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.

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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…).

manana_soleado_jerez

 

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 ;).

The Walk of Shame

In English there is an expression: “The walk of shame”, which would be something like, “El paseo de la verguenza” in Spanish.

The walk of shame is the journey back to your house after staying over at someone’s house… unexpectedly.

The morning after, you return on the same bus as the workers going to work, or the students going to university…

If you are a girl you are still in your high heels, skirt and smudged make-up from the night before. If you are a guy your shirt is hanging out, your trousers are half undone… You look like a mess.

And it’s obvious to everyone on the bus or in the street what you’ve probably done. SHAME on you!

You want to sneak back to your house unnoticed, but suddenly you see your old teacher, your boss, your arch-enemy or your loud, talkative uncle.

During the walk of shame you feel the lowest of the low. But to everyone else it’s hilarious!

And Sevilla this week is full of walkers of shame! 😀

This morning at the bus stop, girls and women in beautiful flamenco dresses stumbled over the road, while boys and men in messy suits hobbled along like drunken old men.

Yet the difference is, there’s nothing shameful about being an all-night “Feria-goer”. The Feria only lasts a week… the walkers of shame are the hardcore ones who really make the most of  it!

In England, with our early everything (lunch, dinner, closing-times), let’s face it – we just ‘ain’t’ capable of regular all-nighters… Shame on us! 😛

Don’ts and Dos for a ‘guiri’ (foreigner) in the Feria de Sevilla

DON’T…

  • Wear chanclas (flip-flops). You will come back with black feet, or maybe even directly tread on some horse poo.
  • Try to dance a Sevillana (the typical flamenco dance of the feria) when you’ve no idea, just because you’ve had a few rebujitos (manzanilla wine with lemonade)…
  • Go if you don’t know anyone who has a caseta (marquee-type-thing). All the decent ones are private!
  • Spend too much time in la calle del infierno. It’s called the hell street for a reason.
  • Wear a mini-skirt if you are going to go on the rides. Or if you do, at least don’t wear your Hello Kitty pants that day…
  • Be deceived by the small size of the rebujito glass. You might be used to pints, but I can assure you no tiene nada que ver – it’s stronger than beer!
  • Buy a toffee apple. Just don’t do it. It’s stickier than you think! After that first bite your teeth will never be the same again.
  • Expect to bop up and down to Lady Gaga. You’ll be lucky to get a flamenco version of the Macarena! This is the Feria, miarma! ¡Olé!

DO…

  • Say you “conoce a Pepe” (know Pepe) to get into any private caseta. There’s always a Pepe! 😉
  • Wear a suit if you’re a man and a traje de flamenco if you’re a woman. That way you won’t stand out so much… or you will be the “guiri gracioso/a” of the group.
  • Learn to dance Sevillanas before the Feria. It’s hot when a guiri knows how to dance, and cute if you have a dignified go at it…
  • Mira al de al lado (copy the person next to you) if you haven’t learn the moves but you really, really want to join in!
  • Remember, to move those arms as a true gitana (gypsy): “Take the apple, eat the apple and throw it away”…
  • If you know enough Pepes, change caseta from time to time. It’s a great excuse to catch up with friends, to meet people and to divertirte in a random kind of way! 😀
  • Eat Jamón and Tortilla, and drink rebujito! ¡Claro que sí!

7 Things you might do in Spain but not in UK

1)       Have lunch at 3pm and not be ‘active’ again until 5pm.

Lunch is to be enjoyed and savored in Spain. The afternoon starts later, while the sacred ‘hora de comer’ is for eating, talking and when necessary, siesta’ing.

2)      Give two besos (kisses) on the cheek to strangers.

In the UK it’s the good old handshake, a smile-nod-hello, or at most, a kiss on one cheek.

3)      Hear the word primo (cousin) used a lot.

In the UK we’re not generally as close to our cousins as to our siblings…

4)      Ask the age of someone when they tell you it’s their birthday…

Even if you don’t know them very well. In the UK that’s being impolite – in Spain it’s being direct and it’s totally normal.

5)      Have dinner out at 10.30pm or later.

Most UK kitchen staff are on their way to their after-work drink by that time.

6)      See toddlers out at midnight.

In some parts of Spain it gets so unbearably hot in the summer, that toddlers must sleep the siesta and be kept inside until late.

7)      Call your boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s parents the suegros (in-laws).

In the UK we wait to get married before taking on extra parents…

This is England… Gibraltar, mate!

Apart from some nasty blocks of flats, it wasn’t as run-down as I expected. But the whole experience was rather odd. England in the heart of Southern Spain…

Gibraltar

We queued for an hour to get in, and a human-sized monkey greeted us at the entrance. It felt strangely Disney.

Once inside, our phones welcomed us to the Reino Unido, and there he was – an English Bobby Policeman.

Bobby Policeman

We found ourselves in a plaza that smelt of England; a mixture of fish and chips, beer and pub food.

Plaza Gibraltar

We ate in a pub that was too auténtico to be your typical pub irlandés in Spain. With Strongbow on tap, Pimm’s and Lamb Shank, this was not Spain. Only the surrounding sun, sea and big ‘rock’ reminded me where we were geographically…

Gibraltar is its own world. You can pay in pounds or euros, and it’s tax free. Cars and aeroplanes share the same runway (no a la vez, eh!). Smoking is allowed in bars. You hear posh English accents, thick Andaluz and: “¿Qué pasa cabrón? Where the bloody hell have you been?”

And if you get bored, you can go and see monkeys that steal.

Monkey

But whatever you do, don’t miss out on this…

Queen Gibraltar

…The place may be raro, but then the English (we) are very raros at times… No doubt about it – we were clearly in England.

Happy Easter!!! 🙂