Tag Archive | "work in Spain"

Tags: , ,

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. (!!)

Comments (2)

Tags: , , , ,

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.


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.

Comments (1)

Tags: , ,

Summer in the city

Posted on 29 August 2011 by American expat!


August in Barcelona feels like it’s three months long

Muggy, still days with the sun burning into the evening hours, until it finally relents and turns into the most gorgeous evening light you have ever seen. A glimmering soft pink that is a photographers dream, hanging in the air for far longer than should possible, making you check your watch over and over to see if time has actually slowed.

Laundry takes ages to dry in the humidity, unless you are lucky enough to live high enough that your clothes hanging off your balcony get a few hours of direct sunlight. Each day is much like the next, hot and as slow as the street cleaners shuffling off to a bit of shade for a siesta. I work in the mornings, then later take dips in the buoyant Mediterranean, too salty to hold in your mouth but far more easy to float on than the Pacific Ocean, to periodically cool off while slowly broiling on the beach. Or I find some shade in the park and swat at the bugs while I read. It’s far too hot to bike ride, other than to get somewhere to cool off, until the sun is close to setting, which seemingly takes hours for it to do.

I feel like the fact that I even go to work makes me strange. My friends have weeks and weeks of time off. Half the businesses are closed for nearly the whole month, and shorter work hours are in place for those businesses that remain open, if it wasn’t for the hoards of tourists week to week, the city would feel empty.  This is when all the Spaniards leave the city and go spend the month at their small cabins on the Costa Brava and the expats residents, like me, go home for a  visit.  Which is what I want to do, should be doing – but work prevents me from taking enough time off to make the expensive and extremely long flight worthwhile.

Closed for August

So this summer I walked through the streets, studying the “closed for August” signs and wondering where these people might spend each August, and where I might spend mine next year.


Comments (1)

Tags: , ,

Spanish Efficiency

Posted on 30 January 2009 by American expat!


Today I hoofed it home (18 min walk approx) at 3pm to meet my landlord at 3:20 at my flat. I meet him outside and we haul ourselves up four steep flights of narrow stairs in the 300 year old building. There is painting that needs to be done on a part of the kitchen area (it is a studio remember). I could not care less about the unpainted bit, but he has come in from Germany to see to it that this gets done.

3:25 – We enter flat and have a chat.

3:45 – the workman hasn’t shown up yet. This is totally normal and no mention of it is made. We keep chatting and I offer up seats, as I can see this might take a while.

4pm – Landlord calls the company and is routed to hold music. He puts his phone on speaker. We have just finished a conversation about how the customer service in the US is amazing and how that makes up for the number of hours Americans spend working. He thinks he could never live in the US because we are so focused on work. I have lived in 5 different countries and all of those had shorter workweeks than the US, however in the US I always always enjoyed more leisure time because I never had to waste time waiting around for people to do their jobs. There, Shit. gets. done.

4:15 – A voice comes on the phone and he explains no one has shown up. He is put on back hold. We chat about Obama and Europe’s obsession with him. I eat crackers.

4:30 – A voice comes back on and tells him someone arrived the day before, but went to the flat on the ground floor. He commences to explain that the scheduled time was for today, for the flat on the 3rd floor. Send someone out. He is put on hold again. I eat a pear.

4:40  – A voice comes back on, says no one can come out for two weeks. He explains he is only in town for three days from Germany and to send someone out stat. We chat about how my Spanish is coming and visiting the Basque region.

4:50 – The voice comes back on and a 5 minute conversation ensues. I have stopped paying attention because I just want to go back to work at this point, knowing that even if someone could get sent out this afternoon, I would not be able to be there anyway. Landlord is put on hold again. I comment about customer service in general and good customer service makes ones life easier in general. He mentions it is actually worse in Germany, and I choke on my gum in disbelief. But he has a point, in Germany if they do not have rules to follow, they will not take any action. At least the woman on the phone is trying to figure something out.

5pm – The voice comes back on and he gives them my phone number instead of waiting longer, and says to call me when someone can come and that I, the resident, will confirm whatever meeting time they choose. Which is what should have happend in the first place instead of him coming out and hanging out in my studio apartment while we wait for someone who isnt going to show up. I send instant messages to my boss while trying not to lose temper. Boss laughs at me via instant messenger.

5:05 – We say goodbye and I run back to work. I return to find boss has spilled entire jug of tea on desk, lap and floor. I enter my “office” (which is actually a little conference room) and laugh at him via instant messenger. Revenge is mine.

Comments (0)