Hello amigos, familia, and anyone else!
This week’s post is a little different. I’ve been here for more than six weeks now, and for reasons I’m about to list, I still don’t feel like I fit in! Here are just a few of the ways in which I differ from the average Spaniard:
1) I can’t speak Spanish
The powers that be at uni gave me a 2:1 last year; they think I can speak Spanish. The British Council gave me a job in Spain; they think I can speak Spanish. I can’t speak Spanish!
I use Spanish every day at home, at work, and in shops, cafes and bars. Despite this, my listening skills still leave a lot to be desired, although on the plus side people can now understand just about everything I say to them. (Don’t be too impressed by this, they squint and raise their eyebrows in disgust at my appalling grammar and accent.) I expected that by now I would have improved more than I have done, and my maniacal smiling and nodding when I don’t understand what people are saying to me (aka whenever I’m not prepared to be spoken to!) has started to give way to a disappointed blank look.
Faux-pas of the week (just one of many): telling my intercambio “Estoy demasiado caliente” as I took my coat off in a cafe. It literally translates, as I intended it to: “I’m too hot,” but means: “I’m too horny.” Oh dear.
2) I favour tea over coffee
This is simply unacceptable to Spaniards. When I told my classes about my usual tea drinking habits (4-5 cups of day; I wouldn’t consider myself to be a heavy tea drinker compared with other Brits!) there were gasps of shock and horror from the students and teachers alike!
It is possible to buy “tea” in some cafes, but it usually comes in a glass and without milk. The last time I ordered it, the waiter raised his eyebrows and asked if I was sure.
Thank goodness that I do also like coffee, and I have started drinking more of it just to fuel myself through lesson planning, early lessons and delivering classes enthusiastically …and maybe also to fit in with the teachers! However, I take my coffee with milk and sugar and so, I have been informed, I’m not a “proper” coffee drinker!
You can’t beat a good cup of Yorkshire tea … cakes, doughnuts and a movie don’t hurt either!
3) I like to sleep at night
I wouldn’t describe myself as a massive party-person, but I’d say I like a night out as much as most people. A normal night out for me consists of pre-drinking at someone’s house or a bar, then going to a club at about 11. I’ll leave at about 2.30-3am, and even that ruins me for the next day. Here, the clubs don’t even open until this time! I’m sad to say that, on every night I’ve planned to go out, I’ve given up and gone to bed before the clubs have opened!
I’d just like to add that I’m not absolutely tragic – I do make it to bars!
4) I don’t smoke
I don’t know the statistics, but it feels like more people smoke here than at home. A lot of people smoke on the cafe terrazas, (but maybe I just notice it because we don’t have as many outdoor spaces in cafes in the UK),and I’m frequently asked if I have a lighter by passers by in the street. A fair few teachers smoke, and seemed mildly surprised that I don’t. (“Not even in bars!?)
5)I wash with soap
Early every morning, men come out with big hoses (!) and spray the streets with water; no cleaning agent, just water. The result is that the cigarette butts are moved a few metres and the whole city stinks. This is an accepted practice which goes unmentioned, but I don’t understand the point.
6) I like international food
Spanish food is undeniably good; the tomatoes and oranges particularly so. But as much as I like tortilla de patatas and chorizo, sometimes I fancy something different! Something spicy, something saucy (no, olive oil doesn’t count)! To be fair, I wouldn’t want to eat fish and chips or toad in the hole every day either.
In Britain, I take advantage of all the international food you can buy in the supermarket. It seems that the Spaniards just don’t want it, as there isn’t any at the supermarket and I have only come across one (allegedly awful) Indian and one Chinese restaurant in the entire city of population 150,000.
I like cooking, but after a long day sometimes I fancy a quick meal, like a curry or stir fry made with a pre-made sauce from a jar. In Spain, it isn’t possible to buy either of these things, or even noodles. You can buy frozen pizza and chips, but other than that, you have to cook from scratch. No pre-made pastry, ready made fish cakes, burgers, spring rolls, nada. There is only one brand of pre-made soup.
7) I don’t gamble
I have never bought a lottery ticket; not even once. I don’t have any moral objections to it, but I never got round to buying one on my 16th birthday as most people do and have never got into the habit since. In Spain, the lottery is everywhere. There are vending booths dedicated to the lottery on every street and there are ticket vendors who come in to cafes and bars. Should you miss them, you can also buy tickets from behind the bar. One of the teachers at school sells tickets too! The current lottery is a big Christmas raffle, and part of the proceeds go to charity. After Christmas, maybe I’ll be able to walk the street/ drink my coffee or vino in peace, but there’ll probably be another one for Easter!
8)I boil water with a kettle
The kitchen didn’t come with one, and I haven’t seen any in home-ware shops. I had to resort to bringing one back from my visit home.
An English friend looked up the word in a dictionary and asked about it in a shop, but the salesperson had no idea what she was talking about even when she explained its purpose.
9) I like carpet
Of all of the apartments I’ve been in to visit friends or give private classes, not one has been carpeted. Few even have rugs. I can see the benefits of tiled or wooden flooring; it is easy to clean and goes with all kinds of different decor – but I will definitely cover the floors of any future homes I own with cosy, warm carpet. I dream of curling my toes into a lovely shag-pile (…not really, but I do miss it)!
10) Sometimes, I want to go somewhere or do something on a Sunday
Other than a few cafes, nothing is open on a Sunday in Spain. Not just shops but everything is closed. The bus services are severely reduced, and even if you were to go anywhere there’d be nothing open! Most of Spain is catholic but only a third are practising, so I haven’t yet worked out what they all do on Sundays.
This doesn’t really bother me that much, since I like to sleep-in and can use the afternoon to plan lessons. I just have to remember to buy food!