Viva la France

We arrived in Dijon! It was a rather long ride from Strasbourg but we did it. We rode thru the picturesque town of Colmar, ‘Little Venice’ they call it, with their canals and centuries-old architecture.

We had a long way to go so we set off to go over the nearby mountains through a National nature preserve. Before our climb started, we made a pit stop to see the main square in the village of Munster. I think cheese is a big deal to the Munsters (not the same ones from 60’s American TV) because they have attractions around it.

But what I really wanted to see were the storks nesting on the peaks of the Hotel de Ville and the church. It’s pretty amazing how they build such huge nests on the top of nothing.

We rode twisty mountain roads for 150 km. A lot of ski areas I’d like to come back to one of these days. And I got to see my first alpine ski jump, sans the snow. But it was still cool.

About 30 minutes outside of Dijon we came upon a very old Chateau in the village of Gy. It was built over the course of six centuries and is in a state of delapidated charm. The roof could use some work. I loved it!

Finally, we made it to Dijon. We are staying in the nicest hotel here. Not because I made the selection. I walked the Camino and slept pallets in churches and bunk houses with 50 other sweaty people for 6 straight weeks in the heat of a Spanish summer. As long as I’m horizontal, I can sleep in the top of a flagpole. Jeff? Yeah, not so much. He’s a bedding snob. If the sheets aren’t a minimum of 600 tc he develops a rash.

So, when I was reading off potential hotels at our last stop on the way to Dijon, he nixed anything that didn’t have the word ‘Grand’ in it. That left one possibility and he knew it. It is weird. He’s not picky about much, but of the few things he is, hotels are at the top.

The concierge ran out when we pulled up. To help with the luggage – such as it was – strapped to our bike. Then he escorted Jeff and Precious to the underground garage, where they locked her up safe and sound in an actual cage. I think Jeff felt vindicated for choosing this hotel because of that alone.

Tomorrow is May 8. It’s the anniversary of the end of WWII and the French flags are flying around town. Stunning walk around the old town.

In some places, the building looked very Diagon Alley, rather than Burgundy. But that’s just my own bias.

Next Stop: Toulouse!

Just One More Thing…

After driving to Los Angeles and staying in a hotel overnight, we made it the the consulate a bit early for our appointment. Their website details EXACTLY how you’re supposed to do everything, down to printing two copies of the document check list and the order in which those documents must appear in the packet. It emphasizes how important this all is and I checked and double checked it all. I had Jeff go through the instructions on the website himself, in case I missed something. Here’s how it actually went.

We got there early – I’m never, ever late to anything. And this appointment is too important to be left to chance. There weren’t any other people there to get visas at the moment we arrived, so they took us early.  Good sign – I thought. And they’re really nice people. I know they want to help us get our visa.

‘Just pull the financial documents out and let’s go through them first. That will be the thing that will keep you from getting the visa so if they are good, then the rest is easy’

Seemed logical to me. So out I pulled the holy scriptures of our financial picture – thick dossiers of everything and several months worth of statements.

‘Yeah – we don’t need all this. Just the beginning and ending balances. And being that this is February 5th and your January statement looks like it would have ended on the 29th – we will need that too. Why don’t you have that?’

I was incredulous. I had everything – EVERYTHING – related to our financial picture. It had all been translated for hundreds of dollars. And it all came down to our last bank statement??

‘There was no time to send it to Boulder to the translator and get it back in time for this appointment – 6 days later with a weekend in there.’

‘Well, we’re going to need that since it’s past the 29th.’

You could visibly seem my mouth hanging open. But of course I said, ‘OK’. I would get it.

Then they wanted to know why my translations weren’t ‘stapled by the translator’. I said I didn’t know. They were very concerned unstapled translations might be rejected in Spain. Jeff and I looked at each other. We could staple them ourselves but we remained silent.

‘Please consult your translator and ask why she didn’t staple them.’

I said I would and reached out to her in email from the consulate. Oh, No You Didn’t! She came unglued! She told me in her official translation certification, they expressly said that official translations are never stapled, she never staples, and she thinks it renders the documents unofficial. I was beginning to feel like I was caught between Mom and Dad and they were in a fight.

Ugh. Then we were told we needed more copies of our 10lb packets, so we had to walk across the street and get some made and bring them back. Great! We were all set – the guy gave me back some copies and we went back to our hotel to pack up and get Jeff’s motorcycle to the port of Los Angeles to ship it out. Then my phone rang.

They were very sorry but they had given me the wrong papers and I needed to come back across town and give them back to them so they could give me the correct ones. I will admit to having a melt down in the hotel room. The Gods of Document Hades were having me on again! But what could I do?

I went back through LA traffic and they squeezed me in to sort it out. It only took an hour. I left there and drove down to the port to meet up with Jeff – more than an hour away. I had all his gear, that was shipping with his bike, in the trunk of my car so he couldn’t complete it without me. This delayed us getting out of LA. And I know from experience, you never, ever delay getting out of LA after noon. Or it will take you FOREVER!! You will age on the drive from San Pedro to San Bernadino. It’s like dog years.

So at midnight last night – we rolled into our driveway. Yes  – midnight. And this morning I’m going to our bank to explain to some nice person that I need to get those statements stamped again. And then I’m going to scan them and send them to our translator, who has promised to do them quickly and get them back to me via overnight post, so I can overnight them to the consulate. She’ll probably put 50 staples in them just for spite. But I’m tired thinking about it.

I know we aren’t alone. While I was sitting there in my second consulate visit yesterday morning – I noticed almost everyone had a ‘Just one more thing’ to go take care of. Three weeks – we need that visa in three weeks so we can get on a plane. Crossing my fingers that our ‘Just one more thing’ is really ‘The last thing.’

The Slow Roll

The next 30 days – Please, Please, Please give us a visa – has become our linguistic transition period. I’m +Babbeling, and Rosetta Stoning. I’m watching strictly Spanish TV and even trying out some of my new language on Jeff.

‘Let’s Go’ he says, to move me along to the store.

‘You mean ‘Vamonos!’ I say, with a wave of my hand. I’ve begun gesturing with my arms a lot more – like my new favorite Spanish actresses.

He rolls his eyes, but I’ll be the one laughing when we land in Spain.

‘Como llegamos al metro, por favor?’ I’ll say at the airport, to the first official person I see – right out of the gate. Jeff will be confused but follow in my wake – as he’ll have no other choice, being that he hasn’t been studying up for hours a day with La Casa De Papel and Velvet.

For our visa applications, we had to pay an official consulate-approved translator to translate our bank statements – and a host of other documents. So when we went to the bank to get them stamped and signed, the manager suggested that we switch our language preference to Spanish going forward. That way, next year when we want to renew our visas, we can just print them, get then stamped and we won’t be out the $400 to have someone certify that numbers in English are numbers in Spanish.

Seemed like a great idea until yesterday when we got a fraud alert via text on Jeff’s phone. And yes, now it’s in Spanish.

‘What the hell is this?’ asked Jeff, confused. ‘I think it’s telling me there has been some fraudulent activity on our account – but I can’t tell what it is.’ he groaned. ‘Shit! We had that guy at the bank change everything over to Spanish!’

I smiled. Seemed like a good idea at the time. So we logged into our account and Yup! its all in Spanish. Nothing like jumping into the deep end. So I called and got things straightened out, charges reversed and cards cancelled. They’re researching some of the stuff from a couple of days ago and today they sent me an email update – in Spanish. Jeff laughed.

‘See. Now YOU get to decipher what the hell this says.’

‘No problema!’ was my reply. And I sat down and figured it out. Sure, I had to look up a bunch of banking mumbo jumbo (Oh, how Google translate still owns me) – but I did pretty good before I broke down and used ‘the Google’, as my Mom calls it. And, if I’m honest, I’m a little proud of myself.

Not that I haven’t had my doubts about what we’re doing, the closer it gets. Serious doubts about how mad we must be to just up and move across the world. But I feel sure, when the days comes, I’ll do it with a hearty ‘Vamanos!’

 

 

 

Talking vs. Communicating

Communication and understanding are the key to a happy life. I know this from the harsh reality of experience, as I’ve not always been the best at either of these. I guess time grants you wisdom and perspective – if you decide to pay attention.

In thinking of our preparation for moving to Spain, we joined several Facebook groups for Expats already living in our chosen city, and some specifically for Americans moving to or already living in Spain. It’s been eye opening and in many cases invaluable. But sometimes, it’s been ugly.

Hearing how some of my fellow countrymen speak about people in their chosen country of residence hurts. The harsh reality when they’ve discovered that the culture in Spain isn’t American. Surprise! They do things differently there and the people who run the country won’t bow down to ‘The American Way’. In reading their posts, I sometimes wonder why they don’t just go back to Kansas, or North Carolina or Virginia if they find it so hard to deal with.

It also made me examine myself. When I was still working, I did business with people from other countries, notably France, and decided it was a good time for an ‘Intercultural Communications’ class. It wasn’t because I couldn’t talk with the people in La Ciotat, France – where the other company resided. They spoke English. It was because we couldn’t communicate effectively, and I couldn’t figure out why.

We would have a daily call at the beginning of our day and then end of their work day. We would ask for things and they would always agree to do them. But then, they started missing dates on projects and their people were clearly stressed and working ungodly hours to meet our demands. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. So I flew to France.

Meeting with them face to face, I learned that in France – The Customer is Always Right – even if I was wrong, they would never tell me ‘NO’. In developing software, this is the killer. In the US, I would make demands of my engineers and they would tell me ‘You’re crazy if you think we can do that in that amount of time.’ I would ask them to help me be more realistic and they go away and think about it and come back and we would negotiate. My job was to push, their job was to push back. We both understood our roles.

The French team just said ‘Yes’ to every idea I had. But soon, I realized I had to give them permission to tell me I was ‘Full of it’. It made them uncomfortable at first, but we started working well together. And on that trip, I got to hear my team on the phone, from the perspective of the team in France. I was able to see their faces as my people in Seattle spoke, and how it landed 7,000 miles away. It wasn’t pretty and I went back home and we changed our approach.

So taking the ‘Intercultural Communications’ class was eye opening too. I learned that different cultures have different power hierarchies and power distances, and dynamics that are not ever discussed but are ingrained since birth. It’s the subtle things that govern how people interact. And it’s the agreed upon method of communication that everyone, except outsiders, understands.

So, when considering moving to another country, it’s imperative that we learn how to communicate effectively. Its not just being able to order a cafe con leche in a cafe in the right language. Or asking for directions. It’s the subtext and context that’s most important. And it’s cultural sensitivity and empathy.

We are the way we are in the US, because of our Puritanical roots and our cultural belief in manifest destiny and some sort of divine right. We’re taught that in school and by all the cultural cues we receive subliminally. But in Spain, the people are also a collection of their history and experiences. A history that stretches much longer than our Anglo-Christian view of the world. The Spanish people of today are a result of those experiences, just like us.

Jeff and I’ve had a lot of discussions about how, at times, we just won’t get it.  And we will trip and fall. But the most important things is, we need to approach it without judgement. And we need to stop, take a deep breath, and try to understand it from their perspective. With intercultural communications, there is no ‘right way’. There is just empathy and willingness to understand. Its the only way to get along in this life, even in our own country. And we’re committed to it.

Spollywood

In the US, we have Hollywood. In India, they have Bollywood. I have no idea what they call it in Spain but I am dubbing the Spanish movie and TV industry Spollywood! Seems to follow some sort of convention and I think it has a nice ring to it!

Lately, I’ve been consigning myself to just Spanish TV and Movies, to help train my ear for the language. At the beginning, it seemed everyone spoke very fast. It was like listening to a ‘Chipmunks’ movie where they speed up the recording. But slowly and surely, it’s starting to slow down. And while I still have subtitles on in English, I’m starting to tease out words on my own and also to mechanics of the language.

This also requires me to be completely present. I can’t follow the drama or action while doing something else, like packing boxes. It doesn’t work that way – I tried. I have to sit down and pay attention. No multi-tasking on my phone or on my laptop, either. Nope – Spanish visual arts require my focus, and they are getting that 100%.

And, I’ve discovered there is some amazing Spanish produced TV and movies. Where has this stuff been in my life before? They’re original stories, too. Something the US film industry struggles to come up with. I finished the ‘Spanish Queen’ with Penelope Cruz. Very funny. And I’m obsessed with the series ‘Las Chicas del Cable’ on Netflix. Wow! Talk about drama and strong female characters and brilliant casting.

I’ve noticed other differences too. There is a lot of shouting and more arm waving than we have here. But I like it – it’s expressive and helps heighten the drama. Spanish TV is less provincial than we are. If they have something to say, they say it. If it means taking characters to uncomfortable place where the audience might squirm in their seats? Bring it on! It’s actual ART!

Jeff sat down with me last night to watch a couple of episodes. He laughed when he saw the costumes and the cars.

‘1928 – right in your sweet spot’ referring to my preferred costume drama period for cinema for 1900-1950. ‘But without a war.’

At first, he was on his iPad and then he got sucked in. I explained the plot and who the characters were.

‘Carolina is the horrible one who is Francisco’s secretary at the phone company. She is after Alba/Lidia, to expose her secrets and destroy her. And Carlota is confused if she wants a girl friend or a boyfriend. And Francisco, we can’t decide if he’s a good guy caught up in difficult circumstances, or if he was a good guy who is now a bad guy.’

Soon Jeff was looking over the rim of his glasses. I could tell he was enthralled. Just like me.

I haven’t thought much about what our life will be like on a day to day basis when we finally get our visas and land in Spain. But now I know what our evenings will entail. A bowl of popcorn and some world-class entertainment!