with currency in hand, we could open a bank account... right? Wrong. Evidently we need official residency first (and an ID number), information that we learned through a very painful conversation with a bank teller in front of a line of half a dozen annoyed Spaniards. The problem is, we need a bank account to…
...rent a flat
With limited success from our online apartment hunt, we switched up our strategy. Now we just bust in the door of the rental agency, throw out some broken Spanish indicating we have money and need an apartment, and hope for the best.
Renting is different in Spain. Like, way different. Rental agencies charge a fee (one month’s rent!) to both the property owner and renter (!!!), and it’s rare to find an apartment rented without an agency. We’ve seen about ten apartments and have narrowed it down to two top contenders. Unfortunately, neither is available until the end of June, so we’re stuck in AirBnB purgatory for the time being.
Many of the flats we’ve liked won’t rent to us without a Spanish nomina (aka paycheck, which we can’t get until we have residency) even though we’ve offered to pay the whole year up front. One of them required an “Aval Bancario” (Bank Guarantee) on top of a deposit. We would have had to put another year’s worth of rent into an account and pay quarterly interest on top of our rent, just to guarantee the owner we won’t up and leave. Um, no thanks.
The good news… apartments are dirt cheap. Sorry San Francisco friends, but a 1,000 square foot, two bedroom flat in Valencia is less than $750 a month. Hopefully worth the wait.
Getting residency & the infamous NIE
Megan’s EU citizenship means that we both (Ryan through our upcoming matrimony) can be granted Spanish residency. The magic NIE (Numero Identidad de Extranjeria) number will make us employable, able to pay taxes, and therefore also reap the benefits of social health care, education, and more. Oh, and open a bank account to rent a flat.
On our fourth day here, we arrived at the foreigner’s office and attempted to explain our situation, only to be dismissed and told we needed to visit a different office across town. By the time we reached the next office, we were informed that we can’t do anything without an appointment (strange, because we didn’t see anything about an appointment on the website). Pointing to a piece of paper on the door, an officer showed us a mysterious URL which apparently is only available to those who first visit the office in person. Let’s just say Henry Ford wouldn’t be happy with Spanish efficiency.
Bottom line, sometime in June we may get residency. Maybe.
Oh, and the Padron
The padron is some sort of city registration system, that’s apparently commonplace throughout Spain. We’ve read that we’ll need to have this in order to get our NIE, but we’re not sure if we can get one without residency… Somewhere in the distance Mos Def is rapping, “Why do I need ID to get ID? If I had ID I wouldn’t need ID.”
The Nomina (Spanish paycheck)
What we need to rent an apartment. Unattainable without an NIE, which may be unattainable without a padron, which may be unattainable without residency.
Yes, we are just as confused as you are.
Finally, making friends
A few days after arriving we attended an expat “mixer,” hoping to get some local tips and maybe make a couple friends. To better understand the mixer, think of a mandatory networking event for work, where everyone there is that strange old guy who’s been with the company for three decades and wants to tell you every single thing he’s learned over the years.
So, evidently there are a lot of Europeans that have retired in Valencia. They hang out at the beach, enjoying the sun and mild climate. They’re all friends and they were definitely all at this event. As newbies, we struggled to find our place, eventually zeroing in on the half dozen or so attendees under 40. We enjoyed some strained, awkward conversation before deciding to ditch the place for a bar across the street.
Needless to say, we didn’t walk away with any new friends. We agreed to stay open minded and not completely disregard this expat group. That being said, we’ll probably give it a month or so before signing up for our second round of social torture.
We’re excited to say goodbye to AirBnB and find a permanent place to live! We’ll be enrolling in Spanish lessons soon (there are very few English speakers in Valencia) and have our eyes set on some part-time jobs. In the meantime, we’re coping with the challenges of moving to a foreign country by drinking too much sangria, going to the beach on weekday afternoons, and eating tons of tortilla espanola! Not bad.
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