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The art of the “English Attack”

20 Apr

Yesterday, I had a moment, as one often does, where you suddenly realize how ridiculous something is.

It all started with a field trip with the 7th graders to Malaga – the heart of the Costa del Sol (Coast of the Sun). Ironically, it was dreary and rather cold.

Being a big city, Malaga has a lot of foreigners and English-speaking tourists. Much to my surprise, my students were actually eager to speak English and jumped at the chance to shout “Hello!” at nearly every person who looked like (maybe) they spoke English. I assure you, this is every bit as annoying as you can imagine. But this time, something was different.

As I normally find myself on the other end of this elusive “English Attack” (the end that is constantly getting “Hello!” and “Goodmorning!” shouted at my face), I’m ashamed to say I was amused at being in the group of assailants. And low and behold, some of my students were practically begging me to tell them how to say things so they could use them to scream at a blue-eyed, fair-skinned passerby. (Ok, begging might be a bit of an exaggeration. But, they were interested in learning!)

I couldn’t help but enjoy this “English Attack”. The high point coming when one of my students shouted, “Hello. How do you say?” with such excitement, vigor and haste, that she was overcome with laughter as she ran back to tell me her great success. Only there was one problem with this particular example: she had no idea what she was saying.

Lost in the moment, with adrenaline pumping, she realized only later that she didn’t know what that particular question meant. When I told her the meaning, we were both tickled over the occurrence. I, at least, was happy to have drilled something into their heads this year! Now if only I could get them to remember what it means.

Later, on the bus ride home, I had some time to properly reflect on the day’s events. Staring at the passing rows of olive trees, I found myself asking: Why do some Spaniards feel the need to shout at foreigners? Does this only happen in English? What are the necessary components of this “English Attack”?

As a frequent victim, I have decided to put my experiences to some good and outline the important components necessary for any decent “English Attack.” Not only will this serve for future field trips, but it will also allow all those who may never get to experience an “English Attack” to share in this beautiful experience.

The first, and most important, rule of the “English Attack” is that it must only be carried out on complete strangers. It’s not necessary to actually confirm that said stranger speaks English before attacking, either. You can normally just make a guess based on any combination of height, eye color, dress, hair style, skin color, etc. A guiri shouldn’t be too hard for you spot, but it will get easier with practice.

The second rule is that this attack must be fast and unpredicted. You’re not trying to make friends here. Shout the few English words that remain somewhere buried deep in the back of your brain. Remember, you most likely wouldn’t be able to respond or hold a conversation even if these people did respond to you. So get in, get out, and move on chuckling at your cleverness.

Finally, the third rule – and this is normally pretty key – is that you should probably say something wrong, or at the very least mispronounce it. Whether you’re shouting “how do you say?” instead of “how do you do?”, or yelling “goodmorning” at 6 p.m., it’s all just part of the effect. It only makes the “English Attack” stronger.

There are some cases, when the English attacking is so good that it elicits a response from the victim. Whether it be a “hello” in return or just simple acknowledgement, these cases are usually best dealt with by some form of follow up. You’ve already got their attention, so now its time to really get them going. Why not throw in a bad word or a profanity? But remember, this is only in extreme cases.

Thus concludes the most important rules of the “English Attack”. I can only assume that the following month and half that remain of my time in Spain will allow me to conduct further research. In the event of a new discovery, I will be sure to come back and amend the rules.

Today’s Word(s): “Cómo se dice…?”: “How do you say…?”, as in: “The tourist didn’t know how to react when the young girl looked at him and shouted, ‘Comó se dice?'”

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La Cabalgata

7 Jan

¡Feliz dia de los tres Reyes! And Happy Three Kings Day to those of you who didn’t understand the first part! Well, technically it was yesterday – January 6 – but I couldn’t possibly have written yesterday because I was far too busy opening my presents, eating king cake and nursing my hangover from the mass amounts of sweets that were eaten at the Cabalgata.

So what, you may ask yourself, is a cabalgata?

The cabalgata could most easily be described as a parade held every 5th of January in honor of the Three Kings (or Three Wise Men as we would probably call it!). The most famous cabalgata takes place in Madrid, but there are parades of all sizes that take place all over the cities and pueblos of Spain. Here in Lucena, people spend months decorating floats that take to the streets, accompanied by bands and of course the Three Kings themselves – Baltazar, Melchor, and Gaspar -each with their own elaborate float. 

Keep in mind that these were the guys that brought gifts to baby Jesus, so they always bring gifts with them to throw out at the parade. Forgoing the traditional gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh, modern day gifts usually include balls, stuffed animals and many many “caramelos” or sweets.

After a long night at the parade, the excited kids go home and eagerly await the arrival of the Kings the next day, being sure to leave out some cookies and snacks for the Kings and a little water for their camels too, of course. For most kids in Spain, January 6th is when they get their Christmas presents, although some now get gifts from santa on Christmas Day.

Another tradition that accompanies Three Kings Day is King Cake or rosca de reyes. This round cake usually comes with gifts hidden inside for the people who are lucky enough to get a slice with a gift. My gift this year? A little figurine of Maggie Simpson. Now that’s what I call lucky!

Today’s Word: Cabalgata (n.): Three Kings Parade; as in: “Hope you don’t get a cavity after eating all the sweets you caught at the cabalgata!”

Happy New Year

1 Jan

“Feliz Navidad… and I hope you eat all grapes on new year!” one of my students told me on my last day of school as we left for Christmas vacation. (sidenote: look at how good their English is getting!)

In Spain, as well as many latin american countries, it would be unthinkable to ring in the new year without a mouthful of grapes. It’s a tradition that dates back to the 20th century, when creative Spanish harvesters came up with a clever way to get rid of their grape surplus. The tradition says that the best and luckiest way to end the year is by eating 12 grapes – one for each chime of the clock, which signifies each month of the past year.

Not wanting to tempt their fates, the tradition quickly caught on. Who doesn’t want a little luck on their side, anyway? So every New Year’s Eve, which in Spanish is called nochevieja (the old night), crowds gather in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol to watch the ball drop. (Think Time’s Square with older buildings and a lot less lights!) And all across the rest of the country people gather around their televisions to watch the very same event.

But first their attention is directed to the bell tower, where the clock shows the official hour for the country. As the year ends, the bell begins to ring and people begin to stuff – taking care to eat exactly 12 grapes because eating 10 or 13 would have the reverse effect.

While this task may seem daunting for a novice, the clock chimes are actually slowed down a bit to ensure that everyone can end the year with a lucky stroke and then wash it down with a nice glass of champagne after.

Sadly, following the traditions of the Cincinnati bar scene, I’ll have to tell my student that I ate not one grape this year. Things are not looking so good for me on the luck front, I guess. But I have 365 days to practice my grape eating for next year!

Feliz Año Nuevo a todos!

Today’s Word: la uva (n.): grape; as in: ” Be careful not to choke on one of your uvas this New Year’s Eve!”

Seafood and Canis and Beaches, Oh my!

6 Nov

The elusive puente, (for those of you who have never gotten the pleasure of experiencing it for yourself) occurs when the Spanish working citizens decide to “bridge” the gap that occurs between a random holiday and the weekend.

Take for example All Saints Day (November 1st) which fell this year on a Tuesday. Now what fun would it be to go to work on Monday just to have the next day off? Why not take off Monday as well? Personally, I could just go for all week, but that would be more like the Golden Gate Bridge then I suppose.

So this most recent puente was stretched for two days, making a total of a four-day long weekend. (Five if you’re a lucky auxiliar who doesn’t have to work on Fridays).

So for this puente I found myself along the southern beaches of Spain, where several key lessons were learned:

1. When they call you a d***, they really mean friend. No, seriously – they do! Slang is all relative, I suppose. Where I’m living it’s “tio” (uncle) if your chatting with a friend. In Mexico its “wey” (man). And in the southern region of Cadiz, it’s a not-appropriate-for-this-blog word referring to something only men have. And we’re not talking about mustaches, if you get what I’m saying. Although it may be a little shocking at first when overhearing passing conversations, it’s really not meant to be offensive.

2. Always get gas before the light comes on. Especially if your driving along curvy 2-lane roads at midnight and all the gas stations are closed. Such situations may require you to stop and ask directions and then spend the next nerve-wreking 15-20 minutes heading back in the direction you came from hoping to find the one gas station that “may be open.” (it was!)

3. Jersey extends farther than the shore. And all the way to Spain. But here the word “guido” can be substituted with the spanish word “cani” and “blow-out” for “feaux-hawk”. Although we did have a lovely time drinking down on the docks of Barbate while the Cani’s kindly supplied their rave-like beats from the back of their suped-up rides. Yes, I can assure that the experience was even weirder than it sounds.

4. When by the sea, go for the seafood. There’s enough variety to please even the most finicky palate. From deep fried shrimp tortillas and calamari to roasted tuna and swordfish, you really can’t go wrong with seafood near the coast.

Today’s Word: puente (n.): bridge/extended-weekend; as in “No matter how you look at it, puentes were meant for traveling.”

A fería like no other

26 Oct

In a land not so very far away, there was a magical place where Cruz Campo flowed just as freely as the olive oil and the tapas were almost certainly free. It was a place where olives outnumbered the people, most of whom walked fearlessly through the streets, unafraid of the ghosts of bygone Lizard or Tranvia. Yes there, at the base of the Santa Catalina Castle, in the looming shadow of the cathedral, lay the city of Jaén. And every October people flocked from near and from far – from Madrid and Malaga; Ohio and New Jersey – just to observe what the locals fondly referred to as “la fería.” Yes, my friends, it truly is the most wonderful 10 days of the year.

At the fall of night on the very first day, the fair citizens of Jaén (and those from farther away too) descend upon the fairgrounds. The path marked with bright lights leads these citizens safely to the fairgrounds, much like the lit path of the airport runway guides planes onto the ground. And these fairgoers are about to have the layover of their lifetime.

Passing though the ‘big white castle’ of an entrance, the fair’s sights, sounds and smells assault the senses. You want a purse? a scarf? maybe some candied almonds for the trip down? how about a nice pair of shutter-shades with the Spanish flag?

– Why yes! I’ll take three, thank you!

And turning the corner, with the smell of sweet churros wafting from the nearby tent, the fair unfolds like a scene from a movie. Down the hill you go. Past the botellón spot on the left, where money-consious youth bring their own previously-purchased bottles (the country is in crisis, after all!). Down. Past the circus tent on the right. Down. Past the numerous carnival games. Down. Past the stands selling baked potatoes. Down. Pausing only for a mojito from the gypsy man. Down. Until you have arrived.

And you will know for certain when you have arrived because you will no longer hear the person standing next to you over the noise of the nearby tents. But alas, against the better judgement of your ears (which will be ringing for days), you follow that music into the nearest tent. And there it begins. From tent to tent you hop, pausing for food, for an occasional trip to the bumper cars or on the giant viking ship. You don’t stop until you can take it no longer and then it’s back up into the real world you emerge. Although, may it be advised that this trip is best made during the light of day as the sun slowly creeps up over the mountains.

And there it is. Much like the instructions on the back of a shampoo bottle (wash. rinse. repeat.) Rather this time it’s more like: sleep. dance. eat. repeat. And repeat as many times as you can before the final Sunday. Afterall, the fair only comes once a year!

Word of the Day: basura (n.): garbage, as in “The fair is still a lovely place despite the fact that it often is covered in and smells like basura.

Happy Spain Day!

12 Oct

October 12th.

Not only should this date resonate with Spaniards as the Fiesta Nacional de España – the National Day of Spain – but also with all our amigos over on the Western Hemisphere because todays date marks the day that Christopher Columbus landed in the New World. With so many things to celebrate, it’s no wonder we needed the day off of work!

As with many Spanish holidays, this one too comes with a religious background. Today is the day of Nuestra Señora de Pillar – Our Lady of the Pillar – who also happens to be the Virgin Mary. Are you confused yet? It’s a good thing I didn’t put in any hours at work so I had more time to sift through all this!

To keep it brief, Mary appeared to James on the banks of the river Ebro, offering to give him help and guidance along with something a little more solid – a pillar with which James was to build a church. The pillar today is located in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar in Zaragoza, Spain.

 

As you can probably imagine, todays holiday is a much bigger deal in Zaragoza at the site of the basilica. But Our Lady of the Pillar became the national patroness of Spain and of the Spanish Civil Guard thus creating the need to celebrate everywhere.

In Zaragoza there is a festival, in Madrid a big parade. And in Lucena, a celebration that seems only appropriate for the size and lifestyle of the town – an hour long concert in the main square. Who says living in a small town doesn’t have it’s charm?

So in ending, I wish you all a very happy October 12th – no matter what or where you are choosing to celebrate.

Today’s Word: perezoso (adj.): lazy; as in “I had the day off and I’ve been nothing but perezoso”

 

La Romería

10 Oct

Maybe you’ve heard that religion isn’t as strong as it used to be in Spain. And ok, maybe Saturday at the club is more crowded than Sunday morning mass. But one thing is for certain when it comes to religion: these Spaniards take it very, very seriously. Example numero uno: La Romería

A romería is basically a religious pilgrimage that consists of a trip to a certain sanctuary or hermitage. These pilgrimages come in all shapes and sizes (as do their pilgrims) and usually last about a day. Some romerías are more famous than others – such as Nuestra Señora del Rocio and Virgen de la Cabeza, which are both in Andalucía.

However, this past Sunday took us to a little place called Cabra. (For you Spanish-speakers: yes, the city is named “Goat.”) Located only 8 kilometers from Lucena, the charming white-washed town is surrounded by – you guessed it – olive trees and mountains. And right atop the tallest peak around lies the Santuario de la Virgen de la Sierra — The Sanctuary of the Virgin of the Mountain. The sanctuary is supposedly on the spot where the Virgin Mary herself appeared in the cave some hundreds and hundreds of years ago.

The statue of the Virgin lives up on the altar of the sanctuary’s church for nearly the entire year with the exception of September when she makes her big appearance in town for the fair.

And how, you might ask, does a Virgin get from the top of a mountain to the center of town? Well, let me just tell you that she does not have a drivers license nor would she fit behind the wheel of a car, for that matter. She, of course, is carried down from the top of the mountain on the shoulders of her faithful citizens in Cabra.

For nearly a month she enjoys her place in the city and makes an appearance at the fair being held in her honor before it is time yet again for her to return to her place overlooking the city. That’s where the romería comes into play. They same faithful (and strong, I might add) citizens carry the Virgin back up the mountain to her rightful home.

Not wanting to miss a good opportunity for a little fiesta (we’re talking about Spain, after all) people from all over come to bring the Virgin back to the top of the mountain. Some walk on foot, some ride horses and others still take the winding road by car.

Wanting to get the full effect we found ourselves hiking – rather, struggling – up the side of the mountain for what may have been 2.5 of the roughest hours of my life. And I wasn’t even carrying a Virgin! But atop the hill we were rewarded with stunning views of the province of Córdoba, a visit to the Virgin Mary and a heaping plate of paella prepared by the good people of Cabra. All in all, a good Sunday.

Today’s Wordmontaña (n.): mountain; as in “I’m exhausted after hiking straight up the montaña to see the Virgin Mary.”