Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Some Cultural Differences

Jerónimo, a music teacher I help with English on Mondays, sent me an article on 39 customs Spaniards should learn in order to integrate more effectively into life in the United States.  "Take a look and tell me what you think," he wrote.

So I did.  After the first two, my hair was standing on end from excitement.   I WASN'T CRAZY, AFTER ALL!!!  The little things that have been accumulating in my brain... right here in front of me!  I hastily wrote him back (probably too enthusiastically, truth be told) and pointed out what have been the biggest differences for me.

Although they probably lose a little of their poignancy with the distance, I thought they might be interesting to the outsider, so I've popped the best items into Google to translate and pasted them here (with little modification... sorry, too lazy).

In order to fully appreciate what this is trying to explain, please assume that Spanish custom is the exact opposite of each, and then try to imagine what that would be like for them here if they didn't adapt, and us there with our myriad of American expectations.

1.  Smile. This muscle movement is very widely spread throughout the North American geography, especially as you are telling someone you're going to sue or you don't agree with him.
2.  Say Thank you for everything. Even if you just got stabbed. Saying thank you is a habit so important that the most important American holiday of the year is Thanksgiving Day. We must always give thanks for everything. One of the most important industries of the country is in the cards "Thank you cards," cards that are sent by post where you give thanks for the go to the party, you give thanks for the invite to the party, by dinner last night, for the gift you have received your child from school. Saying thanks with a Thank You letter that includes a Starbucks gift card for $ X is a common habit to thank a co-worker who will help with this or that on Friday afternoon. Thank the teachers, teachers (there is a Teacher's Appreciation Day, where parents in different ways to thank teachers for their hard work.) We thank the airport to veterans when they return from Iraq, Africa or wherever. Etc.

3.  De- shoe when you get to someone's house. At least ask or make a gesture to try. It is the homeowner who you excuses from that obligation. Hence the importance of not going with tomatoes socks.

4.  Respect the flags and patriotic symbols in general. If the American national anthem plays, it is proper up and listen with respect. No whispers and giggles. And no need to put your hand on your chest like you're the Greco or look at the sky and Santa Teresa in ecstasy.

5. Do not prejudge people or by their appearance, race or religion.  Americans do not pay attention to these things; they are very used to dealing with non-caucasian people. Moreover many of them are not white or Caucasian themselves. So do not ever give anyone you refer to as "the Chinese next door" or "the Indian of the third floor," they are most likely  American. Nor should you ever despise a highly respected social class: the military.

6. To speak with an American you do not need to throw the breath on my face.  Respect safety distances. We talked about it earlier. Normally a safe distance are greater than those we have in Spain or other Hispanic countries.
7.  Learn to hug people who are not familiar. It is an interesting custom. Often replace the two kisses that greet the Spanish. If there is some confidence, and depends on the U.S. zone, the guy can give a kiss on the cheek to the girl. Among friends and neighbors hugs are widely used. Congratulations for graduation, anniversaries usually come with hugs. I found more and more Americans who have accepted both Spanish and actually kisses love, but first "we must test the waters", which is very muddy.

8. I consciously point number 15 I left for tips. This is usually the average tip to be left in restaurants. No tip is legally binding, but tips are supposed to finance so the waiters can pay taxes. It is horribly impolite to leave without leaving one and you will earn more than a dirty look if you try it. If the service was excellent, leaving 20%. If it was bad normalito shooting, give 10%. If the service was horrible miserable leaves two cents to realize you've been upset but not to yell that they've left no tip because they betray to others by the poor service offered.

9.  Learn the flavors are not the same as in Spain. The Americans love the sweet, in fact you will find some products which are in Spain as the Nesquik and yet see that the taste is different, usually more sugar. They cook food under a lot of sauces and flavors that camouflage the original flavor.

10.  Punctuality. We talked about the lack of punctuality as something to be banished from the Iberian customs. Something that will help is that events here usually have a start time, and even more importantly, a final time that everyone starts to leave your engines.

11.  Learn to be polite to your colleagues and do not openly criticize the company. Appreciates a job well done by a partner, applaud. Recognize an effort by a boss or colleague with a difficult project or a goal achieved commended when it has signed a business or has had any personal or professional success.

12.  How's it going leaning English?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

[No Subject]


There are a lot of things I miss about home.

That is all.

Please be well.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Sharing Spain

 "The fundamental things apply as time goes by." 
- Casablanca

When I make discoveries about Madrid, they are usually for utilitarian purposes.  Where and what do I like to eat, for example.  Where are the nicest parks and the coolest sights.  How do you get to the aforementioned places.  Such discoveries streamline my existence.

Sharing those discoveries with other people, however, makes them so much sweeter and so much more enjoyable... especially with Patrick :)

Top 10 to Share:

10.  Getting turned around.  Chuckle because the other person is getting a little uncomfortable and/or frustrated with the situation - one that is now commonplace for you and actually lends itself to adventure.  On that note, ask a stranger for directions and get yet another free ride out of it.  (Mothers of the world - yes, yes, I know... I promise not to make a habit out of this...)

9.  Point out various differences in Spanish culture... the policemen who stand on corners and laugh together, how well-dressed Spaniards are, the graffiti everywhere, the old people who are constantly out and about and active.

8.   People watching in La Puerta del Sol.  Try to spot the Americans based on clothing and behavior.  Also, watch the street performers - Mariachi bands, string quartets, gypsy xylophonists, Chewbacca, etc.

7.  Sit outside at a cafe and enjoy a plate of olives.  Enjoy the fact that Spanish servers don't get tipped so they don't care how long you stay; in fact, they almost encourage it... sobremesa, it's called.

6.   Walk through the enormous Retiro Park on your way anywhere, notice the number and assortment of people enjoying the atmosphere, and wonder how the royal family could have kept it solely for themselves for so many years.

5.  Go tapa-ing at La Blanca Paloma... or anywhere else for that matter.  Fight your way through the door, pounce on the table that just became available, buy a glass or two of Tinto de Verano and enjoy the free dishes that accompany it... and be amazed at how full you are afterwards, all for about 12E total.

4.  Introduce (with some selectivity) the best Spanish dishes (croquettas, torrijas, neopolitanas, tortilla española, queso de tertilla, etc) and feel gratified when the other person orders them on their own a second time.

3.  Eat at Botin's, the world's oldest restaurant.  Ask to see the basement (the oldest part of the restaurant) and watch as the server's eyes light up as he offers to show you their world-famous oven as well.

2.  Paddle around Retiro's lake in a row boat as you soak up the sun and enjoy the live jazz music drifting across the water.

1. Take a break to recharge on the 9th floor cafe of El Corte Inglés and enjoy the spectacular view of Madrid.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I just happened to read Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises when I was here in high school.  Looking back, I'm not sure how much I got out of it then as it was my first introduction to him, but I do remember it gave a nice feel for the Spanish (or rather, the expatriate) way of life... albeit slightly disillusioned.  Having just made a pilgrimage to Pamplona where part of the book is set, I couldn't resist a homage to Hemingway, revisiting some of the book's wisdom.  I regret that these are from a Google search and not my own treasury of favorite lines, but it's surprising how many I remember.  Food for thought.

"You are all a lost generation."  - Epigraph

"Nobody ever lives their life all the way up except bull-fighters."

The Face of Fulbright: Pamplona

 The Plaza (where Hemingway spent his afternoons) - very beautiful!


News Article

Mayor Meets with Fulbright Mid-Year in Pamplona link

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

English Is a Tricky Language...

So... English is fraught with tricks and giggles, and the non-native learner has a tough job trying to sort all of them out.  Inevitably, something comes out just a little wrong.  Working with twelve-year-olds, it makes for some entertaining days.  I regret that I haven't written down the funniest moments, but I thought I'd share some classic yet highly representative student mistakes from others (I'll accumulate my own soon enough!):
Double letters:  Should I have a coma in the middle of this sentence?
Idioms:  We have hated each other for so long.  I want to borrow the hatchet.
Ambiguous consonants: The police were attacked by a large group of angry mops.
Similar words:  Me and my brother share a small womb in the basement.
Tough vowels:  My relationship with my ax girlfriend was so painful.
More vowels:  We live on the sex floor. Our apartment is small but we have a nice view.
Gerunds: Do you like this food?  I made it from scratching!
Participles:  Do you like your coffee cremated?
Syllables:  You eat soup in a bowel.
Phrasal verbs: You can’t sleep with me because it is too crowded. But you can probably sleep with my sister. That’s what most of my friends do when they visit.
False advertising: 
I want my face to have the buttocks treatment.  The what?  The buttocks treatment. It makes your wrinkles go away. It’s very famous in Hollywood.  Oh. It’s pronounced “bo tox”.  That’s it. The buttocks treatment. Maybe you need it too a little.
And oh, prepositions... Yesterday, I ate my friends.

Disclaimer / Disclosure: I publish these with a bit of a smirk as I myself am a language learner and have had my own moments of... modification.  It's a beautiful thing : )