Archive | Daily Life

Back in the Classroom…

Posted on 21 June 2012 by American expat!

It’s been a year since my last Spanish class, and while I attempted to continue taking classes 2x a week while I was working at an office job here last year, the attempt lasted little more than a month. The job proved to be too unpredictable as far as the hours were concerned and I could rarely make it to class by the 7:45pm break time let alone the 6:30pm starting time.

So now that I am working mostly from home and can manage my own time again, I am back in the classroom 2 hours a day, four times a week, practicing the subjunctive tense and common phrases I do not use but should. The bad thing about reaching the level of proficiency that allows you to communicate with anyone (as long as it doesn’t get too technical)  is that you tend to get stuck at that level. Plus I’d like to be able to have a phone conversation where I don’t process what the person on the other line said until after I hang up.

But I didn’t have much money to spend.  I’ve attended five different schools over the course of 3.5 years and none of them were cheap. Sure some were cheaper than others, but I didn’t have the 100+ per week even the cheapest course wanted for 8 hours a week. Somehow, in my search for discounted Spanish class, I came across a course advertised as “nearly free Spanish lessons” at a well known language school in the center, International House. (In fact, I likely typed that exact phrase into my preferred search engine, so kudos to the SEO manager, your search terms work).

This is the kind of stellar deal I was looking for: 40 Euros for 8 hours a week for three weeks. I had to take a verbal test for placement to sign up with no guarantees the class would be held, but here it is, the end of the second week and I am more than happy with my cheap-o class. It is a teacher training course, so we get a new teacher rotate from the back of the classroom every 20 minutes or so. Some of them are good, some of them suck, and honestly if I were learning some of the things we cover for the very first time, I might be a bit lost. But it’s all review for me and if a particular teacher sucks I just tune out for 20 minutes until the next one takes the front of the class.

What’s more, not only is one of my best friends also in the class, but so are the usual characters that come with a language course in an international city (remember my professions of  love for Japanese students from last year?) Yes, I am in school again and I love it and I love the cast of characters that my nearly free class has presented me, which is comprised of:

  • A stereotypical young German guy who wears socks and sandals to class every day
  • A very polite and correct tiny Japanese woman, who unfortunately is not into fashion though does wear childrens’ shoes because her feet are so dang tiny.
  • A long term resident British guy who started the class on crutches though won’t say what he did to get himself on them.
  • One Russian girl who is totally flummoxed with the social norms here and usually errs on the side of too familiar (i.e.kissing the bank manager on both cheeks after a first 20 minute long meeting with him in the bank. FYI that’s probably a little too intimate for someone you just met in a business setting)
  • The student totally in over their head (every class has one). In this case it’s a black girl from New York who has a lot to say but can’t say it and frequently will throw in English words to emphasize her hand gestures and disconnected words to get a point across (example from last week: “Ya esta! Whatever!” and from this week: “Por supuesto, duh!”) She is probably my favorite, as she has the class laughing daily though doesn’t always know why.
  • The American that doesn’t even attempt a Spanish accent, so speaks and reads Spanish as if they were English words (every class has one of these too, in this case it is my friend)

And finally there is me, the perfectionist, who won’t speak if she doesn’t know (or think she knows) the correct way to say something. Which, of course, isn’t a good thing and I should know that making mistakes is just part of learning. Which is why I am back in the classroom, to try to push through some of that.

But at least I can pride myself on a good accent.  One big secret to sounding more fluent (perhaps more fluent than you actually are) in any language is to imitate the accent. I learned that a long time ago when I lived in Germany-I perfected my accent so well that it took a little while for anyone to guess I was not a native speaker, and even then they could never place me.  Here in Spain,  while it’s clear after a minute I’m not a native speaker because of my limited vocabulary, still no one can ever place me as an American. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not proud of that because I’m some anti-capitalist expat living here because I believe in socialized medicine (which is far from “free” for anyone who works-but don’t get me started on how expensive the shitty healthcare here actually is), I am a patriot through-and-through. I just don’t want to be pegged as one immediately because my accent sucks.

So let’s see if these three weeks brings me any closer knowing when to use the preterito perfecto vs. imperfecto indicativo, or to using the subjunctive tense at all. If not, at least I only lost 40 euros and not 350!

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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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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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Eight reasons I live in Spain.

Posted on 03 January 2012 by American expat!

 

In no particular order, here are some things I am appreciating at the moment about living in Spain.

1-Cursing.

There is plenty of cursing in everyday speech here in Spain, from classrooms to courthouses. It is part of the daily vernacular of the Spanish to punctuate sentences with curse words. Natives generally speak pretty loudly in the first place, so if you are already yelling, what better way is there to indicate some emphasis than to curse? Personally, I find it amusing and even delightful. You gotta love a place that runs commercials for cold medicine that begin with a woman coughing and saying: “joder, estoy resfriada” which translates to “fuck, I have a cold”.

2-Flexible hours, in every meaning of the phrase. 

OK, I’ll admit – sometimes it sucks when it’s 4:45pm and you are still waiting outside the shop or bank that was supposed to re-open after siesta at 4:30. You might answer ahora to the person who shows up to wait along side you outside the shop when they ask what time the place re-opens. But ahora doesn’t necessarily mean now. On the other hand, when you show up late to an appointment, work, a meeting or dinner, lateness is almost always (if not actually always) overlooked. And for me, who is very rarely not late, it’s an acceptable trade off. In fact, if you make plans with friends to meet at 10:00pm, and you show up at 10:30pm, you are right about on time. You may even be the first to show.

3-Speaking of siesta, living here means that between 2 and 4:30 there’s no point in trying to get anything done.

This is generally lunchtime and everything but the restaurants and cafes close until 4, 4:30 or 5pm. The reopening hour depends on the shop. Usually the hours are posted, but like I said, those hours tend to be flexible. This might seem to be a pain in the ass at first, but because these places are closed for a few hours during the day, it means everything stays open late. When you get off work at 6 or 8 or whenever, shops, the post office and even some banks are open until at least 9, with some open until 10pm and the streets are full of people, sidewalk cafes and bars busy serving drinks and tapas (but certainly not dinner, anything before 9:30 is far too early) and the day continues until dinner, and then the night begins which is generally not for sleeping but for socializing.

4-Willingness to take risks for the sake of tradition – and a good time.

There might be some festivities here considered dangerous by American standards, but people take responsibility for their actions should they decide to participate. For example, the Catalan tradition of people climbing onto each others shoulders to heights up to 7-9 people stacked atop each other, then sending a 5 year old to scale the tower and slide down the other side (called Casteller teams). Or the Falles in Valencia, where millions of firecrackers are set off in the streets during a weekend, and after parading through the town, giant wooden statues are then torched in public while people stand very, very close. Or the Catalan tradition of Correfoc, where people dressed as devils shoot fireworks into the crowds while drummers lead a local float, usually a dragon or demon, or sometimes just a donkey (the symbol of Catalunya) that also spits fire while people, children included, run through the sparks. I think the Spanish like the feeling that they are alive. I can appreciate that.

la merce barcelona correfoc

5-Honesty in public places.

People generally don’t form lines here, except maybe in the supermarket where you need a chance to stack all your stuff. Otherwise, when you enter a bank or bakery, it’s standard practice to ask the people standing or sitting around “Quien es la ultima?” (Who is the last). Whomever indicates they are servidor, meaning “I am” but literally translating to “your faithful servant”. Then you know who you are behind, and you become the servidor or servidora. Another display the honesty system is in bars and cafes. When you order, you don’t give your credit card to keep a tab open and don’t pay as you are served. You order, enjoy your food and drinks, then when you decide to leave, you tell the bartender or cashier exactly what you ordered and they ring you up. The cashier won’t keep track of what you consumed, he is likely busy serving up drinks or delivering food. He expects you to remind him what you had. And remarkably there is very little exploitation of this.

6-Bargaining for rent prices.

Just because an ad specifies one price, it doesn’t always mean the owner or agency expect to get it. It’s like car sales, you can bargain for extras or bargain down the price. If you want a different contract term, a different rent price, utilities thrown in, or to furnish an unfurnished place, you can request it. Most agencies and owners are more than willing to work with you to get the place rented.

7-Public displays of affection.

People kiss each other on both cheeks in greeting, touch each other when speaking, hug each other, slap shoulders, touch each others dogs and children without fear of offending, and kiss and hold hands in public. This goes for straight, gay and platonic couples. Although a Catholic country, there is no stigma or scorn towards gay couples and gay marriage is legal. I see gay couples walking hand in hand daily here, everywhere. No one tuts disapprovingly, and that is refreshing.

8-Cheap booze.

A good bottle of wine can be found for around 3€, and in smaller pueblos that sell local wines, you can find totally acceptable, in fact quite often delicious, wines for under 1€. But there are thousands of places in every city to grab a beer or a glass of wine- you can go to a bar, a café, a bodega or a cevercería- there is one on every corner, and if the cost for a glass of beer or wine is over 2.50€ that is considered expensive. And while very there are plenty of British taking advantage of the cheap drink prices, very few of the Spanish exploit this to a negative effect. Though you will see the Spanish regularly drinking a beer at lunchtime then going back to work. And it is not unusual to see the waitress adding some brandy to morning coffees, especially at cafes frequented by blue collar workers. Because, as we all know, there’s nothing like a drink or two before work to help with your productivity.

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Silence at last. And amor.

Posted on 20 October 2011 by American expat!

 

I did it! I finally moved! It felt like nearly a lifetime of waiting considering the relentless noise I had to deal with the past few months at my old place, that, coupled with how akin to WC Fields I have become with regard to children (and boy are they particularly loud here) made the summer hellacious in the pursuit of quiet. You never realize how much you need it until you don’t have it.

The new place is quiet, with plenty of light and views and no buildings facing either of my TWO giant balconies! So while my double set of sliding glass doors are on display to the world, I have more privacy than ever.

In fact, if the closest building, which is taller than mine, ever entices one of it’s residents out onto their tiny balconies, and if I see they might be looking this way (they are far enough it is hard to tell) I catch myself thinking “Hey, mind your own business, this is my space and I’ll paint these chairs in my bathrobe and towel-turbaned head while singing Journey if I want to!” and I go inside in a huff. Quite the turnaround from could-not-care-less snacking naked in my kitchen while the gay couple pretended not to notice from before.

So when I am not working I am doing all of the many things one must do when moving into a (rare) brand new building here. I had to buy an entire household of furniture, which, as fun as that sounds, is quite an ordeal. If I never see the inside of another IKEA, it will be too soon.

Ikea here is like Walmart in the US, full of out of control shrieking children and throngs of people shuffling around, albeit through much narrower isles and no regard for personal space – you just shove through grandma and her clan strolling 7 wide through the 4 foot wide aisle, go ahead! They don’t care. They don’t say sorry when they elbow you in the ribs getting by as you are pinned against the LJUSÅS YSBY lamps and NYVOLL dressing tables and you don’t have to either.

I also have been busy setting  up gas, electricity and water, getting the water heater lit, let’s not forget decorating the flat which I have done very tastefully (including a very zen fountain to go with the new silence. My clothes are still in piles on the floor, but I have a little fountain, damnit.) and finally, the challenging task of establishing a connection to that thing they call the internet, which, by the way, I still do not have – I am tethered to my iphone to connect. This is because Internet companies here are fucking ridiculously incompetent. I’ve been waiting a month for the installation people just to call to set up an installation, which of course doesn’t mean they will get it right or even do it the first time. So on that front – yay Spain.

But back to the good stuff. The neighborhood has welcomed me with lots of love, manifesting in graffiti of the same theme, which I share with you here.

Old factory wall that remains in the empty lot beside my building, soon to become a park. The wall is staying.

North side of the building next to me, will be one entrance to the park.

Same artist, a few block away

Letter slot on a storefront after hours.
amor graffiti in Barcelona

This tag was up so high I couldn't get a good photo of it. It's much cooler in person.

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