Monday, March 30, 2015

On Dating in Spain

Within a short time, it's easy to learn the ropes of many things about living in a foreign country: conversation, food choices, public transport, tipping... but one thing I'm STILL learning, 1.5 years later, is how to date. Although there's no shortage of people wanting to step in and meddle. When I solicit advice, it's appreciated, but I feel completely confused when others give unsolicited help.

"Who cares if a twenty-two year old hits on you? Just sleep with him for the sex!" YOU'RE NOT HELPING ME.

"I have a friend for're okay with people over 50, right?"  YOU'RE NOT HELPING ME.

"Next time you walk home with a guy, just say, 'Listen, let's go back to my house, and have a roll in the hay.' Women in Spain are more aggressive." YOU'RE NOT HELPING ME (although you're helping me sound like a whore).

Lots of people, mostly people I barely know (like my hairdresser) ask me almost every time, "Do you have a boyfriend yet?" Talk about pressure. I don't think any Olympic athlete would appreciate being asked, "Do you have a gold medal yet?" Or any musician, being asked, "Do you have a Grammy yet?"

I don't mind being asked for my opinions about the dating scene, because I have many. I have learned a lot, but feel like I have many more lessons to go. Trying to convey what I mean in Spanish, along with the nuances of body language, make every beer with a stranger feel like I'm taking a final exam in a Foreign Culture course. I better study hard to get that A.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Living at Home with Family in Spain

On the weekend, I went to my pueblo and slept at a friend's house. In the morning, I woke up to the most interesting sensation: I felt at home. The quiet comfort of the bedroom I was in, rock music eminating from the bathroom as someone showered, the clink of spoons stirring pots as the day's lunch was being prepared in the kitchen, a low murmur in the livingroom coming from a film on the television. The sounds soothed me, and I felt relaxed knowing there were people in the house.
Quite often, when I've lived with friends or alone, I wake up to an empty apartment. I never realized, until that morning, how much I missed waking up to sounds of people in the house. The last time I heard noise upon waking, I was living with a boyfriend. Before that, with my family. All very long ago.
Sure, my Spanish friends that live with their family aren't necessarily happy about it. In most cases, the economic situation has forced them to move back home. They may see my lot in life and feel envy. But the grass is always greener. I stay at friends' houses and receive fantastic conversation and the best meals ever prepared by motherly hands.
In Canada, my friends and I had "Orphans' Thanksgiving", where instead of gathering with family, we would head to someone's house with food and wine and have dinner together. It's widely acknowledged that many single people cannot, or don't want, to be with family during the holidays. As a person who has celebrated this way for years, I look at the family situation in Spain with envious eyes sometimes. Luckily, I have friends who are willing to extend their family to include me, and I am grateful for that.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Granada: Flirting and Fame

Last week I jumped on the opportunity to join a group of 13-14 year olds from my teaching job on a school trip to Granada's Science Park and the Alhambra. I've always loved seeing the old fortress, and it was my first time at the Science Park. Watching the kids, I remembered the dynamics of my childhood: the girls who showed up wearing the same clothes and makeup (did I really go to school wearing shorts that short? Probably.); the awkward boys learning how to be affectionate with the females; the kids who cared more about running around on the playground than having a boyfriend; the young couples.

Observing the first group, the 'it' girls, was interesting. Whether it's a result or a cause of Facebook and Instagram, they took photos against every backdrop possible, posing as if they were in a photoshoot. Most of the time, they'd stand against a blank wall, only caring that the lighting was good. One of the teachers was obviously disgusted, commenting on their behaviour both to them and to us, the monitors. I thought it was ridiculous too, but I remembered being image-obsessed back then. (P.S. Nothing's changed. Haha)

Granada's a very popular city for tourists, so the girls met a group of Americans from Connecticut, in the Science Park. I was so proud that they were able to practice their English in a fun way, by flirting. Numbers were exchanged within minutes. When we parted, the girls immediately sent flirty Whatsapp messages to the American boys.

“Teacher, I spoke English with a boy! He's my friend now!”

“Well, that was fast,” I thought. “A phone number in five minutes? That teenager's got more skills than me.”

Monday, March 9, 2015

Jaén Impressions Part 2

I've been living in Jaén since October, and I can say that I'm genuinely happier than when my contract started. Based on what I'd said before, here's what I think now:
  • I come across people all the time that like practising a bit of English with me. It's not as bad as touristy cities, though, so my Spanish is coming along extremely well.
  • Man, there's so much to do here compared to Villacarrillo – concerts, music, art, a museum open on Sundays, the gym, places to eat, ONE really good Chinese and Mexican restaurant, a movie theatre... I could go on forever.
  • My friends were right: the traffic and noise don't bother me anymore.
  • The racist incidents have lowered to almost zero, although I also know where to go and what times to avoid walking around alone. It sucks that I have to limit my life so much, but at the same time it's less stressful to do things this way.
  • I enjoy my job more. I love how some students who were initially aloof towards me are now willing to read and speak English in class. That said, I've requested adult students for next year.
  • It's only March and already we hit the early 20s in temperature daily. I take time when I can to sit in quiet plazas and soak up the sun.
  • I love how easy it is to travel to other cities via bus, train, or Blablacar.

(In the pic, I'm hiking at "Punto de la Mata", which I'd translated as "Point where you Die". Can't blame my translation skills; it was a pretty difficult hike.)
I am quite happy with my living situation right now. Obviously I just needed some time to adjust, so that I could enjoy what I have before me.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Too Much Fun Is Bad For You?

Hermiting is not an option here.
In Spain, people do not want to stay home all day. Even if they simply take a walk after a meal, most of them NEED to get out of the house. Interestingly, even when it's 2 degrees in winter, a lot of them feel a need to eat outside on the terazza, too - bundled up in coats, without heat lamps.

Going out and socializing is a big part of Spanish culture. But when you're trying to save up money for a summer of unemployment, or for future plans, sticking to a budget can be tough. Living in Jaén has the huge advantage of "free" tapas with every drink, sometimes even when the beverage is non-alcoholic. But if you're going out every day of every weekend, it can add up. Throw in trips to other parts of Spain, and you're hooped.

There are ways to save money, of course. My list includes:

- eating at home before going out
- finding free events, or having potluck dinners
- travelling to cities where I know someone with whom I can stay with
- Blablacar
- flashing my student card every time I visit a popular tourist spot
- flashing my flirty smile to score a free drink (kidding, kidding....)

Are there other ways you save money and balance being social at the same time?