In this post I shall attempt to summarise the past month, and my experiences with regards to teaching, learning Spanish and blending in with the Catalan folk (or not, as it were).
- Spanish people do not know how to cope with rain. Precipitation is a rarity here, so when the heavens do finally open it is as though the world is ending. On the 6th October it rained quite heavily in the morning and school was utter chaos. Kids were sent home. Teachers were hours late to work. I couldn’t help but think that if English people reacted in this way the entire British economy would collapse.
- There is a celebration all the time for some reason or another. It’s impossible to keep up. A couple of weekends ago, whilst on my way to the Catalan National Art Gallery (it’s free on the first Sunday of every month- as is every museum and gallery in the city) I stumbled upon Hostafrancs festival, and an entire street of old ladies knitting around long tables. To this day, I have no idea why. Spain is different.
- You can buy clothes for next-to-nothing, if you know where to look. I went to a clothes market which was ridiculously cheap. It was one euro entry, and everything inside was one euro. I bought a shirt which I later decided that I dislike, but life goes on.
Worse things so far:
- Squid. I tried it and loved it, but sadly the squid did not love me. My stomach felt like an aquarium for at least 24 hours (not in a good way)
- Pavement dawdlers. The general lack of spatial awareness Spaniards have on the street is actually quite astonishing. People would rather zig-zag from A to B at 2 miles an hour- almost like a slow-moving pinball- than take a straight and predictable route. This has proven to be a particular issue during road-runs, and when I have to be somewhere on time.
- Two hour lunch breaks. I only have these on Mondays and Thursdays. They sound excellent but two hours is just an excessive amount of time. I am trying to be productive by studying Spanish or planning lessons- but really I would rather carry on teaching and finish a little earlier.
- Trying to understand Catalan: it sounds like Spanish but looks like French and is linguistically similar to Italian. It’s exhausting to even think about.
- Seeing that £1=€1 whilst rambling down Las Ramblas
Best things so far:
- Gin and Tonic’s made by my host Dad Raul (with cinnamon, lemon and a strong Gin:Tonic ratio).
- Wednesday and Friday mornings I work with five year olds and sing songs about the weather. The kids are so wonderful and happy and hug me constantly. It’s like therapy.
- Food– another month, another sixteen litres of olive oil down. I’ve probably consumed an additional six pigs (in various forms). And another twenty loaves of bread. And forteen kilograms of potatoes. Yay for meat and carbs.
- Strange nights out with my American chums.
- Jurij (my favourite German) came to stay for a long weekend.
A general update on my life for anyone who wishes to know:
I am now participating in three Spanish exchanges. On Tuesday’s I meet with another teacher Marta (who also happens to be a successful Catalan playwright) and a then a Doctor (the father of one of my colleagues) who said I sounded like I was from the BBC. Whilst this was kind of him to say, clearly he has not listened to many people on the BBC. I have also met a lovely girl from Barcelona called Julia who is super-nice and gives fantastic restaurant recommendations: if anyone comes to the city you must eat in a place called La Rita; it’s cheaper than a chain restaurant but the food quality is incredible.
Overall, my Spanish is progressing very slowly, but progressing nonetheless. I can understand more when I listen to people speak, but my own speaking ability (arguably the most important aspect of any language) is improving at a slower rate. When I do speak, a few people have complemented my pronunciation, which is great. It’s just a shame that I have no idea what I am saying, and lack grammatical knowledge beyond the present simple tense. Before I came to Spain, part of me thought I would simply ‘soak up’ the language. Now I know that it is impossible to simply ‘soak up’ a language. It requires time and effort and is utterly exhausting. I have just started reading Sherlock Holmes in Spanish and I think I have bitten off more than I can chew.
The most exciting part of the past few weeks was when Jurij came to stay. When I met him at the airport, for about fifteen seconds I felt as though I was an extra in Love Actually: you know the bit at the very end where the entire cast is stood at the Arrivals gate of Heathrow, the Beach Boys’ God Only Knows is playing in the background and Hugh Grant does a voice over? That bit. Except instead of being in Heathrow, I was in El Prat Terminal Two (the old part of the airport where Ryanair and Easyjet land). And instead of a great soundtrack, there was the sound of Catalan voices announcing flight delays. And sadly there was no Hugh Grant, Keira Knightley or Bill Nighy in sight. So really, it was not very much like Love Actually. Nonetheless, it was nice to see Jurij.
I tried to be a tour-guide for the weekend, but it is difficult as I have only been here for a month-and-a-half. It is impossible to know the city well in this short period! We went to the Castell on Montjuic, walked along the beach from Poble Nou, went to Parc Guell, ate Tapas, ate pastries, ate more pastries, got lost in Gracia, drank a lot of coffee, wondered through Born and generally had a lovely time. We stayed in an Air BnB in Gracia, so it was nice for me to experience another district of the city. As a side note- the last time me and Jurij stayed in an air BnB in Dublin, we nearly set the apartment on fire after leaving my puffer jacket on an electric heater to dry (stupid, I know). This time there was no near-house-fire disasters. The only issue occurred when we managed to lose each other on the metro, as the doors closed between us. A man sat opposite actually took out his earphones and laughed out loud in my face when this happened. To be fair, it was quite funny. I laughed too.
Whilst Jurij was here, he noticed that my voice has changed since I have been in Barcelona. All day I am used to speaking at half-pace with clear pronunciation and when it comes to normal conversation with someone fluent in English I sound like a simpleton. I didn’t notice it at first but now I can hear it. I literally sound like I have a speech impediment and will be ridiculed on my return to Bristol, which is excellent. I intend to come home for two weeks over Christmas. As a very unpatriotic person, I can safely say that my love for England has actually grown after I’ve left, if only a small amount. There are moments when I wish I could have one of my Mum’s Roast Dinners, or simply be around my family and friends, if only for five minutes! But, Christmas will be all the more special because for the first time in my life I think I have come to fully appreciate how lovely home is (I would like to clarify that by ‘home’ I do not mean Yate in general, but specifically my house with my family in it).
With regards to teaching: there are really fun lessons and less fun lessons but overall I am loving it. I am not meant to have favourite students, but I secretly do. Also, after a month-and-a-bit of teaching I have decided that being respected is far more important than being liked. In the beginning, I just wanted the kids to have fun when I was their teacher. Now I am less concerned about the fun and more concerned that they learn some English. I still want them to enjoy my lessons… but teaching teenagers is a tricky job. I could sing and dance and cartwheel across the classroom and get zero response from some students. So I am forced to be a bit serious, for at least some of the time. I even threatened to ring someone’s parents the other day, which worked an absolute treat (what they didn’t know is that I couldn’t do this because I wouldn’t be able to say a full sentence in Catalan, but hey-ho). The power is getting to my head.
Since being in Spain, I think I have become slightly more resilient, which I am glad about. It is difficult to distinguish whether it is the job, the language situation or simply the overall experience which has changed me- but I can be certain that something has. And although my teaching/Spanish abilities are slow to improve, at least I am moving in the right direction. I can’t believe it has been six and a half weeks already… time flies when you are completely disorientated, and treating life like a holiday!
Thanks for reading pals, Adios x