When in Spain Do as the Spaniards Do

I’ll be honest: as much as I enjoy socializing with locals, it’s nice to give your mind a break from Spanglish and chat in your native tongue. However, I fail to understand why someone would come to such an enchanting place and continue to defrost pizzas, munch in globalized food chains, and vegetate over Modern Family re-runs. Perhaps old habits die hard, or never die at all. But in that case, why move here?

Living and teaching English in Spain provides ample opportunity to broaden your cultural scope and develop endless personal skills, if you so wish. Only in España can you explore cobbled, sun-drenched “calles” at siesta time, hear Adelita played from castle walls and enjoy authentic tapas in lively plazas.

You come across many different types of English-speaking expats while abroad. Some come to shake up the pedantry of their former life, others to learn a language and some “For The YOLO”. But at times you meet people who seem to have landed here without any clue as to how or why. They come in all shapes and forms, from dough-eyed youngsters to middle-aged folks. As if dropped from the sky, they arrive in Spain and after six months know little more than “hola” and “gracias”.

Jumping into the Spanish way of life might seem easier said than done. But it’s pretty easy, if you try. Here are a few tried and tested methods:

1. Intercambios
An intercambio is a language exchange, where both parties speak a combination of languages. You might spend half an hour in English, the other half in Spanish. You could also choose to flicker in and out of both languages during the conversation, which is more probable. Intercambios are great. In fact, they are probably one of my favourite activities here. Firstly, it’s an opportunity to meet other people. Have a look at sites like Tus Clases Particulares, where you can advertise for language-exchanges in your area. Secondly, they are excellent for practicing Spanish in a relaxed environment. Choosing topics like things to do in the area, favourite places to eat, weekend trips etc. can also double up as a local guide for the weekends. Thirdly, they’re free.

2. Dining with Locals
Spaniards love eating out, especially when the sun is shining. At weekends, when all of the shops are closed, you’ll find friends and family coming together to indulge in “cañas” and “tapas”.

Being an avid foodie, I was delighted to be assigned to a school in Cáceres, Spain’s gastronomic capital of 2015. City restaurants entice passersby with well-priced menus of the day, but hidden gems are also scattered along backstreets. Nobody knows better about these haunts than locals, so why not co-ordinate dinners with colleagues, meet up with tutors for almuerzo or hold intercambios in different cafes or bistros?

3. Taking up new hobbies
Taking up dancing, sport, cooking classes, language classes, pottery classes…. basically anything that involves activity with other people, is a great way to integrate into the community. Padel is something that I had never seen or heard of before coming to Spain. It’s similar to tennis and squash but a major craze among all of my students and friends alike. The padel courts in Caceres are always full and since it’s a team sport, players can bond over friendly competition. Lots of gyms offer various classes every week, from zumba and pilates to spinning cinema and kickboxing. You’d be surprised how a shared sense of physical strain brings people together. Activities where partners are required and rotated are particularly good for striking up conversation.

4. Learning the language
Being a lover of languages, it baffles me that people can live in a country for a year and learn little more than “hola” and “gracias”. Living in a small city where few people speak English, you could quickly feel isolated. A basic level of Spanish is essential if you need to go to the doctor, get a haircut, buy or process official documents. Essential.

There is no better time to learn a language than when you’re living in the country. Like a baby, I’ve managed to develop conversational Spanish through osmosis. If you open your mind and your ears, it’s surprising the amount you’ll learn through repetition. Obviously listening alone won’t bring you instant fluency, but it certainly makes things a lot easier when combined with independent study. Intercambios are great ways to practice, but for learning the basics I would highly recommend Duolingo. It’s an unparalleled app when it comes to learning vocabulary, grammar and general phraseology. I’ll be honest, I couldn’t say more than “El penguino bebe leche cerca de mi casa” for the first week, but when you make a conscious effort to study and keep your ears open, it’s surprising how much is internalized.

Everyone has a different agenda when moving abroad, but what a shame it would be to leave and not have gotten to know the real Spain. Press pause on Modern Family and carpe diem folks.

Laura
BA English Studies 2015

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