Welcome everyone Sandra in Spain - FlamencoI’m Sandra Piddock, and I’m a freelance writer, dividing my time between Spain and the UK. I’ll write about anything that interests and/or challenges me, and I like to focus on the lighter side of life whenever possible.. Read more
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Laughs With The Language

Learning any new language is a challenge, and Spanish is no different. In my journey to ‘okay, but not fluent,’ I’ve made mistakes some of which are just too hilarious not to share. And so have my friends – although in their cases, names are changed to spare blushes. Enjoy, and have fun learning Spanish. You live here after all, so it would be rude not to!

Speaking three languages – all at once!

Camping can be a bit complicated if you speak more than one language!

Camping can be a bit complicated if you speak more than one language!

One of my personal hobby horses if you go to live in another country – or even go there regularly on holiday – is that you should at least make a stab at learning the language. Even if you get no further than the essentials, have a go, because the locals will respect you for it. I’ve been so diligent at taking my own advice that I can order beer, wine and vodka – the essentials – in a number of languages, as well as saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’

I seem to have an aptitude for languages – unlike Tony, who has been learning French for at least 25 years and still can’t get past beer, wine, please and thank you. Even then, his pronunciation is so – shall we say creative – that even I can’t understand him, and I’m more or less fluent in French. The Spanish is still a work in progress, but I’ve probably reached the intermediate stage. Tony’s Spanish is excellent – he has ‘La cuenta, por favor’ off to a tee, so he takes care of all the bills. He doesn’t really need any more Spanish as long as I’m with him, does he, boys and girls?

With my command of French and Spanish, you’d think travelling through the two countries to visit the friends and family in England would be a doddle, wouldn’t you? And mostly it is. However, I’m the wrong side of 60, and after a long day’s drive – 400 – 500 miles is doable on the roads in Spain and France – I can get a bit confused.com. This happened to me yesterday, on our way back home to Algorfa.

After driving 300 miles in the heat, I was really pleased to find a camping ground just 5 minutes off our route. When you’re driving 1,100 miles, the last thing you want to do is rack up another 10 – 20 miles finding somewhere to stay for the night. The camping ground – Camping Les Jardins de L’Adour, in Saint Vincent de Paul, just outside Dax, in the Atlantique region – looked really peaceful and welcoming. And although it had a swimming pool, library, bar and other facilities, it was just €10.50 a night, including electric. Unlike some sites, we didn’t have to pay extra for Paddy either, and they even supplied free poop bags, les chiens for the use of. We decided to stay two nights and chill out before we tackled the final 500 miles.

I must have been more tired than I thought I was, because after the usual ‘Bonjours’ – it was still daylight, so that worked – I got a teensy weensy bit mixed up. As I said, I’m pretty fluent in French – so much so that I actually think in French when I’m in France and about to speak to French people. What was in my head was, ‘I’d like a pitch for two people and a dog for two nights, please,’ and I had all the French words to say that, in exactly the right order. However, what actually came out of my mouth was, ‘Je voudrai une emplacement for two people y un chien por dos noches, please.’

The French site manager – who spoke about 5 languages fluently, including English and Spanish – didn’t know whether to be amused or amazed. Being French, he just shrugged and filled out the receipt. I, on the other hand, wished the ground would open up and swallow me. Sometimes I wonder whether speaking more than one language is such a good thing after all. Or is that just me?

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Big chickens, anyone?

Enjoying lunch with Samantha Biddles -chicken was not on the menu!

Enjoying lunch with Samantha Biddles -chicken was not on the menu!

I love it when someone makes an even bigger cock up with Spanish than I ever did, even if it goes back a few years. And yes, my friends, there are worse things to say than ‘Quiero burro con mi pan’ (‘I want a donkey with my bread’ – Why can’t the Spanish say butter, or buerre like the French? Why does it have to be mantequilla to confuse the living daylights out of everyone?) Then of course, there was the infamous case of the ‘cojones rojos.’ (‘Red testicles.’ – I actually wanted red cushions, but they confused me by changing just one letter. After the stallholder stopped laughing, he graciously informed me that cushions was ‘cojines’ in Spanish.) But enough of my troubles. Today, loyal readers, I bring you a linguistic cock up of truly gigantic proportions.

Picture the scene – it’s 1999, and a young blonde Yorkshire lass has just moved into Algorfa. She’s not the only gay in the village – having a husband and three children in tow – but she is the only English madre in the village, and she is touchingly determined to learn to speak Spanish as soon as possible. She puts Post It notes everywhere, and works out her shopping list before heading to Antonio’s carniceria, so that she’s word perfect when she steps through the door.

Back then, there weren’t many local restaurants to choose from, unless you headed for the bright lights of Quesada, so every Friday, she would sashay into the carniceria and ask for ‘Dos pollas grandes, por favor.’ Antonio was a bit bemused at first, and not just because he didn’t often get asked for whole chickens – usually the madres of Algorfa bought everything except the cluck – neck, feet, innards, carcase, chopped up bits for paella or cocido – but they didn’t get it in one piece. Still, being the obliging kind of guy he was, he served her with a big smile, and two even bigger chickens every Friday.

After a few weeks, our naturaly gregarious Yorkshire lass had made quite a few friends, and one of them offered to accompany her on the regular Friday trip to the carniceria. And collapsed as she uttered those immortal words, ‘Dos pollas grandes, por favor.’  Those of a sensitive disposition may wish to avert their eyes now, because what our heroine had been asking for – and was very fortunate not to get, or unfortunate, depending on your point of view – was two large male appendages. And we’re not talking arms and legs here, boys and girls.

Once again, there was proof of the veracity of that old adage, ‘What a difference a letter makes.’  Because, as all good students of Spanish know, and our heroine found out the hard way – pun very much intended – ‘chicken’ in Spanish is ‘pollo.’ And I can’t help feeling a little smug, because asking for two – well, you know – is a much bigger cock up – or even two – than asking for red testicles, don’t you think? So, who is our unfortunate heroine? My lips are sealed, because I promised my friend Samantha Biddles her secret would be safe with me.

Starvation raciones!

A while back, some friends of ours were out and about with visitors from England, and they decided to make a pit stop for some tapas. It was the tail end of lunch time, at one of the popular tapas bars, so supplies were running low. First of all, they ordered tortilla, only to be told ‘Lo siento, no tenemos tortilla.’ So they tried patatas bravas, and got the same response – ‘Lo siento, no tenemos patatas bravas.’ And so it continued, through albondigas, magra and mejillones. (Or meatballs, pork stew and mussels).

Then somebody had the bright idea to ask for croquetas de jamon, and bingo – there were indeed croquetas still available. The waiter asked how many they wanted and our friend Alex asked for ‘Dos raciones,’ showing off his command of Spanish and his experience of tapas ordering in one fell swoop – or so he thought. The waiter queried his choice a couple of times, and when Alex insisted, he went away, shaking his head.

The other members of the party – who shall remain anonymous to spare their blushes – asked what the problem was. Alex explained that helpings of tapas were usually huge, and if he’d ordered four servings, they would have ended up with a mountain of croquetas de jamon. Happy with that explanation, they sat back to wait. After a while, out came a plate, with two croquetas de jamon, tastefully garnished with a sprig of parsley. They all had a good laugh, then tossed a coin to see who would get to eat the croquetas.

As they were relating this tale of woe to us, I took great delight in explaining that, while most tapas are indeed served up in generous raciones, croquetas are always ordered singly. What Alex had ordered turned out to be starvation raciones – and yes, the pun is  intended!

New cushions for Christmas? Maybe not!

Red cushions - who would think they could cause such hilarity?

Red cushions – who would think they could cause such hilarity?

Very often, people decide to buy something new for the home at Christmas. Sometimes it’s a new sofa or carpet, or it may just be something small but integral to the room, to give the place a mini makeover for the festivities.

A couple of years ago, my friend – who shall remain anonymous to spare her blushes – decided she would buy some new cushions for Christmas. As we were going to Lemon Tree Road Market on the Sunday before the Big Day, we decided that was a good place to start.

Like all good expats, my friend is learning Spanish, and she’s doing quite well with it now, but it took her a  while to get to grips with the basics. One trick she used if she was going for an appointment, or to buy something specific, was to work out or look up what she wanted to say, write it down on a post-it note and practice so she was pretty much word perfect. And this is what she did when we went to buy the cushions.

Her preferred phraseology was ‘Tienes cuatro cojines rojos, por favor?’ (‘Do you have 4 red cushions, please?) By the time we’d driven from Algorfa to the market, I was heartily sick of hearing it, and even asked her to change the colour, or change the number of cushions to give me a break. She looked a little hurt, and pointed out that not everyone had a natural flair for Spanish. That made me feel a bit guilty, so I silently resolved to be a more supportive friend in future.

However, when I tried to help her out at the soft furnishings stall, she obviously misread my motives and thought my offer of help was a further aspersion cast on her linguistic capabilities. In a fit of pique, she told me to leave her alone, because she was perfectly capable of buying four cushions without my help, for goodness’ sake. Well, she didn’t actually say ‘goodness’ – none of my friends do, come to think of it – but you get the drift.

I blame myself for what happened next. Normally, my friend would sneak another peak at the post-it note, just for reassurance, but she wasn’t going to do that after telling me she was fine with buying the cushions, was she? So, she marched up to the stall, and after a friendly ‘Hola,’ she made here request. ‘Tienes cuatro cojones rojos, por favor?’

She seemed genuinely taken aback when everyone within hearing distance – including me – fell about laughing. The stallholder was beside himself, because she’d just asked him if he had four red testicles! In her confusion, she’d found out the hard way that one vital letter means the difference between a nicely furnished home and a very strange focal point.

Needless to say, we went home without the cushions. A couple of days later, she bought them in Ikea in Murcia, where she could just pick up what she wanted without having to say anything at all. It’s safer that way – but boring, don’t you think?

Hungry? I could eat a horse – or a donkey!

Donkeys are everywhere in Spain - but not often in restaurants!

Donkeys are everywhere in Spain – but not often in restaurants!

These days, my Spanish is pretty good. Not fluent, but I can shop in the village without needing a word of English, and I can pass the time of day with the locals, and sit and read the Spanish papers as I enjoy a glass of wine in Plaza Espana. However, it was not ever thus. When we first arrived, I had taught myself enough to just about get by, so I felt quite confident about going to an ‘abuelo’ restaurant where nobody spoke a word of English.

It all started off well. I’d made good use of Jane Cronin’s Spanish word lists, so I was confident there would be no nasty surprises placed in front of us. However, it went downhill when the bread and ali oli came out. Tony’s a bit of a traditionalist, and he wanted butter with his bread. I did try to explain that the Spanish don’t really do butter with their bread, but he wasn’t having any of it. So I called over the camarero – and then discovered I couldn’t remember the Spanish word for ‘butter.’

I’ve got a pretty logical mind when I haven’t been too enthusiastic with the cava and vodka, so I tried to reason it out. A lot of Spanish words are very similar to French words, except where the French words end in ‘e,’ the Spanish equivalent often ends in ‘o.’ So, remembering that the French word for butter was ‘buerre,’ it seemed a natural progression to remove the ‘e,’ add the ‘o’ and tell the camarero that ‘Mi marido quiere burro con su pan, por favor.’

The camarero looked bemused, and I naturally assumed he was astounded that Tony could be so ignorant as to ask for butter with his bread in a Spanish restaurant. He shook his head, went off to the tapas bar, and spoke rapidly in Spanish to a couple of customers who were obviously English. Then I heard loud laughter, and told Tony he’d shown me up rotten by asking for butter. The way they were laughing , you’d have thought he’d asked for something really outlandish.

The English guy came across to our table, still laughing, and that was when I wished the ground would open up and swallow me from view, because it wasn’t Tony who had scandalised the locals on our first foray into village life. Never before in the family’s 30 years of feeding the locals had they been asked for donkey with bread. And that, dear reader, was exactly what I had requested. My new English friend enlightened me regarding my mistake, while the camarero went off to the kitchen to fetch Tony’s mantequilla, which is what I should have asked for in the first place. Cue more hysterical laughter as he related the tale to madre and padre.

Six years down the line, we still use that restaurant – it’s become a favourite, because the food is always excelllent and the atmosphere is friendly. And almost every time we go in, our camarero sticks his head into the kitchen and calls ‘Prepare el burro para la senora.’ (Prepare the donkey for the lady). I’m never going to live it down, but at least it got us noticed in the village!

Photo credit: Pixabay.com


What a funny foca!

A foca - but hopefully not a lazy one!

A foca – but hopefully not a lazy one!

I am rather evangelical in my belief that if you move to Spain, or spend any amount of time here, you really need to learn the language. Before we moved here, I started to teach myself and I did okay – I’m a pretty good teacher, and it was one-to-one after all. However, once I could ‘get by,’ other things got in the way. Most people would be happy with that, and my first lesson to myself involved asking for wine, cava, vodka and paella, so I at least had a handle on the essential stuff.  However, I really wanted to banter with the locals at the bar, so I joined a local Spanish class.

The tutor, Alan, is actually an English guy from Hull, but you’d never realise. His knowledge of the Spanish language and culture, and his pronunciation is spot on. He’s  a great teacher, and a seriously funny guy. We seem to spend a lot of time laughing at him or with him, which eases the pain associated with irregular verbs, double negatives and all the other quirks of the Spanish language.

One element of our weekly homework is a translation which is designed to use of the vocabulary and grammar we’ve picked up. It’s quirky to say the least,and it bears little relation to life in Spain – or anywhere else, for that matter. One particular masterpiece dealt with dogs and cows playing chess, before running through the streets with lions and hungry seals. Yes, really! The guy could be a fantasy writer, or a Daily Mail journalist, with an imagination like that.

Before school is out for the day, Alan always runs through the translation to highlight any new or forgotten vocabulary in there. Thus he came to remind us that the Spanish word for seal is ‘la foca.’ Of course, that resulted in sniggers and giggles from a class behaving more like naughty school kids than the expat pensioners most of us are. Going with the prevalent mood, as the best performers always do, Alan delivered the devastating punchline: ‘And if one of the seals is lying on the rocks sunbathing, while the rest of the colony is catching fish for dinner, you could even say he’s a lazy foca!’

Don’t you just love it when Spanish and English meet like that?

Image credit: Pixabay.com

Being detained can be so entertaining!

Patatas Bravas for lunch!

Patatas Bravas for lunch!

If you are wondering about the title of this post, all will soon be clear. I should explain that I firmly believe that if you live in another country, or even spend a lot of time there, you should learn the language. So when we bought our property in Spain seven years ago, I started to teach myself Spanish.

By the time we moved here, I could order most food and all the drinks I like in Spanish, as well as being able to exchange a couple of sentences about the weather. Then I got a bit complacent and stagnated a bit, so I started to attend regular lessons, and my Spanish got to the point where I could make a fair bit of small talk, as well as shopping in specialist shops and even helping out some of our neighbours with simple translations.

Then I started to get busier and busier with the writing, so I had to stop the lessons, but I still wanted to keep up with the Spanish practice. When a Spanish guy liked one of my Facebook shares about some of the problems people had with the language, he contacted me and asked if we could practice our language skills via Facebook messages. The routine is that he messages me in English, I reply in Spanish, and we correct each other’s mistakes as we go. A sort of virtual intercambio, if you like.

It’s been working really well, and we’ve had some very interesting chats. Juan is impressed with my Spanish cooking skills, and he says if ever Tony and I get fed up with one another, I can always move to Malaga! And I’m really impressed with his level of English. Most of the mistakes happen at my end, but yesterday was different.

We were expecting friends for lunch, and I was doing tapas, so I was telling Juan what I was preparing. He was impressed with the menu – tortilla, meatballs, crab salad, patatas bravas, Iberico ham and cheese and a selection of olives and banderillas, which are skewers threaded with pickled gherkins, olives, cocktail onions and chilli peppers. He asked if I cooked my tortilla with onion, and was delighted when I said tortilla without onion is an abomination. Apparently that proves I really am a Spanish cook, and not just messing around with it.

Always considerate, he messaged. ‘I won’t entertain you any longer, as you have a lot to do.’ After I’d stopped laughing, and congratulating myself that for once it wasn’t me mutilating the language, I said ‘I think you meant detain honey, but your mistake was very entertaining!’

So now Juan knows the difference between detaining and entertaining, and I got a blog post out of the deal. Seems like a fair exchange to me – what do you think?