Archive | February, 2012

An open love letter to Barcelona

Posted on 26 February 2012 by American expat!

 

Barcelona, I really hate that you insist upon construction work dragging on every day until what most people consider to be nighttime. For example, it is now 8:30pm and there is some ridiculously loud drilling going on in the flat above mine. I suppose the hammering will follow next, as it did last night until after 9pm. Did I mention I work at night, from home?

But I am not going to turn this into a criticism session. Because for all your faults, there are so many things I really love about you.

First, let me tell you how much I appreciate your Greater Middle East area of Raval. You’re hosting some damn fine Indian, Pakistani, Afghani, Iranian and Armenian restaurants and bakeries. Fort super cheap, I might add.

I love the unexpected art I come across every day. I found these little gems when I walked out on a jetty to greet a fat puppy sniffing around at the cats who live in the jetties.

Speaking of the beach, now that Spring is here, the Chiringuitos are all out on the sand, playing music and serving up drinks. Love. Them.

chiringuitos on the beach in barcelona

And though I may not be able to find cottage cheese anywhere within your city walls (except for Carrefour Express on La Ramble, but it’s horrible UK cottage cheese), anything resembling real Mexican food, or convenient food like pre-shredded chicken in bags that I am accustomed to preparing for myself like a good American, I do love the entertaining variety of foods I can find in the larger supermarkets.

Yes, the name of those cookies translates to “Nun Nipples” and that’s an awfully hoochie looking nun pictured on the box. And you being Catholic no less.

Which brings me to the naked people. God how I love seeing your naked citizens walking around, riding bikes, or otherwise remaining undisturbed in their nudity. I especially love seeing the British tourist and their children stop in their tracks to stare open mouthed, while your Catalunyan grandmothers pass by arm in arm without a break in their conversations.

naked people in barcelona

But the thing I probably appreciate the most is your lack of airport security. I know, I know, I’ve said it before. But that fact that you don’t make me take off my sweatshirt, shoes or earrings and that you don’t blink when I put this in my carry on and pass it through security X-ray:

Barcelona airport security is lax.

It just makes my life so much easier.

Oh and also when I misspell my own name on my boarding pass. Thanks for letting that slide, too.

Love,

Me

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I’m like that foreign exchange student you made fun of

Posted on 17 February 2012 by American expat!

 

Remember that kid in high school? The one whose English you laughed at, not to mention the way she dressed and wore her hair? Maybe you said a few words to her in the lunch room or if her locker was located next to yours, but you usually didn’t bother chatting with her too long because she had trouble understanding you and, let’s face it, you had nothing in common. Now take that same situation and make her a couple decades older, add  couple of degrees and 5 additional countries to her list of places once called home and make the setting not school but work, and you have me. Well, first subtract all of her charm, and then you have me.

I write intensely in English all day and then must communicate and listen in Spanish. Sometimes people speak about what is going on to me and other journalists in languages I don’t understand and sometimes they speak Spanish, but sometimes I am not listening during those Spanish language moments. But if I am, I still have difficulty understanding (*sometimes. Let’s stick with the theme).

This becomes especially troublesome when unspoken rules regarding the particular content I am working on are present. I inevitably discover many of said unspoken rules by making mistakes. In fact, it is the only way I discover many of the rules, secret or not. This method of “training” is fairly standard here in Spain. And while the new kid on the block is floundering through said training, the cool kids are sitting back and rolling their eyes as mistakes pour in.

I am not suffering the cruel tricks that you all played on the exchange student, like helping her out with responses to teacher’s requests with phrases such as “why don’t YOU sit down, woman?”  In fact, the people I work with are nice as well as talented and capable. But  European corporate culture generally has remained old school in that there are no processes defined for how work gets done. Some have emerged organically, but nothing is documented and therefore nothing exists to pass on to any newcomers. Meaning: There is nothing to base any training on, no way to share knowledge or lessons learned nor anything to base required skills and abilities on for a job that opens up. Those jobs are largely defined around the person that previously held the job. Which means when that person goes, so does special job knowledge.

Of course, there are old school water cooler conversations for knowlege sharing that happen…but because of the subtelties of language that I am incapable of picking up on and producing, I don’t attempt to initiate casual conversations about work, that in itself is too much work. And since I’m the weird language exchange kid, I am not included anyway.

I realize this is kind of a big bitch-fest, but in a roundabout way it is also praise for the US corporate model. Not something you would generally consider when you think of the word ‘homesick’, but for me it ranks big. Like the exchange kid, my best friends, confidants and family are in my country of origen. If I have a bad day or feel lonely, I don’t have a community at work to fall back on, at least not yet anyway. (As it happens, I am feeling particularly lonely after a fantastic time with my best friends in the US.  To top it off, one of my only two good friends here is leaving in July.)

So I don’t know what the exchange student did when she felt isolated. Probably nothing. Just waited to go home. Or maybe she called her mom. Me, I am just going to keep at it, there isn’t much I can do about the corporate culture and I don’t care if they think I am a crazy American. I am unmotivated to improve my Spanish because I am too tired, I am working hard. We will see this year if the trade off is worth it. If not, this exchange kid might just be heading back to her friends and family in her country of origin. (!!)

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Spanish red tape

Posted on 12 February 2012 by American expat!

One of the most frustrating things about living here are the hurdles (aka red tape) the Spanish bureaucracy forces you to jump through.

Spain is world famous for this, and if you have been reading this blog, you will have a taste of what I am talking about.

I ran across a video last year the perfectly sums up the attitude and behavior of the government workers who you will come face to face with. Rather than detail how they seem to take it upon themselves, for whatever reason, to make it as difficult as possible for you to get what you need as far as visas, identity cards, changing your status–all of which always need to be done before you will be allowed to do something else–here is a fantastic video that portrays someone who knows what they are up against coming face to face with a government worker!

 

 

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