The less fun part of Spain

If you look at a tourist brochure about Spain, you will likely be bombarded with clichéd images of tapas, sangria, flamenco, and siestas.

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Whilst that’s all well and good, another rather distinctive part of the Spanish culture, which is noticeably absent from any tourist material, is the frustrating amount of bureaucracy.

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On Friday, I had to go to the Foreigners’ Office to apply for my identity card. Although I already have a visa, this is not enough, and so when you arrive, you have to go through the ID card process as well.

There is only one Foreigners’ Office in Madrid, so it took 2 weeks for me to get an appointment. In the meantime, I prepared all my documentation, following the rather unclear instructions on the website, which seemed to say different things on different pages.

At 11a.m., I headed off to the office, which is in Aluche, a pretty ordinary suburb 45 minutes from the city centre. Things went awry immediately. First, I got lost on the way, because they don’t have any signs. This meant I was 10 minutes late, but I needn’t have worried, as I had to queue for over an hour in the scorching sun to get to the door.

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When I finally got in, and went to pay, the man “helping” me explained that the website was out of date, and I couldn’t pay in cash any longer. “You need to go to the bank” he said. “It’s near the metro. Come back when you’ve paid.”

But I needed to fill in a special form first, to hand to the bank teller. Did they have this form in the Foreigners’ Office? Ha ha ha! Of course not! Instead, I had to get it printed myself…

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I then spent 45 minutes wandering around Aluche, in the 30 degree heat, trying to find a printing shop. I went to 5 shops and asked, and got told no, they didn’t have a printer, and no, they didn’t know where I could find one. Eventually, a woman with a screen printing business took pity on me, and printed up the form. Success!

Then I had to go to the bank, with my completed form, and pay. But I only had 15 minutes to do so, as the banks close at 2pm. Nevermind, the transaction wouldn’t take long, so I’d be fine. Wrong again! When I reached the front of the queue, the teller told me that they only accept cash between the hours of 8:30am-10:30am.

I would have to come back on Monday.

At this stage, I was so angry and ashamed that I burst into tears.

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The teller was horrified, and so he took me to the ATM, and showed me how I could pay there. The poor man. I don’t think he’d ever had to deal with a crying client.

Very abashed, but with my receipt for payment in hand, back I went to the Foreigners’ Office

Which was shut for lunch. Until 3pm.

NOOOOOOOOO!!!!

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Thankfully, I got a seat in the shade, and was first in line. I spent the next 45 minutes in the role of Official Question Answerer, telling everyone who asked that yes, the office was currently closed, yes, the staff were at lunch, and that it would be re-opening at 3pm.

This time, I got everything sorted, but I have to go back to the office to collect my card in a few weeks.

I am already dreading it.

People I’ve met

Today was an absolutely horrible day, with almost 5 hours of my life wasted at the Foreigners’ Office in some godforsaken backwood of Madrid. But I’ll leave a full description of what transpired for another occasion, as I don’t have the fortitude to give a blow-by-blow account of my bureaucratic nightmare…

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So today, I have decided to write about something more positive- the people who I’ve met since I’ve arrived. One of my biggest worries in moving to Spain was that I would be very lonely, and miss my friends and family incredibly. And I do.

But I have also met some very kind people since I’ve been here, so I thought I would write a list 🙂 (in order of meeting).

  1. Maria

I met Maria on a conversation exchange site. She’s in her early 30s, and has her PhD in the history of law, with a special interest in the freedom of the press in Spain. She is really smart, friendly, and outgoing, and loves to walk! We went on a stroll through the Retiro Park and the centre of Madrid, which was heaps of fun.

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2. Kerly

I met Kerly on the same conversation exchange site. She’s 34, and originally from Ecuador. She lived in Sligo, Ireland, and learnt English there. Kerly is another lovely person, with a great sense of style, and a really warm personality. We went for dinner at a fantastic restaurant in the San Anton Market, then to a lookout in the centre of Madrid.

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3. Anita and Cristian

Anita is Venezuelan, Cristian Chilean, and I was introduced to them by a mutual friend. They are in their 30s, and live in a suburb a bit outside Madrid. They took me to the bull running festivities in their village, then to tapas, and we spoke Spanish the whole day, which was a real challenge for me!

4. Oscar

I met Oscar through the conversation exchange site. He’s in his early 30s, and wants to learn English to improve his job prospects. We went to a bar where you could buy 5 beers for 4 Euros, because Oscar likes to drink beer. A lot. After we met, he then went to have more beers. Still, he was good company!

5. Aina

I met Aina through the conversation exchange site, too. She is 23, and from Malaysia, and although she speaks perfect English, she contacted me because she was very lonely when she first came to Madrid, and she wanted to offer her friendship. I thought this was a really kind gesture. Aina is doing an internship in software engineering as part of her degree. We went to a Coeliac bakery, and had coffee and cakes 🙂

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6. Blanca, Maria, and Brett

I was introduced to Blanca by a mutual friend, Juan Carlos, who met her in Colombia. She is a film critic, which is a pretty amazing job. I went to her house for a delicious lunch, which was cooked by her friend, Brett. He is Australian, and a professional chef. I also met Blanca’s colleague, Maria, who is a voice actor, her mum, Mathilde, and her cat, Ines.

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7. Jan

I met Jan on the conversation site (seriously, this is the place to go to meet people!). He is (I’m guessing) in his late 30s, and originally from a small town near the Basque Country. He moved to Madrid two weeks ago to take up a new job as a chef instructor at a college in the south of the city, and joined the conversation site to try and meet other people who are new in town. He has a really sharp and cynical sense of humour, and a good line in self-deprecation.

8. Carlos

Again, a person I met on the conversation site. Carlos is 50, and has recently been appointed sales director of a large company, which wants him to improve his spoken English so he can better interact with global business partners. Carlos is married, with three children, and his wife is a yoga instructor. He is very charming, and I can imagine he would be an excellent salesperson. We went to the top of El Corte Ingles, in Callao, which has a great view over the city. cafeteria-del-corte-ingles

9. Ulysses

Ulysses is the doorman or concierge of my apartment building, and he is just lovely. I’m going to write a special post about him one day. He is 34, and originally from The Philippines. I’m not entirely sure what he does all day, but whenever I see him, he is always happy and friendly and says hello. Today was the first time I had the chance to talk to him properly, and he was very kind and encouraging. He’s a good person.

Making this list has actually made me feel A LOT better about the day. Although I’m not sure if the people I’ve met will become good friends (I hope they do!), I’ve found it encouraging to remember that I have not been alone 🙂

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The flamenco class

When I came to Spain, one of the things I was determined to do was to go to flamenco classes.

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Before I left Australia, my teacher recommended a school in Madrid called Casa Patas. Here’s their website. She also suggested that I join the lowest level class possible, to save my sanity (and to prevent making an absolute fool of myself, I’m guessing).

So, I sent them an email, and they replied, saying there were a few vacancies in the Thursday night beginner class. Yay!

The only problem was, I had left my shoes and skirt in Australia (despite the fact that my two bags were overpacked, I have still discovered that I left a whole lot of useful things at home), which necessitated a trip to one of the many flamenco dance stores to purchase some replacements yesterday. An hour later, and considerably poorer, I found myself the proud owner of a pair of bright red shoes (the only ones in my size- why are my feet so big?!) and a fishtail skirt, which the woman in the shop assured me was the latest fashion (although I do get the feeling that she may have just being trying to make a better sale).

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My pretty shoes

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My skirt is like this. I don’t look like this.

This afternoon, at 5:15p.m., flamenco attire at the ready, I headed to Casa Patas, and, in garbled Spanish, managed to explain that I wanted to attend a casual class. The only problem was, the receptionist didn’t tell me where the class actually was. So, I wandered around, peering into rooms, with no success. Eventually, I stumbled upon an electrician, fixing the lights, who took me back to the counter, and asked the receptionist where to go. The receptionist was very cross, which was a bit unfair, as it was her who hadn’t given good instructions in the first place! “She doesn’t speak any Spanish,” she growled at the electrician, then, turning to me, snapped “Follow him. He’s the teacher”, as she gestured at a man quickly walking past.

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This was the teacher. His name is José Antonio Jurado.

My quarry headed off, and, hot on his heels, I followed him. The only problem was, he wasn’t going to the class- he was going to the men’s toilet.

This left me loitering in a very unsavoury way outside, waiting for him to re-emerge.

At this stage, I was almost tempted to go home, but, well, being so stingy, and having paid my 16 Euros, that wasn’t going to happen. My humiliation has no price.

The before-class experience had been so awkward that the class itself was surprisingly uneventful. There were only 4 other students, two women my age, a girl of about 8, and a guy, and we were all about the same standard (pretty bad, in other words). And, by some sort of weird twist of fate, I was actually OVER-dressed- the other women were wearing leggings and T-shirts, the man and the teacher were both in trackpants, and I was the only one in flamenco gear.

For the first 45 minutes of the lesson, we did footwork and armwork, with the teacher somehow managing to:

  • stamp his feet;
  • move his arms;
  • click the fingers on his right hand;
  • count the beat aloud; and
  • watch us, all at the same time.

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The teacher again.

Given my total lack of co-ordination, I was very impressed by this.

For the last 15 minutes, he made up a little routine, and the guitarist for the advanced class (who had arrived a bit early) accompanied us, which was really nice.

I think I will go back again next week, although I don’t have any delusions about ever being able to dance like this:

My first day of teaching…

So, after the last two days of sitting around and not doing much, today I was let loose on three classes of unfortunate Spanish children.

My first class was with group 5B, who were 10 or 11 years old. Their teacher, Mary Paz, is known for being very strict, and demanding good behaviour.

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When I arrived, she made me practice my “dog face” and “growl”, which I am meant to use when the children are being naughty. She then made each of the children come up individually, introduce themselves, ask me my name, say “It’s very nice to meet you”, shake my hand, and then ask me a question of their own. The most popular questions:

  1. “How old are you?” (Mary Paz told me not to answer, as “It’s very rude to ask that!”),
  2. “Do you like football?”, and
  3. “What do you like to do?”

I then had to quiz the kids on their science homework, which was REALLY hard! I mean, they were learning about chlorophyll and cytoplasm and things like that, which seemed pretty advanced.

The second class was 4B, who were 9 years old, and who definitely didn’t have the motivation (or should that be fear?) that Mary Paz’s class had. I had to stand up the front, talk about my country, and then let the children quiz me. The most popular questions:

  1. “How old are you?” (By now, my self-esteem was plummeting…)
  2. “Do you have a pet kangaroo?”, and
  3. “What do people eat in Australia?”Image result for Pet kangaroo

I liked the final class the best because they were SO cute. They were class 1C, and were only 5 years old. They were so, so sweet, and their teacher, Ally, was fantastic. The children spent most of the time speaking in Spanish, rather than English, and when they did that, Ally would tap them on the shoulder with a colourful “English stick”, and make them say it again. Midway through the class, Robby the Rabbit appeared, much to the children’s delight. Robby is a hand-puppet, but the kids seemed to think that he was a real rabbit, and kept yelling at him to be naughty (noticing a theme here?). The most popular questions:

  1. “How old are you?” (When I asked them to guess, one said 16, which was very nice, whilst another said 80, which wasn’t so great!)
  2. “Did you travel to Spain in a rocket?”, and
  3. “Do you speak Spanish?” (I had to lie and say no).

What it’s meant to be like

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What it’s actually like

I was totally exhausted after those 2.5 hours, so I don’t know how I’m going to survive a full day of teaching, with 6 different groups, tomorrow…