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Showing posts from January, 2010

Do the funky chicken

As my regular readers know (thank you both, I hope you got your Christmas cards) it grieves me how poor my Spanish is after five years here. No matter how hard I try to learn vocabulary, decline verbs and jot down useful phrases I still fall apart when I have to speak Spanish.

I have a couple of language exchanges, intercambios, each week. The idea is that we meet and we speak a bit of English and a bit of Spanish. One meeting is with a Spanish chap who takes his language learning very seriously, as an academic challenge. The other is with an Ecuadorian woman who has more practical reasons for wanting to learn English. Both of them do what every Spanish speaker does when I get going on this topic. They say my Spanish is good (but they have no answer as to why people screw up their faces in incomprehension when I try to buy a packet of fags) or that a few mistakes are all part of the fun. I say the same to them about their English - all jolly civilised.

I can't agree though when…

Show me the way to go home

Being British one becomes used to buying maps that are an accurate graphical representation of the terrain.

In Spain the maps are generally rubbish. It is very common for villages not to be marked for road junctions to be out of date etc. To be honest it seems to be getting a bit better (all that satellite mapping I suppose) but when the navigator says "This map is wrong" as you find yourself hopelessly lost it may actually be true. That won't stop the violent recriminations of course.

The odd thing is that private maps (Michelin, Repsol, Campsa etc.) tend to be more up to date than the ones from the official National Geographic Institute (IGN).

This is what Stamford's map shop has to say about the IGN 1:200000 series

"The series is being updated and titles often disappear for two or more years before a new edition is published. More importantly, with the current rapid expansion of the road infrastructure in Spain, particularly of the motorway network, even the…

Tell me how this works

I had to pack up all my purchases of shampoo and conditioner (617 bottle, about 220kgs in all) so I went in search of boxes and tape. A Spanish man, a pal of Maggie's called Ventura gave me a hand though we stopped off at his cousin's smallholding on the way to pick a few oranges and grapefruit straight from the tree. "I bet you can't do this in London," said Ventura.

I asked Ventura what the Spanish word is for packing tape - I thought it was cinta de embalaje but he put me right - what I needed was papel fiso. We went in the shop, he said do you have fiso, they said wide or narrow he said wide and we bought it.

I had to go back for more tape later so I went to the same shop. I asked for four rolls of fiso, they dragged out some sellotape, no the wide stuff, they produced wide sellotape. I pointed. Ah, you want cinta de embalaje.


The TIM blog

Along with a group of other people I'm doing some bits and pieces for the blog of a local, English language magazine. I've added the link in the box to the right but, if you want to have a look it's here

The passport has certain priviliges

There are a lot of Britons in Spain especially along the Mediterranean coast and on the islands. There are plenty too in the big cities like Barcelona and Madrid but they tend to be a different sort of Briton - hired for their particualr expertise, filling some time after or before college etc. whilst the resident Britons along the Med tend to be people like me, early retirees or in some way well enough off to get by with or without a regular income. It's an enormous generalisation and I can think of tens of exceptions even amongst the people I know. But stick with me, for the sake of this blog entry.

Now because we are not famed as linguists we tend to get by with mispronounced words, lots of gesturing and broad smiles. It works alright but, as you can imagine, in a town like Pinoso where Britons may be 10% of the population we no longer have novelty value, we're not free spending tourists and so it's more than likely that from time to time some Spaniard having a bad day…

Following the beet lorries

Dark skinned maidens trailing their hands through fields of sunflowers, their laughter as free as their hair. Sturdy farm boys in waistcoats and white shirts joking with their friends as they beat the olives from the trees. Sun hardened old men, grinning with their one good tooth as they pluck juicy oranges straight from the branch. Harvest time in Spain.

Today in a village just outside Cartagena, in a flat landscape where the electricity pylons march, we were a bit lost. A tractor rolled past, a big tractor, a tractor to make a Cambridgeshire arable farmer proud, a tractor wearing the mud like battle honours. In the green fields gangs of Ecuadorians or Moroccans wading through quaggy soil cut the crops and loaded them into green, plastic fruit boxes. Cabbage, celery? - I have no idea, lots of green, lots of leaf, lots of mud but not a dusky maiden in sight.

Today the fields of Murcia. The day after tomorrow a Tesco's near you.

Common sense or law

All of we Britons who drive in Spain have views about Spanish driving. I think that Spanish traffic goes remarkably slowly in towns for instance. Not many of my compatriots agree.

Something that Spanish drivers do is to use their hazard flashers more than I remember them being used in the UK. The main purpose is the same as for UK white van drivers, hazard flashers confer invulnerability if not invisibility. Put them on and you can stop where you like, when you like and for as long as you like in the most ridiculous place imaginable. Double parking is a curse on city streets in Spain.

But Spaniards also put on their hazard flashers when their vehicles might become a temporary roadblock; so when someone is reversing into a parking space in front of you and you have to wait - on go the flashers. You're travelling down a conventional two way road and you see a vehicle waiting in the middle of the road to turn left across traffic which will cause you to have to stop on a main road - o…

I have very dirty hair

When I first came to Spain I signed up as an agent for a UK based firm who offered a range of services to mainly retail businesses. Over the years they have contacted me from time to time offering to pay me such and such a fee for a range of tasks ranging from acting as the recall centre for a book with printing defects to interviewing professionals about which products they use. For one reason or another I've never been able to do any of the jobs they've offered.

Recently though they said they needed someone to go shopping for hundreds of a particular brand of shampoo and a conditioner from the same range. For the first time it was a job within my intellectual and physical grasp.

So over the last couple of days I've been to several supermarkets buying shampoo and conditioner. Standing in the queue I get some very odd looks as I stand there with a basket loaded with fifty or sixty similar looking bottles. My quip, to anyone who stares too long, "I have very dirty hai…