Happy Christmas and a Wonderful New Year!

Snow in Retiro Park, Madrid

It’s time for the festive break, I hope you enjoy it enormously and want to wish a very very happy Christmas and New Year to all the readers of this blog.

(…and if your New Year’s resolution is to learn more Spanish, you know the best place to start: with all the great free stuff at our sister-site!)


Back from the Flu… and the smoking debate again…

I’ve just returned to reality after 10 days living in the land of flu, which served to remind me of one important thing: how great Spain’s public health system is. You feel ill, you call the doctors in the morning, they see you that same day, for free, and prescribe you medicine that you only have to pay a tiny percentage of.

OK, so that’s the same all over most of Europe, but I just wanted to point out again how fast and efficient the whole process was. Can’t say the same for the flu unfortunately. It was slow, and annoying.

Back to another of my favourite gripes (I think that might have been a bilingual pun!), Being pregnant is a fag in Spain is the title of an interesting article in today’s Telegraph, in which Michaela Rossi can’t believe the attitude to smoking and pregnancy/kids in Spain. It’s a good read, and seems totally accurate.

Fortunately for Michaela and other parents (like ourselves) who don’t like mixing kids and smoke, the health minister, Trinidad Jiménez, has been out this morning promising once more that there will absolutely be a full smoking ban in closed public spaces, including restaurants and bars, in 2010.

Let’s hope it’s early 2010! And in the mean time, Melissa, don’t forget downstairs in Casa Mingo.


Life and Presidencia

Been very very quiet over the past week or two as we prepare a big new project for our Spanish site, Notes in Spanish, and Marina deals with her Presidencia (more on that in a second…) It’s been ages since Marina and I have consistently created new content, and it’s wonderful to be recording new audio again. But with only half a day to work each (we are lucky enough to each spend the other half looking after the baby), everything else – blogging, eating, sleeping – goes out the window.

…Except of course for Marina’s thrilling enjoyment of her new role as Presidenta de la comunidad [Definition: Spanish law dictates that in every block of flats some poor sod has to be nominated to spend a year chairing residents’ meetings, and being on the receiving end of every niggling neighbourly nonsense, battle and complaint.]

At the beginning of the month, November 1st, the communal, central heating got switched on in our building, and Marina, along with the administradora (person who manages the building accounts etc), get to decide how long the heating goes on for each day (with plenty of advice from the Portero, obviously).

And so, as boilers across the city kicked into action, and the air-quality plummeted in direct proportion to the number of coal trucks (still, in 2009!) refilling cellars across the city, the knocks at the door began…..

Here’s a typical exchange from yesterday:

Doorbell rings, just as baby starts siesta, of course, miraculously doesn’t wake him up, but, we open to find a smartly dressed old lady with a stern expression on her face:

Old Lady: Are you the presidenta?

Marina: Yes…


Marina: (Summoning patience of a saint) But you do have heating, it goes on from 10 am now, earlier than ever before in the history of our blessed block of flats.

Old Lady: Well my radiators are tepid to the touch, my house is freezing, and I’m using THREE electric heaters just to keep my Salon warm.

Marina: I’m sorry about that, you see the heating uses a thermostat, and seeing as it’s unseasonably warm outside…

Old Lady: Wa… Wa… WARM?! It’s barely 14º! It’s FREEZING in my flat!

Marina: Well, I think it’s actually bit warmer than that [Note: real temperature actually closer to 18º, not bad for November, no one in the streets wearing a coat!]

Old Lady: It’s COLD! And I’ll be sending YOU my electricity bill for all those heaters…

Etc… Etc…10 minutes later she left with a promise from Marina that she would try getting the temperature increased during the day, and a formal agreement from both Marina and myself that it was indeed pretty cold outside after all, muy sorry for our ignorance.

And so it goes that Marina now ducks into the kitchen whenever the doorbell rings, pleading with me to tell anyone that knocks before 5pm that the most eminent Presidenta de la Comunidad is currently engaged in the pressing matter of her afternoon siesta!

Meanwhile, outside it continues to be most unseasonably FREEZING! pleasant!

Autumn in Madrid's Retiro Park

Note to Spanish-lovers: Go and sign up for our newsletter at Notes in Spanish, great things coming next week!


Successful – we all are!

Happy Friday! It turns out that once we ignore the external pressures of image-makers and lifestyle marketers, we are all a lot more successful than we thought we were… “make sure our ideas of success are our own” – Quite right!

Have a great weekend, feel free to comment as ever, how successful are you feeling these days?


Quick Hearty Recommendation

A few months ago I was interviewed by a terribly nice bloke called Graham who lives and works as an estate agent in Valencia (you may know him too from his many useful comments on this blog).

Well, Graham interviewed me and a handful of other expats who have managed to make something of a success of this whole ‘new life in Spain’ business, and after 5 months hard work, he has come up with a really interesting audio book that I would like to heartily recommend (and I don’t get any kind of commission for doing so – I just think this is great stuff!)

The thing is, all the people he interviews are so nice and friendly! And their Spain stories are so interesting, that it’s just a pleasure to listen to – the stories are inspiring too, as these are mostly people who came here with nothing, and ended up making a damn good life for themselves.

Get hold of the audiobook here (and get inspired!)


Birthday News…

It’s 11 years and a day since I moved to Madrid, a move which turned out surprisingly well, and which, as usual, I can highly recommend (especially if you are young free, single, and bored… as I was!)

We’ve just got back to Madrid after 2 months away, and boooooooy is it hot. Still.

We have to move flat in the very near future (which should make for some interesting stories), but first of all we have to decide where the hell to live! With a baby in tow we are keen to head out of the massification that is Madrid, towards greener climes…

Possibilities so far include: Sierra north of Madrid (not that green, let’s face it…), Asturias, San Sebastian… and just about anywhere else in the entire world. As one friend points out, I’ve been talking about moving out of Madrid since I got here, and it hasn’t happened yet… so watch this space…

Meanwhile, to celebrate my birthday we are holding a very special sale at our Spanish learning site, – watch the special video here for full details (while the sale is still on!)

Saludos desde Madrid – Ben


Thoughts on Marrying a Spanish Girl…

I was recently talking to a 70+ year old friend of my grandfather’s. After asking him if he’d lived in the same city all his life, he said:

“In Spain we have a saying: you are born where your parents come from, and you die where your wife comes from…”

The more I thought about this, the more examples I found to back it up. Married couples do often end up living where the wife orginally came from.

Now this could be a completely unfair conclusion, and is certainly no slight on women in general (I can feel myself getting into trouble here…), but it is just the kind of ‘warning’ you hear when you first end up getting together with a Spanish person, male or female, on their turf…

I received another such warning when I first got together with Marina. A teacher friend kindly passed on words of advice from another teacher who knew what I was up to. “Tell Ben to watch out,” she had said, “he has no idea what he is getting into with the Spanish family.”

This ‘adivce’ haunted me for months…

I guess she meant the fact that the Spanish family stays close, that you’ll be eating with them every weekend, and there may be quite a few extra visits during the week… all true…

BUT, doesn’t that happen in other countries too? A mother-in-law is a mother-in-law where ever you come from – ever present, in one way or another.

So according to received wisdom, if you move to Spain and get together with a Spanish person, you will end up living where they come from forever, and have to hang out a lot with their family. That pretty much accords with my experience, but you know what?

It isn’t all that bad!

Thank god Spain still has a culture where the family is respected, nurtured, kept tight! While western culture is doing it’s best to dissemble the traditional family (extended and nuclear), the Spanish still want to get together as often as possible for a good feed-up! Good for them!

And the idea you might get stuck in Spain forever? I say jump in with both feet, you’ll soon end up realising you were always destined to be here anyway.

[P.S. I miss my own family lots and wish we were all nearer!]


Happy Summer Hiatus…

OK, Marina and baby and I are off on holiday for a few weeks, so…

If you are new to the site then I really suggest you take a look around, listen to some podcasts, please do leave some comments if you have something to say, and don’t forget, if you like learning Spanish, you have to check out our sister-site, the famous!

Happy Holidays! – Ben


Bringing Up Baby Bilingual in English, Spanish, and Rubbish

A common question Marina and I are asked, as a Spanish-British couple, is ‘What language do you speak to each other?’

The answer is that we absolutely interchangeably speak English, Spanish, and rubbish.

Let me explain: We are both very good at each other’s language, so we can easily talk to each other in English, or Spanish, and communicate perfectly. I would say we speak a touch more Spanish, but it really depends on factors like how tired one of us is (I always defaults to my own language when I’m tired)…

The problem is that our easy interchange between English and Spanish doesn’t just happen on a daily basis. It doesn’t just happen on an hourly basis…

It often happens on a sentence to sentence basis, or worse, a word to word basis!

For example:

Marina to Ben: You look exhausted, qué te pasa love?
Ben to Marina: Nothing, I’m just feeling a bit agobiado

Oh dear. You see the thing is, in sentences like this we’ll change languages when a single word or phrase works better in one language than another. Qué te pasa just works better than ‘what’s going on’ for Marina in the above example, and in the case of my reply, I use the word agobiado becuase it does a one-word job that English doesn’t have to explain a general feeling of stress/anxiety/over-work/too much on my shoulders.

And Marina understands what I mean perfectly, just as I understood her! Why speak in one language at a time, after all, when we have all the wonderful lexical tools of two at our disposal? We have a reached perfect, hybrid-bilingual communication at a sentence to sentence, word to word level.

Here´s the problem. Well two problems really.

Problem one, things get worse. Our hybrid-bilingual model quickly gets out of control. Let’s take my sentence from the above example again, and look at another version, that is almost more likely to be used these days:

Ben to Marina: Nothing, I’m just feeling a bit agobiated

AgobIATED! Spanglish at it’s best! Yet it just sounds right, and I know that Marina knows exactly what I’m talking about, even if I am effectivily speaking the third language of rubbish!

But here’s the biggest problem of all: We are trying to bring up our baby to be bilingual. What chance has he got with words like ‘agobiated’ flying around the house?

Time to ditch the private language I think, and stick to those good old staples of English and Spanish, and preferably just one at a time!


Updates: La Presidencia and NIS Forest

First of all, STILL not official confirmation of whether Marina has indeed been landed with the worst job in Spain, and is in fact ‘La Nueva Presidenta de la Comunidad’!

We are avoiding bringing up the matter with the porter, who is bound to know, working on the assumption that what you haven’t been told in person, might still not be true!

Secondly, some of you know about the ‘Notes in Spanish Forest’, 120 cherry trees in Asturias bought with proceeds from the sale of our ‘Crisis Collection’ pack, over at our Spanish learning sister-site Notes in Spanish. Well, the trees have just been planted, and the charity, Fapas, has put a really nice photo-story up on their site about the big event. Do have a look.

Marina has made a Spanish video about it too, here.

Have a great weekend! – Ben