Saturday, December 24, 2011

Third time's the charm

Back in California for Christmas, this is my third time coming home from Europe for the holidays, and each time has felt very different.

The first time was coming back from my semester in Italy in 2008, and I was too cool for America. I'd gotten my first taste of living overseas. I remember despising anything American, any reminder that I wasn't in Europe anymore. Pick-up trucks, super-sized grocery stores, and kids running lemonade stands would all anger me. "That's so American," I would think, imagining myself a highly cultured individual now that I had spent four months in Europe. Looking back now, it was immature and arrogant. I eventually got off my high horse, but that deep desire to be somewhere else in the world is what got me to Spain, so I can't regret it.
How could I not be cool having lived a short walk from here?
Last year I came home for the holidays four months in to my time in Spain. It was perfect timing for me, right at that stage of culture shock when I was getting really homesick. The honeymoon stage of culture shock had ended and I needed a taste of home. Peanut butter. Mexican food. Target. Driving a car. People being on time. I was craving it all. I needed a break from jamón, tapas, cobbled streets, and being a guiri. Two weeks at home was exactly what the doctor ordered and I went back to Spain in January with a new wave of motivation to make the most of my experience.
On my "To Eat" list every trip home
This year I feel different from either of the previous two times. I am of course enjoying all the comforts of home, but to be honest I wasn't ecstatic to come back like I was last year. Spain has absolutely turned in to home for me, and I was sad to be leaving it for the holidays. All the little things that used to bug me are just a part of life I've adapted to. I've found the shinier side of the coin for nearly everything that I at one point complained about in Spain. Nothing is open on Sundays, but there are six other days in the week to run your errands. Waiters and sales clerks don't put on fake customer service smiles like they do here, but when you run in to someone you know, you kiss them on both cheeks and ask them how they and their family are, because you actually care.

I will always be glad to see my family in California and they are the reason I will keep coming back, but I didn't have a check list of things to eat and experience while at home like I did last year. If there was a list, it would have been: 1- Spend time with family. 2- Spend time with friends. I am definitely fulfilling that list, and enjoying every minute of it. Ten more days of family and friends, and ten more days until Spain. Both are good things in my book.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Emerald Isle

I apologize for the dearth of bloggage lately. I've been busy freezing my face off in Ireland and England the last two weekends, working in between, and now have three days left to pack and bid farewell and happy holidays to the Spain family before I head home for Christmas on Thursday. Did I mention I'm also still working all this week? That I plan to find time to make Christmas sugar cookies to bring to work? That I still need to do my Christmas shopping? Who needs to sleep anyway?

In the mean time, enjoy a bit of Northern Ireland and Ireland, which is better expressed in pictures than words (especially since I couldn't understand a word of what some people said there anyway).
Northern Ireland coast
Steak and Guinness pie and a hot toddy
Giant's Causeway

Belfast Christmas market
Queen of Tarts, please go there when ever you visit Dublin
Mandatory tour of Guinness storehouse
Christ Church Cathedral, which had a Christmas market in its crypt
Feliz Navidad a todos!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Andaluz: the tiny soccer ball of Spanish

One of my soccer coaches when I was about 12 had a brilliant idea. We did our drills at practice with size one soccer balls. Here's a picture I stole so you can get a size comparison for just how small it is.
As you can imagine, this made simple exercises much more difficult. A pass or volley you normally do with little effort now takes much more precision. The benefit to practicing this way? When you switch back to normal sized balls, it's like washing your windshield for the first time in ages and finally being able to see again. Or like taking a blindfold off. If you can do something with a size one ball, you'll never have a problem doing it with a normal one.

Why do I mention this now? Because I recently had an epiphany, and I decided that Andaluz (ahem, Andalú), the particular dialect of Spanish I'm learning here in Andalucía, is the tiny soccer ball of Spanish. I could go learn the crisp, clear, Spanish of Madrid or Valladolid, but where's the fun in that? Only pronouncing every other syllable means listening to everyday conversations is like deciphering cryptic messages.

In order for the words to make sense, I used to have to mentally fill in the blanks and reread the sentence in my head. By the time I'd processed that and was ready to chime in to the conversation, I was way behind. Poco a poco it's getting easier, and now I find myself very conscious of the fact that I'm understanding words and phrases that once would have left me puzzled.

However, when I switch to the full size soccer ball, when I talk to a student's mom who is from Salamanca, or a coworker back home who's Colombian, the full effect of Andaluz hits me. Listening to them compared to Andalucíans is like night and day. I can go the entire conversation without missing a word (sometimes), a feat I have yet to accomplish in Andaluz.

But am I packing my bags and running away to the north? Absolutely not. If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere in the Spanish speaking world, but I'm not going anywhere. I'm hitting the books and working on dropping the 'd' in my 'ado' endings. Study with me: