You Know You’ve Lived in Spain for 9 Months…

July 31, 2009

When certain things are just completely normal. I’ve been compiling these ideas for a bit and I thought there is no better time to share them with you than now, 270 days into my adventure. Get comfortable!

-not giving every acquaintaince two kisses seems really rude and abnormal

-in emails and text messages, you say, “jaja” instead of “haha”

-adding fresh tomato spread and olive oil to every sandwich is just what ya do!

-you eat lunch after 2pm and would never think about eating dinner before 9pm

-confusing ballena (whale) with barriga (belly) is not uncommon since the words sound similar (also pollo/polla or cajon/cojon each have completely different meanings that you don’t want to confuse)!

-you answer every phone call starting with “si,” or “yes,” as the English translation goes

-when you make plans at 10pm and everyone shows up at least 15 minutes late

-you always pay for things with a 50 euro note since that’s all the ATMs dispense and subsequently, get a dirty look if you are buying something for less than 40 euros (side note: what’s a person to do?!)

-when dryers are a thing of the past and instead, you use a washing line on the balcony

-you buy warm milk at the grocery store and have to wait hours for it to get cold if you want cereal

-you are sometimes forced to shower with a removable shower head, which makes shampooing and soaping awfully difficult!

-you understand that Sunday is truly a day of rest because everything shuts down

-you start every morning with “hola” rather than “hello” and get accustomed to reading signs in Catalan all day

-adding lemonade or Fanta to beer is completely normal (and delicious)!

-you go out of your way to walk in the shade during the summer and you see people using umbrellas in the sun

-you know that between 2pm and 5pm there is no point in going shopping because all the stores are closed for nap time

-you make plans by writing, “Let’s meet at 18h” instead of “Let’s meet at 6pm”

And so the list goes on and on, but for fear of these ideas not translating into anything interesting for those who aren’t living it, I’ll stop there 🙂


3/4 of a Year: Hot Diggity Dang!

July 29, 2009

It’s time, ladies and gentleman, for yet another monthly recap! What’s hard to believe is how fast these monthly recaps are happening , but what’s harder to believe is that I have been here for 9 months!

1. Earlier this month, I wrote about some of my firsts. Well, during the 9th month in particular, I had a lot of firsts and I think I should add them to that general list I started. I went to my first BBQ in Spain, I went boogey boarding on the Mediterranean for the first time, I tried eggplant and zucchini for the first time and liked both of them, I ate baby fish for the first time and then later realized they had eyes and was disgusted, etc. Experiencing new things helps continue to keep the experience new and exciting, so I hope the firsts, big or small, continue!

2. I finally finished the Friends series, tear tear. From December until July, I literally enjoyed every single episode and also enjoyed the routine of watching the show. With no English TV and with no English TV on the computer, I guess I’ll have to find other ways to entertain myself!

3. I self-taught myself a few guitar songs, though they don’t sound all that good. I focused on “American Pie” and “Take Me Home Country Road” and will soon be performing in an area near you! HA, yeah right, but after my guitar teacher took my money and ran, I had no other choice than to go for it solo. And that I did and that I am doing.

4. Though I’m still Chef Hoolia in training, this month, I did make a killer guacamole and a mean fruit salad. I put in the Hoolia twist here and there and in the end, I think both turned out A-ok!

5. I am officially a beach bum. Be it in Costa Brava or closer to Barcelona, like Garraf, Gava or Llavaneres, the beach and I have become one. I have gone almost every weekend and in fact, I think I have reached my peak of tan-ness (is that a word?!). It’s not that I’m so dark, but it’s clear I’m not getting any darker.

6. I am on page 175 of my book! I have been making notes in the margins throughout and that helps me keep track better. So far, so good, but about 500 more pages to go!

It seems the year marker is right around the corner, but I’m trying more and more to live in the moment and enjoy the day rather than focus on the future. But with that said, I can almost guarantee that the month 10 recap will be a pretty good one! Call it a hunch…

Rohan and I at Mariella's BBQ

Rohan and I at Mariella's BBQ

The scene of the amazing Costa Brava

The scene of the amazing Costa Brava

The trio in Palamos (Costa Brava)

The trio in Palamos (Costa Brava)

Hoolia's guacamole, yum!

Hoolia's guacamole, yum!

The Token American

July 27, 2009

When it comes to learning Spanish, this past weekend, I was in two sink or swim situations and I’ll be darned, I’m still afloat! One night, I had dinner with about 10 Catalans, though they always speak Spanish. The following night, I had dinner with about 20 Catalans who prefer to speak Catalan. I figured I would be twiddling my thumbs both nights and while I did a little, I also had some thoughts about the situations. And when Hoolia has thoughts, you get to read about them!

At this point (almost 9 months!), I’m accustomed to being the token American in various situations and I often wonder whose responsbility it is to talk to who. Should it just come naturally? Should the people who all know each other and feel comfortable make the effort to include the token? Should the token go beyond the uncomfortable and go beyond her native language to be included? Sometimes it works better than other times and while these dinners are still not always the most comfortable for me, I think these situations are how I’m going to learn (and maybe not only about the language). And hek, I can always find one thing universal and at the second dinner, when about 5 people took out their cell phones and started playing games, I joined too!

Overall, I think each day I’m improving the “smile and nod.” I don’t understand everything, but I’m pretty good at making it seem as if I do! Other times, like at the dinners, I pray someone who has a difficult accent doesn’t talk to me. Also, with other people who are a bit more intimidating, I can see my level of Spanish absolutely collapse. But I realize it’s all about confidence and faking it until you make it. So while I still have a ways to go, I can confirm I am indeed continuing on my way!

When I’m the token American, I generally don’t feel it’s my place to take photos, but here are a few of me in other Spanish group situations…

First trip to the Pyrenees (preferred language: Spanish)

First trip to the Pyrenees (preferred language: Spanish)

Second trip to the Pyrenees (preferred language: Spanish)

Second trip to the Pyrenees (preferred language: Spanish)

I Have a Dream…

July 24, 2009

Just like Martin Luther King, Jr. that there will come a day I won’t walk outside and see a protest! I’m joking, of course. Surely, I’m not one to deny people their constitutional rights, but I’ve gotta say, there sure are a lot of them here! However, I do have a request and that is for the protesters to protest in Spanish so I can at least understand what the protest is about (and not in Catalan)! A, is that so hard and B, how is that for using “protest” a million times in a sentence?!

The first time I was in Barcelona, about 7 years ago and long before the age of digital photography (sorry, no photos), I remember being in the middle of a big protest about something. I was literally in the middle, took advantage of the photo opportunity and moved on. 7 years later, not much has changed.

All the protests are pre-organized, or so they seem, since there is always a substantial amount of police. In fact, just yesterday, a group of protesters stood outside some building, just holding their signs and wearing funny hats (photo below) and the police there couldn’t have looked more bored. Maybe the police need more action when watching over protests, like the other day, when hundreds of people walked down a busy street here, blasting fireworks, chanting and getting their voices heard!

I have never actually protested anything myself and I really wonder how impactful protests really are. Does anything really change after a group of people make their opinions heard and disrupt the normal order of a city? I’m sure there are examples where the answer is yes, but I certainly don’t know if it’s true here. Hek, I don’t even know what half the protests are even about!

I can relate to the look on the passerby's face! Huh?!

I can relate to the look on the passerby's face! Huh?!

Easy to understand, but really, Catalonia is going to be separate from Spain? Yeah, right!

Easy to understand, but really, Catalonia is going to be separate from Spain? Yeah, right!

Call It What You Want

July 22, 2009

Be it soda, pop or a fizzy drink, the fact of the matter is that there isn’t much variety of it here in Spain. Coca Cola dominates the market so much so that similar to how we ask for a Kleenex, as opposed to a tissue, people here ask for a Coca Cola when they want a soda. Pepsi has some presence, but not much, and that is almost the extent of the soda existence. Other than Fanta and Sprite/7Up, which are good alternatives, I’m starting to miss a nice glass of Dr. Pepper or Root beer (though as you know I have been fortunate enough to find a can or two at the specialty shops). Or, even better, cream soda!

I have never really been that big of a soda drinker, as I mentioned last week, but I guess being here brings out the soda drinker in me. I’ll admit though that I think it’s more the caffeine I like than anything, though I have absolutely no problems taking a siesta/nap after an hour of drinking caffeine and it does give me the shakes at times! I live a hard life, I know 🙂

After discussing the soda situation with one of my students earlier this week, I find it really interesting how Spaniards like their sodas very basic. My student told me that Cherry Coke was introduced to the Spanish market a few years back, but failed, to which I told her we have many popular flavors of Coke (lime, lemon, cherry, vanilla, etc.). Then I continued to explain all the other sodas we have in general, like grape, strawberry, black cherry, etc. She was surprised.

I have cut back on the Coca Cola Zeros and went from maybe 5 a week to 2, if even. And, some bars/cafes only have Coca Cola Light and not Coca Cola Zero, to which I now say, “No thank you.” So there you have it, probably more than you ever wanted or cared to know about the soda situation in Spain. Take that knowledge and run!

My fridge, post specialty store run!

My fridge, post specialty store run!

A First Time for Everything

July 20, 2009

It might go without saying that I’ve had a lot of “firsts” here in Barcelona, especially since I have written about most of them, but this weekend, the first I had was certainly not expected. In fact, just when I thought I was all out of firsts, I got the biggest surprise of all!

This experience has been the first time I have lived in a foreign country for longer than 4 months, I have tried octopus and paella for the first time, I have taught English for the first time, I have had more international friends than ever in my life for the first time, I speak Spanish everyday for the first time, etc. and etc. With such a range of firsts, I thought I was really well-equipped for anything that came my way.

On our way to St. Feliu, we found a small beach called a “cala” and those are always the best because they are smaller and more private. Private…well, no pun intended. The second we arrived, we noticed a naked man on the side of the beach. We continued walking and within moments, we realized it was a nudist beach! It’s one thing to see topless women, which is very common here, but it’s another thing to see old, naked men roaming around completely nude, without a care in the world. Ewww!

There were probably more nude men than women and while it was funny at first and I couldn’t stop staring, let’s just say that many nudists had a lot left to be desired 🙂  But in all reality, good for them to not care about body image or what others think. While I personally wasn’t prepared to take it all off, I have to give them some props for embracing their bodies and enjoying the sand and the sun! 

All in all, it was an interesting first and one that I won’t forget for a long time (oh geez, I better stop with these puns)! I don’t have pictures to show, for obvious reasons…

Catch a Wave…

July 18, 2009

And you’re sitting on top of the world. Well, at least according to The Beach Boys! But I have to agree because today, I’m going up to the Costa Brava and while I won’t be surfing, I will be catching waves on a boogey board, Hoolia style. I’m not sure what Hoolia style is exactly, but the boogey board has purple and yellow dolphins flying over a pink sea…I guess you can make your own assumptions 🙂

I would like to make a wager: I bet that the majority of my readers don’t know where the Costa Brava is. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the reason I am making this wager is because before I moved here, I had no idea where it was either (not that that my lack of knowledge is necessarily indicative of yours, of course).  But it seems that Spain is so poor at marketing itself, not only with land, but in other areas as well. Ah, ya see, there is always a bigger picture to my posts!

Costa Brava is gorgeous. To me, it’s just like The French Riviera, with turquoise water, amazing waterfronts, cool cliffs and rock formations, little caves, etc. I have been fortunate enough to go to Costa Brava quite a few times since it’s not too far from Barcelona and I give it two thumbs up.

Just like with its wine, Spain doesn’t promote, at least globally, what it has to offer. I don’t think many think of Spain as a wine country, but it’s Rioja region grows wine as equal, if not better, than Napa, Bordeaux/Provence, etc. Of course, I’m only giving my opinion, but the more I live here, the more I’m discovering the ins and outs of a city and country that in all reality, are not very well-known, at least on some levels. It has great wine, surfing, coasts and more.

Oh, and the Costa Brava is along the northern coast of Spain, leading up to France. Now you know and knowing is half the battle!

Tossa del Mar

Tossa del Mar



Selva de Mar

Selva de Mar