Things I Will and Won’t Miss About Spain

I am no longer living in Spain (boo!). After almost two weeks back in the UK, here is a list of things I’ll miss about Spain/Canary Islands (excluding the obvious – friends, weather and food!).

  • Working out on the beach – crossfit and ultimate frisbee
  • Coffees with condensed milk – barraquito, leche leche

    Me with the most expensive barraquito on the island
    Me with the most expensive barraquito on the island
  • How the butcher at the meat counter in the supermarket chops up your meat how you like it
  • English fails (Ana Botella) and the memes that come with it

    Relaxing cup
    Relaxing cup for everyone in Plaza Mayor
  • Tapas – nothing like some patatas bravas and tortilla
  • Saying hello to your friends as you pass them on the street
  • Tinto de verano!!!
  • Saints days
  • Cruise ship days spent laughing with/at tourists

    Tourists with a map
    Tourists with a map
  • Ice cream parlours
  • Eating outside on the terrace
  • Keeping a list of the local crazies

    Reggae Man
    Reggae Man
  • The billboards that say the time, date and temperature
  • Son las 5….las 4 en Canarias

  • When Espanish Estudents add an E to the Estart of some words
  • Can you repeat your name again?

  • Playing the “Guess where I’m from” game
  • Races!

    Arriving to the finish line!
    Arriving to the finish line!
  • Teaching my lovely students
  • Being known as La Inglesa Nativa “The English Native”
  • Seeing the sea everyday

    Oh I do like to be beside the seaside
    Oh I do like to be beside the seaside
  • Being part of a (winning) team

    Aldake Champions!
    Aldake Champions!
  • Parties that don’t start until 12am
  • Street markets and yummy sugar cane juice

    Street market
    Street market
  • The way people say Mcflurrrrrrrrrrrrrry
  • Supermarket baskets that have wheels on the bottom
  • How everybody uses whatsapp over texts (and the double tick meaning I know they’ve seen my message)
  • Having the beach to myself

    All alone
    All alone
  • The bluntness of Spanish people – “Well he is a lot chubbier now than he was last year”
  • Shots of honey rum in mini beer jugs

    Arriba, abajo, pal centro, pa dentro!
    Arriba, abajo, pal centro, pa dentro!
  • Prince Alberts for pudding 😉

Things I won’t miss about Spain:

  • Euros – the coins for 10, 20 and 50 cents are all too similar in colour and shape
  • Steep streets and all the steps

    An example of one of the hills
    An example of one of the hills
  • Running up these steps (several times) during training

    200 steps
    200 steps
  • Tiled floors at home (give me a carpet any day!)
  • The customer service provided in shops and restaurants
  • Boring afternoons

    Not a happy bunny
    Not a happy bunny
  • The lack of 24 hour supermarkets
  • Giving kisses when you see people… it can end badly (eg cheek-butting, almost kissing someone on the lips, also what are you meant to do with your hands whilst giving kisses?)
  • Bad timekeeping – ahora and ahorita are totally different
  • Strikes

    People getting in my way
    People getting in my way
  • The way that even when the green man is on, cars are on orange and can still use the road
  • Hours spent searching the supermarkets for home comforts such as…
  • The BREAD – why can’t you buy seeded loaves?
  • Getting bitten by bugs
  • Pointless graffiti

    What is this trying to achieve?
    What is this trying to achieve?

When people take pictures of you feeling fatigued after a race

So attractive
So attractive

That’s all I can think of for now guys, thanks for reading. What do you like and dislike about Spain? Leave me a comment!

Knock knock! Who’s there? Amos

A mosquito! bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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For a few years now I have been prone to insect bites that I am allergic too. I have been bitten and ended up with huge swollen circles on my elbows, ankles and wrists. On Sunday night I went with a friend of mine to a viewpoint above the city to watch the two cruise ships leaving the port. It was a great view, but we spent a lot of the time squirming, wriggling and slapping ourselves as the mosquitoes (or whatever insects they were) were biting us. When I got home I put Afterbite on the few bites I could see and went to bed.

On Monday I woke up and my once beautiful tanned, toned legs were covered in red bites, twelve on one leg and eight on the other. I also felt that my back was itchy, so at midday and before bed I took antihistamine tablets. They are quite strong and normally take away the redness and inflammation straight away. But this morning (Tuesday) I woke up with more bites and the ones from Sunday still hadn’t gone down. It was time to give in and go to see the doctor.

Going to the doctors in a different country is always an experience, I would have liked to have taken a friend with me to help me, laugh with me and experience the whole situation. In other overseas doctors surgeries I have witnessed injections in the bum, an unspoken queuing system where whoever runs to the door quickest is the next to be seen, a doctor greeting the patient with a kiss and even a doctor asking the patient to take off their clothes! It’s just better to go accompanied with a friend and not be alone when these types of things happen. But I went in the morning I didn’t have anybody to come with me. Boo hoo!

In the small doctors surgery there is no A&E service in the morning, only in the afternoon after 5pm but I went in the morning at 8.30am before the doctors arrived at 9am. I gave over my E111 and drivers licence (I didn’t think to take my passport) and asked to see a doctor for my insect bites. The receptionists spent a long time looking for me on the computers, but with no success as here I don’t have a doctor and I haven’t been to the centre before. They spent ages talking between themselves about what to do and in the end sent me upstairs to “room 8” to be seen whilst they kept my E111 and ID.

Upstairs I looked for room 8 but couldn’t find it. Another man helped me look for it and the door numbers stopped at 7. Great. I was in a random doctors surgery, I hadn’t cleaned my hands with alcohol gel with no idea which doctor I was meant to be seeing and thirty itchy bites. We found it in the end and the doctor came out to call me into his room. We started talking about my bites and I showed him my leg when BOOM a receptionist stormed in the room…here is the conversation more or less:

Receptionist: STOP you can’t treat her until we see her passport, she’s not on the system, she doesn’t exist.
Doctor: What are you saying? She’s already here in my office and this señorita needs seeing to.
Me: I can go home and get my passport if you want? It’s not a problem but I live on the other side of the city, near the jail.
Doctor: What street? I live over that way too, we’re neighbours!
Receptionist: But look, she’s not registered on the computer you can’t possibly give her any treatment.
Doctor: Well you’re the one who’s messed up and sent her here. Ok she hasn’t got all the paperwork at the moment but it’s not my problem. She’s standing here in the middle of a consultation. I’m going to continue now, close the door on your way out.
Receptionist: Fine, but after you’ve seen the doctor, pass by reception and we’ll talk about your documents. Here’s your cards.
– Receptionist leaves –
Doctor: When you’ve finished here just walk out the front door, these fools don’t know what they’re talking about if you gave your E111 and ID that’s all that counts. You don’t have to explain yourself to anyone. Do you understand me? *Cheeky wink* 

After being told to ignore the receptionists, what clothes to wear, food not to eat and explaining the different medicines he was going to give me I was ushered to a nurses room where I was given an injection….in the bum. Hopefully my bites will soon go down, disappear, not get infected and not leave scars on my legs or back. I want to get back to normal life and stop itching!!!

My First Aquathlon

Today I competed in my first aquathlon, in the tiny island of La Palma, in the Canary Islands. I hadn’t done much specific training for it, as it was a 2.5km run along a flat avenue, a 1km swim in the sea and another 2.5km run along the avenue. I had been out for a few quick runs a few weeks before the race to work on my pace and swam twice in the sea. This week I was a bit lazy when it came to training as my Mum and sister were here in La Palma with me on holiday, we went out for meals in the evening and I generally couldn’t be bothered to train too much, preferring to spend time with them.

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I collected my number and had a man write my number on my leg and arm (which by the way still hasn’t come off my leg completely) and went to warm up with a couple of my friends who were also taking part. We watched some of the little ones do their race, running along the beach and swimming a little in the sea – they were so cute!

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Hat, number, shirt

When it was our time to run, I went to put on my two swimming caps as the green one was sure to come off and with the volume of my hair, I needed a proper latex one underneath too. My plan was to run in my swimming caps to save time at the switchover between the run and the swim. But one of the organisers told me that I wasn’t allowed to run in a cap, I asked why and she didn’t give me a proper reason, she just kept repeating that I couldn’t run in them. So I ran in my fast skin from my competitive swimming days and my Aldake tshirt.

In the first running section I took it easy as I thought the whole race would take about an hour and I wanted to save my legs for the second run after the swim. Everybody else seemed to go speeding off to the end of the avenue but I kept a steady pace and my split was 12 minutes. It was funny as the organisers hadn’t cordoned off any of the avenue so there were some grandparents, dog walkers and even a group of tourists on bikes to run around.

I ran into the water for my swim and the first thing that hit me was a huge wave. The water wasn’t cold, but it was hard to see anything except from different shades of blue. We had to swim around three different buoys in the circuit and sometimes when I lifted up my head to see where the next one was I couldn’t see it. I followed the green caps of my racemates and managed to overtake many of the men. Ego boost! When I was getting out of the water to carry on running a big wave took me to the beach, but also managed to throw me on the floor. I landed on my shoulder (ouch!), but got up quickly and carried on to finish the final running section. My split for the swim was 17 minutes which I was not expecting at all!

I wanted to take it easy to avoid getting cramp and I was really happy with the environment between competitors, all of them saying ánimo (come on, keep going) to each other as they ran the four laps of the avenue. On my fourth lap, when I wanted to run faster, I got a stitch and found it hard to carry on, but I was so close to the finish line now I had no desire at all to give up. I arrived to the finishing section, took my English flag from my Mum and ran with it to the finish line where I was met by some of my friends from my training team, with hugs and handshakes.

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Waving my flag

When I realised that I had finished in first place in the women’s category I was really happy. The race had gone amazingly, I had a really good time and being able to go home with a trophy was just the icing on the cake.

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Winner

Erasmus so far – School Life

I think I can now say that I am settled into my work placement in a small primary school in the island of La Palma. It is a really cute little school, with classes of between 4 and 22 pupils in each year group. Some of the year groups are joined into one class. I remember in my primary school where there were always at least two classes of 30 pupils in each year group, so it’s very different from what I’ve experienced before. Although the school is small, it still has its dramatic moments such as

  • a three year old who came to school without being potty trained
  • fights on the playground between the older students
  • Mothers of students who complain about bullying and victimisation.

I am working as a classroom assistant in both English and P.E lessons, working twenty six 45 minute sessions a week. The mixture is really good and I enjoy moving between the English classroom and the playground, where I referee football matches and do extra long warm ups that the kids despise. The students seem to enjoy it when I join in with them in P.E and are not impressed if I don’t bring my trainers to school.

We told quite a big white lie to the students and parents when I arrived…that I was an English student who didn’t know any Spanish. I always speak with the children in English, even if they don’t understand or look at me in a confused what is she on about? way it is important that that they get full English exposure. I can already see the improvement of the confidence of the children. Even the younger students between 3 and 5 years old know that when they see me they have to say Hello instead of Hola. I go to breakfast with the 3/4 year olds twice a week and if they cannot open their straw, I make them say please and thank you before giving it back to them. Some people may say this method is cruel, but it is a brilliant way to learn and I can see the progress already, despite only being here a few weeks.

Some of the older students are “teaching” me Spanish, little by little which is really cute as they think of words to teach me, so far they have taught me

  • The numbers 1 to 20
  • Cat, dog, family
  • Parts of the face
  • Hello, goodbye, thank you.

They say to me

Leona, one in Espanish uno…di uno

and I repeat what they say to me. It is really cute of them to want to help me learn as I am helping them, but little do they know that I learnt how to count in Spanish when I was 11!

Old habits die hard and as I worked as a proof reader I am always correcting the children’s spelling, since they are unable to copy from the board. The most common mistake is changing the English Y to a Spanish I, so when I see alwais, Thursdai, Plai I recoil in anguish and am relentless with them. I take a rubber to their work and make them write it again properly. Other mistakes include missing the all important U in favourite and writing proper nouns without capital letters.

Overall I enjoy being in a school and helping the students and the staff with English. Although I don’t think I want to be a teacher in the future, it is a good experience and I enjoy working with children as they have so much energy and imagination. Each week I see progress and I am very happy to be in this welcoming school that has treated me so kindly.

Home Comforts – Shops I Miss

When living abroad, despite the obvious things you miss – family, friends, TV, food etc there are also some novelties that you find yourself craving, here is a list of the shops I miss from the UK.

Poundland/ Poundworld/ 99p Stores

As a student, the pound shops in the UK are a Godsend; knowing that you can stock up on sweets, buy stationary, a bottle of shower gel, fancy dress, tins of food, cleaning products and more under one roof is amazing. Even more so when every product is only a pound! Here in the Canary islands no such place exists and the pound shops back at home are perfect when you run out of pens or need a sugar rush.

If I could buy three items from Poundland now they would be: a four pack of KitKat chunkies, a bottle of Orange and Pineapple Robinsons squash and a nice smelling Radox shower gel.

Boots

I never appreciated Boots until now, it is a fantastic shop consisting of a pharmacy, make up counters, perfume shop, photo shop, sandwich kiosk and all the rest under one roof. In Spain each of these departments is a separate shop and you’d be lucky to find a street that has a winning combination of one of each of those shops, never mind everything in one store. The Advantage Card offers and points are great and don’t get me started on the meal deal! Their range of products is great too with eco friendly items and many specialist ranges for different types of people.

If I could buy three items from Boots now they would be: a decent concealer, Olay Gentle Face Wash and a meal deal (this definitely counts as one product) of a Southern Fried Chicken Wrap, a big bar of Galaxy Cookie Crumble and an Innocent Smoothie. 

Deichmann

This shoe shop is my favourite as I find it has the largest collection of half-sized shoes for halfies like me. The prices are also very good and their sales make the shoes even cheaper. I know that in Deichmann I will find a pair of shoes that fit me well and won’t cause blisters, shoe shopping in Spain has been more problematic (especially when people don’t serve you, see my previous post https://leonahinds.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/can-i-be-of-service/).

If I could buy three items from Deichmann now they would be: a pair of smart black flats, a pair of ankle high wedged boots for rainy days and another pair of my famous plastic shoes, in red.

Greggs

Spanish people don’t seem to be big on savoury pastries, there are bakeries around including in the supermarkets but I find that the produce doesn’t seem very fresh and nothing is warm and served by a friendly lady in a hair net. I do love to eat a good snack from Greggs whilst window shopping and sometimes when I’m walking around the city centre here I want something similar but there is nada!

If I could have three items from Greggs right now, they would be a standard sausage roll, a vegetable pasty and some kind of Halloween biscuit which I’m sure is on the menu right now (if not then I choose a gingerbread man).

Can I be of service?

For anyone who’s spent longer than 3 days in Spain, you’re bound to be familiar with the level of customer service that is provided in shops and restaurants…it just doesn’t seem to exist. I’ve heard a rumour that in Zara, the shop assistants are not meant to smile or answer questions when they are approached by customers in the shop. Sadly, I think it’s true. 

Today I was shoe shopping in a local store and I saw some shoes that I liked. Since here the average shoe size seems to be 36 and I am a 39/40 I always have to ask if they have the shoes in my size as they don’t normally have the big sizes out on display. I asked the shop assistant if she had this shoe in a 40 as the 39 was too small, adding that I didn’t mind which colour she gave me. She repeated “Ok, a 40 in any colour, one moment.” and went to the till despite there being no customer to serve and I was the only person in the shop besides her. I sat on the stool, waiting for her to bring me the shoe I asked for and she just downright ignored me. She walked past me as I was sitting barefoot waiting to try on the shoes. She didn’t make any effort to look for the shoes or to talk to me. I don’t know if she didn’t have the shoes in my size or if she was just being awkward and annoying. I don’t understand why she would ignore a customer who clearly asked for her help in the shop. I waited for a good four minutes to see if she’d remember but no… she just waltzed around the shop as if I wasn’t there. So I got up and marched out of the shop, which now I realise was the wrong thing to do as there isn’t a big variety of shoe shops here in La Palma.

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But that is nothing compared to what happened to me and my friends in Valencia this summer at a restaurant. We sat down on the terrace and waited at least six minutes before going to get our own menus as the waiter hadn’t greeted us or brought us the menu and we were hungry. When I asked him to take our drink orders, he threw his hands up in the air saying that he was busy and continued to clean tables instead of serving us. Then he proceeded to serve a table of two girls who arrived after we did. When he finally came with our drinks we were ready to order, but again, greasy ponytailed Antonio Banderas wannabe was too busy cleaning tables to take our order. The restaurant wasn’t even busy! He just seemed to meander among the tables, doing nothing and raising his eyebrows at women. 

We were all hungry, annoyed, thirsty and just couldn’t believe what this man was doing. He came to our table to give us placemats and cutlery and wait for it… he came behind me, started to touch my hair and tap me on the shoulder. I twisted my neck around to throw him evils and say in my most menacing voice

No me toques, por favor. (Don’t touch me please)

It sounds more serious in Spanish as it’s in the imperative tense and I barked it at him like an order. You just can’t go around touching other people, especially as he came from behind and I couldn’t see what he was going to do. Inside I was raging, but too hungover to express myself and he wasn’t worth getting angry and making a scene over. From then on he didn’t look at me and went on to flower my friend Anna with compliments, “Another Diet Coke for the beautiful girl [raise of the creepy eyebrows again]”.  

In the UK I would have made a complaint to his superior, both in person and by writing and I would probably have got some kind of written apology and/or a free sandwich but this is Spain we are talking about. There is no point in making a complaint because it won’t get taken seriously and greasy ponytailed waiter would probably have shown it to his boss and they would have both laughed at the group of foreigners who are unhappy with the customer service. We were certain to make sure that we didn’t leave one cent of tip for him.

I think there is no solution to this problem, as even the Spanish people I’ve been to eat out with have passed comments such as “The service here is really slow” or “Where’s the waiter to ask for another Coke?”. You always have to call the waiter over to ask for more drinks, it wouldn’t occur to him/her to ask the table if they want any more drinks or if everything is ok with your food. I met a guy who tells me that he always leaves bad reviews on restaurants on Trip Advisor when they are on the website to “bring them down” but I don’t think this will improve the customer service in Spanish restaurants and shops. This image sums the whole situation up pretty nicely…

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Working habits, Spain and Unemployment

I started working and earning my own money at the age of 16, when I became a lifeguard. Since then, I have always had some type of job, paid or voluntary, but often both at the same time. I consider myself as a ‘juggler’ because when I’m in the UK I seem to be doing a dozen different things at once – this past year at university alongside studying I was working as

  • a team member organising international parties
  • a proofreader for two companies (one paid, one voluntary) and
  • a basketball referee.

When people asked me how I managed to do all these things, I just said that it was easy as I organised my life with a diary and chose things that fitted into place in my busy schedule…and did them!

Anyway, now I am settling slowly (everything on these enchanting islands seems to happen slower) into life in the Canary Islands, working in a small school assisting in English and PE classes. I love the people I work with and the children are very amusing – they don’t know that I speak Spanish so are challenged to find the words in English to communicate with me. For example, a girl in year 3 (aged 7/8) was trying to ask me if she had spelt the words correctly on her worksheet, she didn’t know how to say this in English so her friend helped her out, picked up her sheet, showed it to me and asked “Perfect?”. It wasn’t the right way to ask if she’d written it correctly, but it shows how children can use their mind to think of ways to communicate with the vocabulary they already have and still get the meaning across without the use of a Spanish – English translator on a smartphone. I will talk more about the school next week.

The mornings at school are great but the school finishes at 1.30pm and I have the afternoons and evenings free. I was browsing the public announcements on a website dedicated to La Palma, looking for things to do in my afternoons besides going to the beach to read and I saw an advert for a waitress in a local restaurant. For a split second I thought that would be a great way to earn a bit of money, fill my afternoons with productive activity and improve my Spanish in a working environment (as in my current workplace if I speak Spanish it needs to be a whisper in the staffroom, so the children don’t catch me out). Then I remembered the sad situation that Spaniards are in.

Everyday on the news there are new figures, interviews and studies about the level of unemployment throughout the country. It has been in an economic crisis for many years and the last I heard, youth unemployment (aged 18 – 25) was 56%. I admire the Mcdonalds recruitment team as the first Mcdonalds on the island of La Palma will be staffed by a team of young people with undergraduate degrees when it opens next week; but at the same time it is sad to hear that the only place that an engineer graduate can get a job at is in a fast food restaurant. The Mayoress of Madrid is being ridiculed for her heavily rehearsed speech in English to convince the IOC that Madrid was the perfect venue for the 2020 Olympic Games, but with the loss of the right to host the Olympic Games, Spain also loses thousands of work opportunities for its citizens.Image

 

I immediately closed the tab with the waitress job offer and remembered how one of the values of Project Trust’s placements is the fact that the volunteers never take a job that a local person could do. There are thousands of unemployed people in the Canary Islands and I have no right as an English exchange student to be taking up a position that a local person could and should have. I am receiving the Erasmus grant, financial support from Student Finance so why do I need to be working in the afternoons, simply because I’m bored? Basically…I don’t.

The fact remains that I am still a bit bored in the afternoons and I would like to meet more people and do something other than read and wander around the two main streets of Santa Cruz. After a few days thinking it over, I realised that being a native English speaker and giving private English classes is not something that many (or any) Spaniard can do. So I placed an advert on the page advertising English conversation classes to young people and I am waiting to see if anybody takes me up on the offer. I hope that other Erasmus students in my position (especially those in Spain) can also see and realise that the majority of jobs advertised should be left for locals whilst the country is in an economic crisis. How often do the British people complain that nationals from X or Y country are coming to the UK and taking all of our jobs? 

As an Erasmus student (and other students that go beyond Europe) I think that we should be responsible whilst we travel to other countries for a few months of our degree. A table waiting job that earns an extra €200 pocket money a month could be somebody’s gas and electricity money.  We have to think in the place that we are going to and how our presence affects the people whose country, food, culture and language we are sharing. The final word of my last sentence is key, sharing.

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