Spain

Shopping and Super Bowling in Granada

About a week ago, I finished my 3-week intensive language course at UGr. I have no obligations until classes start up again sometime around February 12- so I’ve got some nice free time on my hands. Tomorrow I finally will tour the Alhambra, so look forward to a massive photo dump sometime tomorrow afternoon (US time).

Sunday night I went out with some of the full-year study abroad students. There was a bar throwing a Super Bowl party, but we were the only people who bothered to show. It sure was interesting watching America’s biggest day in sports from a country where close to no one is interested whatsoever. Kickoff was at 12:30 or 1:00 AM, and we were there until about 4:00 AM. They had prepared for more visitors than just us, so we got double helpings of free tapas with our drinks. Eating palella and bocadillos in a near-empty bar sure was a strange way too watch the super bowl… I would have killed for some nachos or potato chips with onion dip.

One other thing worth mentioning is what shopping is like here in comparison to good ol’ American suburbia:

  • The ratio of shoe stores to clothing stores is probably about 1.5:1
  • I’m sorry, but Spanish designers’ idea of jeans is just ugly. In every 10 pairs that I look at, there is maybe one that doesn’t disgust me. I made the mistake of only bringing 3 pairs of pants and I’ve been dropping into various stores for a couple of weeks now trying to find one pair that looks decent.
  • If any article of clothing has writing on it, you can bet on it being some kind of broken English. I saw a shirt that says, “Nobody knows I’m metrosexual,” and a clothing tag that said something like, “The most bombastic and iridescent style, threatening the essence of violence. Straight from the jungles of Africa.”
  • The one equivalent of a major department store here is El Corte Inglés. They have horribly high prices but a selection that can’t be beat. They usually have their own sit-down restaurant inside the store. We visited an 8-story Corte Inglés in Madrid with a rather fancy restaurant on the top floor.
  • What I heard was true, a pair of Levi’s here will easily go for 100€, if not more.

For now, that is all. Tomorrow… ¡La Alhambra!

Random Cultural Observations

Some things I’ve noticed in my first month or so in Spain:

  • I didn’t realize how much of a fixed routine Americans seem to require. Everyone seems to talk about how Spaniards are good about mixing work with leisure, but I didn’t realize how subconscious it all would be. I don’t notice it so much in how Spaniards act as I do in how I act differently from them. I keep trying to establish some kind of fixed daily routine here, and I find such routines to be less helpful here than they are in the US. Aside from school, I’m pretty free to improvise on most days. Going out for tapas isn’t restricted to the weekend, and loafing around can happen whenever. Plenty of hard work can happen too, it’s not “lazier” here really, it’s just approached with a different mindset.
  • Linguistically, Spaniards exaggerate much less. (Rather, they exaggerate less.) When I speak in English, I tend to say something is very easy, very fun, much faster, etc. Here, modifiers like “much,” “more” and “very” are reserved for descriptions of truly exceptional qualities.
  • Since Spain only emerged from its nationalist dictatorship about thirty years ago, there’s a huge generational gap in attitudes here. The older set is generally more politically and socially conservative, no longer influenced by Franco but more than anything influenced by the still state-funded Catholic church. Younger generations (I’d say under 40 to 50) seem to vary more in their views; some keep their traditional values, and many others have quickly moved to a more “European” lifestyle.
    Overall, there seems to be a big cultural separation here between “traditional” and “modern” lives, and while they coexist, they seem to be pretty scared of each other as well. I haven’t been here long enough to really appreciate the nuances of it, but I’ve definitely noticed some similar deficiencies in understanding in the States as well.
  • If my professors are to believed, the 1980s were a sort of “golden age” for Spanish pop music. While I can understand the claim (huge artistic outpouring after the downfall of authoritarian dictatorship), I simply cannot accept that the 1980s was a good decade for music, anywhere. I’m a pretty understanding guy, but drum machines and cheesy synths are where I have to draw the line.

Granada Update

It’s been a little while, so I figured I’d pop my head in and give y’all a quick update on life over here.

I’m through 9 of 15 days of my intensive language course. Things are going well – I still feel like I’m reviewing the exact stuff that I’ve been learning and repeatedly screwing up for years now. This time it is clicking with a bit more ease, but it’s no walk in the park. The nice thing is that this time I actually feel motivated to study it and get it down.

I switched my course for the semester that starts in early February. I was in the Language, Literature & Culture program, but I changed to the Hispanic Studies program. Hispanic Studies has more faculty members from the University of Granada, and are more focused on the actual subject matter than they are on linguistic aspects. I signed up for some cool ones (Flamenco and Traditional Music, anyone?) so I’m looking forward to the start of that semester. Unfortunately, Hispanic Studies also comes with more homework. But I’ll only have 4 days of class a week, so I can’t complain too much.

More random observations and personal experiences from recent days:

  • As expected, Andalucia is awesome for its free tapas. Each drink you order comes with awesome free snacks.
  • While lacking spice and strong flavor, I am really starting to enjoy how the mediterranean diet is quite healthy without sacrificing much in the taste department. Obesity here is way less frequent, and I see a lot less unhealthily skinny people here too. It seems like a lot of people here manage to hover around “just right,” and that they don’t have to work too hard to stay there.
  • My family and teachers have started trying to correct some Latin American influences on my Spanish – and are trying to get me to pick up the Castillian lisp as well. I’m subconsciously starting to use it at times, and also picking up the sloppy Andalucian habit of dropping the ends of many words (“Muchas gracias” sounds like “mucha gracia” and “más o menos” becomes “Má o meno”)
    As a native of another former imperial colony whose language has mutated much from the mother tongue, I don’t know what to think. I react negatively to the idea of British English being superior to an American dialect, since we can all understand each other regardless. I’m not closing my mind to Castillian Spanish – after all, I chose this country for study abroad over a plethora of Latin American options – but it certainly is making things more confusing. Once I was an American trying to pick up Mexican Spanish. In a few months I’ll sound a third American, a third Mexican, and a third Spanish. If I do Peace Corps in Latin America after I graduate, the people there are going to be crazy confused. 
  • Last week I got a cold, mostly hanging around the throat and nose. Now it’s turned into a really annoying cough. I’m hoping it passes soon, but at least my head feels clear now.
  • I watched inauguration online since I didn’t know if the televised coverage would dub over the speeches or not (they didn’t). People seem pretty interested but I didn’t get the best vantage point to really comment on Spaniards’ opinions. It’s obvious that people over here are very interested, but beyond that I don’t really know.

OK, I’m out for now… Time to beat myself over the head with some Spanish grammar.

Small Victories (with apologies to Shakira)

My intensive spanish course doesn’t allow the use of English to help define Spanish words, so when we don’t know one, we have to explain its meaning in Spanish. It’s difficult at times… I’ll give you an example here. I’ll leave it alone for the hispanohablantes to figure it out, with English spoilers afterwards…

Today we were going over vocabulary for different body parts. The word caderas came up and most of the students didn’t know what it meant. It took me a minute and an example involving a dancing student and then I figured it out. Trying to define it to the class in Spanish, however, was near impossible, until it came to me:

“No mienten.”

About half the class figured it out just with that.

ENGLISH CLUE #1:
 “No mienten” = They don’t lie.

ENGLISH CLUE #2 (for the truly hopeless)

Well I’ve been in Granada for a couple of days now, and I’ve been able to adjust to the city some more. I’ll commence the unfocused mental dump of my observations from the last few days:

  • Granada feels way more urban than I had expected. I thought it would be a small to medium-sized town like Fort Collins, but it’s about twice the size of that – around 250,000 people. I’ve been saying for a while that I’d like to try living in a big city, and while Granada is pretty small relative to Denver, Phoenix or Madrid, it’s still way more urban than anywhere I’ve lived before. Maybe it’ll make for a good trial of a somewhat larger city before taking the plunge into a city of millions.
  • Living in an old city with old streets is a very – well, foreign – concept. It’s obvious that there was no master planner in Granada, and it’s really easy to make a wrong turn that takes you way farther away from your destination than you had intended. I’ve gotten lost several times but the major streets and landmarks in the city center are starting to become familiar. I know enough to get home and get to class 😀
  • The weather here is abnormally cold. It snowed yesterday, which is very rare. Many, many scarves. I’ll probably pick up the trend this weekend.
  • Because of the crappy weather, I haven’t bothered to go anywhere near La Alhambra yet. I want to tour it when the weather is just a bit better.
  • Going out tonight for the first time, not counting the pool hall I went to in Madrid. I’ve heard good things about the nightlife here, so I’ll have to report back on that.
  • I have one class for the next three weeks. It’s four hours long every day, with two profesoras that teach for two hours each. Neither of them know a word of English (or at least they claim) and it’s not allowed to define or translate an English word for another student – we have to try to define the word we have in mind in Spanish. It’s more difficult, and after several hours of this  my brain definitely starts to hurt. We won’t be learning any new grammar in our class, but instead will be reviewing everything we’ve learned and perfecting it in order to correct all of the little mistakes. It’s exactly what I need, so it’ll be hard, but I’ll be glad I did it by the end of the month. After that I’ll advance a level and take my semester classes one level up.
  • I’m resisting the temptation to eat at Burger King. My roommate went there today and he says it’s better than it is in the States. I’m going to guess that I’ll cave in in another day or two.
  • Everything they say about learning a language by studying abroad is definitely true. Being around it all  for just a week has helped me to pick up so much, and I’ve met a few students who were here for the last semester that are excellent with the language.
  • My English writing has gotten sigificantly worse because my mind keeps trying to form sentences in Spanish structures.
  • In the last day or so I’ve started correcting myself constantly, even mid-sentence. I think it’s good that I’m thinking about the “little rules” that I so often break, but at the same time it’s probably annoying to try and carry on a  conversation with someone who can barely complete their sentences.
  • Spanish food is hearty and healthy. I’m still adjusting to the meal schedule but the food is great (and it’s nice to not have to find a million restaurants of varying quality and prices, like we had to for the first week). It is a bit more bland than some of my favorite foods, like Mexican or Thai, which definitely are a bit more strong in their tastes. I’ll have to go in search of some cayenne or something.
  • Starting to look at plans for my ~10 day break after the intensive month class is over. Ryanair is amazingly cheap, I can fly from Granada to Italy for like… 4 euro. I don’t have a huge list of “must-sees” for while I’m here, but I would like to see Belgium, Prague, Rome, maybe Amsterdam. Overall I’d like to stick to Spain, though. I don’t like the idea of spending lots of time in a place where I don’ know any of the language.
  • Before getting to Granada, I definitely felt like more of an observer than a participant in Spanish life. I’m starting to blend in a bit more and I’m sure that within a couple of weeks it will just come naturally to me.
  • Navigating streets and crowded areas is pretty strange – there really isn’t much of a concept of personal space here. I’m noticing little things I do to get out of others’ way that nobody else does, and realizing how funny it must look. I normally have great “crowd navigation skills” but here people have different fixed habits of which side to move to when you’re in someone’s way, and other things too.