Aside

Conversations with my Students

Some conversations I had today with my little Spanish angel students:

  • “Teacher!! I KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE!!! I saw you going into your apartment AND YOU HAD PIZZA!”
  • “Teacher, if you want to say ‘I farted’ in English, can you say ‘I made a mess?’ You can, right? I know you can. No, you can. I know it.”
  • “Teacher, Borja from Cuarto has a crush on you!! Do you like him? Can I tell him you like him?!” (NB: Borja is 15 years old.)
  • “Teacher, how much money do you make?”
  • “Are you dating Other Teacher? Are you IN LOVE with Other Teacher?!”
  • “Teacher, what color hair does your mom have? And what’s her name?”
  • “Teacher, did you know that in English if you want to say ‘I’m gonna puke’, you say ‘Chewbacca is coming’? No, this is true! I KNOW it’s true!”

Makin’ Frands

I keep returning聽to the pub that I visited on my disastrous first day聽in Spain, and it’s become one of my favorite places! I’ve met a good number of regulars, so it’s great for Spanish conversation practice, and the waiters are always very generous,聽giving me an inordinate amount of free food every time I come by and criminally undercharging me for drinks.聽Often, I end up staying for hours, talking to the waitersand listening to the loud, slangy Spanish being shouted around the bar.聽

鈥淗elen, I want you to meet my wife,鈥 said 脕ngel 鈥 a large, fit dude from the Dominican Republic, the kind of guy who would be intimidating if he didn鈥檛 smile so much 鈥斅one evening as he worked as the聽bartender, filling up ca帽as, little glasses of beer. He gestured for his wife, who was sitting at the opposite end of the bar, to join us. 鈥淪he works in the kitchen. Carmen, this is Helen, from the United States,鈥 he said.

Carmen and I gave each other two kisses, a greeting I was still getting accustomed to. I liked her immediately 鈥 she was stylish, beautiful, and extremely friendly, like everybody in Spain.聽

We made a good pair, and the next day we ended up spending the whole evening together, walking around the mall and killing time at bars, eventually returning to the pub while 脕ngel finished closing up for the night. By that point, it was nearly聽midnight and I was absolutely exhausted — my brain refused to speak another word of Spanish — but Carmen was more than willing to speak for me.

FullSizeRender (8)

FullSizeRender (9)

聽I wonder which one of these girls has cataplexy???

“Helen, est谩s haciendo amigos!” Ruben exclaimed when he saw me enter the pub with Carmen. He switched to pidgin English for my benefit. “Makin’ frands!”

鈥淪he does speak Spanish, you know,鈥 Carmen told the waiters as they finished cleaning the pub, sweeping the floor and rearranging chairs.聽I could feel my head starting to bob a bit, and Carmen grabbed my hand reassuringly.聽“Earlier we were talking perfectly, but I think she’s tired now!”

“She’s going to get a strange accent if she learns Spanish from you and 脕ngel,” said Jos茅, a regular and a friend of Carmen鈥檚. Leaning towards me, he introduced himself in the Spanish way — with dos besos and flattery. 鈥淟ook at those eyes.聽Guap铆sima, joder.”

“Really, though,” he said to 脕ngel. “She’s gonna start talking like a cross between a madrile帽a and a South American, don’t you think?”

“I’m Caribbean, co帽o!” 脕ngel said. “There’s a difference!”

鈥淲e should do something next聽weekend, do you want to go to el centro? Or to Segovia?” Carmen asked. “Helen hasn鈥檛 travelled at all yet.鈥

The rest of the night passed in a blur of rapid Spanish 鈥 I was having a hard enough time staying awake and upright in my chair, I didn’t have the mental resources to dedicate to interacting in a foreign language 鈥 but in the end, it was decided: Carmen, 脕ngel, Jos茅 and I would go to Segovia.

And the next weekend, we went!

Happy Bird Day!

A week after arriving in Alcorc贸n, I turned twenty-two.

I still was settling in, so I didn’t have anybody to celebrate with, but it was still kind of cool to walk around town that day knowing that it was my birthday and that nobody had any idea.

Eventually, I decided that my birthday shouldn’t pass by completely unnoticed, so I went back to the pub with the nice waiters to grab a celebratory birthday coffee.

The Andalusian waitress, let’s聽call her Mari, was alternating between smoking a cigarette and working the patio. She greeted me with a friendly “Hola, guapa! Sit wherever you’d like!”聽Then, turning towards the bar, she yelled in her rapid, barely-comprehensible (to my ears) accent, “I need a caf茅 con leche for the girl! And don’t forget a glass of water!”聽

I smiled. The last time I was at the pub, I聽had gotten聽a glass of water with my coffee so that I could stealthily take my meds. I guess Mari had assumed that having a coffee and a water was just my thing, and even though I didn’t need the water this time, it was touching that she had remembered!

I wanted to say,聽“You remember me!”, but I hesitated. I knew all the words, I knew the grammar, but putting it all together… It wasn’t difficult, but I doubted myself! What if I had gotten it totally wrong? What if it didn’t make sense? Or, worst of all, what if I said it right, but my accent was so thick that she couldn’t understand?

So, instead of trying a new sentence, I just smiled and said “Thank you.”

A few minutes later, Mari brought the coffee to my table and I screwed up my courage and gestured for her to come closer. “What’s up?” she said, leaning in.

“Um,” I said, suddenly nervous about speaking. “Today’s my birthday.”

“Ay!” she yelled, excited, and kissed both my cheeks. “Congratulations! How old are you?”

“Uh, take a guess,” I said, not sure if I had phrased that right.聽

“You want me to guess?” she said. “Alright, um, twenty-three? No, that’s too old, isn’t it?”

“Twenty-two,” I said, grinning

“So young!” she said. “Jovencita! And you’re here in Spain all by yourself? Totally alone?” I nodded and she swore, using a phrase that I will not repeat here. “Brave girl.”

She went back over to the bar and, leaning inside, said something to聽the waiter working the bar — the nice waiter who gave me all that food on my first day — and they both returned to my table.聽

“Helen!” the waiter (let’s call him Ruben) said, hitting the ‘H’ way too hard. “It’s your birthday? Congratulations! Do you want a shot?” He mimed taking a drink, in case I hadn’t understood.

“Uh,” I said. I hoped that they didn’t think I had told them about my birthday just to get something for free, but I didn’t know how to express that. “Um… Yeah, sure! Thank you!”

Ruben returned a few minutes later, balancing聽three shot glasses, filled with creamy liquor, on a silver tray. Mari joined him, and they clinked their little shot glasses against mine. “Felicidades!”聽Mari said.

“No, congratulations,” Ruben said in English, correcting her. His accent was so thick that it sounded like聽he had never needed to speak English before this very moment.

Happy bird day to joo,” Mari told me in English, one-upping Ruben, and we all drank.聽

After I finished my coffee, I said goodbye to Mari and Ruben, returned to my newly-rented聽piso,聽and spent the rest of the night relaxing, thinking that maybe I had made myself some Spanish waiter friends.

Cultural Differences: Hola, Guapa!

In case I haven’t made this clear already, everything in Spain is different. Usually, this is kind of cool and exciting and overwhelming聽all at once, but sometimes it’s just strange.

One of the things that’s been super weird is the fact that Spaniards love to聽make comments about your appearance. The way聽you look is a topic that is plenty open for discussion (just like the question “How much money do you make?” and “How many boyfriends have you had?”. But I digress).

If Spaniards think you’re pretty, you’ll know it, and you’ll know it multiple times a day, because everywhere you go there will be somebody who says “guapa” to you before resuming the conversation they’re having with their friends.

It’s not just a creepy middle-aged dude thing, either聽鈥斅營’ve gotten聽the “guapa” comment from old women and girls my age. It’s not really sexual harassment, either, the way it would be in the States. It’s just a stranger making an unsolicited comment about your appearance. You know, totally normal, acceptable behavior. (Uh…)

At this point, a trip to the grocery store wouldn’t feel complete without passing a couple of old men who mutter “Que guapa”. Entering a classroom without hearing the girls squeal “Guapaaa!” would make me feel like I’m losing my touch.

The only time I’ve every really felt uncomfortable about being “guapa” was when I was introducing myself to one of my classes. I asked if anybody had questions for me, and one 13-year-old boy raised his hand and said, “My question. How is it that you are so pretty?”

I was so taken aback by how blatantly inappropriate this was that I responded by looking at the floor until Juanra, the teacher I was working with, restored order in the classroom. In what world is it okay for a student to make comments like that about a teacher?! When in Spain, I guess…