Archive | February, 2014

City dogs

Posted on 17 February 2014 by American expat!

It’s 9PM and I’m in the pijo part of the city center, waiting for friends. Because I am actually on time–which in Barcelona is early–I am the only one to have yet arrived for dinner. It is a nice night, so I  wait outside and watch a group of dog owners gathered for some evening canine playtime. This is the center of the city where there are parks, though they are small and not numerous. So local residents, who live on this foot traffic only street, meet in the evenings with their pups to let them socialize and play. It is a street of stamped cement and some kind of lighter colored paving stones, with trees poking through holes cut out in the cement that the dogs sniff around. Most importantly, there are no cars, and because of this there multiple benches lining the walking thoroughfare.

I sit at one of the benches and watch the group of owners and their pets. The people chat with each other about their dogs, as most dog owners will: the breeds,  ages, behavior. I note that every one of the dogs is some kind of pure bred sporting dog. There is nary a mutt among them. You see some mutts in my neighborhood–along with clowders of feral cats that locals supply food and makeshift shelters for–but I’m sure each of these lovely dogs in this neighborhood was purchased for large sums. I note that not one of them is neutered, and am not surprised, as that would be a rare sight anywhere in this city.

The dogs are delightful of course. A four month old yellow lab tumbles around with a feisty little Jack Russell puppy. A gentle, smiling Golden Retriever visits with some children. An adult yellow lab with a ball entices a glossy black Cocker Spaniel to chase her. She calmly trots in a wide circle, tail waving to and fro, toenails clicking on the cement, ball in her mouth. The Cocker gallumps clumsily after her. Eventually the lab flops on her side, head on the ground, to chew her ball Labrador-style.  The dumb Cocker proceeds to hump her head.

The group fractions. One woman moves away to talk on her phone. Another calls after his wayward Golden, who is off to politely solicit the nearby restaurant patrons seated in this plaza. Eventually leashes are attached, toys gathered, and playtime is over. My friends arrive and I enter the restaurant, where I find all varieties of fowl on the menu- the very kind these sporting dogs are supposed to, but will never, retrieve.

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No tacos here

Posted on 11 February 2014 by American expat!

Due to the fact that a third of Americans and even Canadians I encounter through work don’t even know that Spain is in Europe (link is to a personal blog but I ranted about this very subject one day), I have taken to stating that I live in Barcelona, Spain and add that it is about an hour from the border of France. The response has been markedly different than I when merely say “Spain”.  (Though if I don’t want to bother with the long phrase, I will just say Europe.) That always gets a big “lucky you!” much like when I lived in Italy or Hawaii, and not the typical blank stare when I don’t elaborate on where it actually is on the map.

I’m pretty sure this is because in North America, everything coming from and existing below Texas is referred to as “Spanish”, even though the only thing remotely Spanish would be the language (and that doesn’t even apply to the largest country in South America). So people get all confused. They freely mix the terms Latin and Spanish and this gets crossed over to people as well. I have heard plenty of individuals from Colombia, Cuba, Puerto Rico, etc referred to as Spanish.

If North Americans do know that Spain is in Europe, then it is still rather common for them to expect it to be full of Mariachi bands and tacos. I have actually listened to American students arriving from the airport excitedly describing what they think Plaza Catalunya will be like, and that description included Mariachi bands playing giant guitars. And I just had to explain to my mother (who actually is well traveled) that a tortilla in Spain is not the same as a tortilla in Mexico. She kept asking if a Spanish tortilla was made of bread, or corn, or flour and had trouble understanding that it is not something you wrap around other foods. Tortilla is its own dish, made of eggs and potatoes and usually onions and is like a chunky frittata that you eat with a fork. It wasn’t until we actually served it to her than she understood that the word tortilla isn’t ubiquitous for “round, flat starchy thing you fill with beans and rice”. And of course, it goes without saying that Spaniards don’t eat the tacos or burritos that Mexican tortillas would be an integral part of.

None of this would be remotely interesting if it weren’t for the fact that the neighbor to the north-east, France, never suffers this misappropriation. You don’t tell someone you live in France and have them think you live in Niger. They know immediately that you are eating crepes and paté and not Bánh mì while you lounge topless in Biarritz. And neither does the next neighbor to the East, Italy. Most people can not only identify the national dish but can even point it out on a map, thanks to the unique footwear shape of the jutting land mass. Neither of which anyone who hasn’t been here can do for Spain. People will refer to it as a city in Brazil, a Central American continent or “one of those countries down there”, but it is a rare occasion when someone utters “I’ve always wanted to go there…” while looking wistfully off into the distance when I merely name the country wherein I now reside.

Which is fine by me. It means there aren’t hordes of Americans migrating seasonally to this country looking for glamor. That’s a job for our neighbors France and Italy.

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