Category Archives: General

Thoughts on Marrying a Spanish Girl…

I was recently talking to a 70+ year old friend of my grandfather’s. After asking him if he’d lived in the same city all his life, he said:

“In Spain we have a saying: you are born where your parents come from, and you die where your wife comes from…”

The more I thought about this, the more examples I found to back it up. Married couples do often end up living where the wife orginally came from.

Now this could be a completely unfair conclusion, and is certainly no slight on women in general (I can feel myself getting into trouble here…), but it is just the kind of ‘warning’ you hear when you first end up getting together with a Spanish person, male or female, on their turf…

I received another such warning when I first got together with Marina. A teacher friend kindly passed on words of advice from another teacher who knew what I was up to. “Tell Ben to watch out,” she had said, “he has no idea what he is getting into with the Spanish family.”

This ‘adivce’ haunted me for months…

I guess she meant the fact that the Spanish family stays close, that you’ll be eating with them every weekend, and there may be quite a few extra visits during the week… all true…

BUT, doesn’t that happen in other countries too? A mother-in-law is a mother-in-law where ever you come from – ever present, in one way or another.

So according to received wisdom, if you move to Spain and get together with a Spanish person, you will end up living where they come from forever, and have to hang out a lot with their family. That pretty much accords with my experience, but you know what?

It isn’t all that bad!

Thank god Spain still has a culture where the family is respected, nurtured, kept tight! While western culture is doing it’s best to dissemble the traditional family (extended and nuclear), the Spanish still want to get together as often as possible for a good feed-up! Good for them!

And the idea you might get stuck in Spain forever? I say jump in with both feet, you’ll soon end up realising you were always destined to be here anyway.

[P.S. I miss my own family lots and wish we were all nearer!]

Happy Summer Hiatus…

OK, Marina and baby and I are off on holiday for a few weeks, so…

If you are new to the site then I really suggest you take a look around, listen to some podcasts, please do leave some comments if you have something to say, and don’t forget, if you like learning Spanish, you have to check out our sister-site, the famous NotesinSpanish.com!

Happy Holidays! – Ben

Bringing Up Baby Bilingual in English, Spanish, and Rubbish

A common question Marina and I are asked, as a Spanish-British couple, is ‘What language do you speak to each other?’

The answer is that we absolutely interchangeably speak English, Spanish, and rubbish.

Let me explain: We are both very good at each other’s language, so we can easily talk to each other in English, or Spanish, and communicate perfectly. I would say we speak a touch more Spanish, but it really depends on factors like how tired one of us is (I always defaults to my own language when I’m tired)…

The problem is that our easy interchange between English and Spanish doesn’t just happen on a daily basis. It doesn’t just happen on an hourly basis…

It often happens on a sentence to sentence basis, or worse, a word to word basis!

For example:

Marina to Ben: You look exhausted, qué te pasa love?
Ben to Marina: Nothing, I’m just feeling a bit agobiado

Oh dear. You see the thing is, in sentences like this we’ll change languages when a single word or phrase works better in one language than another. Qué te pasa just works better than ‘what’s going on’ for Marina in the above example, and in the case of my reply, I use the word agobiado becuase it does a one-word job that English doesn’t have to explain a general feeling of stress/anxiety/over-work/too much on my shoulders.

And Marina understands what I mean perfectly, just as I understood her! Why speak in one language at a time, after all, when we have all the wonderful lexical tools of two at our disposal? We have a reached perfect, hybrid-bilingual communication at a sentence to sentence, word to word level.

Here´s the problem. Well two problems really.

Problem one, things get worse. Our hybrid-bilingual model quickly gets out of control. Let’s take my sentence from the above example again, and look at another version, that is almost more likely to be used these days:

Ben to Marina: Nothing, I’m just feeling a bit agobiated

AgobIATED! Spanglish at it’s best! Yet it just sounds right, and I know that Marina knows exactly what I’m talking about, even if I am effectivily speaking the third language of rubbish!

But here’s the biggest problem of all: We are trying to bring up our baby to be bilingual. What chance has he got with words like ‘agobiated’ flying around the house?

Time to ditch the private language I think, and stick to those good old staples of English and Spanish, and preferably just one at a time!

Updates: La Presidencia and NIS Forest

First of all, STILL not official confirmation of whether Marina has indeed been landed with the worst job in Spain, and is in fact ‘La Nueva Presidenta de la Comunidad’!

We are avoiding bringing up the matter with the porter, who is bound to know, working on the assumption that what you haven’t been told in person, might still not be true!

Secondly, some of you know about the ‘Notes in Spanish Forest’, 120 cherry trees in Asturias bought with proceeds from the sale of our ‘Crisis Collection’ pack, over at our Spanish learning sister-site Notes in Spanish. Well, the trees have just been planted, and the charity, Fapas, has put a really nice photo-story up on their site about the big event. Do have a look.

Marina has made a Spanish video about it too, here.

Have a great weekend! – Ben

(Expat) Help Needed…

My friend Marielli is doing some really interesting academic work that includes research into expats living here in Spain, and could really do with a hand on a quick survey if you are:

1. US American or British
2. 18 years of age or older
3. Currently living in Spain, US or UK

As Marielli says:

“This research will require you to participate in a brief online questionnaire that will take less than 10 minutes to complete. The survey touches on the dimensions that are described extensively in the work of Geert Hofstede and Michael Minkov. They deal with key issues in national societies, known from social anthropology and cross-cultural research. By participating in this study, you will help contribute to more data in the field of cross-cultural research.”

I’ve taken the survey, it’s quick, easy to complete, so do please help if you fit the bill.

Here’s the link to the survey

Thanks! Ben

Spain in trouble?

Just got home via a 2 am cab ride, streets strangely empty. The cab driver said:

“It’s the news from the government, 4 million unemployed, over 17% of the working population, people are scared… wouldn’t surprise me if we reach 5 million…”

And I think Spain might well reach 5 million unemployed, I mean, it’s not as if the construction industry (which counts one way or another for over 30% of the GNP) is going to recover in the next 5 years… and what’s going to replace it?

Spain has troubled times ahead I fear…

We Won The Lonely Planet ‘Best Expat Blog Award’!

Yes! We won the Lonely Planet ‘Best Expat blog’ award, and I say ‘We‘, because all the comments over the years from ‘You‘ have kept this blog more than alive… the video below, made as the ‘acceptance speech’ for the ceremony in San Francisco last night (how posh is that!?) explains better:

Many thanks to you all again. If you are new here, do stop for a look around, and if you like learning Spanish, please do look at our famous Learning Spanish podcasts too!

Saludos from Madrid!

Ben (el contento)

P.S. Don’t forget our great Spanish podcasts site!

How to avoid being “an expat” in Spain

expat in Feria de Jerez

Photo: Me trying to ‘blend in’ and not to look like an expat (Fail?!)

OK, so technically if you live in Spain and aren’t from here, then you are either an immigrant, or an ex-pat – probably both. Nothing wrong with either of course, but there are certain aspects of ‘ex-pat-ness’ that it is certainly wise to avoid, if only for the benefit of your own long-term self esteem!

So, here is my quick guide to ‘How to avoid being “too expatty” in Spain’ – and, more to the point, really fitting in with the locals! Please add to the list in the comments!

1. Never drink in Irish bars, no matter what sporting event you just can’t miss and isn’t on anywhere else.

2. … and don’t say things like ‘I counldn’t half do with a decent pint instead of these tiny bloody caña beers they serve over here’.

Typical Spanish Bar

Photo: Try to drink in bars that look like this

3. In fact… only drink in bars with crap all over the floor, a few old Spanish men permanently stuck to the bar, and at least one well dressed barmen, over 50, who’s worked there since just after birth.

Drunk in Spain

Photo: Clearly NOT expats – expats wouldn’t bother with the matress

4. Don’t ever get obsessed about eating “at least one good meal from home” a week. Spanish food is much better for you. You’ll live longer. (4.b. Don’t do all your food shopping in the ‘gourmet’ section of El Corte Ingles).

Spanish market

Photo: Avoid El Corte Ingles – try food shopping in places like this!

5. Don’t spend more time on Facebook than you do soaking in your new surroundings.

6. Don’t wear white socks, shorts and tennis shoes in public.

Spanish football fans

Photo: To blend in, dress like this

7. Learn some more Spanish! Come on, you live here! Join in!

8. Swear more (and only in Spanish, joder).

9. What would you add for number 9?

Comments below please! (Later note on some comments below: I’m amazed that some people used this as an excuse to reinforce idiotic stereotypes about the Spanish – says a lot about a certain class of expat I’m afraid…)