Tag Archives: Living in Spain

Foreigner Beware Of Crinkly Forehead

A few weeks ago, I went to the doctor’s. It was a big event for me. I’d never been in need of medical attention before. Not in Spain, anyway. I’m of robust design, you see. I don’t pander to fancy foods that can’t be eaten with a spoon and I don’t get illnesses that can’t be cured by spending an afternoon in bed. However, a rebellious mole on my back was starting to morph into an octopus and it needed to be stopped by a professional.

Health centres are confusing places. I glanced around in a daze for ages until spotting a desk with a person who wasn’t either bellowing into a phone or being harangued by patient-staff scrum. I approached the woman stationed there and told her that I had an appointment at 11:30. Turns out that this was the desk where you make appointments and not the desk where you go when you already have an appointment. Once this was clarified, I asked her where I needed to go next. Up to the third floor, she said.

I followed her directions and arrived in a big central waiting room surrounded by four walls with lots of doors with names on them. Only then did it occur to me that I was missing a vital piece of information.

I returned to the desk lady for help. “Sorry,” I said, “I don’t actually know which doctor I’m supposed to be seeing. Could you tell me their name, please?”

And there it was.

The dreaded Crinkly Forehead.

I repeated my query, only to be met with yet more crinkles towering over a blank stare. I asked again. The crinkles assumed attack formation. I tried once more, in really simple Spanish, words spaced at one second intervals (I’ve had some practice at this, as you can tell). I repeated my question three more times. Still nothing. In an act of desperation, I grabbed a pen and paper from the desk and wrote it down. Finally, the name of my physician was divulged.

The most flabbergasting aspect of Crinkly Forehead is that it can spring into action BEFORE verbal communication even has a chance to commence. This happened to me in my local phone shop. As I handed my phone to the girl and drew breath to ask if she could please top it up with twenty bucks, I found myself confronted with a quizzically cocked head disfigured by crinkle over crinkle over fucking crinkle! They were humping each other, I swear! Then they called for re-inforcements and a bundle of veins as thick as anacondas after a meal of jungle elephants joined the wrestling match and… Christ, I did not know that the rosy baby bottom face of a twentynothing could even do that!

I’m guessing her inner thought process must have gone something like this: She looks like a foreigner, so whatever she is going to say will be incomprehensible. But I will try to help, because I’m a good person. But… what if she tries to make me speak in English?!?! Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God! I’ve only studied it for ten years at school, I can’t say a word!!! What am I going to do, WHAT AM I GOING TO DO?!?! At this point, she reaches the conclusion that it’s safest just not to understand anything.

The Crinkly Forehead is the nemesis of every language learner, tourist, or foreigner in general. It is the iron curtain, the NATO missile defence shield and the wall Trump is gonna build all rolled into one.

Once the contortions commence, once you spot the merest ripple, the slightest tell-tale twitch in the face that may have been smiling benevolently at you just a heartbeat ago, dear language learner, you are doomed. It is the manifestation of Blue Screen of Death in a real live person. A re-boot can only be effected once the obstruction has been removed, and the obstruction, my hapless foreign friend, is YOU.

Attempting to engage with Crinkly Forehead is not like flogging a dead horse. It’s like flogging all the sausages, lasagnes, burgers and chicken nuggets that its macerated remains found their way into, expecting the clapped-out old mare to re-assemble and run the Grand National. It ain’t gonna happen. No chance. Go home. Talk to Siri.

I, my dear people, will be talking to my mole. At least it is forthcoming, if only with tentacles.

 

I think we all need a restorative wedge of cake after this.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Keen observers will have noticed that this very same specimen featured in the previous post, but from a different angle. C’mon… it still looks delicious, does it not?! If it fails to appeal, maybe hairy chested man in the back will do it for you…?

 

[Note for nerds: This post was also published on my new language blog http://multilingualbychoice.blogspot.com – please pop over for a visit to discover what you’ve been missing!]

 

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Language Matters: C-Words of Difference

A while back, I had a facebook chat with an American friend who left the US about a decade ago and settled in Costa Rica. It went something like this:

Her: So, now you’re in Spain… how’s your Spanish coming along?

Me: I’m getting there. Curious though that no sentence seems to be complete if it doesn’t contain either culo*, mierda** or coño.

Her: What is coño?

Me: Uhm… CUNT.

Her: ?!?

[*arse **shit]

soap

The fact that my American friend, who’s certainly no prissy, had not encountered this term, despite having lived for many years in a Spanish-speaking country (and being fluent in Spanish), speaks volumes. Latin Americans, on the whole, aren’t given to peppering their soft, mellifluous language with expletives.

The Spanish, on the other hand, have a reputation for being straight-talking and potty-mouthed. Since I’m quite partial to this communication style myself, I fit right in, but, I must confess, even after four years in Spain, I’m still a bit shy of the c-word.

I should get over myself. Cunts get dropped into conversation left, right and centre. It’s no big deal. You could be showing someone an infected mosquito bite and they’d exclaim, ¿Qué coño es esto? – What the hell is that!? Or you might have had a glass of wine too many at the expense of coherence when your still relatively sober drinking buddy confronts you with ¿De qué coño estás hablando? – What the hell are you talking about? 

¡Coño! as an exclamation by itself can mean a million different things, like “Are you shitting me?”, “What the hell were you thinking!?”, “WOW!” and “FFS!”. You get the idea.

If something’s “a big bloody hassle”, then it’s a coñazo – literally: a BIG CUNT.

So, there you have it. The Spanish are comfortable with their cunts.

Until they move to an English speaking country and discover that not everyone else is.

A Spanish friend of mine, who’s been living in London for more than two decades, avoids the ubiquitous little English word “can’t” at all cost.

The subtle differences in English vowel sounds are a real coñazo for Spanish speakers. Spanish only has five vowel sounds, while English has more than twenty. For Latin Americans living in the US, this is not so much of an issue in this particular case, but in British English pronunciation, can’t and the ‘unmentionable’ are dangerously close. Too close for comfort for my friend, who painstakingly resorts to “cannot” instead.

 

You may also be interested in my specialist language blog, see here: http://multilingualbychoice.blogspot.com

 

Hair My Cry, O Blog!

When you move country, the first thing you’ve got to occupy yourself with is finding those people (and services) without whom your daily existence would be a living hell. For example:

  • Somebody who gives you a place to kip and store your belongings
  • Somebody who plugs the internet into said place
  • Somebody who tosses you a handful of peanuts every month for whatever tricks you’ve learned to perform along the way
  • Somebody who fiddles files your taxes so you don’t go to prison
  • And, most important of all,  somebody who slashes the unruly growth on top of your head every once in a while so you get to maintain the outer appearance of a humanoid life form

I thought my move to Central Spain a few years ago was a brush stroke of genius on the follicular front. It is a dry region. Unlike North London. Those with curly hair will understand.

CurlyHair

Remember this one going round on fb? = ME AT 7AM!

Shortly after my arrival, I stumbled into a nearby hairdressers called “Diseños” (Designs). Sounded like a creative sort of a place, I thought, and the fact that La Friseuse in attendance was close to my own age and also sported curly hair, gave me hope. I’m gullible like that. I imagined her channelling her creative juices into giving me a flattering cut that would, perhaps, make my witch’s chin stick out a bit less.

But no. My veteran Figarette happened to be of those people, who had figured out their solution to their hair troubles, and that would just have to do for everybody else. She herself had resorted to straightjacketing her wiry mop into a rectangular shape, which kind of suited her, but sometimes, one glove does not fit all.

This is actually pretty much matches my appearance as well as my facial expression post-redesign - just imagine a sticky-out chin instead of a snout.

This pretty much illustrates the result. And also my facial expression post-“redesign”. (Just imagine a sticky-out chin instead of a snout.)

Since I don’t really care for having a square head – I’m already German, let’s not forget – and adding the fact that the salon’s “design” component referred more to its prices than the craftsmanship, I went in search of a new chop shop as soon as my rebel locks had managed to break free from their cuboid confines.

This time, I asked about the price first. Twelve bucks, I was told, and one can’t argue with that. In North London, you wouldn’t even get a drunk on the Tube to drool on your head for that. Like I said, I’m gullible.

Now, haircare professionals do have a bit of a reputation for enthralling their captive audiences with tales of their all-inclusive summer break at CattleProd Resorts, but THIS was something else.

If you are acquainted with British English, you may have heard the expression “talking the hind leg off a donkey” – a disparaging reference to a tedious person’s excessive loquaciousness. At forty minutes in, I was very nearly at the point of fearing that my extremities would drop off due to necrotic tissue damage induced by the most inane of moronic monologues I had ever been subjected to in my entire life.

But the ceaseless chatter wasn’t the worst part. What really drove me to distraction was that the girl would stop short after every snip in order to accompany her onerous outpourings with wild gesticulations. At one point, überchatty scissor sister was exposing all the parts of her body to me which had ever been nibbled on by a mosquito. Don’t ask me how we got there. I can only assume that those bloodsucking creatures are, in fact, totally soundproof.

No, I told her, a blow dry really wasn’t necessary. Yes, I was aware that it was the midst of winter, but putting on my woolly hat would probably stop my dripping fringe from freezing to my eyebrows on my way home, and I’d see myself out, thank you very much.

On my second visit, it was the owner who cut my hair. (I had made sure he was holding the fort all by himself after peering through the window at a stealth angle). He was pleasant, professional, and, above all, soothingly SILENT. I was in and out of there in twelve minutes flat. INCLUDING a blow dry. An 87% time saving on my first visit. And the cut was good.

This week, it was high time to excise the felt mats once again, and so when I walked past the salon on Tuesday afternoon and found it empty but open, I  decided to seize the opportunity. I wish I hadn’t. As soon as I entered, I spotted her, slithering out from behind the spiral staircase. Miss Verborrhoea.

As she led me to the washbasin, I felt my eardrums tighten in anticipation. So far, she’d not actually uttered anything besides standard salon protocol. Maybe she’d been on speed last time, and had sworn off it since then.

All was well for about five more minutes, until she suddenly stopped working the warm lather into my pelt. Did I mind if she nipped off to the toilet for a second, the water tablets her doctor had prescribed made her want to pee every five minutes.

Did I enquire, with a caring look on my face, what terrible affliction would require such a sprightly 20-year-old to be popping diuretics? You bet I did not. But I would find out. In excruciating detail.

Thank heavens it’s still summer here in Spain. My hair dried in an instant as I shot through the door into freedom at supersonic speed an interminable hour later.

Baby’s Got Whiff? Dip It In Perfume!

Spanish babies are a malodorous breed. To disguise their offspring’s offensive stench, Iberian mamas have a powerful weapon at their disposal: Half-litre bottles of “Baby Cologne”. You want proof? Here are some pics I took this very morning in my local supermarket:

lala

Lalal

“Low in alcohol”

Now, I must confess, I know nothing whatsoever about miniature humans or the fancy potions that are meant to maintain their olfactory acceptability. It was my Spanish teacher who first drew my attention to this cultural difference in paediatric hygiene a few years ago, when she told me about her frustrations in trying to hunt down such a product in North London chemists after the birth of her first daughter, reaping nothing but raised eyebrows and contemptuous glares.

I can’t get my head around the concept either. Surely, most people dunk their whelps in a warm frothy bath at the end of the day in order to remove suspect residues, probably employing some sort of industrial cleaning product which is already lightly perfumed. Why would anyone expose their little princess’s pristine peachiness to any more chemicals than are absolutely necessary? And chemicals they do contain:

lalla

Contains one third less alcohol than other brands, apparently. And a healthy dose of Tirdeceth-9 Octane… WHAT?!  Oh, but look, it’s soap-free!

lala

The question at the top reads, loosely translated, “What does it do for my baby?”, and then goes on to explain that the product lends an “original smell and wellbeing”, and that it “stimulates [the baby’s] senses owing to its special fragrance and your cuddles, which it loves so much”. I guess nobody would want to risk making physical contact with an untreated beast… Theres’s also a series of warnings, including “avoid contact with eyes”, “do not ingest”, “keep out of the reach of children”, “do not use near naked flames or heat sources”.

I’ve already professed my abject ignorance on the subject, but I thought I’d check some figures before hitting the ‘publish’ button. Owing to my work, which I do on rare occasions to finance my cake habit, I have access to a vast database detailling the sales of consumer goods by country, including toiletries and cosmetics. From this, I gather that “Baby and Child-specific Fragrances” are chiefly sold in six countries: Brazil, Spain, Mexico, France, Russia and Italy. This does seem to be a bit of a Latin thing…

Spain is the world’s second largest market (after Brazil), generating retail value sales of US$55.3 million in 2014, and Nenuco and Johnson’s (see my photos) are indeed the leading brands here in Spain. In annual per capita terms, Spanish consumers spent US$9.60 on its defenceless victims aged 0-11 years of age,  while Brazilian parents dowsed millions of tiny botties with US$11.50 worth of the stuff in 2014. Sales in the other countries I mentioned were rather minimal by comparison, hovering around the 1 dollar mark per child.*

So, people, do tell me, are babies sanitised in this way in your country…? Or do they prefer them au naturel?

 

[*For data source, click here]

 

 

Tapas On A Winning Streak!

All good things must come to an end, as did Toledo’s annual tapas competition, which drew to a close last Sunday. For the entire month of November, local bars and restaurants had been showcasing a new breed of extravagant tapas, specially created for this year’s contest. (Yes, there were voting slips, prize draws and stuff!)

I have no idea how many different creations I tried throughout my innumerable outings,  as there were A LOT of participants this year. Anyway, here are some of the highlights:

Botero

Pork balls. Very satisfying 🙂

Alfonso VI

Sliver of fried pork with sauteed vegetables on bread, topped with raisin sauce. Looked better than it tasted, was our combined verdict.

Gulas

Puff pastry filled with seafood. The white stringy things, in case you’re wondering, are baby eels (gulas). These are very popular on tapas, and can take a bit of getting used to.

Lamb burger

One of my absolute faves: lamb topped with caramelised onion and manchego cheese, served  on a curry bun

Pulpo

Octopus with cauliflower mousse and coffee vinaigrette. This place has a knack for the outlandish, and it usually works, but this time, it didn’t. It really didn’t. Pretty to look at, though.

Cheese tapa

Now, what could go wrong with a tapa entirely consisting of cheese? I tell you what: Absolutely nothing. Gimme more!

Foie gras oreo

Foie gras “Oreos” filled with manchego mousse

Foie gras truffle

More foie, this time in the shape of a truffle. You were meant to mix it with the bread crumbs. Interesting concept, but it was a bit like eating lard mixed with sand.

Beef stew

A dollop of beef stew on sliced potato. Simple and delicious.

Rabbit

Rabbit, fancily “rolled up” and drizzled with chestnut compote. Divine! This may have been my overall favourite.

Tapas2

I’m the only one with her eyes trained on the food rather than on the camera… typical!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grumpy Mornings

I’ve had no water (again!) since last night, so I was just a tad grouchy this morning. Over brekkie, I read this post about someone having a really shitty day, which helped to put things into perspective somewhat.

Shortly after, and still in a huff, I trudged out to buy some groceries, and it occurred to me that this situation can’t be much fun for the owner of the vintage clothes shop tucked away in that corner:

Clothes Shop

On the way back, loaded up with broccoli, carrots and oyster mushrooms, I treated myself to a coffee and a sliver of cake for €1.20.  And when I got home, the water was back on, HURRRAAAAH! Life’s OK again now 😉

The Kraken Is Served!

It was Maria’s birthday party last night, and she laid on some fantastic food for us. There was Spanish omelette, there was cake, but it was the octopus that starred as the pièce de résistance. Quite literally.

I’d had several exasperated messages from Maria that morning about the beast’s recalcitrance to be turned into a meal. It was by far the biggest she’d ever wrestled with, apparently.

Enough to feed the starving hordes...?

Enough to feed the starving hordes…?

Here he is, the sucker, dismembered and in the pan

She won. Here he is, the gangly sucker, dismembered and in the pan!

By the time I arrived, it had made a miraculous transformation into a delicious meal :)

By the time I arrived, the cranky kraken’s miraculous transformation into a delicious meal was already complete 🙂