Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Films and Stereotypes

When Spanish people find out I'm from Canada, they often ask, “Is it true that you can leave your doors unlocked in Canada?” Apparently, after Bowling for Columbine, people think Canada is so safe that we can leave our front doors open to anybody.

The truth is, Canada is relatively safe in terms of physical assaults and similar crimes, but in my city, property crime (robbing houses or cars) is amongst the top 3 on police lists. I explain to my Spanish friends that the level of safety in Canada is similar to Spain's: in big cities, most people don't leave their doors unlocked. In small towns, however, a lot of people do. I remember visiting my friend in a small town in British Columbia, and her boyfriend came home only to find I'd locked the door, which absolutely confused him.

Here in Jaén I watched El Francotirador (American Sniper). It had been a while since I'd seen such an American, patriotic film. I honestly enjoyed the camera shots of the tanks, gunfire, etc. Near the end of the film, there's a scene where Chris Kyle playfully embraces his wife, all the while holding a loaded pistol near her body. The Spanish people in the audience visibly winced and murmured loudly, clearly uncomfortable by the scene. It's possible that images like this make them think that all Americans have guns and are okay with them. The truth is, some do and some don't. But thanks to the news and films, this is one of the stereotypes they hold.
Chris Kyle
This led me to compare what Spanish films I'd watched in my life, and how their images influenced my preconceived notions before moving here. Habla Con Ella, Pan's Labrynth, Grupo 7... I thought all of the Spanish men would be tall, black-haired, brown-eyed, and hot. In reality, yes a lot of them are hot, but there's an absolute potpourri of hair, eye, and skin colour. I also thought that the women would be hot-tempered tamales. They're actually fairly composed. Many of my friends are quite calm and aren't party animals.

That's the beauty of living abroad; you really get a feel for the people. You realize how diverse the world is.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

I Got Fired

Since October, I'd been working for the union ANPE as a conversation teacher. This was in addition to my job at a high school for the NALCA program. A week ago ANPE asked me to come to their headquarters immediately. They gave me two hours notice, and I knew something was up.

Since the beginning, I'd had many problems with the other teacher and most of the students. For starters, I held a speaking test on the first day, which only half of the students attended (I chalk it up to their fear of speaking English). Of those who did the test, only half were at a level sufficient for the group they'd signed up for. But when I brought up my concerns, my co-worker's reply was, "We need to bring up their level in the next 8 months." Quite a difficult undertaking. Leapfrogging two levels of English in 8 months requires a lot of work, and they were scheduled for only 1 hour a week with a native speaker (me).

Due to their low levels, they couldn't understand me when I spoke English. In the B1 and B2 classes, I spoke at a level of A2 and B1. It floored me when my co-worker asked me to start speaking in Spanish because the students couldn't understand. I had never done that for any students in my entire teaching career. Well, perhaps a word or two, but in ANPE's B2 class I was using Spanish 50% of the time, and in B1 80%. Unbelievable.

Which leads to the complaints students had about my work. The main complaint I heard was that they were not speaking enough in class. Believe me, every lesson I planned included speaking activities. But when you're having to explain each word of vocabulary and grammar to 18 students, the hour you have gets used up pretty quickly.
Even when planning lessons, it doesn't always go as planned...
Sure enough, at the meeting ANPE fired me, although they gave a fake reason at first: "We can't continue to employ you without a contract. Since we do contracts for one year, and we don't know where you'll be in June, we can't make one for you."

"So, why not make a 5-month contract? I know auxiliaries that have 8-month ones."

Pause. "ANPE doesn't do that. We only do one-year ones."

Lies. In reality, the students' complaints were the real reason. At the same time, I'd been frustrated with their lack of ability to understand me when I spoke in slow, low-level English, and with having to speak Spanish in order to placate them. I would have rather have heard the truth, instead of being lied to at the meeting.

It was quite a blow to my ego. It always is when you try really hard to do a good job. I really wanted my students to do well on their exams. I've been complimented numerous times on my work since I became a teacher in 2013, and many have suggested I pursue a career as a teacher. But like love relationships, sometimes the one bad incident plagues you more.You forget about the good ones.

In typical Andalucían fashion, my co-worker said if I ever wanted to drop by and grab a coffee, we could. Although in the same breath, she lied and said how bad she felt that the contract laws didn't allow ANPE to continue to employ me. In my mind, I dismissed her fake offer. I turned and left as quickly as I could.

Lesson learned. If I'd had a contract, I could have prevented more salt being thrown in the wounds: ANPE only wanted to pay me for the two hours of class I gave, despite giving me only a couple of hours notice for my firing. Under normal circumstances, i.e. with a contract, when you're fired here you are entitled to approximately two weeks of salary. I would've thought that as a union, ANPE would treat me better. But the boss' view was that without a written contract, I was teaching clases particulares for "friends that they'd gathered together to learn English" (a.k.a. the students). Which was a skewed point of view, considering there was a public information page on ANPE's website for my class.

I was so insulted by the lack of respect, that I rejected their pitiful two hours of salary and walked away. This hugely embarrassing incident is a prime example for auxiliaries on what they deserve as teachers. I may never get the money I am owed, but I am excited to have the opportunity to seek out work that I'm more passionate about (translation, video editing, photography) and leave behind what wasn't working for me.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Funeral

Recently, a colleague's father passed away, and I felt it necessary to attend the funeral, even though I wasn't particularly close to his family. I had to ask someone at work what the standard dress was. In Canada, everyone wears black or a shade thereof. The dress is also formal or, at minimum, business-casual. Here, my coworker told me I didn't have to wear black. I could wear whatever I wanted, even jeans. The only no-no was wearing a mix of bright colours all at once.

The funeral also took place rather quickly. In Spain, it's common to hold one within two days. Usually families wait a full 24 hours after someone passes away before holding the mass, but for this event, it was a question of logistics. It being winter, the mass had to be early in the day, at 5:30 p.m. Technically, it was less than 24 hours but since it was better to have the burial in the cemetery before dark, it had to be this way.

We drove an incredibly windy road to reach the village, Torres, which was tucked away between snow-capped mountains. Inside the church, located at the top of a steep hill, there was no relief from the cold. Central heating doesn't exist in most village churches, so I sat, trembling, too distracted to understand the Spanish priest. It was a very simple church, with barebones pews, but the statues implanted along the walls were stunningly realistic in their sad, reverent expressions.

I used to be Catholic, and it was interesting to note differences between a Canadian mass and a Spanish one. For example, in Canada we shake hands with people around us and say, “Peace be with you.” In Spain, for anyone fitting in the categories between acquaintance and family member, you give a kiss on each cheek. I shook hands with the old man in front of me and said, “La paz.

Another difference was that at the end, we greeted the family. Being Torres, and being that some villages are conservative in the South, the men were divided from the women. I didn't know my colleague's family so I only shook their hands and said, “Lo siento.” With my colleague, even though we'd never done so at work, I gave him a kiss on each cheek.

It was interesting to experience such a private, intimate part of Spanish culture. Admittedly, it was a very sombre way to fuel my integration.