Communal Washing

There’s one universal problem around the world. It seems in every country I’ve lived in – Spain, Chile and China – where I’ve lived in shared accommodation, there’s been problems with washing clothes. Here are some of them.

Broken washing machines

There’s always at least one faulty washing machine, the one that turns your whites yellow, or is just constantly filled with dark, dirty water. Because they’re communal washing machines, nobody will pay for them to get fixed and the admin departments are also reluctant to get people in to fix these machines.

Washing peak time

Most people have free time at the weekends, and what does that leave time for? Yes, your washing. So at the weekend, you have to get in really early if you want to find a working washing machine.

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Drying clothes on chairs outside in Chile

Drying problems (1) no air flow

Not everywhere has suitable outdoor places to hang washing. Some places I’ve lived in haven’t had washing lines, so I’ve dried my clothes on chairs outside in the sun, hanging over slats of wood by the fire and hanging precariously by coathangers hanging off the curtain rail. When you’re living in a place with bad ventilation and no air moving around to dry the clothes, it’s also difficult, so you may have to use a hairdryer.

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Drying clothes by the fire in the Chilean winter

Drying problems (2) no space

Sometimes because of the washing peak, there actually aren’t any places for you to hang your washing. The clothes horses are broken and already being used, the banisters have been hogged by someone drying sheets so what can you do? Be creative and find other banisters on the staircase, use the backs of chairs, coathangers hanging from your door handles, find some string to tie between two trees outside…all of these methods require effort and thinking though.

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Hanging clothes from my curtain rail in China

Clothes thieves

No matter where I’ve been, I’ve always encountered clothes thieves, and that’s what led me to write this blog post today. In Chile, I had a pair of jeans and some shorts stolen at the same time. In Spain, my t-shirts would disappear off the shared rooftop balcony. And here in China, I’ve had a dress stolen.

Clothes thieves confuse me in a number of ways:

  • when do they steal the items, when they’re semi dry, or completely dry?
  • do they go through people’s drying laundry looking for a new tshirt or dress, or do they just see it, grab it and go?
  • now, I always wash my clothes inside out, and the inside of my dress was dull and black, so why did they take it?
  • do they plan to wear my clothes? and if so, what if they meet me? that dress was from the UK, so I will know it’s mine if I see it
  • why is is such a global thing?

So that’s it… you spend all this time traipsing each floor trying to find a working machine that isn’t being used, then you have to find a place to hang your clothes to dry and hope that someone doesn’t move them when they’re still damp (another thing which I won’t go on about today). And if you’re lucky enough to be able to wash and dry your clothes, you still have to be aware of pesky thieves, who will steal your jeans, t-shirts and dresses!

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Everyone has the missing socks problem, right?

I can’t blame laundry thieves for my missing socks though, as I always hang them in my bedroom!

 

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Top 5 Things Which Would Improve Life in the UK

There are some things that I’ve seen abroad that I think have been genius inventions. I’ve waited for them to arrive in the UK but they haven’t as yet. So here is a list of my top 5 things as seen abroad that should be introduced to the UK!

1. Coat hooks under tables in pubs/bars

As seen in: Spain

In the UK, normally, anyone who would dare to feel underneath a table may find hard bits of chewing gum stuck to the bottom that have been there for possibly decades. But in Spain, if you put your hand under the table, you will find conveniently placed hooks so that you can hang up your coat and/or bag right besides you, without having to use an extra chair or put it on the floor. I think this stems from the old Spanish belief that “if you put your bag on the floor, it gives thieves permission to take your money”. Also, who wants to be putting their bag on the floor or carrying it the whole night? If pubs and bars were to put little hooks under the table or at the bar, I’d love it.

Coat hook under the table

2. Baskets with wheels

As seen in: Spain

Do you ever sometimes go to the supermarket for just a few bits, bread and milk for example? If you do, you’ll probably get a basket rather than have to find a pound coin for a trolley. And then when you’re walking from the dairy to the bread section (conveniently placed far away from each other), you get distracted by the offers and your basket starts to become heavier. In the UK, you have to heave that heavy metal basket around the supermarket until you get all your items. What about in Spain? In all of the supermarkets, the baskets are plastic for a start which makes things lighter in the first place, they’re also deeper and have two sets of handles. A short one if you want to carry your shopping and also a long one so if you’re struggling (or just like wheeling around a little basket) you can put the basket on the floor and wheel it behind you.

They even come in different colours!

3. Boiling hot water dispensers

As seen in: China

In China, you can’t drink the tap water, but in dormitories, universities, on trains and other places, there would be boiling water dispensers so you could fill up your flask and sip on hot water. You just open the tap and hot water comes out, it’s great. You can use this hot water for whatever you like, adding to tea leaves, a pot noodle, cleaning cutlery etc. And best of all it was free in most places. Now when I go to a water dispenser at uni and can only choose between cold and ice cold water, I’m disappointed.

Because who has time to find a kettle and wait for it to boil?

4. Available parking space lights

As seen in: Spain

There are many underground car parks in mainland Spanish cities. They’re dark, narrow and it’s hard to find a space to park. But some genius invented these special lights. Above each of the car park bays, there is a sensor with a light. If there is nothing below the sensor, the light shows green so as you are driving around the car park, you can look for a green light and you know there’s a free space. When you park your car under the sensor, it changes to red to let people know that somebody has already parked there.

I think these are great

5. Taxi driver app

As seen in: China

Taxis work differently in most countries, but I liked the Chinese system (at least the Qingdao one). From my understanding, each driver was on his own, unaffiliated with any type of taxi firm. If you couldn’t find a taxi, locals had an app where they as a customer wrote down where they are going from and to. The taxi drivers also used this app and through GPS it linked them up to a customer nearby. Using this app also saved the customer the 10p petrol charge added to all journeys. In Coventry at least, there must be over five different taxi companies and when I’ve finished work at the nightclub at 5 or 6am, no taxi companies have answered their phones to me, leaving me a little stranded. If there was an app to connect me to closeby taxi drivers, it would cut down waiting time and mean I wouldn’t have to walk to the nearest taxi rank in the early morning.

My knowledge of Chinese road names was never good enough for me to take full advantage of it.

Are there any things you’ve seen abroad that you wish were in the UK? Leave a comment below!

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!

Put the kettle on

Put the kettle on.

I cannot wait to get back to the UK and here those four words.

Why?

Because in Spain, people don’t have kettles.

There is a kettle in the staffroom at school that only me and the PE teacher use (the other teachers all drink coffee from the coffee maker). After we’ve put the kettle on and are waiting for it to boil, there is usually another teacher who is watching curiously. In the last ten seconds when the kettle starts to shake and some steam comes out of the top, it’s normal for another teacher to run over and say “The water’s boiling, how do I turn this thing off?”, not knowing that it turns off by itself when it’s finished and imagining that the steam will keep coming out and set the school on fire or something. It might sound stupid but that’s because it is stupid that this country has no kettles!!

Simple, everyday things such as:

  1. Making a hot drink
  2. Boiling water to cook pasta, potatoes and vegetables
  3. Filling up a hot water bottle

become painstaking tasks.

  1. To make a hot drink in Spain (the land of no kettles) you have a few options:
    a. Fill your mug with water and microwave it for a couple of minutes – this never actually makes the water boil like a kettle does and when you put the teabag in, instead of the teabag puffing up, it lays flat and limp in the mug.

    b. Use a coffee pot – these are very popular in Spain, but still a hassle as you have to measure out the dried coffee, the amount of water and then leave it on the stove whilst losing your patience as this process takes at least 5-6 minutes when it could take two with a kettle!c. Use the hot tap 
    Imageprobably not the best idea in Spain as much of the water isn’t drinkable for British stomachs…also who wants a lukewarm tea?

    d. MY PERSONAL FAVOURITE METHOD Boil a saucepan of water and put the teabag inside the saucepan on the stove – I haven’t tried this one, but it was a great idea from one of my friends. The water boils and you are left with a whole saucepan of tea (at least three mugs) to last you for the whole afternoon.

     

  2. Boiling water to use for cooking pasta etc
    The only option you have here is to put the pan of water on the stove and wait for it to boil before putting the food in. It takes longer, a lot longer.
    Image
  3. Filling up a hot water bottle
    a. Use the hot tap – this is a reasonable option, it’s quick and filling up a hot water bottle from a tap is easy. But unless you’re really lucky, your hot water from the tap won’t be boiling hot and will stay at that lukewarm temperature.

    b. Use the saucepan trick – again as in number 2, filling up a saucepan with water and waiting for it to boil takes a long time but at least your water will be hot. The only problem here is how to transfer the water from the pan to the hot water bottle without scolding yourself. Pouring the water into a jug first, then into the hot water bottle is ideal.
    Image

Basically, Spain is lacking in the kitchen department. A lot of cooking tasks would be easier with kettles in homes, flats and offices across the country. Although they consume a lot of energy, they are a great invention and create shortcuts when doing things. Less waiting around, hotter water and faster than the methods named above…invest in kettles, ¡por favor!

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!!!

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).

Siesta

In light of the article published this week in the Daily Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/spain/10329093/Times-up-for-siestas-delayed-meetings-and-late-nights-Spaniards-told-in-effort-to-make-them-work-better.html I want to let you all know my views on the Spanish siesta. The siesta is a two or three hour gap in the middle of the day between 2 and 5pm where shops close, people go home from work typically to eat dinner, rest and sleep. It was originally established because this was the hottest part of the day and it was impossible to work in such heat without today’s modcons like air conditioning. After this rest, people are ready to go back to work for another few hours, meaning that shops and businesses are often open until 9pm or even later in the larger cities.

I am still undecided on whether I like the siesta or not. After spending the summer in mainland Spain and the last four weeks in the Canary Islands, I think that the siesta in Canaries is much more exaggerated and frustrating. As a student, living a society that encourages mid afternoon naps is a dream come true…especially as parties in Spain often end at 6am, being able to grab a few hours kip in the afternoon before going back to uni is a win win situation.

Spaniards eat a big lunch and having a few hours rest to let the food go down before having to go back to work or uni is also a benefit for everybody. Instead of a rushed working lunch, the three hour void in the afternoon allows people to prepare meals and eat peacefully with no rush. It seems that here (especially in Canaries) the whole world stops when it’s time to eat and nothing is more important than sitting down to have a good meal (except Whatsapp…that’s always the most important thing in Spain I’ve noticed!).

Plaza San Francisco

However, while people are napping, spending time with their family or just lolling around watching tv, some people don’t sleep the siesta. This is where I start to get annoyed. If you don’t sleep the siesta everyday (like me) and want to go for a walk during the siesta, in La Palma you will find streets like this…empty!

Pretty much all of the shops close, so if you want to go clothes shopping, buy a newspaper or even a plaster to put on the blister that’s formed on your foot from the amount of time you’ve spent walking around an empty city, you have to wait until after 5pm. Coming from the UK where most cities have at least one 24 hour Tesco where you can buy anything, it is hard getting used to weird opening times and not being to buy or do things at the moment you want to. I appreciate the historical and the cultural aspects of the siesta, but we’re in the 21st century, cmon!

So I’m still in two minds about the siesta. On one hand it’s a nice long lunch break that breaks up the day and it’s socially acceptable to say that you did nothing in the siesta. The encouragement to sleep in the siesta is good too, but a midday nap often leaves me feeling more groggy and disorientated when I wake up.

On the other hand, it’s bloody frustrating that in a country where people need to be spending money in shops to regenerate the economy close for three hours of the day when people are generally free to go and spend their money. Even if Canarians don’t want to go out during the siesta, there are the tourists that come most Fridays on the big cruise ships. If they inverted a few euros into paying a shop assistant for these siesta hours on cruise days I am sure they would generate a profit.

To conclude, I think the Spanish should conserve their siesta tradition, but that businesses and the government should try to promote other activities to do during the siesta instead of eating, sleeping and tv being the only options. With a more active siesta, people can put these hours to good use by learning new skills, doing exercise or making money and I would be less bored!

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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Tomatina Festival 2013

Last Wednesday I was amongst the 20,000 people who went to the Tomatina festival in Buñol. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this festival, it is where hundreds of tons of tomatoes are emptied from trucks into the main street of a tiny village for people to throw at each other for an hour. It is crazy, messy, wet and extremely red.

I’d wanted to go for most of the summer and after buying the tickets, me and my friend Anna started to get apprehensive about the world’s largest food fight. After asking people who had been in previous years, we were constantly told that it is something you go to once in your life and never again, that we would be spending at least three days washing tomato out of our hair and at least two months avoiding tomatoes.

We arrived to Buñol about 8am and went to find our wristbands to get into the main part where the festival was being held. On our way through the streets people were selling waterproof cameras, swimming goggles and of course sangria, or as one stall translated the Spanish drink “bleeding” which was available in small and big. We met a local from Buñol who was still drunk from the night before, he told us how he comes to the festival every year as he’s from the village and that this year he was going for the ham. That’s not a euphemism by the way. The Tomatina starts with a leg of smoked ham hanging from the top of a soapy pole in the main plaza; the idea is that the tomato trucks enter the area when somebody climbs the pole and takes off the ham, but as it is slippery and the human pyramids fall down, nobody ever gets the ham and the fight starts at 11am.

We went into the area of the tomatoes with some Japanese friends we’d met the previous night on a pub crawl. There were so many tourists from Japan and Australia who had come to Valencia for the Tomatina, imagine what a long journey they must have had! We made our way (in the rain) as close to the ham pole as we could and were stood next to a cage of people with strong hoses, who would soak everybody with water whenever they felt like it.

I’d never seen rain like the rain that fell during Tomatina, I was shivering with cold, soaked through, wondering what on earth I was doing here and the tomatoes hadn’t even arrived yet! Surprisingly, many people had their iPhones out and were taking pictures despite the rain, water and the tomatoes that were on their way. Here is a video of the Tomatina, where me, Anna and the Japanese appear before the tomatoes have arrived, I wasn’t this happy when they came!

http://www.rtve.es/alacarta/videos/espana-directo/espana-directo-tomatazo-limpio/2007428/

When the first truck passed by and people started to throw tomatoes I was left thinking “is this it? Where are the rest of the tomatoes? Surely there must be more?” after having seen pictures of people from previous years swimming in tomato mush.  Meanwhile the Japanese guy we were with was giggling away when he saw people get a tomato thrown in their face.

The trucks then kept coming and the crowd of people were pushing each other. Tomatoes starting flying and I put my 2€ goggles on to protect my eyes a bit. As I looked around I saw people’s heads and shoulders full of bits of tomato skin and seeds so I assumed I must have looked the same as them, despite not feeling any tomatoes hit me. A few fell into my hands and I threw them the best I could or I wiped them in my friends faces…but I wouldn’t say I had fun. Maybe I’m a serious English person who doesn’t know how to have fun, maybe it was the rain and the cold or maybe throwing tomatoes and being trampled on by a crowd of strangers isn’t fun. However it was certainly an experience I would recommend to adrenalin seekers and tomato haters (so that after they have a genuine reason to dislike them). We thought the fight had finished/ had had enough of it all so followed the crowd in starting to exit the red streets of Buñol. However as we walked away from the hoses, more tomatoes and slush hit us from all directions. There were no more hoses to blast the tomatoes off us and I was left feeling vile. I was trudging through tomato slush that was up to my ankles, cold and covered in tomatoes and other people’s hairs.

Oh and the smell! It was like sweet tomatoes, sangria and human vomit mashed into one. It also looked as if somebody had vomited over every street, building and head after a tomato overdose. By the time we were leaving, the rain had stopped so we were covered head to toe in red bits. I was cold, smelly, red and amazed at how many people come each year to this festival.

It’s one of those things that now I think, well I’ve done that and can cross it off my list. The best part? Sitting with Anna on a bench before the fight and being approached by a group of Russian tourists who took turns to take photos with us. The photographer told us how to sit, took at least 15 shots and then gave us his business card (which unfortuneatly got lost amongst the tomatoes). The worst part? The bus ride home with a grumpy driver who put the extractor fan on to take away the smell of tomatoes instead of putting on the hot air con for 50 cold, shivering passengers and unnecessarily made us wait 30 minutes in the coach when we could have been on our way to a hot shower.

The day after I had general aches and pains, a bruise on my hip and today I’ve woken up with a cold which I blame on La Tomatina. I’m not quite ready to smell or eat tomatoes just yet, but give it a few weeks and I will have gotten over it.