We watch our fresh pints settle.
‘And your hates of Bilbao?’ Arantxa asks.
‘Shit,’ I say.
‘We did it all wrong.’
‘We should have done the hates first, then the loves, so we finish on a good note.’
‘I guess…Anyway, tell me.’
‘Okay, but don’t get mad.’
I sip my pint.
‘Well first thing,’ I begin, ‘ is the rain here. It’s really bad.’
‘But you are from Ireland!’
‘Yeah but when it rains here, it really rains. The last two weekends it has rained non-stop.’
‘It is true. But in Ireland it is the same, no?’
‘The rain is worse here. I mean I was living in Ireland for thirty two years and I never owned an umbrella.’
‘Yes. And I bought my first umbrella after two months here.’
Arantxa isn’t quite happy but moves the conversation along anyway.
‘Eh…well…it can be quite grim and industrial here. When I get the train into Ametzola all I see are spray painted walls, cheerless buildings, cranes eternally waiting to swing into action and empty platforms with posters advertising films that were out long ago. And on the hills-’
‘You said you loved the hills.’
‘I do but it’s a pity that there are these huge telephone masts on top of them.’
‘You should have seen Bilbao in the early nineties because it was a lot worse. Now we have the Guggenheim, the metro and beautiful riverside walkways. I think you say this because of where you live. In the city around Casco Viejo and Abando it is very beautiful, no?’
‘There are parts of every city that are not beautiful but you do not see this because you are not there long.’
Aranxta sips her pint.
I take out my wallet and produce a flimsy green card and show it to her. She nods. It’s my NIE, a card that basically says; Hello. I’m a foreigner. I live and work here. You need to have one if you are working in Spain.
‘Okay. This is my next hate; bureaucracy. Getting into the mafia is probably easier than obtaining this flimsy card. I was passed back and forth from the Police Headquarters in Bilbao to social services in Santurtzui, to the bank. Each office gave me a form to fill, then sent me back to the last place. I hadn’t a clue what was going on. I’d just take a ticket, get in line and, when my turn came, spill my mounting paper work onto the desk, only to be told I was missing some form and sent back to the last place.’
‘Yes. Well, we hate it too. What else?’
‘It’s a bit of a cultural thing but I don’t like how late you guys eat. Eating dinner at 9 and 10 o’clock at night isn’t healthy. It is too late and when it’s time for going to bed I’m wide awake. And everybody gets up early here. When the fuck do you guys sleep?’
‘During the day – siesta.’
‘Did you take a siesta today?’
‘I’m beginning to think this is the most sleep deprived country in Europe.’
‘Yes but when I was in Ireland everyone had dinner at 6 o’clock. Then at 10’clock you eat again because you are hungry again. I put on weight when I was in Ireland.’
Arantxa counts it out.
‘The rain, industrial appearance or whatever, bureaucracy, eating late; that’s four.’
‘Okay; last thing is that the Supermarkets are always closed on Sunday. Again, it’s just something I have to get used to, but it annoys me when I wake up on Sunday with no food in the fridge and then I remember the supermarket is closed.’
‘The Chinese shops are open on Sundays.’
‘Well why can’t the supermarkets open too?’
‘They let the Chinese shops open as they are trying to encourage foreign investment. Some Supermarket chains are pushing for Sunday opening but it’s against the law at the moment.’
‘Does it bother you?’
‘We should be able to survive one day without a supermarket, no?’
‘True. Anyway – they’re the five things I hate about Bilbao; but, hate is a strong word.’
‘Yes. Too strong.’
We sip our pints.