Monthly Archives: October 2013

I Know Just What’s Missing On Your Mantlepiece… A Dictator!

…needless to say, I know the very place for you to complete your set. And yes, it’s a shop in Toledo. Where else could you possibly hope to acquire such refined merchandise?!


Maybe if you buy two, you get the terrorist with the gas mask thrown in for free?

[More on Toledo shops’…erm… eccentric offerings can be found in this post. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.]

Language Matters: Assorted Pronunciation Gripes

For the adult learner, foreign languages aren’t exactly easy to get one’s tongue around. They have sounds that just don’t exist in their native language. I, for one, will forever struggle to produce the trilled Spanish “rr”. I can just about fake a single “r”, but the double one, forget it. Although, some kind Spaniards once complemented me on my “r”s. But they might have said “arse”, I can’t be sure.

Anyway, I have every sympathy for Spanish speakers who cannot produce a German “ü” or “ö”, never mind the many diphthongs that litter the English language, or Brits who can’t quite muster the phlegm-hacking Spanish “j”.

What constantly puzzles me, though, is people’s apparent inability to reproduce the same sounds in a foreign language, which readily exist in their native tongue.

Last week, there was an amusing little discussion happening on Bev’s blog (see this post & comments), about why Germans insist on pronouncing “cat” and “hat” as “cet” and “het”, respectively. There’s also no audible difference when most of them they say “man” vs. “men”. Although it was a long time ago, I do vaguely recall that my (German) English teachers spoke like that. Why on earth, why?!? It’s totally baffling.

English speakers (probably as an act of revenge) will keep pronouncing the German “z” like an English “z”, staring off words like Zeitgeist with a long soft ssss sound, which is equally annoying. English is replete with German “z” sounds (sounds just like the “t’s” in what’s  and that’s), so this problem should not arise in the first place.

OK, let’s pick on Spanish speakers for a bit 😉

I understand why it is difficult for them to produce complex vowel sounds, but it seems that, for no other reason than sheer laziness, they just lop final consonants off English (and also German) words, or take perverse pleasure in maiming them in some other way. So, “thing” atrophies into “thin”, even though they can pronounce the syllable “-ing” just fine, e.g. as in the Spanish slang word “minga”, which means “dick”. “New York” becomes “New Yor”, “Hong Kong” becomes “Honkon”, “bank”  becomes “ban”, etc, and this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Whenever the (German central bank) “Bundesbank” is mentioned on the news (i.e. every day sixty times), for instance, giving the final “k” the chop effectively turns it into the “Bundesbahn”, which is Germany’s National Rail company. Also a big institution, granted, but this is where the similarity ends.

Now, the Spanish word for bank is “banco”, which is virtually identical to the English and German equivalent, save for the vowel at the end, but why the “k” has to die together with the “o” is beyond my comprehension. Surely, if you can say “banco”, you can say “bank”????

Another thing that really grates on me is when words terminating in “m”, are suddenly pronounced as if they ended with an “n”.

OK, to be fair, not every Spanish speaker does this, there’s about a 50/50 split. Up for this type of consonant buggery are, for example, all Latin words ending in -um. (These are part of Spanish vocabulary just as they are part of English and German). So, curriculum and referendum turn into “curriculun” and “referendun“. I’ve even seen them spelt like that by Spanish people.

In the same vein, the .com domain in website addresses morphs into .con. Now, hearing a company advertising itself as “www.usedcars.con” wouldn’t particularly entice me to buy from them, I must say.

Well then, let’s hear it from everybody else – do you have a mental list of particular pronunciation pet peeves for which, in your opinion, there’s just no valid excuse?

While you’re all ruminating over that, I’ll be trying to kick my “r”s into shape… sigh.

Photo Challenge: Got All Your Ducks In Line?

Here is my entry for this week’s Fun Foto Challenge: Reflections & Shadows, laid on by Cee.

First up, we have reflections: I took this shot a couple of days ago, while out on a walk with a friend by the river Tagus, which flows through my current home town of Toledo (Spain), all the way through to Lisbon (Portugal).  Seeing the geese (not ducks…) all lined up by those giant pillars amused me. The wheel behind is quite impressive… I’ve no idea what that installation was once used for, mind!

GeeseAs for shadows, here’s my own, falling onto my father’s grave, taken this summer in Germany:


Street Snaps: Mummies At Large & A Leopard Print Rantathon

Another week, another round of frightfully frumpy tourists. I don’t even have words for this:


We're clearly in Halloween week now, we've got mummies on the loose!

We’re clearly in Halloween week now, there’s mummies on the loose!

And now, let’s turn to a favourite topic of mine: The merits (or NOT!) of animal print. There’s no escaping it this season, it’s absolutely everywhere. I guess I am a tad biased here, because I grew up with the firmly engrained dogma that leopard print garments were the sole domain of desperate women ‘of a certain age’ who were hell-bent on fighting the unbearable phenomenon of middle-aged invisibility with a sledge hammer.

BetLynchFor the Brits among you, the best known personification of sa(i)d strategy is probably publican Bet Lynch. (Bet Lynch, see left, was a much-beloved character on the long-running British soap Coronation Street).

OK, I will concede that an animal print accessory or item of clothing can, on occasions, look quite stylish, and pretty young women would get away with wearing a crown of dead squirrels on their head. On a mature lady, a nice zebra-striped scarf or snake skin bag can complete an outfit. But there are limits. And we’ll be looking at some pics now where those limits have been transgressed.

I mean, honestly: Is this in any way flattering???? NOOOOOOO!

I mean, honestly: Is this in any way flattering???? The teenager behind (wearing a tiger sweater, amusingly enough) can’t seem to believe it either!

What does this say to you? "I have a sexy wild side, come get me!? Or... "I'm camouflaging a skin disease!"

What does this say to you?
“I have a sexy wild side, come get me!” Or…
“I’m camouflaging a troublesome skin condition!”

No, no, noooooo!


To counteract the awfulness of all of the above, how about a teensy dog in human clothes:Doggy

You are cute, too, but I'm not quite sure you could pull it off...

You are cute, too, but I’m not quite sure you could pull off this outfit…

To view the rest of the Street Snaps series, click here.

Hitting The Bottle

So, Friday night, while out for a drink with a friend, I took some pics of a shelf filled with bulbous glass bottles. The raw results were totally underwhelming, so I decided to faff around a bit on iPhoto.

Bottles 1Bottles 2Bottles 3Bottles 4Bottles 5Bottles 6OK… I guess I won’t be mounting my photographic art exhibition any time soon… but it was all good clean fun 🙂

Oh, just humour me…

Cee’s Fun Photo Challenge – Wheels: Bikes & Mystery Fleet

Spotted in Toledo a couple of weeks ago. I like all the different makes and colours 🙂


Last week, I came across a row of virtually identical black cars clogging up the sparse parking area on Toledo’s tiny Plaza Mayor. Are the Men In Black about to take over the town?! The mind boggles…

Black cars

Linked to Cee’s Fun Photo Challenge.

A Lingering Look At Windows: Reflections & Dinginess

Toledo has an endless supply of rustic (or should that be rusty?) windows. Here’s my contribution for Dawn’s Lingering Look At Windows photo challenge:

Window Da Vinci Exhibit

Starting with something regal…

I love a nice reflection

I love a nice reflection

Reflection of the Cathedral's spire

Reflection of the Cathedral spire


Very sinister, this one...

A bit sinister, this one… the iron grate, ugly though it may be, struck me as unusual

How I (Almost) Found A Job Instead Of My Teacher

As those who read my Sunday post will know, I had my first 1-2-1 Portuguese lesson with my new teacher Teresa on Monday night. And it all started off in the worst possible way.

I don’t know her part of town very well, so I asked the bus driver to alert me when I needed to get off. It’s about a 15-minute ride. I reminded him once half-way. It was not busy on the bus. I was sitting in the first row behind him to the far right, so I was somewhere in his peripheral vision. And he forgot about me. He seemed embarrassed, but did not apologise.

So, I stomped off the bus in a huff and trudged back about three stops, only to discover that I’d taken the wrong map with me which didn’t cover that part of town. Ahrgh! There were plenty of people about, though, and by asking for directions, I found the right street without much trouble. Because I’d left home very early, so I was still good for time and not overly stressed at that point.

…until I realised that I’d left my diary with Teresa’s address and phone number at home. I remembered the house number, but it was a block of flats the size of the Forbidden City and with about as many entrances as an African termite mound. The thought that I was languishing right outside her apartment, and that she was waiting for me somewhere upstairs was vexatious, to say the least. It was one of those rare moments when I wished I had Wassapp…

TermiteCastleThere was a language school directly opposite, and it appeared to be open. All flustered and with my glasses steamed up, I stumbled in, and explained my pathetic situation to the woman at reception, asking if I could use her computer to access my email.

Not only was she happy to help me out, but she also offered me a job teaching English.

What cruel irony, I thought, that in a country with an unemployment rate of over 25% (and 56% youth unemployment!) somebody like me, by the sole virtue of being a foreigner (with the “right” skin and hair colour, I presume) can just walk into a school at random, all frazzled and really NOT at her best, and be offered a job they’re not even qualified for. I should mention that, at this point, she’d not heard a word of English out of me. When I told her I was German, her eyes grew even wider, as “there were no German teachers in Toledo” and she was overrun with enquiries.

Anyway, by this time, I’d actually managed to get hold of my teacher – phew! – so I took the school’s card (just in case) and dashed back across the road.

The lesson itself was great. Insanely painful, yes, but great. I’ve written before about how much I detest language classes. To say that I’m a reluctant speaker is putting it mildly. Every fibre and neuron in my body seizes up, my mush brain goes blank, I get into a strop with myself, and then I switch off and let the others get on with it. In a 1-2-1 setting, though, chickening out doesn’t really work, you’ve just got to push through it.

As anticipated, I was struggling with accent issues, as Teresa’s from Lisbon and so far I’d been studying Brazilian Portuguese. I was relieved I understood a fair amount of what she was saying, and that I was able to respond. Well, sort of.

I found that thanks to playing that silly Duolingo, I actually had some vocab to toss into my incoherent bleatings. Also, seeing as Portugal is so close, literally just down the river from me, it would be a crying shame if, after putting in all this effort, I couldn’t couldn’t communicate with my immediate neighbours. I’m more likely to make frequent trips to Portugal than Brazil. They’ve got good cakes there, I’ve been told 😉

So, the upshot is that I’m very excited about my fresh start with Portuguese. I’m thrilled about actually having spoken some Portuguese (entire sentences, even!) to a native speaker, and I’ll be back there next Monday.