Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Amanda & Joseba gone wild - Spring Break 2011

I am officially on vacation!  I have been enjoying my first few days riding around on the bike, drinking coffee on the outdoor terraces, and studying on the porch in the sun.  However, on the agenda for the holidays is the lovely island of Tenerife - part of the Canary Islands, off the coast of Africa.  With about 300 days of sun each year, I am hoping with all my heart that we get 8 days of them!

We started planning this island getaway at the end of January and I am so happy that it's finally come!  I have been reading up a bit on Tenerife and have found some random but interesting facts that make the trip all the more anticipated.

 - Some say that the highest peak of Tenerife, Mount Teide, could be part of the Atlantean Mountains, where the lost city of Alantis once was.  The people who worshipped the God of the Sea, became too wealthy for thier own good and Zues got angry with thier greed and punished them with tidal waves and volcanic eruptions...leaving us only with mountain peaks to admire.  Mount Teide is rumoured to be one of the remaining peaks.  We are planning on hiking to the summit, so when we get back I will give you my best Greek history opinion.

 - Knowing that we are hiking up to the top of Teide, the highest peak in Spain, it is also an interesting thing to keep in mind that it is an active volcano that is about due to blow.  Christopher Columbus reported seeing it explode in 1492 as he passed on the way to America.  More reports show it blew in 1706, 1798, and last in 1909 - so basically around the turn of each century.

 - On a grosser note, I have recently learned that the cockroaches of Tenerife are amazingly resilent.  It appears that if you cut off their head, they can manage to live for a whole two more weeks!  And the only reason they die is because they can't eat, not the fact that they are headless!  I hope to God I don't meet one - with a head or not.

 - Last but not least, a literary piece of info.  After an 11-day disappearance where she claimed amnesia, Agatha Cristie escaped the media attacks by going to Tenerife.  While there she wrote a few short stories and even mentions the island in The Man From the Sea, (anyone read it??).  So, hopefully while I am there, I too will be inspired, but instead of short stories, I will use my enthusiasm from the beautiful island to return and write you all some memorable blogs!


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Ideas of an immigrant

It's quite strange to say it...but I am an immigrant.  When the word comes to mind, I think most Americans either think of 1) our great-great grandparents sailing over from Europe to America or 2) of the immigration wave that is happening in the country now.  I know, that saying the word, I think of these two things, definitley not that it is a word that defines me, but alas it is.  I am an immigrant - but just one who happened to immigrate from the USA to Spain.

Today I read in El Diaro Vasco (The Daily Basque - the newspaper here) that the latest numbers show that the foreign population in Guipuzcoa (my county) has risen by about 5% since 2001.  So now, in Guipuzcoa, there are about 43,000 immigrants, and I guess reading the paper today, made me realize that I am one of that number.  Coming here 3 years ago, I planned to stay one year - a year of adventure, learning a new language, seeing new places, experiencing a different culture - but as we have all seen, I am so happy, that I am just going to stay!  So, instead of thinking of myself as a temporary visitor, I now think of myself as a Donostia resident for the long-haul.

When I first arrived here, my only foreign experiences had been a weekend trip to Vancouver, Canada with my dad, and a evening of drinking and dancing to Rosarito, Mexico with a group of college friends.  I had lived away from home since freshman year of college, so the living on my own aspect of moving here didn't shock me so much.  Nor did not knowing a soul when I arrived.  I was after a life-changing experience, and obviously I got one - I have completely changed my life!  But, I am starting to realize that no matter how long I live here...I will still always be an immigrant, which I am think is something I will always be proud of. 

Living here though, I have been able to take a step out of the 'American bubble' and see how everyone else sees Americans.  Here, I don't have one American friend, so I am constantly confronted with different points of view that sometimes don't match up with mine or opposite ideals or other ways of thinking.  And it's great!  On the day I left the States, September 10th 2008, my mom told me my horoscope for the day had been: Stray from your familiar clan to have a conversation with someone of a completely different world view. You still won't agree, you'll have to stretch your mind just to understand - and that's the whole point!  I am not much one for horoscopes, but this one is spot on.  The best is that thinking differently doesn't have to be an entire ideals change, it can just be a simple something.  For example, I have a Japanese friend here who just recently had a baby.  She is a friend from my Spanish class last year, and our little group that still gets together for coffees from time to time include me, this Japanese girl, a German 40-year old woman, and a Polish girl my age.  So, a lot of different ideas over a 4 coffees!  Us three non-pregnant girls decided we wanted to throw a baby shower for our friend.  Being American, I have been raised to give a baby shower before the baby is born.  But, my Polish and German friends told me that they had been raised to give the baby shower after the baby has been healthily born.  Something so small, but something I would have never thought twice about. 

I do bring little drops of American culture across the Atlantic from time to time.  I try to find a happy medium of the things I am accustomed to and the new culture I have settled into.  A few examples include: decorating Easter eggs with my students last year, celebrating Thanksgiving dinner and making cookies from scratch.  The thing about living in another country is that all that you have grown up with, doesn't fit perfectly into your new country.  The Easter eggs were fun, but since they only sell brown eggs here, didn't work out as well as our bright-white-before-dyed eggs.  Celebrating 'Acción de Gracias' here is a bit difficult seeing as they don't sell whole turkeys.  And making cookies from scratch requires me to send a grocery list to Grammy for special ingredients - like molasses!  Although a bit more complicated, you better believe I still manage to keep some of my Americanisms alive! 

Trying to maintain who I am while being surrounded by such different ways of life has really given me a new appreciation for all the immigrants in the States.  I have to admit, living at home, I have gotten annoyed by an immigrant who couldn't speak perfect English; or didn't realize how many newspapers, posters, etc are only in English; or never tried to empathize with children who go to school in a language different that the one they speak at home.  Being an immigrant, I think I have experienced the negativity that I had before myself and it has completely changed my thinking.  When someone is rude to me for not speaking perfect Spanish, I feel offended - I am doing my best here, and it's obvious I am trying.  Or when I got my tests results from the doctor and couldn't undestand the abbreviations all over the paper, I was frustrated that it was only in Spanish (well, Basque too but come on, that's not gonna happen for me for quiteeeee some time).  And when I am in my Euskera class, learning a 3rd language in my 2nd language, I sometimes just wish ughhh can't I learn in English!  In no way is my life bad - I am so crazily happy to be exactly where I am, but have been noting more and more quirks about living abroad forever. 

My boss, who is Swedish, has lived here about 10 years and said something the other day I found quite interesting.  She said living in a different country is a never-ending job, and if you stop to think about, she's right.  No matter how great my Spanish gets, it's never going to be MY language.  No matter how well I understand it, I am never going to be able to sit on a bus and eavesdrop on every conversation, while listening to the radio and reading a book and get 100% of ALL of it.  When something scary happens, I still exclaim in English.  And if something horrible ever happens (knock on wood), I will immediatley want to call 911, but here the emergency number is 112. 

Even if it is a full-time job, I am happy to be 'employed' by this immigration duty.  I still, 3 years later, still try to see things with open eyes.  I normally tote my camera in my bag, just in case something catches my eye.  And, as you read my culture shock blog, you can see I have gotten used to some differences between the two countries, but still know that there are some that will always strike me as different.  Overall, I think that being an immigrant is a challenge but an incredibly rewarding one, where you are able to get to know yourself better than you ever imagined.

I found a quote from Jack Paar that says 'Immigration is the sincerest form of flattery', so I guess I will have to admit I love it here.  I love the cobble-stone streets I walk on every day, I savour the café con leche I drink each morning, I die for mouth-watering pintxos, I can't imagine dinners without good wine, I welcome the sea breeze when I step out of my apartment, I can't get over the mix of old castles and cathedrals in each town and although sometimes confusing, I thoroughly enjoy mixing 3 languages in my head.  I may be an immigrant - away from maple bar breakfasts, English TV channels, self-check-out grocery stores and measurements in inches, feet, gallons, pounds and Fº - which don't get me wrong, I all miss dearly, but I am dang it, I am one happy immigrant! 

Kisses, Besos & Muxuak

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A culture shock preview

Hello again everyone.  As many of you know, my sister, Alex is planning on visiting me in the summer.  She is quite excited and it will be her first time abroad.  Having lived here for 3 years, to me, San Sebastian is normal and not much really surprises me any more.  Of course there are the random days that something that I have never seen happens or something out of the ordinary goes on, but normally I just lead a normal life but it just happens to be in another country.

So, lately I have been thinking...what culturally shocking things have I become immune to?  What things will Alex see with new eyes that I have learned to overlook?  And it's quite a funny thing to think about, because when I really set my mind to it, I realize there are things that are a bit strange that now I just accept as normal - but for Americans it's definitley a different cup of tea.  Here are a few things I think she will notice right off the bat...but things I no longer bat an eyelash about:

Breakfast:  Now normally we are accustomed to toast, maybe some eggs, or a bagel or something filling for breakfast.  It is afterall said to be the most important meal of the day.  Here...breakfat isn't such a big deal though.  Most people have a strong coffee and a few cookies - not chocolate chip or anything, but something similar to graham crackers.  Healty digestive cookies.  I often eat yogurt with granola, fruit and raisins, but that is out of the norm for a Spanish person.  Alex will soon experience the exciting breakfast of galletas y café.  Don't worry Mom -I won't let her catch onto the cigarette and coffee breakfast I see a lot of people enjoying each morning!

The Toilet:  Here it's not called the bathroom.  If you have to go to the bathroom in a bar or a restaurant, you don't do the polite thing and ask 'Excuse me, where is the bathroom?'.  No, you ask 'Excuse me, where is the toilet.' I mean, I guess since there is no BATH in a public restroom it stands to reason.  On top of that, in the bathroom in most American homes, what do you have?  A plunger, right?!  Well here, I don't know a single person that owns a plunger, instead, they have sitting comfortably next to the toilet a toilet-bowl cleaning brush standing in a little bowl of a bleach-like solution.  You never seen poop-tracks in the toilets of someone's house, because it is common courtesy here that if you poop, you wash the toilet bowl.  I quite like the idea.

Napkins:  Now you may think that napkins are a decent-grade of paper that you use for your meal and later throw away.  Here, the idea of napkins has been downgraded quite a bit.  Napkins here are almost as hard as cardboard (don't even think about blowing your nose in one of these babies) and normally say Eskerrik asko, which means Thank You in Euskera.  Also, they are so bad, you go through atleast 5 with each meal.  Think minimum 1 per pintxo.  And when you are finished with it, don't worry about throwing it in the garbage because 1) there are no garbages in sight and 2) you just throw it on the floor along with your bread crumbs.  Later, someone will sweep it up. I once saw a lady chuck her dirty napkin from across the bar towards the bar stools where most of the garbage already was - I guess making it easier for the sweeper later?  Normal...

Meal Times:  I am quite accustomed now to the strange eating times of the Basques and Spainards.  Breakfast is quite early in the morning - right when you wake up.  Between breakfast and lunch you normally have a little snack because Lunch doesn't happen until atleast 1pm.  You can't possibly get a good lunch menu anywhere before then, and unless you want McDonald's, it's worth the wait.  Later, around 5 or 6pm, the merienda usually happens.  A fancy way to say snack again, half-sandwiches or fruit are the meriendas I normally see my students with.  Dinner commences around 8pm at the earliest.  I have gotten used to eating dinner no earlier than 9pm.  Alex, craving dinner around 6pm will be sorely disappointed, and by 9pm her tummy will be growling as loud as ever!

What to Drink??  This question only has a few answers, water is not normally one of them.  The choices I normally stress between are wine (red, white or rose....uffff tough decision) or beer (I also like beer mixed with sprite, sounds bad but its delicious).  To order a water (always bottled) or a Coke is MORE expensive always than a glass of wine or a cup of beer.  Go figure.  On top of that, it is accepted that water wouldn't even cross your brain as an option while eating out.  Awhile back I went to the doctor for my yearly physical and here is what he asked me:  'How often do you drink?'.  Not, 'do you drink' because come on, everyone knows that everyone drinks socially here - its just a part of the life.  No one would ever understand a person who GASP doesn't drink at all!  Knowing that Alex doesn't drink, I will introduce her to a world of beverages here...she has no idea what she is in for.  She can always order a Coke, but it's gonna cost her!

I am sure along with the temperature, language, hours and the fact that she will be halfway across the world, she will be in quite enough culture shock - but it will be good for her.  And if we go to Paris, oh God, even more culture shock!  We will see..but until then, I will easily amuse myself by thinking of things that will make her eyes pop out of her head.