17 December 2013

Do you speak Spanglish?

My neighbour said to me yesterday, “oh no, I don’t need to learn Spanish. Not round here.” She then went on to explain that even a hint of Spanish was just not necessary for an expat living in a valley almost exclusively inhabited by other English-speaking expats, who shop at Lidl and go to “bridge ‘n’ chat” evenings once a month. She sort of has a point. If she only mixes with people who don’t speak Spanish how on earth would she ever practise what she’s just learnt in class. But that’s the point, though. If she learnt to speak the native language of most people in the country then maybe she’d meet more Spaniards. Tricky one, though. In the meantime, I suppose “I’d like a carrier bag”, “hola” and “gracias” will suffice.

There are, of course, other expats who wholly embrace the linguistic challenge that stands proudly before them. They embark on lessons, teach yourself courses and “intercambio” language exchanges, whereas others think they’ve mastered the “lingo” by using, God forbid, Google Translator. It’s not easy learning a foreign language at an advanced age (apparently, so we’re always told), but maybe it’s more a problem of  learning a foreign language when you’ve never learnt one before. When you’ve never really thought about how language works, not even your own. Let’s be honest, a lot of people have a problem expressing themselves eloquently in their own language, innit.

There is indeed a strange linguistic phenomenon at large amongst the expat community who do try and learn a little Spanish. A curious, but distinct peppering of their own language with random Spanish words. As if showing off, Dean and Carol would never be heard saying “rubbish bin” or “rubbish”, oh no, “I’m just taking out the basura, dear”. Having listened to this linguistic mix up for a number of years, I’ve noticed some words have made their way into this Spanglish mess more than others. Who in the right mind round here would say “valley” or “dried up riverbed” when speaking English? No one. If in conversation with another expat you mentioned you lived “two valleys beyond Santa Maria”, they may not even understand you! “Oh, you mean “rambla”!

I can understand someone’s vocabulary growing under the strain of new foreign words never used before in your mother tongue. If you’ve never done roofing or construction work before you may never have needed the word “beam” and the first time you might have used the word is here in Spain where you learnt to call it “viga”. I love a dab of schadenfreude, though and can’t help but smirk when someone is convinced they have learnt a word correctly, can’t wait to randomly slip it into their own version of Spanglish and they get it wrong. All that showing off for nothing. Instead of “viga”, they say “vega” and consequently order 30 concrete fields as opposed to 30 reinforced concrete beams.

I had an odd experience once with an English neighbour who confronted me with “sorry, I thought you spoke Spanish”. Yes, I do, but we’re speaking English now. Turns out my neighbour wasn’t. He’s obviously soooo integrated into Spanish life that he now only speaks Spanglish. “Yes, we’ve had a nightmare lately with our calenderdor”. “I’m sorry? With your what?” “Our calenderdor. Been a nightmare, mate.” “Sorry, I don’t know what you mean.” “The thing that makes your hot water!” “Oh, calentador.” How was I to know he was going to throw in a Spanish word into the middle of an otherwise English (admittedly Yorkshire) sentence. What’s wrong with “boiler”?!! It’s not exactly a weird technical word that’s bound to trip people up. No, obviously I’m slacking. Must brush up my Spanglish. Not my Spanish. Who needs that round here!

9 December 2013

no pasa nada

When I was having the house rebuilt years ago some rather curious reasoning would often rear its confused head. Spain is indeed full of bizarre rationale. When I pointed out the doorstep sloped markedly inward towards the door and that water (dare I say it, rainwater) tends to flow downhill, and so the front door might get flooded, the response from Juan the builder was the all-encompassing “no pasa nada”. The “no pasa nada” cure for all ailments, “it’ll be fine”. After reiterating my concern of the silly laws of physics I was placated by Juan’s extension of the no pasa nada response, in the form of a “solution”. No pasa nada, “we’ll put a porch on the front of the house”. That was the uncanny solution. It was obvious. To Juan. He brimmed with pride at his brilliant use of logical reasoning.

To solve the problem of nature and that annoying thing called gravity, I was now to end up with a porch strapped on to the front of my house. No admittance of the problem with the tiles on the step, just a way of sorting it out, while “blaming” gravity, of course.

This seems quite often the case around these parts and in essence is also the reason you see roads with grand pavements and fancy street lighting disappearing off into a field. Literally a road to no where. So often have I seen these ghost estates looking like driving lesson centres or disconnected bridges and motorway fly-overs standing forlornly in fields that I’m starting to think it’s a Spanish thing.

There may be other reasons for such bizarre town planning (like gravity or the like), but to the uninitiated it does simply look like things might not have been thought through properly. Having lived in Germany for years, maybe this has affected my view on things, but when you see some astroturf around the bottom of a tree, you just know there’s going to be a dog turd on it within the week. Don’t you?

Of course, I could be completely wrong but a similar thing seems to be happening at the entrance of our nearest town, Huércal-Overa. As you leave the town there are about 400 metres of nothingness before you get to the motorway junction. You pass a ruinous pig farm and some scrubland then you’re at the motorway. The council has therefore decided to spend 850,000 euros on building a three metre-wide pavement. As pedestrians generally have no place on the motorway, it does beg the question, why? What’s more, for half of the 400 metres there is already a two metre-wide, never walked-upon pavement. This polished pavement is now receiving a pavement upgrade and visitors to the town will be greeted by a landing strip of pavement that they will never need to walk on as it doesn’t go anywhere. Like the severed motorway fly-over in a field. Just not particularly well thought through. But, it’ll be fine, put a porch on it!