Greetings from the balmy state of Chicago where the cicadas are chirping louder than the bustling traffic of Madrid. Some of you may be aware of this already, but I have been wrapping up some paperwork in the States, while taking some extra time to visit friends, family and of course, wine shops throughout the Midwest.
It’s a strange phenomenon to come back to the States after a year and a half of sharp cheese, spicy wines, delicious fruit, the latest in fashion trends, intense sun and frightening reality TV shows. There were times in Spain when I dreamt of what great customer service would be like again, having a waiter actually see when you needed attention, or the convenience of being able to return something to a store without having to travel halfway across the city. But now, after four weeks, I’ve become acutely aware of how great it can be staying in my home country and the things I desperately miss about Spain.
Hospitality There is nothing better than having someone smile at you when you walk in the door of an establishment. It allows me to feel both welcomed and valued, a behavior that will most likely translate to my being a repeat customer.
Efficiency Americans are fabulous about this and it is something that I value now more than ever. Returning or exchanging a product can occur within minutes, rather than hours. We have becomes masters at the delineation or the delegation of responsibility, allowing me, the customer, to get what I need quickly and efficiently.
Variety How cool is it to be able to go into a wine shop and find Sake from Japan, Aquavit from Norway and Ginja from Portugal all in one store. Although I cringe at the idea of globalization, where the same products can be found on any corner in every city, there is something wonderful about choice!
Not having my husband with me. Although it may not be of great interest to you, it’s one that pulls on my heart strings all the same.
Community I miss being able to go to local shops on my block where people both know me and go out of their way to interact with me, including me in their everyday lives. Take Pedro from Peru who fixed my shoes and waved hello to me every time I passed the shop, or the woman in the Herbal shop who appreciated the time I would take to open the door and shout a quick hello as I went to Retiro for a run. Although we find this same trend here, I think it’s a little different when Izzy, as written on the nametag, at Target tells me that she hopes to see me again soon. Call me crazy, but it seems her enthusiasm lacks a bit of sincerity.
Cars I miss not having a car, being able to hop on public transportation wherever I am or just being able to walk up the street to our local wine shop. Typically, I feel that we mistake independence for dependence, believing a car means freedom. But for me, I feel that by forming a relationship with my local wine shop because it’s situated not a few blocks from my home means ultimate freedom. I am free from traffic, fuel, parking and the sheer act of driving itself
Saturation As much as I like a friendly smile as I sit down in a restaurant, I also love to dine without having someone constantly inundate me with questions as to whether I’m ready to order, if I like the food, am I finished with my meal, or can I please pay so that my server can go home. I miss the long leisurely dining experience without the interrogations.
Another interesting phenomenon I have discovered is how vastly different each wine store is in their knowledge of Spanish and Portuguese wine. I assumed that generally, we all would agree that Spanish wine is becoming a major player in the international wine market, while Portuguese wine has peaked people’s interest, but hasn’t quite reached any level of competition as of yet. Intriguingly, I found a strange trend where three stores told me that Spanish wine is “out” and that their customers only want Californian wine. One retailer went so far to say that his customers stopped buying Spanish wine two years ago leading him to reduce his Spanish wine selection. “How odd”, I thought, considering that all the major wine retail stores have difficulty keeping some Iberian wine labels because of the high demand. If anyone has any thoughts as to why there is this discrepancy, I would love to hear it.
I’ll send another update soon, but in the meantime, have a glass of Cava for me!