No Man’s Land

A week without my passport. I was waiting for the renewed one to come through the post. I couldn’t fly back to Spain until it arrived. I had a strange sense of being suspended between two countries and two lives.

Here in the UK I don’t have a flat or a car. I spend time with family, I have business meetings, and I meet friends. I admire the gorgeous countryside in this mostly mild autumn, and I spend double the money I would in Spain.

This doesn’t feel like home any more and yet, I have more vivid memories than ever over here. Every multi-colored autumn tree and bright green field jolts something within me. Every crunchy leaf I step on transports me back to a time when I had little legs and learnt about the world.

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My aim is to see all this through fresh eyes, and create a new place for myself here. Not a place based on memories that haunt me – good and bad – but a place that is part of my now and my future. When I return to Spain, I would like to do the same. Life is based on change, and clinging on to sentimental creations can be dangerous.

It’s time to actually live in and accept the moment – wherever that may be –  and be the person I want to be…. A hundred times more cheerful than the person in my passport photo!  😛

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Saying No

In general, English people are very polite and find it hard to be direct and say no. Even when they are thinking “definitely not”! There’s a lot of “Sounds good; I’ll let you know. Thanks for inviting me…”

To make things “worse”, in Spain there’s a big culture of life “en la calle” (outside). If someone asks you to go for a “Cervezita” (little beer) with them, it’s normal to think “why not?”, grab your things and go.

The weather’s usually so gorgeous here, it seems a shame to be inside. There’s also a culture of “me apunto!” (I’ll be there) – when you’re not even sure you can make it or not, just to be in the spirit of “up for everything”.…

Thus, between my very English upbringing and my last few years in Spain, I’ve recently realized that I find it REALLY hard to say no.

What happens when we say “yes”, when really we mean “no”? Apart from it damaging our self-esteem, it means we often take on too many commitments, and we have to cancel on people; to let them down . This also affects our relationships with other people, as they stop trusting us 100%.

In the process we get frustrated because we don’t end up doing what we originally wanted.  We have the feeling that the circumstances manage us rather than the other way round; that we’re not responsible for what happens to us.

This doesn’t mean going to the other extreme and having no flexibility and sponataneity; The key is to be connected to what you want in every moment.

Therefore, if I fancy the cervezita  (or the plan, the project etc) then it’s “YESS” and on my way with a smile. Yet, when I don’t want to, I’m learning to simply say “no, thanks”, without feeling I have to justify why.

3 ways to make 2013 better than 2012

What I’m about to write is nothing new. It is all based on information I’ve read, been taught and experienced about emotional intelligence. I’m in the process of  helping Spanish people to look for jobs in the UK. Often what many lack is a decisiveness, a belief in themselves and the “get up and go” attitude that employees crave.  A company is an organization of people. The way those people see themselves, relate to each other, and to the company’s vision, is vital.  So, here are three tips I would give everyone to make this year better, unrelated to the economic climate:

1)   Think in positive. Focus on what you DO want and not what you don’t want. When we spend our time endlessly complaining about what we don’t like and don’t want, it’s usually what we get.  For example, instead of thinking “I hope I’m not unemployed for too long”, think “I REALLY want to get that job. I’ll get it, and if I don’t I’ll get a similar one soon”.

2)   Be creative. There is not one but infinite ways to get to where you want to be. Don’t get obsessed by the how and focus on the what. Take risks and have fun trying out different things. Focus on your eventual success rather than being weighed down by fear of failure. For example, if I want to become a clown, I could go to clown school, teach myself and practice at home, become an online clown, or just go out on the street dressed up as a clown and see what happens…The important thing is that I’d enjoy the process!

3)   Be decisive. Figure out what it is you really want and go for it. Do whatever you have to do to find out what that is, but don’t lose another second. It could be in any or in ALL areas of your life. Again, don’t worry abou the how, just focus on the what. Once you are moving towards those things you will feel an incredible motivation and inner strength that overcomes your lower moments. “But I don’t know what I want!!!” Start writing, go away somewhere, read, take an emotional intelligence course, close your eyes, breath, look deep within you… We all have dreams.

These tips are more powerful than they seem; have a go at applying them. You may be extremely surprised at what you find.

Is it really that bad in Spain?

A Frequently Asked Question throughout my trip to England. Yes, I would reply, it  really is. I’ve lived it, I can see it all around me, and the figures don’t lie (they just manipulate). Yet, the doom, gloom and apathy doesn’t help.  The UK is out of recession, but it was grey for nearly the entire time I was there. I’ve returned to a beautiful, light, and sunny Spain, but to a pessimistic atmosphere for the year ahead. Right now the country needs active risk-takers, people willing to invest their time if not their money in new projects; people open to moving around and travelling. There’s no place to live like Andalucía but other regions and countries have a lot to offer too – economically, culturally, socially and even politically. Later, young people can bring their experience, skills and maybe money back to Spain where, deep down, most of them really want to live. It all sounds so simple right? I know that it’s not. These are complex, despairing and even tragic times for Spanish people.  Especially for older people who somehow have to provide for their families.  I would only ask that people are patient, positive and proactive – that we club together to think up new and imaginative solutions, and that we can still smile and be thankful for the sunny Spanish winter mornings (y las tapas, la gente, las risas etc etc…).

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Spanish Hooligans

They exist! I found them. Not at a football match, club or on a dark street but… at a Beatles tribute gig! And they weren’t rowdy youths, canis (chavs), or scary motorbike men but… two well-dressed, overweight men in their sixties…

They weren’t drinking beer but gin tonic after gin tonic (not caring about the ‘brand’ of gin and tonic that’s de moda now of course…).

Instead of chanting football songs they knew EVERY WORD to every single Beatles song played, and they threateningly demanded more.

Their equivalent to “Come the F on!” was “¡VAMOS QUE NOS VAMOS!” – cried out between every tune…

Instead of throwing beer cans, one of them climbed onto the stage to hug the base player – a super fan, until… they found out that the group didn’t know how to play ‘Michelle’ (Rubber Soul album).

At this point all hell broke loose. The two men began chanting “MICHELLE, MICHELLE” at the tops of their voices and proceeded to sing the WHOLE song, while the poor group (who by the way, are amazing) carried on their show.

Y para colmo, their ‘likeness’ to English hooligans ‘relieving themselves’ in bottles of water, was to just NOT GO to the toilet the WHOLE BLIMIN’ night (excuse my inner hooligan) from the sound check (8.30pm) to the end of the show (1:30am)….

Lucky Eleanor Rigby. 

Spain a Pessimistic Nation?

This morning I did my declaración de la renta (tax return). Just as I was saying politely to the funcionario (civil servant) attending me, Perdone, tengo una cita previa a las 9.40 (Excuse me, I have an appointment at 9.40), the man turned round to greet his colleague behind him: Quillo, ¿ya te has fumado un cigarro?” (Mate, have you had your ciggy break already?). I didn’t get a, “Good morning”, a “Just a second Madam”, or even an acknowledgement…

When the man turned back to me, he gave me a number, which one of his other two compañeros (colleagues) would call out when it was my turn…

Rather than pessimistic, I would describe Spain as conformist. The Spaniards are mostly deeply fond of their country and culture, both of which are extremely charming and attractive. Spanish people know how to enjoy life, and they have the climate, geography, food and traditions to do so.

A sizeable percentage of entrepreneurial Spaniards, do enjoy taking risks. Yet, as a nation, the Spaniards are not generally risk-takers. Why would they want to put at stake what they highly appreciate, when there are few incentives to do so?

Other nationalities are more prone to leaving everything: families, friends, and loved ones for a professional opportunity. This extreme is not desirable either.

However, in Spain, up until now, the greatest aim of many has been to become a funcionario. They are on average the best paid jobs, and once you pass the long, harsh and painful exams ‘Oposiciones’ (many Spaniards have to repeat them for years…) to achieve one, it becomes “A job for life”; it is virtually impossible to get fired…

Hardworking and passionate civil servants do exist, but there are also countless funcionarios like my ‘friend’ this morning. The system does not give them incentives to do the best they can, and this affects productivity and quality in some of the main public services

Conformist, yes. Pessimistic? Not in every sense. How could a country that is so beautiful, cheerful, culturally rich and talented at sport (ignoring last night’s performance!), be pessimistic?

Too Rich

Not something we often hear, other than perhaps in verbal attacks on politicians, hedge funders and football players… But I’m not talking about money. This reflection was inspired by a random conversation I had about chocolate the other day.  In English when something is overly sugary, fatty and creamy or ‘chocolatey’ we say that it is sickly, or “too rich”. In my early months in Spain when I claimed that a chocolate brownie was “demasiado rico”, I got strange looks. In Spanish when food is delicious, it’s “rich”: ¡Qué rico!  There’s no such thing as “Too rich”. The Spanish say “empalagoso”, which more or less translates to sickly. A dish being “too rich” is incomprehensible for the Spanish; a bit like the idea of driving on the left, or measuring distance in miles ;).

God Save the Queen

The word Queen makes me happy. The Spanish word Reina is not quite the same. Perhaps because Freddie Mercury and co were a genius creation. Or perhaps it’s that I really feel some British pride for our 60-year-ruling Elizabeth II.  There is no denying that the monarchy partly defines us as a nation, whether we approve of it or not.

Yesterday I began to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in Spain. We lifted our mojitos and cried “Salud”. OK, so Gin and “Cheers” (in a very posh accent) are more Elizabeth II’s thing, but at lease I am in flag-covered Britain in spirit.

I have never been particularly patriotic, but parts of British history and culture are embedded in me. This week I have missed British manners. Our “pleases” and “thank yous” can be very pesados, but we have unwritten rules that occasionally seem to lack in Spain: Formalities, sticking to our word, not talking over other people when they are speaking, aiming for punctuality…

We also have many things to be ashamed of, such as our nation’s historic tendency to drink too much. Yet, the great thing about the British is that we are capable of laughing at, and making parodies out of ourselves. This is why many love our Queen’s fake twitter account, where she tweets as a sarcastic, swearing, drunkard… https://twitter.com/#!/Queen_UK

God Save the Queen. And God let us appreciate the wonderful elements of different cultures… while being able to constructively criticize our own.

Happy 60th Anniversary Liz.

Coming Soon: The Heat in Seville

The afternoon sun is omnipresent. The blanket has been thrown off my bed. I can almost smell those evenings when I dive outside into a pool of heat.

The Sevillanos ask me “Conoces Sevilla en agosto?” (Have you ever lived through an August in Seville?) Never mind that this will be my fourth consecutive summer here, I think what they mean to say is, “How can someone so pale and English aguantar (put up with) such heat?”

I am a typical guiri. I love the sun and I solve the ‘heat problem’ with flip-flops, short skirts, sun cream, swimming pools, beach and air-conditioning…However, I must admit, the sleepless nights, heavy head and inability to go for a run until late at night, do get to me.

Before, I was worse. When I was on Erasmus I got stopped by a policeman while I was sunbathing.  I was in my bikini by the river in August, eyes closed, and suddenly I hear, “Rubia, rubia, te has puesto crema??!!” (Blonde girl, have you put sun cream on??)…

How embarrassing! I can safely say I have never done that again, and partly of course, because I’m now a little older and wiser ;).

I digress…The heat will be here by next week. I would like to take this opportunity to think, while I am still able to do so clearly. I would like to reflect, and to consider my plans and aims for the next few months before they slip away in front of my eyes. I would like to be aware that I am living, and not just merely alive. So, hold on please 40 degrees days, I’m not quite there yet.

Tell the Story

I went and did it. I dressed up as a gitana (gypsy) for the Feria de Jerez. People ask me if I feel “fully integrated into the culture” now… I would say I feel more like a true payasa (clown). I did it to be silly; a bit like dressing up as a pirate or an Indian. In fact, thanks to the rather serious look on my face in this photo I got nicknamed the “Gitana asesina” (Gypsy murderer) and gave a few people some ideas for Halloween.

The dresses are beautiful, I love them…. on Spanish females who know how to dance.

I decided I would include it in this blog as I was walking towards the feria, and that got me thinking. How much of what we do, do we partly do to tell the story? For example, the typical facebook status that tells everyone that you are “contemplating the world on a train” when really you are “bored and time-wasting on facebook”, or the “I’m having the time of my life” status and photos…

Undoubtedly, our need and possibilities for recognition have been accentuated by the web 2.0 and social networks. Yet, as humans we’ve always loved telling the story; sometimes more than living the actual event.

For that reason we have the marvellous expression in English: “That’s one to tell the Grandkids”…

Will I tell “the Grandkids” about my gitana asesina moment? I’m not too sure it’ll make it on to the list. 😉