Jeff needed to head to Cordoba to pick something up. Something that couldn’t be shipped. And he asked me if I wanted to tag along. Heck yeah! Being an American, and that long road trips are in our DNA, I had my bag packed in 5 minutes and was waiting by the front door at … Read more We Just Popped Down to Cordoba
Today was a day. A monumental day. Jeff got the vaccine. And we did a few other things, too. It started out early, and only 6 hours later we were home again. I like to be early to things. To me, being late is disrespectful and just plain dumb. The early bird catches the worm. … Read more The Beginning of the End
Under the heading of ‘What can go wrong, will go wrong’, the last 12 hours have been interesting. It felt a little like we were Tina Fey and Steve Carell in the movie ‘Date Night’. How can so many things stack up against you? We were spending a quiet evening at home watching ‘Drunk History’ … Read more The Hooker and a Bone Scan
I’ve been told I have a ‘Justice Complex’. But I figure if there is one complex to have, justice is not a bad one. And if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s bullies and boundary-crossers. People who think it’s OK to intentionally make other people’s lives less wonderful, and sometimes much harder, than they need to be. And I just won’t have it. Read more I’m Probably Going to Hell for This
When we moved to Valencia, everything was different. I felt so bombarded by the differences that any subtlety or shades of grey were completely missed. The things we were dealing with were all primary colors and right in our faces. Now that we’ve lived in Spain for 16 months, I notice other things. Jeff talked … Read more The Power of Disconnection
Thinking back, I realized I started learning Spanish from a young age. Sesame Street on PBS in the US taught me my numbers. Old Spaghetti Westerns from the 50’s and 60’s, while horribly racist depictions of people from Mexico, taught me some Spanish phrases that are ingrained in me. So much so, they’re interchangeable with their English counterparts. So I don’t even need to think about it.
Then there were all the shows I watched with my kids. Especially Dora the Explorer. I spent countless hours listening to her teaching Spanish to 3 and 4 year olds. Funny, she was able to teach it to me too.
But as I have pursued my Spanish language education – both formal and informal – I realized there were even more instances where, through osmosis, the Spanish had seeped in without me really knowing it.
Early on, we were in a restaurant on Playa de la Malvarrosa looking at a menu that was all in Spanish. I don’t like to ask for the menu in English because I need to learn. I was reading the seafood options and suddenly Ricardo Montalban’s voice – of the 1970’s American TV show ‘Fantasy Island ‘- broke into my head. He had done a restaurant commercial back then for ‘Steak and Langostino’. Which sounded exotic when I was 10, but it’s just small lobster or big shrimp. When I saw the word on the menu in Valencia I knew exactly what it was. He also did a famous commercial for the ‘Chrysler Cordoba’ so I can say that city perfectly. Although his famous phrase describing ‘rich Corinthian leather’ does me no good here.
But it was also at that moment in the restaurant, it occurred to me that when I’ve been learning Spanish, its Ricardo Montalban’s voice through which I mill the entire language. Sure, he was born in Mexico, and Mexican Spanish and the Spanish spoken in Spain isn’t exactly the same. But it seems to work for my purpose. Seriously, when I learn a new word or phrase, I hear Mr. Montalban’s voice saying back to me. Is that weird? OK – yeah, its weird.
And now that I know this, I intentionally tried it with voice of Sofia Vergara, the Colombian born actress on ‘Modern Family‘. But while she’s a native speaker it doesn’t work for me. Sometimes I can make actor Javier Bardem’s voice work, but I have to really try. Nope, I think for me its Ricardo Montalban. I have no idea why.
But I suppose I should be grateful to him. I have been told by more than one person here – including Mis Amigos – that my accent is ‘muy bien’. Although I will never reveal my secret weapon, now when I’m chewing on a new phrase, I just think of stately Ricardo Montalban in his white suit and black tie and smile. Muchas Gracias, Senor Montalban. This little Langostino thanks you.
When I lived in San Francisco in the 90’s, there were earthquakes. A lot of earth quakes. Some larger. Some smaller. You took them in your stride. But you started to be able to understand the difference between the various kinds. ‘Rolling’ was better than the ‘Jerk and Snap’. That did more damage to people and property.
But I remember one that happened on a Sunday Morning when I had moved out of the city down to San Mateo on the Pennisula. It was a rolling quake and I could hear the roar – kind of like a lion – coming towards me and it was getting rapidly louder. It came in a wave, shook the house during the loudest bit, and then roared away. When I saw the first Harry Potter and Voldemort’s spirit goes through Harry holding the sorcerers stone – that’s what it was like. I later learned that the sound waves of a quake often precede the shaking.
That’s where I’ve been since last Summer. I’ll be 53 this July, so as a woman I’m at that age when it all begins – or ends, depending on your perspective. The symptoms started like that distant roar from the earthquake. I heard little warnings – but nothing big. Then, starting last Fall the roar has gotten louder and some of the symptoms more worrisome. So much so that I couldn’t ignore it anymore and last week decided to get some medical advice.
Yes, I have a doctor that speaks Ingles, but she referred me to another specialist whose ability to communicate with me is less than what I need right now. And her nurse just points and grunts – not even in Spanish or English. I mean, my ability to speak Spanish under medical stress isn’t where I want it to be, but normally I understand a lot. If they speak more slowly than normal. Otherwise, I’m forced to use my powers of observation. And that’s ripe for misinterpretation.
So I took myself to the specialist appointment yesterday and they were right on time. I must say, the offices are like a nice Spa and there are no complaints with how they do the business of medicine and patient privacy. I was taken back and then told to disrobe. This is where the trouble started.
I’ve encountered it before when getting massages here. In the US we take off our clothes to get a massage – all of them. Here they don’t do that. So the nurse at the Dr. office was taken aback that I disrobed completely – even with the robe for modesty. It’s a freaking doctor! Whatever. I wasn’t the mood for it.
Then as they’re checking my various lady bits, they start making faces to each other and speaking in rapid fire Spanish. The nurse looks at me nervously and then the Dr. says something to her. Now I’m freaked out.
‘Is everything OK?’ I ask the doctor – looking at the nurse’s face.
No one answers me but they keep talking to each other so fast I can’t understand, and still the faces looking at me. Grimaces and wide eyes. Like cartoon characters. There was no mistaking it. ‘Oh that’s not good’ isn’t said out loud in English but their faces are yelling it at me.
‘Seriously? Is everything OK?’ I ask again. Nothing.
Finally I try ‘Hola! Por favor.’
This seems to break their exchange and they realize I’m a human over whose body they are discussing things with faces that look like I’m not long for it. The nurse nervously leaves the room and the doctor smiles at me a weak smile.
‘It’s fine. We are going to order some tests. It will be fine.’ But her face is the one I gave Emilie after a serious bike accident that required hospitalization. I wanted her to remain calm, while inside I was freaking out!
I try to ask more questions but she clearly doesn’t understand me enough to answer in a way that is helpful – for either of us. And then I realized, with everything I’ve overcome moving here – navigating travel/transit, ordering food, driving, getting our visas renewed, etc. – when I need to understand the most important things about my time of life health, I’m lost. And with all the other stuff I’m experiencing, I’m more emotional than normal. So I teared up. This makes her more uncomfortable and she clearly wants me to get out of there as soon as possible.
She tells me to go out to reception to get the information on the scheduled tests right away and then tells me.
‘Next time I see you, you will know more Spanish.’
I asked her when I would be seeing her and she told me right after the tests on Wednesday. I’m not sure if she thinks I’m some sort of language savant or if there is some magic they put in the water they gave me, but she’s in for a sad disappointment.
I’m not going to say I ever loved my doctors in the US, any more than this specialist. It always felt like the Burger King drive thru when you went to your appointment back home. They barely looked at you. But the one thing they could do, when it really mattered, was speak to me in my own language and answer my questions. Because God knows, no one wants me Googling this stuff. Least of all Jeff. He’s made me promise.
I do understand that I’m just at the beginning of this journey. It will get worse before it gets better. And no one knows how long it will take. There are people who tell horror stories (Yes, I mean you Mom) and others who tell me it’s really not a big deal. But no one I know have ever gone through it in Spain, in a language not their own. I guess either way, I can hear the lion and the roar it getting louder. But I can take comfort that it will eventually, after the really strong shaking, roar away.
I have 5 new Spanish boyfriends. Well, not exactly. Don’t get too excited. But the way Jeff is reacting to my new crew you’d think I did.
There’s a bar in Benimachlet that I go to in the mornings sometimes. I’ll bring my laptop and write at an outside table over a cafe con leche. They make a mean one. Here, everything is a bar – so no, I’m not drinking booze at 10am. I’m pretty sure the local children’s hospital probably has a bar in it too.
I was enjoying my morning coffee one sunny day, when a voice beside me seemed to be directed my way. I looked over and there was a table of 5 older gentlemen and they were pointing at my laptop and speaking to me in Valenciano. I understood, maybe, 3 words. But I answered in my pidgeon Spanish. Thus began a whole new relationship.
It’s well documented that I’ll use any means possible to improve my Spanish. This means I’ve joined groups way above my Spanish language pay grade. You gotta put yourself out there and be willing to make a fool of yourself and fall down – A LOT. I have an abundance of those things in spades. But one thing I hadn’t tried was the ‘Old Man Morning Coffee Klatch‘ down at a local bar
I’ll admit, I had observed these multiple groups from afar. They always seem to consist of 4-5 retired, well groomed older men who meet at the same bar, at the same time, almost daily. They’re usually smartly dressed and cologned. Would I have ever been so bold as to approach them in their natural habitat? Never.
But on that day, one group decided to approach me and now I’m In-like-Flynn – as my Dad used to say. Paco, Jose, Jose, Francisco, & Javi are my new crew in the 75+ crowd at our local bar near the space. At 10am every lunes, miercoles y viernes (that’s Monday, Wednesday & Friday to you and me) they meet up, as they’ve been doing for decades. And now they insist I come and speak with them each of those days.
One of the Jose’s explained ‘We need to improve our Ingles. And you, your Espanol.’ Yes, improving their Ingles at over 75 seems like a just-in-time for heaven kind of strategy. I mean, I’m pretty sure God speaks Spanish – but who am I to judge? Never stop learning, right?
The other Jose proposed marriage today. I told him I thought he had a Portuguese wife. He said ‘No. Today finish.’ And he gestured a karate chop.
‘Does she know yet?’ I asked him
‘If you say YES, I go home and tell her.’
We all just laughed. Silly man. His wife is fierce and he’s 5 ft 2 and maybe 120 lbs soaking wet. She’d run him over with her loaded grocery trolley and take him out. Or maybe pay me to take him off her hands.
Mostly they treat me like their daughter and explain Spanish customs and social conventions. The other day, Paco explained in Spanish that Valencian men are too macho and their wives suffer for this. I have no idea if this is a universal truth but it’s certainly a perspective. I do know learning Spanish through humor and laughter is so much more fun than worksheets and a whiteboard. I much prefer the classroom of life in Benimachlet.
Most of these guys have known each other since they started kindergarten. Here, when children start school they stay with the same classroom, and the same kids, all the way through until graduation. So they’re friends that long. Impressive. One of the Jose’s didn’t move to their class until second grade and they still call him ‘The new guy’ after all these years. But their wives do not like each other.
‘But you, Kelli. You are mueysimpatico, I think. You join our group.’
At first I thought I might just be a guest star periodically, but am now appearing in the opening credits. Its a standing 10 am date 3 days per week to intercambio with ‘Mis Amigos‘. And one of them always buys my coffee – which makes me feel sort of strange. I think it’s the macho thing because they fight over who will do it that day. But since coffee is a whole uno euro setenta, I guess they won’t run through their pensions too quickly.
Jeff just shakes his head.
‘Heading out to meet your boyfriends?’ He asks as I grab my keys.
I give him a kiss on the cheek ‘ Not enough Viagra in an entire Costco pharmacy. So no worries there.’
Sometimes I stop and wonder ‘Am I the strangest American in Valencia?’ But then I remember I was strange for an American, IN America. So I probably am. I guess nothing has changed one bit. And you know what? I find I don’t really care.
We have made it a whole year! I have a lot of stuff filed under “If only I knew then what I know now” and I’ll help Kelli out now and again with a guest blog post sharing my observations of living here in Valencia.
Do I need one of those?
I think living in the US conditioned me to the never-ending stream of advertising telling me that I need this or that. There are ads on TV telling me that I should consult with my doctor to see if whatever medicine the pharmaceutical company happens to be selling at that moment is right for me. There is a constant stream of messages telling the listener to be dissatisfied with what they have. Ooh look at the new version of X! You need a bigger Y. How have you lived without Z in your life? The advertising is relentless.
When we lived in the US I noticed it, but I never thought too much about how it influenced me. Here in Valencia the only advertisements that I’m exposed to are either the 5 or 6 billboards in the Metro or the daily text message from Vodafone trying to get me to buy something new. As a result of the absence of marketing I am not feeling like I’m missing out for not having the latest and greatest of everything.
I had forgotten how much advertising there was in the US until yesterday. I decided to tune into my old favorite radio station in Seattle by streaming their broadcast over the internet. Why hadn’t I thought of this months ago? It was great hearing the familiar voices and even the traffic reports of places I had been countless times. One thing that really annoyed me though was the sheer quantity of ads. After listening for about an hour I began to record how much time was spent on advertising. It works out to about 20 minutes per hour! It was quite an eyeopener. Back in the states I would have just assumed that was normal, because it is. Here in Valencia I mostly listen to music on Amazon or we watch Netflix. Very little advertising and I think I’m happier for missing out on it.
Take my money,please!
When I shop, I like to do ample research so that I know exactly what I need. There have been several examples over the past year where I was sure I knew exactly what I wanted only to find out that the “latest” model available in Spain is 2 years older than what is available in the US. This is perhaps my biggest frustration shopping here. Even Amazon fails to fill the void as not all products are available everywhere.
My second biggest frustration is the pace at which the shopping experience advances. Once I’ve figured out what I want, then I need to figure out how to get it. Where to shop, online or a local store? Even when I’m able to determine that a local store has the item I want, there is a good chance it will not be open when I get there. We are still getting the hang of the holiday schedule here. Some days are still just a mystery as to why everything is closed. Sometimes even when you arrive at the store on a non-holiday between the posted opening and closing hours the shop will be closed. We have no idea why. This wouldn’t happen in the US.
There have been a few times where I think I’m being perceived as more trouble than I’m worth to a salesman, rather than to try to understand what I’m asking for. There is a bike shop around the corner that comes to mind. Both times I’ve been there I have been turned away without being able to purchase what I need. Maybe it is because I don’t speak Spanish, but I always come prepared with either a picture of the item I need, or a Google translated paragraph of what I am looking for. Both times I’ve walked out feeling like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman thinking “Big mistake, I hope you work on commission” as I end up placing an order online.
Overall though, I would say that most people that I try to communicate with are willing to give it a try. My broken Spanish and their broken English – usually better than my Spanish – and we work it out.
Today we were out visiting car dealerships. The steps to the car buying process is like buying in the US. Visit the showroom, pick out a car, test drive the car, pay for it and go home. I’ve purchased many cars or motorcycles in the US. I go in armed with all my data and negotiate a fair price as quickly as I can. I mean who wants to spend an entire day at a car dealer? I think my record was when I purchased a Range Rover on Christmas Eve a few years ago. I stopped into the dealer as they were opening on my way to work, and the whole buying process only took a little over an hour and that was because I had to wait for them to wash it.
The steps are roughly the same here but instead of using a stopwatch to keep track of the time, you had better bring a calendar…seriously. You need to make an appointment to test drive your selected vehicle. If you want to drive a few different cars then that will require a separate appointment for each vehicle, hopefully all on the same day but not guaranteed if the cars will be available. Then once you have picked out the one you want it is time to pay for it. Like many things here this next part doesn’t make much sense to us.
The dealership we visited today told us that we had to finance the car. It wasn’t a large sum of money but in order to buy the car we couldn’t just pay cash even though I could. The salesperson told us that the upside is that they will give us a discount on the price for financing. (as if I have a choice) And the punchline was that it would take about two weeks for the finance company to get us approved. Once we are approved then it will take about another 4-5 days to get our insurance set up. We already have a quote but the turnaround time is so slow in them responding that getting the car attached to the policy is a chore.
So, I’ve learned that it takes roughly just under a month to buy a new car in Valencia. I’ve heard that buying a used vehicle is quicker but that comes with its own set of potential issues. For instance, the previous owner may have some unpaid tickets and somehow, they get transferred to the new owner as if the car was responsible for them and not the owner. I’m sure there are ways to protect yourself from this and I know I still have a bit of learning to do.
Overall my experience here has been a positive one. From day 1 there has been something new to learn every day. What seemed almost impossible and intimidating just a year ago is now easily accomplished. I’m an introvert but I’m slowly being forced out of my shell due to necessity. Well, that and Pokemon Go. (They are fanatical about the game here, but I’ll save that for another blog post)
Sure, there is still a huge language barrier for me, but context is everything. I may not always know what the cashier at the grocery store is telling me but somehow, I just know what she is asking and can respond accordingly. “No, I don’t have a loyalty card.” “No, I don’t need validation for parking.” “Yes, I’d like a bag.” It probably sounds a little weird to a bystander. The cashier talking to me in Spanish while I respond in English, but it seems to be working so far. And with each day that passes the language barrier is not quite so tall. Want to order a beverage? All you need to say is “una cerveza” or maybe “una pinta cerveza” if you are thirsty. But I’ve learned that ordering a “una grande pinta cerveza” while gesturing with my hands may be a little overkill, as I found out the other day.
Would I give up all my worldly possessions and move to another country again? Maybe. But one thing I’ve learned is that I don’t need nearly as many things as I thought I did two years ago. I’ve traded them for experiences.
They say you’re only as old as you feel. But, as I’ve discovered, that’s not necessarily true. You’re actually as old as you are. And there is no way around that.
I have been playing on a women’s futbol (soccer) team here in Valencia. We practice every Monday and Wednesday. It took me a couple of practices to realize that I’m not young anymore. Mind you, I’m not ancient. I’m 52. But I’m not 25 either, and that seems to be the median age of those on my team.
Jeff decided to come to one of our practices. I had warned him in advance. In my time playing teams sports in my teens and 20’s, I was usually one of the better players for most of the sports I played. Not blowing my own horn, it’s just that I loved playing sports. And it’s what I always told my kids; You don’t have to be the most naturally talented, but if you’re the hardest worker it will get you playing time. Hard work beats natural talent every time – Just ask Malcolm Gladwell. I know Emilie took this to heart.
So Jeff joined me at the field to watch. Afterwards I asked him for his assessment.
‘Good News! You’re not the worst one on the team.’ he told me, as we walked back to the Metro. Since I’m the age of most of their Mothers I’ll take it. And I do try to work as hard as everyone else. Even though they’re hardly breaking a sweat on gazelle-like legs while I’m huffing and puffing red faced through all the drills. Its certainly harder than it used to be.
But I do have an ulterior motive for all this, and it’s more than just staying in shape. I’m taking a page out of El Jefe’s book and I’m learning Spanish in the context of something I already know. Yup – my soccer team only speaks Spanish. There is one girl who can confirm if I’ve understood correctly what the coach is saying, but 99% of the time I have to listen and understand ‘Futbol Spanish’. Then perform whatever instruction is given. And you know what, it’s working.
I’ve even put some of my ‘Driving Spanish’ to good use. La Derecha. Izquierda. One thing building on another. And I’ve also found that in Spanish, I’m not directionally dyslexic like I am in English. I’m not sure what that’s about.
Our last practice, I didn’t need any help with my Spanish. And I’m finding real dividends in everyday life. Because I have to quickly understand and respond on the field, it’s helping me to do that in restaurants, grocery stores, the optometrist – all sorts. Yesterday we went to lunch and my entire interaction with the waiter was in Spanish. And I didn’t even have to stop and ponder what he had said. I just knew it and responded. Some of it wasn’t the usual. And last week when we went to look at mattresses at El Corte Ingles it was the same.
So playing on this team is helping me in multiple ways. But like learning a new physical skill, combining that with learning Spanish is creating a muscle memory I can draw on without having to think about it.
Maybe with a little (OK ALOT) of hard work, this 52 year old dog can learn some new tricks.
I know some people who moved here after we did. They had been reading my blog and told me, on more than one occasion, ‘All we had to do was ask ourselves ‘What would Kelli do?’ and then do the exact opposite’. Sure, I’m pretty clear I’ve made some mistakes, but it’s all learning. That’s what moving to another country, and life, is all about. And in the end, I’m pretty happy with where we’ve landed and the life we’ve made for ourselves in Valencia. So it’s all good. No one else has to agree with it – but then, they’re not me, with my life goals.
I must have done something right, though, because after 6 driving lessons, today I passed my practical driving exam. That’s right, Valencia – look out cause there’s a new driver on the road and she’s fully qualified on these crazy streets we call call home. I’m about to embrace all the wonderful driving habits I’ve witnessed on a daily basis. Mad Max and his Thunderdome has nothing on these people. And now I’m one of them. Shooting across an 8 lane roundabout without lines, sailing off to my third exit from center lane like a pro, while yielding on a red with a yellow flashing arrow. A total piece of Santiago cake. I’m pretty sure I’ve used up some of that dispensation of sins I got when I picked up my Compostella in Santiago in July 2017. Oh well, I’ll just have to walk another one.
And once again, I am rated ‘Apto’ – ‘Suitable’ in Spanish. And Apto is good enough to drive in The Octagon that is Valencia city. I collected my placcard at the Autoescuela this afternoon. For the next year I will be sporting a large ‘L’ on the back of the car I have yet to purchase. It’s to warn everyone that I’m still a ‘Learner’. But when I think about it, maybe I should have had that plastered to my ass for the last year to warn others to ‘Look out – she’s ‘learning’ to live in Spain!’ Because moving to Valencia has been a lot like going to school. You start out in Moving-to-Spain kindergarten knowing nothing but how to take naps and eat snacks. Then one day you graduate from How-to-Navigate-Valencian-Bureaucracy High School, wondering where the time went and hoping for an advanced degree in your future.
What I’m most looking forward to is driving outside the city. I can’t wait to get to my first uphill, mountainous, one lane road resplendent with a donkey cart and a cement truck and some random cliff-side road work, so I can test out my knowledge of uphill right of ways in real time. Until then, I’ll stick to the city where I can hone my skills on ‘Las Glorietas’ heading out to Shopping City.
In a week I get my provisional license and within the month my new official license will arrive from Madrid. Now I move on to the next thing. Our visa renewal and then, maybe, just maybe my scooter license. But for today I’ll raise a glass with friends and toast to being an ‘Apto Learner’ Spanish licensed driver. And that feels pretty damned good.
This morning I made my way to the Autoescula across town, where I have been taking my driving lessons. At 10 am we went to the starting ground for the practical driving exam. It was time.
On a wall I saw ‘Nunca sabras de lo que eres capaz hasta que lo intentes.’ by Charles Dickens. In Ingles it means ‘You never know what you are capable of until you try.’ I decided that’s all I really was there to do – try.
I agreed to go first. Someone else in the school was taking a motorcycle test there too. But he would go after me. I’m not going to say it was my best day. My usual clutch work wasn’t as smooth at I would have liked. In the US they don’t judge that part, but here it’s all part of the exam points so I’m sure I lost some for that.
I only had one real error and she explained it after. She said that alone wasn’t a disqualifying error, so I am not sure if I passed or not. But I certainly tried. My teacher thinks I still passed but he said we won’t know until noon tomorrow.
In the end, even if I have to take it again, at least I gave it a shot. I was very nervous and you could tell I wasn’t alone. Plenty of other people were pacing and biting their nails. Because, well, driving in Valencia – especially in the area where you take the test, it very difficult. Narrow streets, blind right of ways, zebra crossings aplenty, lights in roundabouts, go-rights-to-go-lefts, and more. My teacher said other people from Spain move here and they take lessons to drive specifically in Valencia, because it’s so crazy.
If I could have gotten some extra credit for learning ‘Driving Spanish’ I would have rocked that! Because I know I was the only person there who had to test with a language handicap today. Its amazing what you can understand when you’re stressed out. Suddenly, every direction I was given was crystal clear. It’s like my brain decided to help me out for once. It opened the secret room where it’s been keeping all the Spanish input I’ve received in the last year and decided to give me 25 minutes of free reign, before slamming the door in my face again when the test was over. That’s probably why my clutch work was so bad. My brain can only do 75 things at once. And 76? No, something had to give – the clutch.
Now I just have to wait. Tonight I have try outs for my second soccer team so I’m on to the next thing to focus on. Today is all about just Trying with a capital ‘T’. And just celebrating that. Tomorrow is a whole other day. And I’ll worry about it then. I figure – if I passed, it’s just what Forrest Gump said. ‘Just one less thing.’
Time smooths out the rough edges of memory. Sometimes it makes the past seem rosier than, perhaps, it really was. We are home from Ireland. We were excited to spend Christmas in New Years in weather that felt like so many holidays of the past. Especially all the years we spent in Seattle. And it did.
But here’s the thing. Being back in Valencia it’s sunny and 65 degrees. And boy does it feel wonderful to be warm again. And Jeff, who really missed winter in Seattle (why, I don’t know) is happy to be warm too. Here, there is no bone-chilling wind. Hats and gloves have been put away. We can have our morning coffee without a coat and scarf again. It feels good.
We’ve hit the ground running too. We found a dentist and Jeff has already gone and seen them. I often hear that ‘socialized medicine’ means long lines and weeks of waiting for an appointment. We went yesterday to a clinic who had no idea who we were and he saw the dentist today. We anticipated it being much more difficult. So one more myth debunked.
This morning, I walked across the city to an Autoescuela that speaks English. Yes, these rarest of the rare actually do exist here in Valencia, like unicorns. You don’t see them and they don’t make themselves known. But my shot gun approach of talking to everyone I have ever met here about needing an English speaking Autoescuela to get practical lessons has paid off. Someone knew someone, who knew someone who once took lessons at a place where the instructor spoke English. And the lady there was surprised I got my theory test taken/passed all on my own without a school.
Next Tuesday morning I will be taking my first hour and half lesson to learn how to drive in Spain on a manual transmission. The woman who signed me up has as much English as I have Spanish (her husband – my instructor speaks English). She asked me what I was most wanting to focus on. I told her ‘manual transmissions and round abouts’. She nodded knowingly.
But at least I’ll be taking all my lessons in daylight. I feel very sorry for this man already and I haven’t even started. He has no idea what he’s in for. But his wife told me – via Google translate voice – that once I’m ready, passing the practical test in Spanish won’t be an issue. I asked her how many lessons she thought I would need. She said her husband would have to determine that, after a nervous laugh. Ugh.
I’ve also started gathering and filling out the paperwork for the residency renewal in March. Nothing like having a few balls in the air at the same time. But it seems like a much less arduous process than the original visa appointment. No Apostles – No background checks. Pretty straight forward. It seems the hardest thing so far is getting the government website to cough up an appointment time. It may require professional help to get it across the finish line.
Coming home to Valencia feels good. While we could speak the same language as the people in Ireland, it didn’t feel like home. It’s nice to be back to our grocery stores where we know we can get what we need. Where to get a haircut and our favorite coffee place. Poundland has nothing on our El Chino. I was disappointed in Derry when I didn’t get a gift with purchase beer upon leaving.
Our flight home was full of Irish students heading back to Universidad de Valencia after the break, and others like us. I think we all breathed a sigh of relief that at midnight when leaving our Metro station near our flat – it was still 55 degrees. Suddenly, the language barrier doesn’t seem so high anymore.
When the door buzzer went off this morning, we did what we always do. We looked at each other immediately and said simultaneously ‘Did you order something?’ There are two reasons for this. 1) The person who did the ordering has to go to the little phone in the kitchen, say ‘Hola!’ and then try to discern the inevitable rapid fire Spanish that will shoot through the phone into that person’s ear, penetrating their brain – while performing a sad translation – recommend a response, tell the mouth how to form said response, and hit the buzzer. And 2) Meet the delivery person at the door (see #1), having their NIE card ready to go, just in case they ask.
These are the rules. We don’t make them up, we just abide by them. If the person who did the ordering is in the bathroom when the buzzing happens? Well, they will owe the other person until the end of time for this grave inconvenience. Jeff is seemingly very adept at psychically determining when a delivery person will come, and slipping into the bathroom. I am very sure he’s hiding in there, and not just from the delivery guy. Today, no such luck.
We both looked like deer caught in the headlights. Its a holiday here – nothing is open outside. What?! But he grudgingly went to the little phone and heard his name. Then he buzzed.
‘I can’t imagine what it is.’ He told me as I was making breakfast. But he waited by the open door as the man stepped off the elevator, then came back into the kitchen with the box.
‘It’s my amp. It wasn’t supposed to be here for a week.’
Jeff has decided to learn to play guitar, so he’s been buying things related to that. But his frustration with the delivery situation has been my own experience, as well. Back in the US, when anyone quotes you a delivery date, time, window – it will usually be somewhere in there. Especially if you order on Amazon,com. They have that down to a literal science. There are algorithms and AI involved. It will be there at the appointed hour, on the appointed day. Count on it.
Here, not so much. But it’s kind of a weird, predictable unpredictability, mostly. In our experience, if we order on Amazon.es, they will quote us something will be here in X days. Sometimes, they’ll tell us the item isn’t available and won’t ship for a month. It’s kept us from ordering some stuff, if we are going to be traveling during that time. But here’s the thing – it’s all a lie.
In Spain, you never need to choose next day delivery or even 2 day shipping, because in our experience, that thing they told you was not in stock and wouldn’t ship for a month, will be here exactly tomorrow – even on a SUNDAY or National Holiday! And if they told you it will be here in 10 days – NOPE! It will be here tomorrow or maybe, just maybe, the next day. Jeff is convinced the Amazon fulfillment center, in Spain, is in the bottom of our parking garage.
‘But they never sent me an email saying it shipped!’ You may lament after getting back from the grocery store or having a coffee or taking out the trash. Ha! Silly fool. You’ll get that after they’ve delivered it. But before that, you’ll get a notice that tells you ‘Hola estupido. We were at your flat trying to deliver that thing we told you wouldn’t be here for a month -TODAY ! – as per usual. Lo siento. We’ll try again tomorrow – maybe. Or the next day. Just stay home and wait for us.’
And then that’s what you’ll do. You don’t wanna miss that person twice or they’ll send it back. To where? Who knows! But you don’t want that. We have been hostage to delivery people here more times than I care to count.
I didn’t write about this a couple of weeks ago when my sofa was supposed to arrive, because even I’m tired of that saga. But it didn’t arrive when they said it was going to – I waited 3 whole days for it – like a hostage. Yes, I called and said some pretty nasty things to the person on the phone after the second whole day when they assured me on the phone, after the first day, that they would ‘100%’ deliver it the second day. There is a healthy gypsy population here in Valencia – I considered contracting a curse on the company, and said so, after that second day. Surprise! My sofa made it on the third day. I guess the evil eye is a powerful thing. I had started to wonder if this El Compartimiento didn’t want a sofa in here. I think it heard me threaten the curse. Funny, it seems tranquila about the it now.
Jeff just let me know his new guitar is supposed to be here by the end of next week. So that means we’ll have to stay home all day tomorrow. You might think this strange but in Spain, Amazon.es bends time. Tomorrow is next week, or any date they’ve told you in the future, in their world. Oh well. I’ve got things to do around the house. And when Jeff goes to the bathroom, I’ll know the package will be arriving any moment. Our own, very accurate, ‘delivery alert system’.
The first day on my Camino – walking out of St. Jean, in southern France at the foot of the Pyrenees, I had no idea what I was in for. I had not really trained. But within an hour it would be abundantly clear to me I was in over my head. I stood at the foot of a very steep climb, the first of 100’s I would make in the next 5 weeks, up and out of the valley towards Honto.
I remember looking up and I couldn’t see the top and was already winded from the hike out of the village. Others were sitting down on stumps at the side of the road – breathing hard, resting before they started up. I said out loud, to no one in particular ‘You have to be fucking kidding me. I can’t get up that!’ Those who heard me nodded in agreement or just kept going. Then I started to kind of hyper ventilate. But I also knew I couldn’t stay there. I had to start going up too. So I did.
It took me an hour to go no distance at all. I thought about camping out and sleeping there. If only I had known then, by the end of my Camino – 36 day’s later – I would be able to run up this little piece of nothing, backwards, with my fully loaded pack and my weekly grocery shopping,. But on this first day, I was panicking. And I also learned something about myself. Looking up and trying to gauge how far I had to go was unhelpful. It was UP – that’s all I needed to know. And the only way I was going to get to the top, was to put one foot in front of the other.
I also realized it was my feet that were going to get me over the mountain – or the hill. It was my brain that was getting in the way. I just needed to make sure I kept taking a step – not so hard. I also made a deal with myself. When I encountered these obstacles, I would allow my eyes to look up just once from the bottom, letting that panicky feeling wash over me. And then I’d look at my feet and not look up again. Asking ‘how much further’ was a fools errand. It was as far as it was going to be – and I had gone as far as I had, so far.
‘OK. We got this.’ I would say out loud. And then I would take the first step.
I am sitting here remembering this today, because some of the things I’ve had to figure out since, even before we moved to Valencia, have felt like that first climb up to Honto – and then on to Orrison, to collapse and get a bed for the night. Wondering what the hell I was doing. I’ve taken them each, one at a time. Sometimes it’s seemed like what we need to do is so daunting, confusing and never ending – and I’ll never figure it out. And then I remember that day. Being a big believer in talking to myself – out loud if need be – usually my self talk goes ‘You just gotta break it down. One step at a time and start at the beginning.’
I had been putting off getting my driving license. Driving in Spain seemed hard and scary. As an American, I’d heard from so many people it was a hugedeal and an epichassle and it was going to take forever – if I ever got it. I read so many forums and the requirements seemed impossible to fulfill. A medical/psych eval? Where do you get that? And where would I start to figure out how to make the appointment with the scary, unhelpful guard at the Jefatura? And even if I got one – how am I going to communicate? And the documents and forms required and all the copies? The rules are crazy with double negatives, and back flips, and if you don’t stick the dismount…? Yup – I’m mixing my metaphors. But don’t get me started on practical drivers training in Spanish.
Then one day – NOT driving, was getting harder than it seemed these tests would be. And on that day, I sat down – not on FB forums or expat websites where they tell you you’ll never be able to do it – and translated the ministry website. Guess what – it wasn’t really that big a deal if you break it down. Then I signed up for practice tests online – and that was really helpful. Suddenly, rules that seemed Greek to me a few weeks before, started making sense. Carol sent me the English manual (Thank You!) and it all came together. Just like my Camino – one foot in front of the other.
And I’m happy to say that, while I’m not at my final destination (EU license in hand), I’ve climbed the first hill. Early yesterday morning, I took the taxi out to the trafico office in the middle of rice fields, with my appointment, and my plastic folder, and I took that test. Drum roll please…I passed my theory test! My result was ‘Apto, or Suitable! I’ve never been so happy to be just ‘Suitable’ in my life. Just 2 mistakes. I had one as a buffer for good measure. Now I can sign up for the driving instruction classes, and then take the practical test. Did I hyper ventilate a little before answering those 30 questions out of a possible 3500? Sure. I was less nervous taking the SAT’s. But once I started it wasn’t so bad. Just read and re-read one question at a time.
And I just conducted the official ceremony handing over the ‘English Driving Manual’ to El Jefe. He was happy I passed, but he seemed less than enthusiastic that he’s up to bat now. My fate in this life is to be the guinea pig, the crash test dummy or the canary in the coal mine. Take your pick. He will draft in my wake on this one. But his competitive spirit will kick in any day. I feel sure when he takes it he’ll strive to beat my 2 small mistakes.
There were a lot of lessons on my Camino – Em and I are doing the Portuguese this June, and I’m sure they’ll be many more. But I think the most important was the first one, in the first hour, of the first day. And like most things on the Camino, each subsequent one came at just the right time. At the moment of the lowest ebb, where you think you’re going to break. And then you don’t, and you find out how strong you really are.
Challenges in life are big and small. Looking back, it’s been more than a year since we started this journey and the lessons of the Camino still ring in my head. Giving me small reminders every day ‘You got this’.
Jeff has a rich inner life. One I’m not always privy to. Periodically, he gives me glimpses into it. More now than in the beginning. Usually, it will start with ‘I’ve been thinking…’ or ‘I’ve been doing some research…’. And it means that he’s been thinking about, and finding ways to solve, whatever it is – for a long time. It will be only in that moment, that I’ll be clued in. I’ve always been supportive of whatever he wanted to do, and these days he clues me in earlier in his process than he used to.
When he wanted to learn to sew, back in the US, I bought him a sewing machine for Christmas and signed him up for classes at the sewing center in Issaquah. The gaggle of old ladies there were suspicious of him at first, but then he became their mascot or substitute grandson – who liked to sew. They were in heaven.
So, what happened this weekend shouldn’t have taken me by surprise, but it did.
I was sitting on our new sofa taking practice test after practice test for my theory exam first thing on Monday morning. Jeff got up and came back in carrying his shoes and a backpack full of stuff. Clearly, he was getting ready to go somewhere, I asked him what was up.
‘I’m going to my class.’ he said – as though I had any idea what he was talking about.
Huh? ‘You’re taking a class?’ I had no clue what and where that would be and when he might have considered this.
‘I signed up for a beginners programming class via MeetUps’ and he kept putting on his shoes.
A beginners programming class? He’s made a career as a software engineer. He can whip up an application or optimize a data base in any language you choose. He’ll build you an app for your i device, tout suite. It’s like a brain surgeon taking Life Sciences 101 at a community college. Jeff hasn’t needed a beginner’s programming class, well, since the beginning of his career 25 years ago. It didn’t add up.
‘I don’t get it.’ I said – eyes narrowing.
‘Well, I gotta go, its an hour to get there, or I’ll be late,’ He leaned over and kissed me, grabbed his backpack and left. Like it was no big deal.
The silence in his wake was deafening. He’s not an ‘Affair’ kind of guy, not the least of which, because he’s a terrible liar. And even if he was, I can’t imagine how he could meet someone – we spend a lot of time together. Granted, maybe too much. ‘Do they have Tinder here?’ I wondered. But he had on an old shirt, and he wouldn’t have needed to take supplies in the back pack. Or would he? I don’t know the rules of etiquette on Tinder (this was the actual thread of my thought process). Maybe in Spain they wear special outfits. But I had to study for my test and I needed to focus on that. While still wondering what he was up to.
Later,I went to a play with a friend, before Jeff got back. She’d already bought the tickets and I did want to see Ken Watanabe in ‘The King and I’. Masterful performance. When I came in, he was sitting on the couch, smiling like a Cheshire cat. OK, maybe it was Tinder.
‘Hey – how was your beginner programming class?’ I asked – using air quotes. I hate air quotes. Waiting to see if he would spin a good yarn. If he did, I’d know. His lips wouldn’t move.
‘Great!’ still smiling.
‘Learn something new, did you?’ I kept it casual but I was suspicious.
‘As a matter of fact, I did. I met some new people and I’m going back next week.’
Next week? Another beginning programming class? This was too much.
‘Like what? What did you learn?’ I was starting to form some hazy pictures in my mind. A matador costume and a bull mask. This would not end well.
‘Spanish.’ he said proudly.
Again – huh? We had taken that disastrous Spanish immersion class when we first got here. He had declined the offer to go with me to my tutor, and the classes I took in the summer. But his Spanish was getting better – I had noticed it in Brazil, and since we’ve been back, he’s using what he has when we go anywhere. No longer afraid to stumble to communicate.
‘I don’t get it.’ The bull ring not yet fading from my mind.
‘Well, I’ve struggled to learn Spanish – in a regular language class. So I’m picking up some here and there. But then I thought – I know a lot of programming languages. So if I went to a beginner programming class, I would learn Spanish in the context of languages I’m already fluent in. And there’s context – something we didn’t have in that class we took.’
Huh? Red cape gone – mind blown! Of course he’s doing this. He’s been trying to solve the problem of learning Spanish in a way that makes sense to him, ever since the Spring. And this is what he’s landed on. It’s very Jeff.
‘What did they say when you introduced yourself.’ I wished I had been there.
‘They were a little confused why I was there. Everyone else said they were changing careers or learning to code for fun. I said I was there to learn Spanish and they seemed surprised. But I explained my theory, and I think they got it after halfway through the hour and a half class, all in Spanish, the instructor turned to me and asked if I understood what was going on. And I told him what they were talking about. He seemed pretty surprised that it was working.’
‘Afterwards, I talked to a few people and I offered to help tutor them for free, if they would help me with my Spanish. Kind of like an intercambio for geeks. At first, I think the instructor thought I was trying to move in on his students and poach them. But I told him that wasn’t what I needed. I just want to learn Spanish in my own way.’
I wanted to laugh, but it was such a perfect solution. And it was his solution. Kind of genius, really.
When we got married, Jeff was very firm on adding a pledge that we would always ‘surprise and delight’ each other. It was the only real thing he insisted on. And, after knowing him for nearly 20 years, I’m happy to report, he’s kept up his end of the bargain.
Well, it was actually a dark and stormy afternoon. And it was the day that I realized the theme of this week should be ‘The Appointment to Make the Appointment’. We hit the ground running this week.
Our first annual medical exams since we’ve been here – actually, we were way past due before we left so it was time to go get a check up and all the commiserate tests. We’re both over 50 now so the tune up and oil change takes a little more work. Blood tests and ultra sounds. It requires multiple doctors and the process here is a little more round-trip intensive.
First, we go to the clinic to make the appointment because we can’t do it over the phone – being Spanishly challenged. Then we go to the appointment and meet with the doctor. Whichever doctor it is orders tests. We go to where we are going to have the tests. Then they tell you when you can return to pick up the results – they don’t just send it to the Dr. who ordered the tests. Then you pick up the results and return to the doctor to make an appointment to review your results. Etc. Rinse and Repeat.
Jeff got lucky this time because I went to our English speaking family practitioner first. I happened to mention that Jeff would be making an appointment himself to see him. The Dr. felt he would save him some time and gave me all the blood work orders for Jeff too. So he got to skip two steps right out of the gate. When he complained about going to the Dr. after his tests came back I wanted to punch him.
Today, I had an appointment to take the examination for the driving theory test at the Jefatura de Trafico. I made it the week before we left for Brazil online and I have spent every day since doing nothing but studying the book and taking the online practice tests. OK, that and watching a Breaking Bad marathon but you can do both at the same time. I know I’m ready because I’m passing nearly every practice test I take. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the test of getting to the test.
I had even attempted a dry run. This week I had to go get my psychological/medical fitness certificate. The clinics are across the street from the Jefatura so I knew where to go. It took 10 minutes, during which time they asked if I was depressed, tested my eyes and made me play a video game where I had to keep the two bars on the screen inside the winding road. Twenty six euros later and I had my certificate.
Since I was right across the street, I thought I’d go check out the Jefatura de Traffico and learn the system and ask for the remaining forms I required. Just so I’d be ready today. The security guard is brutal on the ‘taking-of-the-number’ business. I was not getting past him to ask a small question – without the requisite appointment. So no dry run.
Today – test day – Jeff came with me and we went early. I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time. I’d gotten my passport photos at the machine in the subway and I had all the copies that Spanish bureaucracy requires. Everything in triplicate. But getting into the equivalent of the Department of Motor Vehicle early is not allowed. Seriously, you can’t get there early – just at your appointed predetermined time. While I was in line waiting to learn this little tidbit from the militant security guard, I found my Irish friend, Donna, happened to be in line in front of me. She was swapping her driving license out – because EU citizens just exchange theirs with a form and and fee. Me? I have to act like I’m 15 again.
So after our unceremonious booting out of the Jefatura (the guy actually wagged his finger at me and said ‘No!’), we went across the street with our tails between our legs to have a coffee and to wait until the machine, that gives you a number the security guard checks so very closely, will spit out a ticket that gives you the privilege to sit down and wait. And wait. And wait.
Finally, we decided to leave the safety of the cafe to brave ‘El Securidad’ once more, and success! The ticket has 3 letters and 3 numbers. Then you sit and wait, looking up at screens every time the bell goes ‘Ping!’, checking your ticket against the information on the screen. It’s like playing Keno. When other combinations would come up and it had a common letter or number to mine – Jeff would comment on it. When my number came I almost shouted out ‘BINGO!’ but he was on to me and whispered ‘Don’t do it.’ So I held back.
Up I went to the window with my documents and copies in my plastic folder. Just like everyone else here, you go to no official building without your plastic folder full of everything you have ever documented since the beginning of time – this can include your baptismal certificate. The gentleman who helped me was very nice. He looked at what I had brought and then took my Residencia/NIE card back to have it examined by someone else and they had a long discussion about it. I was having flashbacks to the Spanish Embassy in Los Angeles. If I had to conjure bank statements I was going to scream.
Then, he came back and brought forms with him. He typed alot, glued my photos to a form, and more typing. Then he asked me when I wanted to take my test.
‘How about now?’ I told him. I’m not sure why he thought I was there.
‘Oh no. Today you pay. You take the examination on December 3.’ He looked at me confused that I didn’t know this was ‘the appointment to make the appointment’. The test will be at a place several miles outside of town in a couple of weeks.
What could I do? Storm off? It’s just how it is. But I was a little disappointed. I was ready. I was psyched up. I memorized the manual on two continents and 24 hours in the air. I had asked Jeff over the last 48 hours one hundred times if he thought I was going to pass. I peaked too soon! But now I have a packet of all the forms and everything I’ll need in a couple of weeks. I am resigned. Jeff was less than happy.
We went home on the subway and when we got to the Benimachlet metro stop it was clear that the storm outside had become something of an issue. The water was pouring down the stairs like a waterfall. I hid my packet of precious stamped theory test documents – including my new appointment time – under my rain coat and made a run for it. I took a video so you could see how much rain we’re talking about.
I had thought about wearing my Hunter boots today. It was raining after all. But I just wore my little green rubber ankle Boggs. My go-to rain boots for a Seattle rain. Today, they were woefully inadequate. I needed fishing waders – no kidding. By the time we got home with the rain coming down sideways, both of us were soaked to the bone. Like someone had sprayed us with a hose for 5 blocks straight.
‘We have to stop!’ I shouted at him half way home from the Metro station.
‘Why? We can’t get any wetter!’ Jeff wisely shouted back. And of course, he was right. But everyone on the street was laughing. Movie rain is like that. We’re all in the same boat, or swimming in the same ocean, I guess.
When I got home, I saw this lithograph I had bought at an artist gathering in Sao Paolo and it made me smile. Something about it struck me at the time and I stuffed it in my already bulging bag for the trip home – Jeff just shaking his head. So today, it seemed appropriate since my own umbrella was in the exact same position. A premonition of sorts.
I’ll have to remember the lessons of this week when we start our residency renewal in a few months. And allow enough time to make ‘the appointment, to make the appointment’. Hopefully, that day it will be a little less wet.
It’s Christmas in October! Carol Joyner – you are amazing! Today, all the way from Spain’s Northwest coast, a package arrived containing the English version of the Spanish driving regulations. And, as we all know, there are a lot of them as evidenced by the thickness of the tome of all things trafico.
I’m taking the fact that the guy on the cover is holding up an Audi key as a sign to me that passing my ‘B’ permit is in my future. And the book looks well loved. When Carol told me that she had studied it thoroughly for 6 weeks prior to the test, I totally believe her. I’m living it. Because it’s so much information and the rules are so nuanced that it requires dedication, hours of concentration and gallons of coffee to successfully pass the test. And a few vino rosados after not a few sad failures in a row.
I’ve decided not to go to Madrid for the class. I’m taking it online right here in Valencia. And when I need to start practical lessons at an Autoescuela in Spanish, I have someone here from LA who speaks fluent Spanish and he’ll go with me on ride alongs to translate. It should be FUN! Well…maybe not, but I’m doing one thing at a time, so as not to get overwhelmed by the process. And the first thing will be to start reading this book as a supplement to my already growing knowledge of the rules of the road from my epic testing failures of the last couple of weeks. There’s always a silver lining.
Carol, let me know if you want the book back when I’m done. If not, I’ll pay it forward to the next American who is wading into the world of the Spanish driving license. For now, I’m well equipped to prepare for my test and when I do, I will be raising a glass to the friends who helped me get there. Muchas Gracias!!
I’m all over this driving test thing. Every day I’m taking the actual Dirección General de Tráfico (DGT) tests online. In the beginning, I was getting discouraged. I was successful somewhere in the 70% range and it was a morale killer. But I have persevered and now I’m either passing the actual tests or coming very close with only 4 mistakes.
I have learned a lot and not just about Spanish traffic laws. I’ve learned that ‘should’ and ‘must’ aren’t the same as ‘mandatory;. And ‘can’t’ or ‘shouldn’t’ isn’t the same as ‘prohibited’. In English, these mean the same things. In Spanish (or the translation) there’s a bit of trickery that will fool you every time until you start to spot these words and realize you’re about to be duped for the 400th time. Damn you, DGT test! You’ll not get me again. Fool me 400 times, shame on you. Fool me for the 401st – shame on me.
And if there are two answers that look, and actually mean the same thing, the one that says ‘but can be modified at any time at the discretion or authority of the police or other authorized persons’, that’s the answer – no matter what other thing you think it might be. Because if the police or authorized persons tells you to stand on your head in the middle of the tracks, with the engine running and a train coming, and livestock on all sides of the road – even though there is no ‘Canada’ sign and other signs expressly prohibiting it – you will do it. It’s ‘compulsory’. No can’s, no should’s. You will follow the authorities.
I’ve also learned a lot about how the pictures in the test have nothing, whatsoever to do with the question. When they show wild horses running all over the road, on both sides, and then ask you if you can encounter livestock on:
a) the right side of the road.
b) the left side of the road.
c) the entire road.
The answer is a). And here’s why. The picture is meant to be a fun bit of misdirection. And you’ll notice the word ‘can‘ in the question. This seems to the layman that, based on the photo and experience, of course you CAN experience livestock on all sides of the road. But you’d be wrong. Legally, you can only experience it on the right side with the flow of traffic. But remember, when you encounter livestock arbitrarily in the road you must yield to them. I plan on shouting at them ‘You’re prohibited from being here legally! The law says so!’ But of course I’d be screaming it in English so they wouldn’t understand me. Anyway – in my experience you yield to things bigger than you.
I’ve learned a bunch of other stuff too. The Spanish driving test cares a lot about depression, fatigue and both prescription and non-prescription drug use. It cares about smoking in the car and GPS use. As I sit here taking tests, Jeff has been looking over my shoulder. Sometimes he’s been helpful, at other times he’s emphatically suggested something that I know is incorrect, because I’ve encountered it before. I just chuckle – how naive he is that he thinks he understands whether you ‘can’ use your fog lights in a light drizzle – silly man. So he’s learning too. But this one particular question threw us both for a loop. Take a look at this picture. Notice there is no D) NONE!!
Now, I can learn all the facts and figures around when I need to have my car or motorcycle inspected by the MOT/ITV. I can learn right of ways for one lane roads and urban vs. interurban areas. But HOLY MOLY! Driving a school bus after a few drinks? When was that decided it might be a) an OK idea, and after that one bad decision, b) how much they should be able to drink?! This just seems wrong. We both shook our head and then remembered that none of our kids will ever ride a Spanish school bus so that’s one more reason to sleep at night. But then I thought about the driver of our Metro train and took a gulp.
Last week, I found the street in front front of the Jefatura Provincial de Trafico, and it was festooned with places to get my medical/psychological exam to obtain my certificate. I was waiting for Jeff in a cafe and asked the woman next to me about all the clinics that were lining the street. I asked her if it was cosmetic surgery or botox or something. She laughed and explained it was for the certificate to drive in Spain. So now I know where to go. They stand outside in lab coats like hucksters so I’m thinking I can negotiate the cost. And next week I’m getting my new town hall certificate and passport sized photos for my learners permit.
I’m starting to be more sure of myself, but not cocky. There’s no room in this process for over confidence. After a little more practice and gathering my documents, I’ll make the appointment to take the test for after we’re back from Brazil in mid-November. I’m hoping I pass on the first two tries so I don’t have to take an actual course and can spend the rest of my time learning in the car. I’d like to start the new year with my new license and a new car – ready to explore more of the country. Seems like a good way to start the year!
I’ve heard them all. And of course, they’re true. I’m not perfect. Far, very far from it. And since I’ve heard horror stories of ugly Americans, when traveling, we try to go out of our way to be culturally sensitive and respectful. Do I love everything about living here? No. I miss some stuff, and some of it’s doesn’t make sense to me. We choose to live in Spain because we like it here better than we did back in the US. Jeff reminded me the other day it was his idea, after all.
We’ve lived here nearly 8 months now and I’m fed up. ‘With the Spanish?’ you might ask. But my answer would be an emphatic ‘NOOOO.’ I’m fed up with British and the arrogance I witness, over hear and generally experience from these people every freaking day. It’s very clear many British Expats – or even holiday maker – is under the misapprehension that Imperialism is still an actual thing.
Now, as a caveat, we have some friends here who are Brits. But sometimes even they will say things that make me go ‘Hmmm’.
Today Jeff and I headed to the beach for our morning coffee. It’s been super stormy here and the beach was festooned with mostly locals running. And the waves were huge. The Med is usually pretty calm and flat. This morning it looked more like Manzanita – the small beach town in Oregon where we used to go in the summer when I was a kid. Big angry swells and crashing waves. We watched the Spanish Coast Guard perform a real rescue of a wind surfer.
I was wearing my Pendleton fisherman’s sweater. It wasn’t warm out. And then a flock of tourists came by. We knew they were tourists before we could hear them because they all had large red beach towels with the word ‘ENGLAND’ emblazoned across it hanging around their necks, like they were part of the same flock of red faced birds, to be observed from afar. Then one of them decided that he needed to take a wee and promptly relieved himself all over a stack of beach chairs where we rent loungers in the summer. To say we were actually pissed off is an understatement! How dare he? But we knew they dared – they’re English, and they told us so!
Recently, Brexit has been a large part of the convo around here. It’s become an obsession since so many British citizens live in Spain. They speculate about it, and rant and rave about their Prime Minister’s botched Brexit job. We aren’t ones to talk. with our own country in such a freaking mess right now, so we usually just listen.
‘Well, I just don’t see why we have to follow all those laws the EU would come up with. I mean we’re not all supposed to smoke in cafe’s now. It’s the law in EU and in Britain we follow the law. But you’ll notice in Spain they don’t. They just ignore what they don’t like. That’s why I voted to leave.’
My eyes narrowed.
‘You voted to leave the EU because Britain is following EU laws around smoking in outdoor cafe’s, and Spain isn’t?’
I was dumbfounded. ‘First off, you don’t smoke.’
‘I know.’ they said ‘but other people do.’
‘Yes .’ I said ‘But I don’t want to have to smoke other people’s cigarettes while I have a coffee. So it’s good Britain is enforcing it. And secondly, you live in Spain. And you want to stay here, with no guarantee that you’ll be able to after Brexit. So you voted against your own self interest, so that Brits you don’t live near can smoke in Britain, in outside in cafes?’
But the capper for us was over hearing a rowdy group of English (I’m hoping on holiday and not locals) in a cafe we frequent. Now my Spanish is not good. And after being away for a month it didn’t get better. But I do what I can and I muddle through. One thing I don’t do is shout louder in English when I encounter someone who doesn’t speak any of my native tongue. But this group of jolly, rather inebriated, assholes did just that. And when the waitress walked away they said something that is the cherry on the ethnocentric cake that seems all too common with those from the British Isles.
‘Spain would be so much better if there weren’t so many Spaniards.’ Loudly, and then they all laughed and agreed wholeheartedly that yes, indeed, it’s the Spanish that ruin Spain because they’re all lazy and they don’t speak English. We got the check and paid. While walking ever so close to their table to leave I said – not so much under my breath.
‘I disagree – I just think it’s all the fucking assholes who come here and forget to pack the manners Mummy tried, and failed, to teach them.’ And we left quickly before I was tackled by a guy who clearly played a game or two of rugby at school.
This week I saw the article about how Spain will surpass Japan in life expectancy by 2040. Yes, if you live in Spain you’ll live longer than all others in the world. It has the weather, A LOT less stress, and the food is a Mediterranean diet. The best for heart health and cancer prevention. And if you do get sick, the health care here is top notch. Believe me, I know. Next time, I want to hold that up to the British, who are ranting about the people of the country they are lucky enough to be allowed to enjoy by the grace of the Spanish government, and shout.
‘Your culinary contribution to the world was boiled meat! You didn’t discover the existence of garlic until 1975. Suck it!’
I used to be very quiet about telling anyone I was an American when traveling. Our reputation in the world being what it is. But now whenever someone asks me if I’m from Inglaterra I make sure to tell them NOOO! I AM NOT. There’s a part of me that is hoping that some of the English can’t come to Spain after Brexit. They can go back to the UK. You know how the old saying goes ‘England. Not like Spain at all, and without all those lazy Spaniards.’ Sounds like heaven to them. Wonder what their life expectancy in the UK will be in 2040. Oh wait! I won’t really care because I’ll be living in Spain.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sailaway from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain