Friday, November 11, 2011

The Language Barrier

I have been in Spain now for 2 months. Up until this point, I haven’t had too much trouble communicating with anyone in Spain. I haven’t needed anything so badly that I couldn’t ask for it or signal or make sounds or show in some other way what I needed. However, today is a different story.

My landlady is a … special lady. Yes, we’ll call her special because that is politically correct. She’s not short-bus special, no, no. She’s just special.

First off, when I wanted to come see the place, we arranged a time through my friend because he speaks fluent Spanish and I couldn’t understand this woman for the life of me. Please understand, I had already emailed this person with my name, and was now calling with my name. When we came to see the place, everything seemed normal, the room was clean, the bathroom looked decent (must have been that the toilet seat was down). The biggest selling point is that the place is about 10 minutes walk down the road from my very favourite (straight) boys in Spain. The only thing that struck me as odd when I came to see the place, was that she asked me my name. Okay, whatever.

I came to move into the place on Saturday, almost a week ago. The woman told me, in Spanish, that she would have keys for me on Monday. Needless to say, I didn’t leave all of my stuff there, and returned on Monday with the rest of my belongings to collect my key. Oh yes, she also asked me my name again. Twice. And then she wrote it down.

Now, I’ve been living here a few days and have noticed that this woman appears to like to conserve water. I say that because it appears that she is inconsistent when it comes to flushing the toilet. (I am not). It also appears that the water used to clean the floors has not been changed in a little while. Ew. (I now wear slippers that she lent me, with socks, everywhere in my apartment).

The biggest issue I am having at the moment though, and this may sound strange until I explain it, is that there is no internet. Yes, even more so than the gross bathroom (and I won’t even talk about the state of the kitchen the other day; I don’t cook here, I have PB and bread in my room and I eat elsewhere) I cannot stand that there is no internet. I specifically had my friend ask this woman if the 250 euros/ month included internet and she said “Si.”

Now, you may be wondering, as am I, what happened to the internet if she was supposed to have it. This is where the language barrier comes in. Until now, we’ve had short conversations, during which she has insisted that everything is “cerca”. Solo diez metro, cerca, cerca. La biblioteca, cerca, la picina, cerca. Great. Everything is close. (She was also trying to tell me to get a job as an admin assistant somewhere down the street that is “cerca” and didn’t understand that not having papers, means you can’t actually work for a government regulated office as an administrative assistant.).

So the other day, I asked her for the “informacion para la internet, por favour”. She said something in Spanish that I understood as her having to get the code from someone and she would get it soon. … Okay. But I asked before I even lived here, wouldn’t you have thought that maybe you should have already had this? One more day of going to the school to use their internet on their crappy slow computers because my laptop doesn’t get a good enough signal from their internet to actually use it. And one more day of not being able to skype my family because the school computers don’t have webcams.

So today she says to me that the library (which is “cerca, cerca”) has free internet. Everyone uses it. … Pardon. Why are you telling me that? Don’t you have the internet? So I ask her “Pero, no internet here?” “La biblioteca esta cerca, cerca. Internet gratis. Todos gratis.” “Pero, no internet HERE?” (at this point I am signalling the apartment, pointing at the room, trying not to raise my voice.) She said something that I understood as this isn’t her apartment and the building is getting internet. “Dos a tres semanes”. “Perdon? Semanes? Weeks? 2-3 WEEKS?” This she did not understand, but instead repeated that it isn’t her apartment. “Pero, no internet here, por dos a tres SEMANES?” “Si, la biblioteca cerca. Todos internet.”

Have you ever been so frustrated with a person that all you can do is stand there and stare at them because you know if you open your mouth, you’ll say things that would have gotten your mouth washed out with soap if you had ever even thought them as a child?  

So I stared at this woman for a moment, and she started going off again about how everything is cerca. Diez metro. Cerca.

I turned and walked into my room in the least rude way I could possibly do so. So now I sit here, writing a blog I cannot post because I do not have internet (but I could go to the library and post it!) trying to calm myself down so that I don’t go out there and yell things at this woman in a language she doesn’t understand. I can’t even look up how to say what I want to say (which is that I want money back if there is no internet) because I don’t have an internet connection with which to look up how to say it.

Needless to say, I’m in need of a run today. A nice long one.


Dear family,

I miss you. I’ll skype again from my friend’s house when I can.



Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Missing People

Have you ever been somewhere random, like in another town or country, or on vacation somewhere and seen someone you know? Or thought you saw someone you know? Or saw someone that for a split second looked like someone from back home?

I’ve been seeing people from the minute I stepped off the plane that look like people from back home. It’s getting a little irritating. For that split second that you’re standing there, on the street or in the market, you see that person our of the corner of your eye and you think “Oh my God, it’s …” And then the second is over and you realize that the person is too tall to be so-and-so or too plump to be him or the hair is too big to be her (she would never let it get out of control like that).

These tiny moments throughout your days, weeks, and months start to build up when you’re away. I’ve been seeing people for months now, like I said, and it’s that tiny hope of home; someone you recognize; someone who knew you before you were here, that starts to eat at you. At first its just tiny bits of disappointment and you think: “Of course that’s not her, she wouldn’t be in Spain, and if she were, she would have called me!” or “He would never been in a dirt-bag bar like this, he’s way too classy for that” (that one is for Joe at CB, I swore I thought I saw you in a bar off La Rambla!)

It is never the overly familiar people that you think you see, it is always someone slightly removed or someone that is an acquaintance; someone you met at a dinner party, or worked with years ago but haven’t stayed in contact with. I think that almost makes it worse. Its not the people you hope to see. It’s never Jenn or Carrie or Eric or Kyle. It’s not your Aunt Chris or your cousin Ashley. It’s someone you could give or take. Not that you don’t care to see anyone, just that you would care more to see certain people over others. It’s never, never close family. Maybe a distant relative, like a great uncle John or great Aunt Erma (yes, I have a great Aunt Erma- and I wish she’d learn to race the food at Christmas).

These moments build up day by day and make you continuously realize that you’re not home. You’re not going to run into Debbie and Patricia from work, or watch a game with Chris and the guys. You’re not going to see Marcel walking through your other friend’s neighbourhood one day and run out of Shopper’s to stop him on the street and give him a big hug! You won’t drive over to your sister’s house and play with her kids and make cookies. Mom isn’t standing out on the back porch petting the cat, and dad isn’t coming home from work to BBQ some delicious steak for you.

These are the thoughts that have started to eat little happy moments of walking along the street and seeing someone you think you recognize. They start to nudge you into missing people you were hoping not to start missing because you have access to them through the wonderful thing called the Internet. (What did people used to do before email, skype, facebook, twitter, photobucket, BBM, Whatsapp etc etc etc?).

The reason I am thinking this way today is because I have been unable to skype with my family for over a week. It’s been a week and 3 days since I’ve talked to any member of my immediate family using my voice, and it's making me miss them even more. I am looking forward to getting internet connection soon and making up for lost time by chatting away with them. Tonight however, I will have to keep it short. I hope Mackenzie made cookies she can show me!