It’s 5:00 Somewhere

Around here, we mostly notice the differences. The similarities don’t jump out at us, and there are less of those. Like obeying cross walk signs or driving on the right, the’re easy to dismiss. Some differences are subtle, like the fact that you can’t buy laundry detergent that is unscented. Everything is seriously perfumed. That’s not such a subtle difference since we seem to be allergic to every scented detergent and we’ve been itching in one form or another for quite some time now.

One of the biggest things we’ve noticed is that people drink beer at breakfast. Sometimes, on the weekend, we’ll go out to El Horno for a coffee, and a large portion of the patrons are drinking a cerveza.  We’ve taken to calling it ‘breakfast beer’ and Jeff, not one to scoff at another culture’s traditions and idiosyncrasies, has embraced it (on the weekends) to the fullest.

I liken it to the Bloody Mary or the Mimosa in the US. Brunch isn’t the same without them. Except its not like that at all. It’s just a bunch of old guys from the neighborhood smoking, and drinking beer, at 9 am on a Tuesday. It just feels strange.

Today, on our way to Day 3 Escuela de Espanol, I caught Jeff looking longingly at the guys in front of El Horno on our way to class. I sympathized. I could have used a stiff drink before entering the lion’s den. Something to smooth out the rough edges of the knives of incomprehension that were coming our way in mere minutos. But we walked on.

Two hours later and we walked out exhausted, frustrated and confused. We stopped at El Horno for a coffee and Coke on the way home. We needed a moment to review the experience and to come up with a strategy. The one we’ve been employing isn’t working for either of us.

‘Did you catch any of the lesson three?’ I asked him, while thumbing through my notebook.

‘Not a bit. But I figured I just sit that one out. I don’t get how she doesn’t teach us what things actually are. Car, Truck, our numbers, colors, days of the week, telling time. Like how they teach kids in pre-school. They don’t just shout at them. They have pictures and books and they sing songs to learn mnemonic devices. This moves so fast you get whiplash and you haven’t recovered before you’re on to the next thing. ‘

‘You’re lucky she didn’t call on you.’ I told him. ‘When I looked confused she just kept saying something else in Spanish. I don’t understand why we don’t have lists of vocabulary words or any clue what we’re trying to do. It seems like it would be a great idea if she told us the day before what the focus would be the next day, so we could prepare.’ I was whining but I didn’t care.

‘Yeah, that’s not going to happen.’ He had given up on that the first day. ‘I spend so much time flipping back and forth in my notes, I miss her mimes and when look up again, I’m lost.’ He took a drink of his Coke but was eyeing our neighbor’s pre-lunch cerveza.

‘I’m going to develop some cheat sheets. I need to have my basics at my finger tips. I’ll spend the afternoon typing up what I have and you can review it and add what I missed. Tomorrow we’ll be ready.’ I feel better with a battle plan.

So that’s what I did today. It’s 4 o’clock and we got home at noon after out El Horno bitch/strategy session. My notes are typed up. Tables for pronouns, verbs, adverbs are completed with what we’ve learned so far. I’ve got sections for ‘Compare and Contrast’ vocab, and just plain random vocabulary. Numbers from one to one thousand are also in there, and grammar rules that include a host of exceptions. ‘Measures of Time’ will now be at my finger tips so they can roll off my tongue. Days, Weeks, Months, Seasons. it’s all there.

When El Chino reopens after siesta, I’ll head down there to get some index cards and make us up some flash cards. Sure, I can’t just rattle that stuff off yet, but when she asks us to say something, I’ll be able to conjure something up. Wait! Who am I kidding? She’s goes so fast I’ll still be fumbling. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll embrace a ‘breakfast beer’. Honestly, it couldn’t hurt and maybe I wouldn’t care so much. Except I don’t love beer and I haven’t seen anyone drink wine for breakfast. Perhaps they have to draw the line somewhere.

Lifeguard Wanted!

In the US there is a saying ‘Being thrown into the deep end of the pool’. This means that a person goes from being on solid ground, to being in over their head with whatever thing they might be confronting. This could entail being expected to do something that you’ve never done before, as though you’re an expert. Its an apt expression since it often will include panic and hyper-ventilation. Both of these things we experienced in full today in our Immersion Total experience.

We went to our first Spanish class at our local ‘Escuela de Espanol‘ and I can say that we’ve not just been thrown into the deep end of the pool, but the ocean! Holy mackerel, we are lost. I would have shouted ‘Ayuda! Me estoy ahogando en espanol!’ (Help! I’m drowning in Spanish!!) if only I’d known how to say it. And I am drowning in Spanish. And so is Jeff. No es claro. And Jeff’s innate need for understanding the ‘Why’ of anything and everything is wildly unsatisfied because the instructor will not speak to us in English – at all.

We got there early and the room was set up in a circle. We have people from Holland, UK, Ukraine, Libya, Russia, Italy and us, in this class. The instructor came in and immediately wrote a few Spanish sentences on the board, began talking rapidly, and then asked each of us to say what she had written, but modify it for ourselves. It’s was our names, home country, what we like and what we don’t like. I stumbled through it and so did Jeff.

Then she wrote some other things on the board that I recognized from +Babbel and Rosetta Stone, and it started to make a little sense. I looked over at Jeff and he had that ‘Whaaat The…??!!’ look on his face as the instructor asked him question after question and he had zero clue what she was talking about. Other people were confused too. The guy from the Ukraine had already checked out.

We did some work sheets and then we had to say our letters to each other. My vocabulary isn’t bad but my pronunciation could use some work. Jeff’s pronunciation is really good, but he has a hard time teasing out what our instructor is saying. He began to correct my recitation of the alphabet. This is good, because for about a week now I’ve repeated everything he says in the limited Spanish I have, and I think it’s been making him a little crazy. Revenge is a dish best served cold, I guess.

On Saturday, he asked me ‘Where are the bikes we’re picking up?’ referring to what bike share station we’re going to.

‘You mean ‘Donde esta Valenbisi biccecletas‘ we’re picking up?’

Sure, it’s incomplete pigeon Spanish, but it’s how I’m learning and it’s helping me to more quickly conjure up what I might need to say to someone who doesn’t speak Ingles. When I do, I usually get ‘The Look’ but oh, well.

After our 2 hour lesson today, we left the school knowing we will be back there for two more hours every morning this week. Jeff’s head was spinning. We had learned to words for thief and plumber. Kind of obscure since I am perpetually trying to avoid both of those things in my life.

‘I didn’t understand half of that.’ he grumbled.

‘Yeah, me neither, but that’s why we’re taking the class. If we understood it, we wouldn’t need it. We just have to go with the flow. It’s not a college class and we’re doing it for ourselves. Our future livelihoods won’t depend on it.’

I got a ‘Hrmpft’ as a response.

We got home and had a little lunch. We’ve signed up for 3 weeks of intensive classes and I think Jeff is counting down the hours. But in the end, we’ll be glad we did this and the school we chose is flexible if we need to continue or go back for additional instruction – which is almost guaranteed.

But first we need to get through the initial part. The part where we surrender to the fact that we don’t understand, and that the goal isn’t getting it perfect, just good enough.  ‘No comprende‘ is going my constant companion in this course and I’m OK with it. Maybe we need to drown a little, so we’ll start kicking and head for the surface so we can breath the air in Valencia. Spanish air. It will not be easy, but I know with time it won’t be as ‘Dificil‘ as it was today.

The Escape

Leaving your own country and moving to another requires adjustment. We start Spanish language classes on Monday. 3 hours every morning in intensive immersion. We need language skills and it’s becoming more and more apparent each day.

I’m looking at volunteering at a local school to help kids improve their English skills, but also to meet native speakers and use my soon-to-be-acquired Spanish. We’ve met new friends but most of them are expats from English speaking countries like Brits, Irish or South Africans. And those that aren’t want to speak English to us even though they’re from Holland or somewhere else in Scandinavia.

We’re fumbling through on a daily basis and it’s either feast of famine on our ability to communicate. Sometimes Jeff would prefer not to have to think about how we’re going to get something done. His take? ‘Easy things are hard. Just wait for the hard things. Who knows how we’ll tackle those.’ I prefer to keep some of those things in a fog just out of my reach. I’ll figure out how to get a doctor later.

So to escape, sometimes you just need to binge watch TV from home. We’ve got no cable but we do have Amazon Prime, with our paid channels, and Netflix. I get my news from NBC online when I wake up in the morning. But yesterday, after staring at some wires that came snaking out of our wall, Jeff hooked up the cable that is connected at the other end to somewhere, and we got local HD channels – out of the air.

We have no idea where they’re coming from but in flipping through the channels we’ve discovered we can pay to get our Tarot cards read on no less than 7 channels – for a small and ever growing fee.  Once we learn Spanish, we can listen to the televangelists try to save our souls. There might be a fee involved there too. We will eventually understand sports here and after Googling some of the acronyms for the teams playing, we’ve learned all the Spanish soccer/futbol teams names. And then we discovered the channels of TV from back home. And that we can change the programming to allow the ‘original language’ to come through. BINGO! We have more US shows.

Sure, back in the US I watched a ton of Spanish TV and movies. It’s how I started tuning my ear and honestly, it’s helped a ton here already. Great investment. But on days when going out and doing things is tougher than you think it ought to be, it’s nice to sit down and lose yourself in something mindless. Something you don’t even have to think about to understand.

Today, I’m heading out by myself to get spices in the Central Market. Its like a big open market but it’s undercover in a building like an old train station in the center of the city.  I’m meeting up with a new friend for a beverage who lives in that part of town. After trying to stumble through purchasing things in Spanish, it will be nice to have a chat with someone who doesn’t require me to think, over a glass of wine. And to come home and watch some Big Bang Theory with cultural references that I totally understand. Its stupid, I know. But the little things take on more significance here.

Its Official

Today, we got our Spanish National Identity cards. It’s a big moment that took place in a humble building on the other side of the city, and they’re resting in our wallets now. So we’re good to go until we need to renew our visas in 11 months.

Everything here is a process of doing something, learning you did it wrong, correcting your mistake, then going back and completing it. Hopefully, this requires only one additional round trip. The only thing I’ve done right the first time is getting us our permanent Metro passes. I looked it up, actually had all the documents it said were required on the website, took them all to the Metro station offices and we got our cards then and there. I know the agent was surprised by my baffled look when he handed us our cards. Nothing is ever supposed to be that easy here – and yet it was.

I think it emboldened Jeff. He went online and signed us up for Valencsibi – the bike ride sharing service that is a whole 36 euros a year. In three weeks time, when our cards come, we’ll be able to ride bikes all over the city, like the locals. Valencia is the most bike friendly city I’ve ever encountered. Bank paths are down every major thoroughfare and soon we’ll be taking advantage of them. Riding to the river and down to the beach.

These small wins are starting to add up and it’s helping my peace of mind. Slowing down and cutting myself some slack has happened organically.  And has come just in time. Moving to another country is stressful. We aren’t surrounded by a big family that might insulate us from every single thing that is different or new starting right outside our front door.

Expectations I had before coming here are all gone. Now it’s just a matter of getting up and just experiencing things. We can’t anticipate or control. And letting go of the need for either of these things is starting to make for a happier life. For both of us.

Standing at the immigration building today, I realized it’s only been a month since we were in that line the last time. ONE MONTH.  In so many ways, it feels like a year. We’ve accomplished a lot since then. Things aren’t so foreign as they were before and going back to a place I had been before on that first day, helped me realize that we’re OK. It’s all going to be OK.

The lists are done. Now it’s time to live – just like we did back home. Real life starts today.