Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Madrid, Culture Shock, and Adjustment

It has been a while since I have updated this blog, and I have a decent reason. First I will update you on the trip I took to Madrid with Rana a few months ago. I'm mostly going to talk about the food there, so if you're hungry, might want to grab something before you start reading, or you'll be drooling by the end.

 For lunch on the first day we ate Specialty Spanish Tortilla at a classy little place called Casa Paco. The variety of Tortilla they had was incredible. An interesting difference between Cantabrian Tortilla and Madrid Tortilla is that when people in Cantabria make it with something else, they put it on top, usually with some mayo or a fried egg. In Madrid, the extra ingredients are baked right in.

 For dinner one night we went to a new chic little bar called The Flamingo. We had croquetas, which are probably my favorite Spanish cuisine. The ones we had were filled with Cocida, a traditional stew of the region, that might remind one of a vegetable beef stew.
 It is often a good idea to stop for tea in the afternoon if you've been walking all day. 
 Bakery combination cafes are not hard to find in Spain's capital, or in any large Spanish city really. Most go in for a sweet treat and a little pick-me-up of coffee. We had tea.
 I am a pastry fanatic. The only things I truly liked the time that I've been to France were the Southern architecture, and the baking. Madrid also has a high level of deliciousness when it comes to baked goods.

 We also went to a couple of bookstores, the first one to find a map, and later just for fun. Rana loves books, and I enjoy the feeling of a bookstore.
 This particular bookstore, our last stop before heading back to the airport, is also a cafe. We enjoyed a quick breakfast and the smell of old bound paper on that final morning in the big city.

Since Madrid, which took place in late April, I have been through several phases of culture shock, have changed my activities quite a bit, and have made new friends.
When I first arrived I had very little to do. I started going to the highschool where Rana works to volunteer with the business teachers. I sat in on lectures, helped them develop powerpoints, and in general was bored out of my mind, with little improvement to my Spanish after about four weeks. During this time I felt like I did not truly have anything that was my own, that I was wasting the time of the students because the teacher slowed down to help me understand, and that I was not getting anything out of the situation. I was starting to dislike the little things about Spanish culture. Certain pleasantries and social norms that I had trouble conforming to. Such as chatting over coffee on a daily basis, drinking coffee on a daily basis, and so on. It is always the silly little things that get on your nerves. Depressed and stressed, I informed Rana that I did not want to go back. She agreed it was time for a change.

My sister signed me up for Spanish courses at the university, and also put up a sign in the supermarket advertising my services as an English tutor/babysitter. My first week of Spanish class was with a Polish girl and the teacher. I improved quickly with four hours a day using Spanish in the classroom, and then another hour or so chatting with O or Dori. Soon after I began giving classes to local children. 

I currently have six students, and am to start with at least two more later next month or in August.
My Spanish course ended last week, and I am now near a B1 level of the language.

In addition to everything else, I had been visiting, on a semi-weekly basis, a Peruvian woman, for language exchange, as well as a local fellow around my age. I would talk and listen for hours with the woman from Peru about absolutely nothing and everything at the same time. She has gone to Italy for the summer, but I hope to see her again before I return home in December.

The local fellow, heretoafter referred to as Anan, is another case altogether. We have gotten together for conversation only twice. After each time he invites me to come out with he and his friends for drinks and dancing or to watch a game or participate in a local festival. Thanks to him, I have been able to truly see the nightlife of the precious coastal city of Santander.
The discos here are a bit slow moving, and play overly typical tracks. The youth play drinking games with sugary wine substitutes before going to go dancing, and the youth are notorious for trying to play matchmaker with their friends and new acquaintances. Anan enjoys drinking a bit too much, and always seems unable to remember the evening's events later on. His girlfriend, Ria, who is also the older sister of one of my students, is sweet and has been a true lifesaver for me.
It is important to remember these simple rules when going out in Spain, ladies: ALWAYS carry tissues. There is no guarantee of toilet paper or clean seats. Go the bathroom before leaving the bar, you don't know how long you'll be walking to get to the next place. Wear comfortable shoes and clothing, you don't know how long you'll be walking. 
If you ever happen to be in Spain for the beginning of summer, and are in Santander for the day of San Juan, be sure to go to the beach. It is a wonderful site, with all of the bonfires and happy students. Everyone drinking and burning their notes from the year. Before the end of the night, many of the population will have bathed in the ocean, most of them in the nude, and most of the city's children will be among them. A Spanish festival is a must see for anyone.

That is all for now. Expect more updates about my students and my upcoming trip to London in the next couple of weeks!

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