Sunday, May 17, 2015

Ghosts from the Past: All About Exes

For some reason, this week became "The Week of the Ex-Boyfriends". Not one, but TWO of them got in touch with me, wanting to re-establish lines of communication. My past practice has not included friendship with exes. Rather, I tend to never speak with them again, as it's easier for me. They're not horrible people, but I prefer to have my thoughts unclouded and my memories free from sadness or regret.

After a particularly bad breakup, when I asked a friend if I'd ever heal from the pain, she advised me, "You'll know you're better when you can look back on the relationship with fond memories." For months, when people would ask me about this specific ex, I'd get angry and say, "Oh, you mean 'A**hole'? I have no freaking idea how he's doing." I did everything I could to avoid remembering him, and almost never mentioned him to anyone. But after awhile, I noticed that I could tell tales about funny things he did, and not feel anger or regret. Later, I noticed that I could call him a good person and really mean it (not that he was good towards me near the end of our relationship, rather he was a good person in general). After several years, he contacted me last week, and I was completely shocked. But I replied in a good way and felt happy to hear from him. 

Will I be friends with either of the exes? Hard to say. There are people who can do it, and I've never been able to. However, if the time I've spent so far in Spain has taught me anything, it's that things change all the time - in fact, often the only constant in life is change.

Are you able to stay friends with exes? Why or why not? Comment below!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Flower Power: Córdoba's Patio Festival

Spring sucks in Jaén for people with allergies. They walk around with white painter's masks, to avoid breathing in pollen. We are surrounded by the olive trees of the countryside, and I feel bad for them. They definitely wouldn't be able to partake in a cool event in Córdoba at this time of year: the Feria de los patios.
Bad for the allergic...

...but fun for me.

Things I learned: Jaén is best accessed via bus, although it's a 2 hour ride. Since I went on a Sunday morning, there were no Blablacars and the only train to arrive on time for the feria left Jaén at 6:40 a.m. 

It's very easy to walk the 20 minutes from the bus station to the sites. They're all relatively close to one another. Córdoba's old city centre is not very big. It was HOT though, so I was glad I was wearing a summer dress and good walking shoes.

Córdoba is filled with people who can speak English, at least at bare minimum. Better than in Jaén. Good news for tourists, bad news for someone like me who wants to be forced to struggle along in Spanish. I was flattered to hear from the tourism agent that my Spanish was very good!

My impression of the feria was that it was cool to see the patios.... the first ten, anyway. By the time we hit number eleven, I felt like I'd seen enough, although I kept going because my friend was excited to see such artistry playing with nature. It was definitely something culturally exciting that I'd never experienced before.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

How Almería Beats Jaén

I'd been to Almería before, back in 2005 when I came to Spain for my first European vacation. I stayed at an eco-village and had one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. The Spanish bug bit me and lo and behold, I returned eight years later.

For this past May long weekend, I switched to a beachy vacation with good friends from Madrid. We met in our hotel in the city center, located in a cute barrio full of shops and fantastic restaurants. Every day, we got up early and caught a bus to the coast. San José was our first stop. The beach in the village was small, but a co-worker was kind enough to give us a lift in the afternoon to Genovese and Monsul, where a famous scene from Indiana Jones, featuring Sean Connery, was shot. It's said that Spielberg actually stayed at one of the hotels in San José. The village was very cute and had lovely restaurants. If you want a tranquil vacation, this is a good place to stay.

The next day, we got up again bright and early to go to Cabo de Gata. We arrived to find miles of beach, and insane wind. Within an hour though, it died down and we were free to enjoy scorching sun and cooling water, in what felt like a very private setting. There's so much space that people go off into their own corners and it feels like there's no one around. We "kept busy" by collecting shells, swimming, and sleeping.

At night, we hit nearby restaurants and tapas-hopped. Sorry Jaén, but Almería's got you beat. Drinks cost slightly more, but the quality of the seafood-rich tapas were amazing. Muy buenas pintas.

Our vacation was so relaxing and fantastic, that already we have started talking about coming back to do it all over again.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Dating the Distance

I've taken quite a few Blablacar (car-sharing website) trips since moving here in 2013. My Spanish is at a level where I can converse with the other passengers fairly easily. One of the most common reasons Spanish people use Blablacar on weekends is to see their partner. Many, many people here are forced to seek work outside of their hometown, thus putting distance between couples. Some take Blablacar for hours, one direction, just to be able to spend a couple of days together. I recall meeting one man from a tiny town near Jaén, visiting his pregnant wife every week, while she worked in Madrid. His story is one of many.

My spanish friend Vic is an English teacher, who receives a new placement every year. Her life is similar to anyone's in the NALCA program, except she stays in her chosen region (Andalucía) and changes cities, whereas for us auxiliaries region placement can be a craps game. Her difficulty in maintaining a long-term romantic relationship stresses her out. She'd like to stay in her hometown and establish something, but it would require taking difficult career tests that she has no appetite for. So she continues with the instability of her career and personal life.

Do long-distance relationships work? Looking at how many Spaniards do it, you would think it's possible. Based on personal experience, and survey results, I vote probably not. Although I only tried it once, and it was with a dude I met at a rave, and it was only 3 weeks after we met that it was over so..... that's been my one and only experience.

I asked a friend, who travels a lot both for work and pleasure, if it's possible for someone with his lifestyle to have a long-term relationship. He believes so, if the person is understanding and has a similar lifestyle as him. It's a difficult thing for a single person to keep aligned: a love for travel and a desire for a stable relationship.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Don't Ditch Friends

My best friend called me out of the blue a few days ago. We discussed being single and maintaining (or not) friendships. We'd seen friends who date and, upon finding a boyfriend, ditch their friends completely.
I've always tried to be the one that didn't do that, although years ago a good friend of mine remarked that I had done it a bit in my previous relationship. Not to use an excuse, but thing is the activities I did, as a single girl with my girlfriends, normally entailed partying every weekend and flirting up a storm until 4 in the morning, and then slovenly shoveling Denny's scrambled eggs into my mouth before heading home, rolling half drunk out of my friend's car and crawling into bed. Unless I'm doing those same things with a boyfriend, I don't think that kind of behaviour is conducive to being alert for a date the next day.
When I say it's important to make time for friends, I mean making time for friends. So, not spending an hour dissecting the man's phone call, nor checking for his texts every 15 minutes. I mean quality time, boyfriend-free. This is another thing I've tried very hard to do, but only my friends can comment on whether or not I've been successful at it.
Why is this important? Because true friends will be there when the floor opens up beneath you.
My friends were my lifeline when I got dumped. I could count on a few of them to listen when I phoned to cry and babble late at night. We went out and partied up a storm. They let me crash on their couches when I couldn't stand being home alone.
People in your life are like handholds while climbing a mountain. Some handholds are there to help boost you up. Then, you have to leave them behind. They're not coming with you.
Some handholds you grab on to, and they look secure but actually they come loose, crumble away, and disappear. You have to quickly latch onto a tried and true handhold so you don't fall.

The tried and true handhold is a true blue friend. These handholds actually move and come with you, to help you climb the mountain.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Managing Mannerisms in Spain

As much as I love being Canadian, I can't maintain my mannerisms in a country as different as Spain. Here's how I deal with Spanish customary behaviour:

Canada: Always saying please, or using matrices to frame a request.
Spain: "Give me..." / "Open the door!" / "Shut up!"
Solution: In Spain, people make their requests in a very direct manner. If I don't start my request with “Please,” I make sure to say "Thank you."

Canada: Be on time.
Spain: 10-30 minutes late is no big deal with friends or performances. For appointments, school, and transportation, it's best to arrive on time.
Solution: Whatever time my friends say, I add minimum 15 minutes. It still feels weird to me, but it's better than showing up too early, like that one night I was alone,wearing a costume in the middle of a park in a pueblo.

Canada: Make dinner plans with friends days, sometimes a week, in advance.
Spain: Receive a call 10 minutes before, to meet at a bar.
Solution: This drives me crazy, but it's something many of my friends do. Since moving to Spain, I'm much more relaxed about accepting and making invitations. And feelings aren't hurt if I cancel or if they do.

Canada: Eating lunch with one's parents is, at most, a once a week thing.
Spain: You better come home for lunch, or else!
Solution: I remember feeling angry when a spanish girl in our group couldn't attend "The Last Lunch" with our friend who was about to go home for good. The spanish girl's excuse? "I have to go home because my mom prepared lunch for me." I thought, "Just call and tell her you won't be there."
When another friend did the same thing, a spanish person explained, "If someone's mom has made lunch, it's really rude to not come home to eat it, unless you advise her well ahead of time."

Canada: Let the man call you for the first dates.
Spain: Sometimes, you have to set the dates first. Last year, I waited and waited and no one followed up on their request to meet for a coffee or movie. I've since learned that sometimes, the woman has to make the first move.
Solution: I do this the first couple of times if I have to, but then I sit back and wait to see if the guy sets up the next date. If he doesn't, I assume he's not interested and move on.

Canada: After as little as a couple of months, a couple starts using the terms 'girlfriend/boyfriend', and perhaps even meet each others' parents.
Spain: Woah, slow down nelly...
Solution: It's confusing for us North Americans, but here some couples don't use the term girlfriend/boyfriend until it's very serious. One Spanish guy told me he knows of couples that refer to their partner as 'my friend', and don't meet each others' parents, after a year of dating. People are much more casual and relaxed about relationships here.

Canada: The customer is always right.
Spain: The customer can go f*** himself.
Solution: This doesn't always happen, but it's inevitable. I remember Javier, the owner of one of my favorite pubs in Villacarrillo, who seemed so rude and brisk with me my first few months in the village. Turned out, that's just the way he is. He's actually a funny guy and I'm used to his manner now. In fact, I take things way less personally, which is a nice result of moving here.

Canada: Asian people can be Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Thai, Indonesian.....
Spain: All Asian-looking people are Chinos.
Solution: I tried to fight the fact that 1) Spain's exposure to Asians had been limited for many years, and 2) anyone with small eyes is called “Chino/a”. Even some Spanish people are nicknamed that. I no longer get crazy angry, rather if I pick up a good vibe from a curious person, I smile and say, “I'm Canadian. And my parents are from the Philippines.” Usually people get it and if I make a new friend, bonus points!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Living in Spain with a Dog

I have written many posts about what it's like to move to Spain with a cat – in short, my advice is: try to avoid it. Recently, I had an opportunity to experience what it's like to have a dog while being an auxiliary. In Madrid, I stayed in the apartment of a friend who's in BEDA and currently fostering. It was an eye-opening experience. I learned that although at times it's inconvenient having a cat, those times are very few and far between. Owning a dog while working in Spain has many disadvantages.
Number one on most auxiliaries' lists is travelling. Often it's a last-minute, impulsive decision. It's easy to decide to hop on a train to a nearby town, or take advantage of a last-minute seat available in someone's car. The problem for dog owners is having to return within a few hours to walk the dog. This is what happened to me when I wanted to visit Alcalá de Henares. Some might say I should've timed it to coincide with before, or after, the midday siesta. However, I'm not that type of traveller. I like to wake up in a relaxed way, visit what's open, have a two-hour lunch on the terazza, and wait for a monument to re-open at five o'clock. Having to skip the rest of the monuments and return to Madrid to walk the dog sucked.
As a social person, I find that activities I plan on taking a couple of hours to do, end up taking much longer. For example, if I'm out with friends and meet new people, and they invite me on the spot to check out more places, I'll easily take them up on their offer. Making new friends is important to me. I'd hate to turn people down because I have to walk a dog. On the other hand, something to consider is that with a dog, it's easy to meet people through clubs or by simply taking Rover for a walk.
Cute, but a lot of work.
What I discovered during my visit was that at this time, while I'm still in travelling, exploratory, impulsive, social mode, I can't own a dog while in Spain. And if you're like me, neither should you.

Monday, March 30, 2015

On Dating in Spain

Within a short time, it's easy to learn the ropes of many things about living in a foreign country: conversation, food choices, public transport, tipping... but one thing I'm STILL learning, 1.5 years later, is how to date. Although there's no shortage of people wanting to step in and meddle. When I solicit advice, it's appreciated, but I feel completely confused when others give unsolicited help.

"Who cares if a twenty-two year old hits on you? Just sleep with him for the sex!" YOU'RE NOT HELPING ME.

"I have a friend for're okay with people over 50, right?"  YOU'RE NOT HELPING ME.

"Next time you walk home with a guy, just say, 'Listen, let's go back to my house, and have a roll in the hay.' Women in Spain are more aggressive." YOU'RE NOT HELPING ME (although you're helping me sound like a whore).

Lots of people, mostly people I barely know (like my hairdresser) ask me almost every time, "Do you have a boyfriend yet?" Talk about pressure. I don't think any Olympic athlete would appreciate being asked, "Do you have a gold medal yet?" Or any musician, being asked, "Do you have a Grammy yet?"

I don't mind being asked for my opinions about the dating scene, because I have many. I have learned a lot, but feel like I have many more lessons to go. Trying to convey what I mean in Spanish, along with the nuances of body language, make every beer with a stranger feel like I'm taking a final exam in a Foreign Culture course. I better study hard to get that A.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Living at Home with Family in Spain

On the weekend, I went to my pueblo and slept at a friend's house. In the morning, I woke up to the most interesting sensation: I felt at home. The quiet comfort of the bedroom I was in, rock music eminating from the bathroom as someone showered, the clink of spoons stirring pots as the day's lunch was being prepared in the kitchen, a low murmur in the livingroom coming from a film on the television. The sounds soothed me, and I felt relaxed knowing there were people in the house.
Quite often, when I've lived with friends or alone, I wake up to an empty apartment. I never realized, until that morning, how much I missed waking up to sounds of people in the house. The last time I heard noise upon waking, I was living with a boyfriend. Before that, with my family. All very long ago.
Sure, my Spanish friends that live with their family aren't necessarily happy about it. In most cases, the economic situation has forced them to move back home. They may see my lot in life and feel envy. But the grass is always greener. I stay at friends' houses and receive fantastic conversation and the best meals ever prepared by motherly hands.
In Canada, my friends and I had "Orphans' Thanksgiving", where instead of gathering with family, we would head to someone's house with food and wine and have dinner together. It's widely acknowledged that many single people cannot, or don't want, to be with family during the holidays. As a person who has celebrated this way for years, I look at the family situation in Spain with envious eyes sometimes. Luckily, I have friends who are willing to extend their family to include me, and I am grateful for that.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Granada: Flirting and Fame

Last week I jumped on the opportunity to join a group of 13-14 year olds from my teaching job on a school trip to Granada's Science Park and the Alhambra. I've always loved seeing the old fortress, and it was my first time at the Science Park. Watching the kids, I remembered the dynamics of my childhood: the girls who showed up wearing the same clothes and makeup (did I really go to school wearing shorts that short? Probably.); the awkward boys learning how to be affectionate with the females; the kids who cared more about running around on the playground than having a boyfriend; the young couples.

Observing the first group, the 'it' girls, was interesting. Whether it's a result or a cause of Facebook and Instagram, they took photos against every backdrop possible, posing as if they were in a photoshoot. Most of the time, they'd stand against a blank wall, only caring that the lighting was good. One of the teachers was obviously disgusted, commenting on their behaviour both to them and to us, the monitors. I thought it was ridiculous too, but I remembered being image-obsessed back then. (P.S. Nothing's changed. Haha)

Granada's a very popular city for tourists, so the girls met a group of Americans from Connecticut, in the Science Park. I was so proud that they were able to practice their English in a fun way, by flirting. Numbers were exchanged within minutes. When we parted, the girls immediately sent flirty Whatsapp messages to the American boys.

“Teacher, I spoke English with a boy! He's my friend now!”

“Well, that was fast,” I thought. “A phone number in five minutes? That teenager's got more skills than me.”