Since moving to Vejer I have been introduced to practices and events that are ‘normal’ for here but new and sometimes alien to me. Intercambio being an example and, rather like the metaphoric skinning of a cat, there’s more than one way to ‘exchange’ as I’ve come to discover.
My initial introduction to Intercambio, Spanish-style, came shortly after arriving when a friend suggested the weekly event would be a great place to meet new people and practice actually speaking Spanish.
Every Thursday evening an eclectic and ever-changing group of people come together at a local tea shop/bar to exchange language and conversation. The group switches from Spanish to English at fifteen minute intervals. As you never know who you’ll be sitting next to and there are no set rules about the topics you cover, the evenings are always lively and challenging. And I ‘get’ them. I understand that the payback for the listener having to suffer through 15 agonisingly slow minutes of my appalling Spanish, is my complete and undivided attention when their turn comes to butcher the English language. I love the equality of the evening – sometimes you drag yourself through treacle trying to converse with someone who either won’t speak or appears to have nothing very interesting to say and on other occasions you’re immediately immersed in a fascinating (if stilted) conversation with someone of real interest to you.
The benefits (to me) of my second introduction to an intercambiar are slightly less tangible at this, admittedly early, stage of the exchange. Having volunteered at a Punto Solidario (an organisation working to improve the quality of life for all in Vejer through projects and a FairTrade shop) the head lady recommended me to a local man looking for an English tutor for his son. “It’s an intercambiar” I was told. ‘Okay’ I thought not entirely sure what I was being offered in exchange. Off I trotted to meet with said father who speaks no English and is a form of alternative therapist that I’m not entirely sure I’d understand even in my native tongue but his explanation was way beyond my limited Spanish comprehension.
In for a cent, in for a euro as they quite possibly say over here. I have committed to two hours a day, five days a week for the next fortnight, to tutor a thirteen year old boy in the run up to his English exam on 1st of September. In return I’m being offered something that I don’t understand and am not even sure that I want.
“They saw you coming” was my husband’s helpful and motivating comment once I’d explained the arrangement. Although I don’t think they can have done, because their offices are at the back of the building and don’t overlook the road I walked down to get there?
In the spirit of: adventure, putting it out there, trusting the universe and givers gain, I’m honouring my agreement confident that I’ll benefit in ways that might not be immediately obvious. After just one hour for example, when supportive hubby asked “So, what have you learned so far then profesora?” I was able to reply that my pupil is an only child, his father has 3 sisters and a brother, his mother has only one brother, I know the names of both sets of grandparents , that my pupil has a medium sized, black, water dog and that Spanish Water Dogs don’t moult. Not bad huh!
It was with huge excitement last Saturday evening that I walked to the Teatro de San Fransisco in Vejer with some of my news friends to enjoy the concert by an Abba tribute band. My children might be surprised, and a little perturbed, at my use of the words ‘huge’ and ‘excitement’ in the same sentence as ‘Abba tribute band’ but let me explain.
The excitement was less about the band and more about the event. Having visited Vejer for over 10 years we watched the Teatro undergoing a transformation but – incredibly – have never actually been inside. So finally going to an event there was a little bit exciting.
Add to this my overwhelming need for friends: people I like, respect, enjoy being with, learn from and laugh with and you can see how the excitement level went up several notches. I have friends! People who went out of their way to include me in an event, happening in my new home town. And not only friends but a group of women. Gaining admission into the elite world that is a group of female friends is not to be taken lightly.
And finally, Abba are pretty good too eh, had the odd hit record and all!
I’m kicking myself that my phone battery died so no photos of the social event of the year so far but, it was fabulous and slightly surreal at the same time. Watching two high energy, raunchy young Spanish ladies cavorting around the stage and belting out hit after hit, predominantly in Spanish, accompanied by some backing dancers who confidently mixed dancing in sync with ‘do your own thing’ (Okay, okay, they weren’t the best – but they were very enthusiastic) and you have yourself the makings of a great evening. Combined with the singing-along, dancing and ear-splitting applause from the audience and you’ve got yourselves a hit.
And all for 5 euros a ticket. No wonder it was a sell-out.
One reason for living abroad, or indeed just travelling, is to experience first-hand the differences in life, even in seemingly shared experiences.
Having lived in Vejer de la Frontera for just 4 weeks we were a little perturbed to discover two speeding tickets in our postbox one morning. Dating from our first week in Spain our concern was with how many more might arrive over the coming days!
Anyway, the 200 euro fine would be halved if paid within 20 consecutive days. No one seemed sure when those days started but everyone agreed that one would be quashed as, at 109 kms in a 100 zone we were within the 10% margin of error. Wrong – that has been stopped, at least in the Jerez area, as vehicle equipment is apparently now so sophisticated that there is no error – and therefore no margin. Nothing, nada, zip. 100 kms means 100 kms!
Having tried to pay online and almost lost the will to live we decided to head to our local Santander bank, with the promise of desayuno (breakfast) in our favourite bar on the way back. As an incredibly rusty lower intermediate Spanish speaker my automatic assumption when confronted with speech I don’t understand is just that – that I don’t understand it. Sometimes though reality is a little more complex and, in fact, my understanding has been spot on linguistically, it’s the concept I don’t understand.
The very friendly lady in Banco Santander explained that we could only pay there for free on a Tuesday or a Thursday; between 8.30 and 10.30 and between the 10th and 20th of each month. All other times, there is a 3 euro fee per ticket.
As I said, actually I understood her words but still didn’t appreciate the concept, until she showed me the sign pinned up on the wall where, sure enough it confirmed the 3 requirements for fee-free fine payment. She advised us to come back the follow week when we could ‘save’ ourselves 6 euros. All well and good until I asked her when the 20 days started from and she confirmed that it would take us to either the 9th or 10th March, she wasn’t sure.
By now exhausted and in need of my cafe manchado with tostados con tomato y aceite (milky coffee with toast, tomatoes and olive oil) we decided not to take the risk, paid 106 euros for the two fines and left the bank heads spinning.
On one hand this seeming bureaucracy could drive you crazy, but on the other hand – it’s why we aren’t living back home. Viva las diferencias!
It’s official, the house is now available to let and I’m busy getting all those odd jobs done that we never quite got around to. Like putting draught excluder on the windows and doors that previously allowed the gales to blow right in as we shivered inside muttering: We should put draught excluder on that window/door. Daft isn’t it – £6.95 in B & Q and we’re snug as bugs. The only thing is we do get a bit of a shock when we open a door and realise it is actually still blowing that gale outside, we just didn’t notice it!!!
Enough about draught excluder. The To Let board has just gone up outside the house and I feel quite strange looking out at it – there’s something slightly vulnerable about being inside a house that’s advertising the fact that you’re going. Anyway, we’ve had an enquiry from a family relocating from Austria which I’d love – there’s something really appealing about a family having an adventure here as ex pats while we’re in Vietnam doing the same. However, sentimental old fool that I am – a rental’s a rental and I won’t insist that the house goes to ‘someone that I like’ 🙂
Christmas was wonderful and we had plenty of time with all the kids which was great – they seem to think that they must spend lots of time with us because we’ll soon be gone. They do know we’re back on 16th June don’t they?! Ah well, I’m not complaining, it’s been ace.
This week has been remarkably stressful because I ‘phoned Singapore Airlines, just to confirm the arrangements for Sally and was told that they don’t take pets from the UK. Panic, panic, deep breaths, scream. Not to be deterred I emailed them and asked the same thing, only to have a lovely man call me to say yes it can all be done, to explain the process and get her booked in. Maybe I’m old fashioned but I always like to speak to someone first and really dislike/distrust online booking forms. This incident reminds me though how important it is to do both – but make sure you’re dealing with someone who does actually know/have the ability to help you. Avoid call centres at all cost!!!
In addition to clearing the house I’m busily arranging to meet family and friends to say goodbye – only 6 weeks really to do it all and we’re going to Vejer for a week in the middle of it all so plenty to keep me busy.