Search "Sundays in Spain"

Showing posts with label foreigners. Show all posts
Showing posts with label foreigners. Show all posts

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving in Spain

We have just finished an extra-large lunch of the leftovers from yesterday's traditional Thanksgiving dinner with three American (or American-connected) friends. It's hard to celebrate the fourth Thursday of November when you are the odd people out.  Spaniards, and Europeans in general, know that Americans celebrate Thanksgiving and eat turkey, but they don't know exactly when, they don't know anything about the real tradition of it, and they certainly don't stop life on a weekday in the fall for a huge foreign celebration. So since one of our American friends in Spain is a mother with kids in school (from approximately 9:00 to 1:00 and again from 4:00 to 7:00 each day), we have often celebrated our national holiday on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We have been to restaurants before, but this year I brought the "fixings" in my suitcase from the U.S.: pecans, canned pumpkin puree, and well-wrapped fresh cranberries. I do wonder whether the TSA ever inspected my cardboard canisters labeled dried plums and raisins well enough to know that substitutions had been made.

Turkey roaster filling the oven in my Spanish kitchen.
Finding a fresh turkey is not always easy. I remember one year that I did manage to order one ahead of time, sight unseen; when I picked it up at the market early in the week, it turned out to be almost 40 pounds(!) and I had a hard time storing it in my refrigerator for a few days and an even harder time getting it into my small oven to roast. This year I had to fall back on a frozen turkey crown from Iceland, where the turkeys for the Brits' traditional Christmas dinner are already selling like hotcakes. I was able to gauge the size somewhat better for our small gathering of five, and I was even more pleased when I got it home that it fit in the cast aluminum Wagner Ware turkey roaster that I had been storing on the top shelf of my kitchen cabinets for years, used seldom but with affection, though never before in my ownership for turkey. I had previously ascertained that the turkey roaster itself would fit in the oven. It did, barely, with no room for anything else to either side, front or back, above or below. When Thursday morning came and I started the food preparations, I was disappointed to discover that the two turkey legs (jamoncitos) that I had purchased to add a dark meat selection to the white meat of the turkey crown would not fit in the roster with the crown, so I did them first and then set the crown in a couple hours before my guests came.

We had a leisurely dinner, from spinach square appetizers contributed by one guest to a fantastic pumpkin pie with lattice crust from another guest, and then sat at the table for hours afterwards talking and doing our darnedest to finish the last inch or two out of some of the various liquor bottles that had accumulated on the bottom shelf of the liquor cart over the years. This was a farewell occasion to some of our best friends. We also had another farewell dinner at our house, on Thursday, with other long-time friends, English, who had humored me several times in the past few years by celebrating Thanksgiving with us. This year we agreed to bypass the traditions of Thanksgiving and have roasted pork tenderloin and seasonal vegetables. That was excellent and easy, but I did give in to purchasing a small turkey tenderloin when I spied it in the grocery store, and throwing it into the oven thirty minutes before the rest of dinner was done, and I offered a cranberry compote with custard for dessert, so there was some tradition on Thursday itself.

We played petanca with our usual group this past Tuesday afternoon, and then on Wednesday evening joined 40 or so other members of the Danish Friends Club of Torrevieja for a club dinner at a restaurant in the La Siesta area--a restaurant where we had eaten for our first meal out when we came to explore Torrevieja six years ago, now re-opened under new management. Most of the Danes had heard that we were here to ready our house for selling, and they stopped by to say goodbye and wish us well. Then on Friday I had a lovely visit with my Danish Spanish teacher, that is, the Danish woman who started out teaching me Spanish conversation by discussing books, but who has long since turned from formal teacher into a close friend and fellow reader.

It has been a week of celebratory dinners, and we have been giving thanks throughout for good friends with whom we have shared the joyful, trying, and rewarding experience of living several years in a foreign country.

Tomorrow I pack the turkey roaster to bring it back home to Ohio. As is the custom here, we are selling our house furnished, and in our case that includes cookware and basic dining service, because, frankly, it doesn't pay to ship it home. But not this piece, even though my 15-inch Wagner Ware Magnalite 4265 turkey roaster can be had on eBay for about $80 plus shipping (estimated at $20). My shipping will probably cost that--maybe a little less if you factor in all the small treasures I can fit inside the roaster when I pack it. But even if I were to buy another one, it wouldn't be the same. This roaster is from the town I grew up in, and the company where my father worked during my growing-up years. It is nearly as old as I am--maybe older. And it has cooked some wonderful meals for special friends in various locations throughout the years.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

What I'll Miss (Lo que voy a echar de menos)

Lo que voy a echar de menos (literally, I believe, "that which I would least throw out") was a Spanish expression that took me years to grasp, but I understand it now, and I am thinking about several things that I will miss during the months that I will be away from Spain.

Friends, of course, first of all. We have been in Spain for ten years and in the Torrevieja area of the Costa Blanca for five, and we have benefited from close association with several people with whom we have shared daily experiences and the adventure of living in a foreign country. In different ways, they have broadened our lives and helped us learn. We are grateful, and we will miss them.

Café con leche, both its rich taste and the ceremony of having a single cup of coffee, served in a china cup, almost anywhere and anytime. I remember once coming through Madrid's Barajas airport early in the morning from the U.S., and having to wait hours for a connecting flight to Alicante. As I sat in the semi-conscious stupor that follows an all-night transatlantic journey I heard a racket that I could not identify until all of a sudden I remembered: it was the sound of coffee cups being prepared and served. Café con leche in Spain is a far nicer experience than Starbucks anywhere.

The Sunday outdoor market, which we have just come from and where we usually go each Sunday morning to buy fruits, vegetables and nuts; to pick up copies of the free weekly foreign newspapers; to look at books and clothing and gadgets of ever-evolving description (this is where I first found a stylus for my iPad for just two euros; today I was tempted by a three-euro cava stopper that preserves the bubbles after opening and is liquid-tight to prevent spillage should the opened bottle land on its side); and, of course, to have a café con leche.

Hanging the laundry. I am aware that in many--perhaps most--parts of the U.S. it is forbidden by ordinance or custom to hang laundry outside to dry; the idea, I guess, is that it is unsightly--though it certainly is energy-efficient. I didn't hang laundry out when i was in the U.S. previously and I didn't hang it out when we lived in a second-floor apartment in Roquetas de Mar. In the two houses that we have lived in on the Costa Blanca, however, I have used the terrace for one of its primary purposes in Spain. I have learned the advantages and disadvantages of wooden and plastic clothespins, the value of hanging garments inside out and changing their orientation from time to time. More importantly, perhaps, I have adjusted to the light exercise of bending and stretching and the joy of using the hanging out and taking in of laundry as a welcome break in computer work or reading. Where we are moving to I will use a tumble dryer, as it is called here, much more often than the once-in-a-blue-moon that I use the one that sits gathering dust beside my washing machine here.

The six-hour time difference.  Before we moved to Spain we lived in the Eastern time zone of the U.S. We are going back to the Eastern time zone, although to its western extreme. It can be inconvenient to make phone calls to the U.S. when there are six hours of time difference between you and the person or office you are calling. We have also had to get used to watching the PBS Newshour broadcast the evening before in the following morning, and the like. But there are some advantages to the time difference, the major one for me being that I could be at my computer in the morning hours and have accomplished almost a full day's work by the time my Connecticut colleagues got to their desks. That gave me a "home court advantage" as well as the freedom to be even more flexible in my scheduling. Life is going to be different when I return to "real time."

Petanca. It is the Danish community in the Costa Blanca that introduced us to the game of petanca, and almost without exception we have played petanca once or twice a week during the time we have been here, if not with the Danes, on our own. There is a petanca association in the U.S. but so far we have not found much promise of a club close to where we will be. We are, however, thinking about places where we can draw a petanca field of our own. And we have determined that we can buy petanca balls--far too heavy to transport--at Brookstone.

The sun. The sun, and the light it brings, is one of the factors that brought us to Spain. We have never been "beach people" who sat in the sun for hours in the summertime, but we did live in New Hampshire and in Denmark, two places where there is far less sunshine than in Spain. We knew what long hours of darkness for days on end do to you psychologically, and we suspected--and have now experienced--what days of light do to you psychologically: they make you much happier, or at least more cheerful and content. What I didn't know was the damage that strong sun can do to your body; now that I have had a long bout with an inconvenient skin cancer and some eyesight damage, I am more cautious about walking outside during the daytime, and a bit of the fun of being in this climate is gone. Still, I can't blame Spain for any of my health problems, as genetics and long years of accumulated carelessness certainly played their part--though I do like to imagine that perhaps I wouldn't have wrinkles in some of the places that I do if I hadn't been here.

Spanish classes. I sorted through many of my Spanish class books and papers recently, which I have accumulated from attendance at five different formal language schools. I am taking a couple books to the U.S. and fully intend to continue studying the language--but I acknowledge that I have said that before. It's a poor language teacher who lets you study language in a vacuum, and I am pleased to say that only one of my schools--and I wasn't there long--failed to enhance language lessons with tons of information about the culture of this country and generous sharing of personal viewpoints. I will miss my teachers, as well as many of the other students.

The international community. In Roquetas we lived in the center of a Spanish town and had a piso in an all-Spanish apartment building. There was an urbanization on the outskirts of town--quite a large one with several hotels and vacation houses. This is where Spaniards from Madrid and the interior would come for holiday, as well as a fairly large number of British people. Here on the Costa Blanca, in contrast, I live in Europe primarily and only incidentally in Spain. Many of the towns and villages number more non-Spaniards than Spaniards in their official residence figures, and often the non-Spanish fail to register. A large majority of the international community are retirees--I call this the "Florida of Europe"--but with (officially) easy mobility from country to country within the European Union, a number of young and middle-aged people come to set up business and raise their children. Though the financial crisis has had a demoralizing effect, the international community remains vibrant, strong, and large. I expected to learn about Spain when I came to Spain, but I didn't expect to learn about England, Scotland, Ireland Wales, Belgium, the Netherlands, Russia, Norway, South Africa, and more. I have.

Finally, food. In addition to café con leche (the beverage and the ritual), there are a certain number of foods, that I will miss. As I think about these, I realize that most of them fall under the category of "convenience foods." Though I love to cook, I do not love to cook every day, and I am a great believer in having something appetizing and nutritious in the freezer for a quick dinner. Here's what I am going to have to find substitutes for:
  • Chicken Kiev: two frozen Kiev bundles; they take just 30 minutes in the oven; from Iceland, the British Overseas grocery.
  • Salmon: two frozen individual servings; even less time in the microwave; from Lidl and Consum, but cheaper in Aldi.
  • Little, round, frozen potato balls; 15-20 minutes in the oven; formerly from Mercadona but discontinued; I finally found a substitute at Iceland. I have also had these pommes noisettes in Denmark, but I have never seen them in the U.S.
  • Creamed spinach, frozen; four minutes in the microwave, and both the spinach and the "cream" tablets come in small individual balls so you can shake out just the number you need from the freezer bag; Mercadona.
  • Frozen chopped spinach without the cream; available anywhere  in small blocks or balls the size of dishwasher soap tablets so you can use just what you need instead of opening a 10-ounce box. I shake out a few to add to rice, soup, omelets, pasta sauces, or just about anything, including adding more spinach to the creamed spinach above.
  • Salteado de patata, or "Spanish biksemad" as we call it in our house. A bag of frozen diced potatoes, Spanish tortilla, ham bits, peas, and red pepper, that you sauté in olive oil for seven minutes, adding mushrooms or other vegetables if you feel like it, and poach an egg for the top. Mercadona.
  • Canned tuna in olive oil. I add this to our lunchtime green salad: no salad dressing necessary. Available in any grocery store in Spain. You can also get canned tuna in water or sunflower oil, but why?
  • Gazpacho. The classic cold red pepper-tomato soup from Andalusia, available only in the summer time, when you can buy it ready-made in the refrigerated section at most grocery stores. I'll have to use my recipes the rest of this season.
  • Snacks for when I wake up in the middle of the night. Dried garbanzo beans are my favorite savory; inexpensive and nutritious. The slightly sweet "biscuits," packaged singly, that are given out as an accompaniment in many coffee shops when ordering just a café con leche, are my favorite sweet. They are tiny and just enough to satisfy my craving.
And though I promised not to take food back with me on this trip, I admit that in my suitcase I have stashed sachets of saffron, a couple envelopes of dried asparagus and cream of nine vegetables soup, two small packages of vegetable and pumpkin bouillon cubes, some of the dried white fava beans for fabada, and a couple spice blends. 

People, atmosphere, activities, food. Although I will miss all these, with luck we will return early in 2015 and encounter them again.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

News of the Day

While out on a drive Friday morning, we stopped (no surprise) for a café con leche and media tostada, and I was reminded of one of the special qualities of Spanish cafe-bars: they have newspapers. They don't thread them onto sticks in a stand, as they do, or at least used to, in Vienna cafes and in the Massachusetts public library where I worked an eon ago. Rather, they leave each day's selection--two or three papers--scattered on one end of the bar. There they lie when none of the customers, or the proprietor or servers, or cafe regulars are reading them. Friday morning around noon (yes, that's still morning in Spain) when we happened in to the Toscana in Callosa de Segura near the indoor mercado de abastos, there were three newspapers at the close end of the bar. My companion picked up El País, the national paper that has an affiliation with The New York Times, but I was wanting more local news, so I picked up Información, the regional edition for Alicante. Leafing through while enjoying my coffee and toast, I focused on four articles.

A front-page teaser noted that nine immigrants had been killed as they tried to climb a wall into Ceuta, a small Spanish territory surrounded by Morocco in Northern Africa. The economy may be bad in Spain, but apparently it is worse in Morocco, and the papers and TV news frequently tell of  would-be immigrants--usually arriving by boat--getting caught trying to enter European Union jurisdictions through Spain. I had never heard of a group trying to storm a wall from Morocco, but apparently that is what happened this time, with tragic consequences. What could have gone so terribly wrong to justify the killing of nine individuals seeking better opportunities? El País apparently has a later press time than Información, because it had a more detailed story, and here is one in English.

The AVE, the high-speed train, that was inaugurated between Alicante and Madrid shortly before we left Spain last November, has apparently turned into a big success. The train takes two hours and 35 minutes, as opposed to one hour for the plane, but that doesn't account for terminal time, with security and check-in requirements, for air travel. Headlines announced that the AVE "is eating" the air competition: what had been ten daily flights between Alicante and Madrid will now shrink to just three. This concerns me, as I don't really want to have to transfer from Barrajas airport in the outskirts of Madrid to the inner-city train station at Atocha when I return to Spain from the U.S., early in the morning after an all-night, transatlantic flight--with luggage--as I did just two weeks ago. Nor do I want to sit around Barrajas airport for hours on end waiting for the next flight. What is really puzzling is that we have taken the normal train to and from Madrid several times, and it usually takes only a little over three hours.

Story three: There have been big demonstrations at the Coca-Cola plant in Alicante city, which, it was announced earlier this week, is one of four in Spain to be closed by the global beverage concern. The news on Friday was that Coke has said, once again, that there is no chance that it can reconsider and save the jobs of its workers. I read later in the day, in an English paper, that 111 families will be affected by shutting down the plant, which first started operations 50 years ago. What a sad 50th year anniversary observance!

Story four: Another confirmation of the increasing presence and financial influence of Russians on the Costa Blanca: a big meeting of Russian real estate agents in the Torrevieja area had taken place, and there are signs of them joining together to develop a commercial center in a coastal part of Torrevieja that is unfit for housing development. Yes, there are real estate agents that specialize in serving Russians, and more than a couple. I had previously written about the Russians coming to this area, and the trend is continuing and expanding. This year, for example, there are four young Russian women in my Spanish class, out of about 15 students.

That was the news of the day, Friday, February 7. All for the price of a coffee and tostada.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Getting Our Kicks

One of the most satisfying feelings that comes from living in the British community here in Spain is that they often prove that it's not just Americans who display certain less attractive qualities abroad. Chief among those is the seeming inability or unwillingness to learn foreign languages--It's not just those from the U.S. who have trouble with learning--or have given up trying to learn--Spanish. It's not only Americans who can be exuberant--or loud and boisterous--in public. And, I learned after our dinner at Route 66 in Benimar last night, it's not just Americans who value large helpings of food.

I didn't expect gourmet from a place that has a full-sized statue of Elvis out front. And I wasn't expecting that the restaurant owners and staff would have U.S. connections, either--and they didn't. But I was thrown into a pleasant aura of nostalgia immediately upon coming in and seeing the 1950s era diner decor, the obligatory photos of Marilyn and Elvis and other icons on the walls, the jukebox at the side, and the red, white and blue over all, including the overhead lamps. The menu was truly U.S. At least nine different burgers--I believe named for each of the states that Route 66 passes (or passed) through. Ribs by the whole or half rack. Buffalo wings. Dixie fried chicken breast. Chili. Two at our table selected chicken, another chose an order of ribs and wings, and I spent far too long trying to decide among the burgers--I finally settled for the Missouri burger, with cheese and mushrooms.

It's American in style, but it's not fast food, so we had plenty of time to start our bottle of wine while we waited. It became apparent pretty early on that one of us was unexpectedly celebrating an early birthday--that's what happens when a wrapped gift suddenly appears at your plate. And that occasioned  a complimentary bottle of chilled cava and four glasses, so as it turned out, we didn't get too far into that bottle of red wine right away.

In due course our food came, in the stereotypically huge portions that others in the world have obviously experienced and remember from their trips to the U.S. The "jacket potatoes" as the British call baked potatoes, were as large as my two fists. My American french fries filled half my plate, and my plate was larger than the laptop I am writing this on now. In addition to the potatoes and the entrees, we each had a serving of cole slaw and a red leaf lettuce salad, both of which were surprisingly fresh, attractive, and good tasting. The others had a piece of corn on the cob but I guess the mushrooms on my burger constituted my additional veg, and they were indeed huge. We all enjoyed the food, and we talked about doggie bags but did not actually ask for them. I managed to get through my hamburger, but left at least half the bun on the plate, together with 90% of the french fries that had arrived. And we all decided that the next time we come, we'll order one dinner for two people.

What was truly surprising, though, was how busy this restaurant was. My back was to most of the dining area, but judging by the noise level, there were lots of people there, and I saw servers carrying food upstairs. Our dining companions had made an advanced booking, which we thought was unnecessary but it seems it was advisable. When we left I could see that indeed, every table and every chair was taken. I cannot remember the last time I saw a completely full restaurant in Spain. Perhaps I never have.

This afternoon I've looked for a link, but Route 66, the restaurant, doesn't seem to have a web site of its own. There are lots of pictures on its Facebook page, and an incredible number of recommendations on Trip Advisor (that's where I really learned that the Brits liked the large servings). But it was on the Facebook page that I read that Route 66 is already completely booked for November 28. Thanksgiving Day.

The Brits in Spain

Some days I have to pinch myself to believe I am living in Spain. That's because it is all too easy to think I am living in England. Our neighborhood is 90% British, I would guess: mostly English, but with a few Irish, Scots, Welsh, and then Belgian, German, Scandinavian.  Most of the other urbanizations around us in the Torrevieja area have a similar configuration of nationalities, though the proportions change. I spoke with a Dane this week who told me that he was on the board of the neighborhood association, together with an English man, a Norwegian, a Swede, and, I think, a Finn. Most places, though, the Brits predominate.

This week I read some statistics about just how many Brits there are in Spain. The occasion was an interview with the new British ambassador in Madrid. He said there are some 800,000 British people who spend "all or part of the year" in Spain. There are 13 or 14 million who spend holidays here each year (and in a separate report, the Spanish government says that British tourists spent 1.46 billion euros in Spain on holiday in 2012). The ties between the two countries are well developed. Ambassador Simon Manley reported that some 400 Spanish companies are registered in the UK, "making Spain the sixth largest investor in Britain--worth some 40 billion" pounds sterling [2011 figures]. "British companies exported 9.7 billion euros of goods and services to Spain, the UK's eight largest export market." More and more Spaniards are working in the UK, too. I have a neighbor who works in England while his family lives, works, and attends school here--it's a three-hour commute when he comes home. Commuting is not all one-way: elsewhere I read of an English chap who has figured out that he can live in Barcelona and commute to England four days a week at less expense than maintaining a flat in London.

With all this good will and economic interdependence between the two nations, it was still quite a surprise to read the results of a recent poll on the status of Gibraltar, sponsored by the UK Daily Telegraph. The online poll was taken this past August, at a time when tensions between the UK and Spain were at one of the higher levels in the 300-year history of the controversial question of where Gibraltar belongs. The results showed 89.96% saying that Gibraltar should become part of Spain, with only 10.04% saying that it should remain a British Overseas Territory!

Since the results were announced, however, some investigative work by the Daily Telegraph's social media team has determined that 5,000 of the online votes in the poll originated from the Spanish Ministry of Defense…. When the team looked at the results by origin of voting, the numbers supported the more expected outcome: 71.02% of the British-origin votes favored keeping Gibraltar British, and 98.89% of Spanish-origin votes favored returning it to "the mainland." Voters from Gibraltar voted 99.79% in favor of remaining British. I don't think we should plan on consensus any time soon, but I expect that co-existence will continue.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Cultural Interchanges

Any of the thousands of European immigrants on Spain's Costa Blanca adjusts to the Spanish culture in greater or lesser degrees, but they all retain their own culture, as well; in spite of local community "offices for integration" I see very little true integration into Spanish life. I see co-existence, and that seems to be OK for both sides. The Spaniards are, on the whole, welcoming hosts, appreciative of the economic rewards of accepting tons of retirees and occasional young working families into their commercial life. But I do wonder how it must feel for the first and now second generations born after the closed Franco years to see so many neighborhoods and whole towns turned into advantaged ghettos where residents greet each other in the street and shops in all the European languages except Spanish, or if they manage to get a Buenos días out at the right time, they can't go much beyond that for a real conversation. There must be some resentment, or sorrow, about the invasion, I feel, though it stays well submerged and unexplored. I am aware of no anti-immigration political rhetoric, street demonstrations, or vandalism against the immigrants in Spain, as I see and hear in my own country and in other European countries.

Many of us immigrants love to take part in the Spanish café bar scene, tapas runs, fiestas, and espectáculos during the day or on special occasions, while we retreat at night to our English, German or Scandinavian TV. But the Spaniards also partake of the cultural life and changes that come with the foreign influx. Friday evening this week we joined a large group at the Gran China restaurant for a birthday banquet. We don't eat out often at night, and I was surprised at how large the restaurant was, and how packed it was with both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking guests. What amused me, though, was how the Chinese menu had adapted to the Spanish style of menu del día, offering a choice of first courses (primer plato), main courses (segundo plato), a third course (unusual, but how else are they going to get in the rice or noodles?) and dessert (postre), together with a half bottle of wine or a pint of beer, for a set price--and a very reasonable one, too. The Chinese, of course, are adept at tailoring restaurant menus to the country in which they are located, and it is always a fun thing to take in a Chinese restaurant in any foreign country you happen to be in, just to see the little things that are different from the Chinese restaurants in the country where you usually eat Chinese (assuming that is not in China). The conclusion of our meal, by the way, brought souvenir bracelets for the women, but nary a fortune cookie.

The next morning we found ourselves doing something that we had promised we would never do again: going to Ikea on a Saturday. Way too many people, and we should be able to arrange our trips during the week, we had said the last time we had the misfortune of attempting business there on a weekend. But we had been looking all week for new towel racks for a renovated bathroom; we had exhausted all the stores in our immediate area and even as far away as the big shopping mall at La Zenia Boulevard, and we hadn't found anything that we really liked or that seemed to offer decent quality at a reasonable price. So off we went to Ikea, the Swedish home furnishings store that does a pretty good job of adapting its wares and its restaurants to whatever country in the world it finds itself in, too. We had timed our trip to arrive at 10:00, when the store opened, and we knew we had to gear ourselves up with a cup of coffee and perhaps a second breakfast in Ikea's incredibly inexpensive cafeteria. So we proceeded down the line, and I had to smile when the Spanish couple in front of us scanned the offerings and ordered dos ingleses (two English breakfasts). The cafeteria server passed them their plates and then turned to me and asked, in English because we don't look Spanish, what we would like. Dos ibéricos, I said, without skipping a beat.

We enjoyed our typical Spanish breakfast of toasted baguettes with tomato marmalade, olive oil, and jamón serrano. I hope the Spanish couple enjoyed their typical English breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, and toast. Both are good value here, and it was an amusing cultural interchange.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Common Sense

We were shocked this week to hear that an English charity is under attack by the Spanish tax authorities.  Paul Cunningham Nurses is a registered charity in Spain; it was founded years ago by Jennifer Cunningham in honor of her son, Paul, who died of cancer at an early age. Paul Cunningham Nurses (PCN) provides free nursing and care to terminally ill patients and their families. It gets much of its funding through sales in several shops of donated clothing, DVDs, and household articles. We have taken several cast-off items to the shops to donate, and we have also made many purchases. I particularly like to stop in before I take a little vacation to northern climates, because I can usually find a couple pieces of warmer clothing in good condition there, that I can't find in regular stores here in southern Spain.

We first heard of the Paul Cunningham problem from friends who had read it in one of the free weekly newspapers. When we went out the next morning to do errands, we looked, unsuccessfully, for the newspaper, and we also stopped in one of the PCN shops to ask about the situation. The attendant gave us some information about the problem, but not in detail, and I was a little hesitant to sign a petition in support of the charity with so little knowledge, but I did. Since then I have found two written articles which generally say the same thing, so I'm taking them as a fairly accurate statement of the facts.

A year ago, one of the PCN shops was approached by a Spanish official from Social Security (Seguridad Social), who asked the two volunteer workers to show her their national identification and Social Security papers. Social Security is the system in Spain that provides national healthcare: either your employer pays your social security premium, or you as an independent contractor/freelance worker pay your own (and it starts at a minimum of 320 euros per month, I have heard from various sources).

The volunteer shopkeepers, older English women, did not understand the detailed Spanish and contacted the PCN accountant, who explained, in Spanish, to the Social Security representative that PCN was a registered charity, as indicated by a G above the door of the shop, and that the "workers" were volunteers and thus should not pay Social Security. The officer, however, levied a fine of 6,000 euros and demanded that the charity present all relevant paperwork to an authority in Alicante city--and accused PCN of violating the human rights of the volunteers by not paying salaries.

In due time the charity's official papers were taken to Alicante, the papers were accepted, and the fine was withdrawn. However, another fine was levied: 10,000 euros--for obstructing an officer in the carrying out of her duty.

PCN appealed the new fine twice, then heard nothing until recently, when a registered letter arrived saying that if the 10,000 euro fine--plus 2,000 euros in interest--is not paid within 21 days, the bank account of the charity will be embargoed and money withdrawn to pay the fine and interest until it is paid in full.

PCN is continuing its appeals, to the European Court, it says, if necessary. For the time being, as far as I know, PCN shops are still open and accepting donations, people are still buying--and signing petitions, and nurses are still attending to end-of-life needs of any resident of Spain--not just English or foreigners--who asks for help.


When I first heard about this absurdity I thought, "It's because the Spanish system does not understand volunteer activities and charities." And it is true that the extraordinary system of grassroots fundraising by charity shops, lotteries and raffles, entertainment benefits, quiz and game nights, and all sorts of activities routinely offered by the British population here has no equal of which I am aware. But I have checked, and my English-Spanish dictionaries do show Spanish words on this topic. A charity organization is an institución benéfica or an organización benéfica. A charity shop is la tienda de una organización benéfica. A charity sale is una venta benéfica. A volunteer is un voluntario or una voluntaria, as in a volunteer army or to volunteer information. But the verb for volunteer is ofrecerse, to offer oneself, which does have the aura of self-sacrifice about it. And I didn't see anything at all about volunteer workers.

All of which does reinforce my feeling that the concepts of volunteering and charity are not something that Spaniards have in common with the Anglo world as I know it. But I do hope that common sense will prevail in this case, sooner rather than later.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

International Living

This Sunday marks a week that we have been back in Spain since returning last Sunday from a short week's trip to Copenhagen. We had an even better time in Denmark than we usually do, for the weather was glorious--sunny every day, from before 6:00 AM or earlier, and it was light to well after 9:30 PM. We had to remember to close the curtain in our top-floor hotel room so as not to be awakened too early when the sun made its appearance. All in all the weather was as good as, and maybe even better than, what we had left behind in Spain that week.

There wasn't a lot to write about Spain while in Denmark. We heard a few Spanish voices as we came into town from the airport (the plane, after all, had brought us--and others--directly from Alicante) and as we walked through the city for the next four days. Once we happened upon two couples in animated Spanish discussion about which direction they should go in, and without much conversation we gave them one of our maps and left them to come to some sort of agreement among themselves.

Every year when we go to Denmark we try to do something a little different, and this year it was a canal tour. Amazingly I had never been on one, although I have walked by the canal tour boats in Copenhagen's Nyhavn (the New Harbor) countless times. This one was a guided tour of an hour and a half, and the brochure said it would be narrated in three languages: Danish, English, and "another" language. I wondered how they would choose the third language and what it would be--German, perhaps, or French, or maybe Russian or Polish or another east European language, for there has been much immigration from eastern Europe all over western Europe, including to Denmark. Maybe even one of the Middle Eastern languages, though the immigrants from that part of the world have done a wonderful job of learning Danish, it seems to me. It was none of those languages, though, for as the narration started we were welcomed first with Velkommen, then Welcome, and then Bienvenidos! The first, and maybe the only time in my life when an official tour is conducted in the three languages that I understand. I felt right at home.

The evening before we left on our trip we were in Torrellano at our favorite hotel there, where we often stay when we have a flight leaving or arriving at some ungodly hour (this one left at 6:30 the next morning). A couple that we have gotten to know in Spain came out to join us for a light and early supper, so we could get back to the hotel for a little sleep before getting up at 4:00. It turned out to be a farewell dinner of sorts. We were, of course, off on our annual or (lately) semi-annual one-week trip to Denmark; they were scheduled to leave the following day for two months of touring in the cities and along the rivers of Europe, something they have done every summer that we have known them. But they also noted that this year, they would not be returning to Spain at the end of the summer to live.

Our friends' marriage, somewhat like ours, involves two nations, but they have lived in Spain more years than we have, in three different parts of the country. They are not the only people we know who have made a decision to move on because of new financial reporting requirements that have gone into effect in Spain, but they are the closest to us. The new "declaration of foreign assets" requirements put in place by Spain, or the European Union, or just by the fact of modern international living in a post 9/11, post-Economic Crisis of 2008 world, have been making life difficult and uncomfortable for almost everyone in the various expat communities, but especially for those who are living off investment income earned and/or maintained outside of Spain. Which would be most retired people, of course.

 I won't tell you exactly what the financial declaration requirements are, because I don't have a prayer of stating them correctly. Every newspaper and advice column, every financial adviser, and  every government official gives you a different interpretation, and that is a large part of what makes this new reality difficult and uncomfortable.

So the four of us sat together for a couple hours and enjoyed dinner (I had a wonderful salmorejo with jamón serrano) and talked about life and change and travel, and speculated about what country we might be in when next we saw each other.

This morning the two of us made our usual Sunday morning trip to the outdoor market to get fruit and vegetables and frutos secos (almonds, raisins, and prunes) for the coming week. We had missed the market last Sunday, since our plane had not brought us back to Spain until the afternoon.  As usual, we stopped for a café con leche, this time at a different little coffee shop, where we were delighted to discover that we could still get a good cup of coffee--and a big one, though it came in a glass instead of a cup--for just one euro. So we sat in a shaded area with a front-row view of all the shoppers strolling by, and enjoyed watching the different people, residents and visitors--you can often tell the difference by their clothing. We listened to the Spanish bread stall owner next door calling out pan del pueblo, pan de leña, and just buenos días, quieres pan? and to the stream of other voices in many languages. We felt at home.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

"The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming"

Never in all my wildest dreams when I was growing up during the Cold War did I envision the Russians coming to save an economy in trouble.  They probably aren't going to save Spain's economy single-handedly now either, but the new prosperous younger Russians (who were not around during the Cold War) are certainly having a positive effect in tourism and immigration to Spain.

We sat this morning in one of the outdoor cafés at the Sunday market, enjoying sharing a bratwurst and a beer, listening to the voices of what sounded like a Russian couple at the next table, and reading a story in RoundTown News reporting on a group of 30 Russian travel agents that had visited Torrevieja this past week and, apparently, painted the town red. They saw more sights in their week-long junket than I have seen in the four years I have been here! Well at least I have a number of events to put on my "to-do" list--the "floating museums" in the port area being at the top.

There are now almost 5,000 Russians on the padron (the town register), which means that they stand second only to the British as the largest group of foreign residents in the area. Lots of Russians are coming here to make this their permanent home, and lots more are coming to buy second homes--there are reportedly two direct flights each week between Alicante and St. Petersburg during the summer season.

I have never studied Russian and am not really sure that I can distinguish the language from some others, but I may have an opportunity to get more familiar with it in the coming years.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Hans Christian Andersen Slept Here

Photo by Johannes Bjorner ©2012
Most people don't know that fairy tales were only a small part of the literary works of the world-famous Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. Andersen is referred to in Danish by his initials and therefore becomes H.C. Andersen. Since the letter H is pronounced "ho" and the letter C sounds rather like "say" in Danish, oral references to H.C. Andersen sound like one is talking about José Andersen, which is rather amusing and confusing when discussing Andersen in Spain. But I digress. H.C. Andersen was first interested in the theater, and he wrote drama, poetry, journals, and travel pieces, for he was an inveterate traveler during his lifetime (1805-1875). In 1862 he came to Spain, over the Pyrenees from France; he entered Barcelona by coach on September 6 and spent several days based at the Fonda del Oriente hotel.

I took my copy of I Spanien (In Spain) with me to Barcelona on my Christmas trip, 150 years and a couple months after his adventure. One of my goals was to find the hotel where Andersen had stayed, because I had happened upon a notice some time ago that a commemorative plaque had been placed at the hotel, acknowledging Andersen's visit.

It turned out that the hotel, now named the Husa Oriente, was only a few blocks down the Rambla from where we were staying. I should have guessed that, because one of the sites Andersen mentioned was the Liceu theater (no performances during the time Andersen was in Barcelona, though he was able to see the theater stage itself during a rehearsal) and that was just across the street and down one block from our hostal. The Liceu wasn't hosting any performances on the Christmas days that we were there, either, and we didn't get beyond the lobby and guard desk. 

Photo by Johannes Bjorner ©2012
The plaque at the hotel was placed by the Ayuntamiento (City Hall) of Barcelona and roughly translated from Catalan, it reads:

Hans Christian
(Odense 1805-Copenhagen 1875)
Danish Author
Observed from this hotel
the flooding of the Rambla
of September 15, 1862 

I had read Andersen's account of the heavy storms and flooding that occurred toward the end of his stay in Barcelona. It was historic, obviously, as that was the sole site or event indicated on the plaque, though Andersen's account  mentions several other areas of the city that exist to this day: Barceloneta, Monjuic fort, and the Plaza de Toros (though I don't know how that is being used now that Barcelona has outlawed bullfighting). In addition to the Rambla itself, of course, which Andersen loved for its shops and fruit stalls and trees and cafes full of people all assembling to eat regardless of class, he noted. People still love the Rambla to this day and it is a hive of activity at all hours. We even saw a whole parade of Santa Clauses motorcycling up the street at breakneck speed on Christmas morning when we were having our breakfast.

Monday, November 26, 2012

American Thanksgiving in Torrevieja

I don't usually stick an American flag at the top of the pineapple in my traditional Thanksgiving centerpiece, but this year was different, for we went on the Saturday following Thanksgiving to a British restaurant to eat a roast turkey dinner with some Americans we know and some we didn't. There are not many people from the U.S. along the Costa Blanca, but those that there are, I think, are aware of the peculiar experience of being in the minority. That, plus the power of Thanksgiving memories, is probably what brought us all together last Saturday.

This particular group of Americans all seemed to be bi-national or multinational couples. The countries of our spouses and partners included (at least) Spain, Denmark, Germany, the Philippines, Cuba, and UK. We were a fairly diverse group of Americans, too, as separately we acknowledged "home" to be Ohio, Wisconsin, California, New York, New Hampshire, and Maine, although several of us have lived in even more states.
Thanks to one family, we were three generations, with six children and teenagers and a smattering of younger adults; the rest of our group of 20 had celebrated some 40 or more Thanksgivings earlier in our lives.

Since I have lived in Spain with so many British ex-patriots I have learned that roasts of various meats and poultry are the traditional Sunday dinner, with at least four vegetables. Our British hosts at The Courtyard had put individual placemats depicting the American flag on the table, which was an unexpected welcoming gesture. The restaurant put on a fine spread, and the various side dishes that some of us brought were completely unnecessary in filling out the meal, but important for our traditions. I brought the fruit arrangement shown above (the photo was taken on Sunday, so it is a little less bounteous than it was at Thanksgiving dinner). We also had homemade sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, cranberry sorbet, and a marvelous pumpkin soup.

A Thanksgiving timeline developed by the Library of Congress tells us that the first documented thanksgiving feast in territory currently belonging to the United States was held by Spanish explorer, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in 1521.  Maybe so, but I still prefer the Plymouth Colony story of 1621, which was a three-day feast. As ours was this year.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Ten Reasons to Study Spanish

It is October and that means the start of the activities season again in Spain.  I cannot imagine not planning my life around Spanish courses. A language school in San Miguel--not the one I go to, but a good semi-intensive program for beginners--promoted itself and language study by giving ten good reasons to learn Spanish in a late-summer edition of one of the free English-language weeklies. I have changed the order to agree with my own priorities. Here they are (with my comments):

1. It is common courtesy to at least attempt to learn the language of the country you are living in. Would you be able to pass the Spanish equivalent of a "Life in the UK" test (yes, this is a British newspaper) about culture, laws, and language? (Does the USA have an equivalent "Life in the USA" test, I wonder?)

2. Learning Spanish helps you keep up with Spanish culture--including the latest news and current events in Spanish-speaking countries. (I have started watching Spanish TV for a half hour each morning while on the stationary bike. Good exercise for the mind and body, though both go slower than I would like.)

3. Learning Spanish is fun. You will be able to enjoy books, films, music, and even dining out more. And you will increase your social network. (Communicating with the other students in my group class--Russian, Belgian and British this year--provides at least half the value of this hour per week; and my private class with a different teacher has morphed into a book discussion group in Spanish.)

4. If you can speak Spanish, you can help yourself and others in emergency situations, like with the police, hospitals, and civil servants, and save on interpreter costs. (I am still uncomfortable at the doctor's and in bureaucratic offices, but, for better or for worse, I have a live-in interpreter.)

5. When learning a foreign language, you learn a lot about your own language as well--how it is constructed and how grammar works--as well as deepening your understanding and increasing vocabulary. (True, and can anything be better for a writer and editor?)

6. Learning Spanish increases your critical thinking skills because you train your brain to naturally interpret English words into Spanish. (My current discovery of the connections among languages is the Danish word garderobe (closet), the Spanish guardar ropa (to hang clothing) and the English wardrobe.)

7. Learning a second language reduces your chances of developing medical issues that affect the brain in later life. People who speak two languages are less likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer's disease. (Since it's too late for me to invest in long-term care insurance, this is my next best bet.)

8. Over 320 million people in the world speak Spanish, and the number of Spanish speakers is growing at a faster rate than the number of English-speakers. Being bilingual in English and Spanish means that you will be able to be understood "all over the world." (Well, in many parts of it, anyway. And I am now able to send Spanish emails back and forth to my niece in Argentina.)

9. If you own a business in Spain, speaking Spanish makes administrative life easier and doubles your client base. (Fortunately I don't own a business in Spain, but it pleases me that I see more and more businesses where the proprietors and servers (Spanish and foreigners) are able to communicate at least on the surface with a mixed clientele.)

10. Being bilingual makes you more marketable when searching for a job in Spain. (I am not seeking jobs in Spain, but it pleases me that every once in awhile I am able to help others in my network when they have need of an information professional "on the ground" in Spain.)

My fall schedule has changed. The weekly Spanish class subsidized by the ayuntamiento of Algorfa is not being held on Friday morning at 9:30 this year. It has moved to Monday morning at 11:15. A much better hour, if not day. I wasn't even able to go to the organizational meeting on Monday because it conflicted with my other Spanish class, my private book reading session, at 11:00 on Monday. Fortunately I have now been able to get that class re-scheduled to later in the week, so I can still benefit from two all-Spanish sessions each week. As an English woman said to me soon after I arrived in Spain, "Learning Spanish is my new lifelong hobby."

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Renewing Residencia, Part 4

Today was the day to go to Alicante to get finger-printed--the last formality before I could get my renewed card for continued legal residency in Spain. I had received a letter in the mail giving me the address to go to (Policia Nacional and Guardia Civil, on Calle Campo de Mirra), plus the list of papers I should bring with me: this letter, two photographs of a certain size, shape, and color (carnet), valid current passport, old residencia card, certificate of empadronamiento (my legal address), and stamped form verifying I had been to the bank to pay the residencia fee. For good measure, a new three-part form for the fee was enclosed. But I had previously paid a fee and had a copy--would that be good enough?

When we checked with the bank, they said there should only be one fee for one tramite, and I had paid it way back at the beginning of this tramite, when I went to Orihuela in November. The same cannot be said for the certificate of empadronamiento. These certificates are only valid for three months, and the one I had gotten at the beginning of these proceedings ran out, very inconveniently, less than a week before today. So last Thursday we dropped by the ayuntamiento in our town, with a copy of the escritura, our house deed, to request a new certificate of empadronamiento.

No problem, and since this was the second time we had requested one (it was actually the third, but who's counting?) the woman at the town hall told us we didn't need the escritura. We just needed to pick up the copy on Monday--it takes two days.

So yesterday we picked up the certificado de empadronamiento at noon, checked and re-checked that we had all the papers needed, and investigated how to get to the Policia Nacional in Alicante. The designated time--it would be too much to call this an appointment--was between 9:00 and 2:00. I set the alarm for 7:00 AM, which is a somewhat unusual occurrence in this household now, but I woke up at 6:00 and used the extra time to find the Policia Nacional on my iPad. The directions sounded correct, and when I viewed the location using Google Maps, I knew it was right--the static picture showed a line of people waiting outside a boring looking building, so it must be a police station. I also found the address on a paper map of the city, to get a better idea of the larger picture than I can find on a screen, and when we got in the car at 8:00 my trusted driver found it on the GPS.We listened anxiously to Gloria Perez Sanchez as we drove off, wondering whether she would agree with Google Maps on the iPad.

Forty-five minutes later, we knew that she did, and shortly thereafter we drove into a parking lot next to the police station. Only about 20 people were in line in front of us, and the line was moving. As we got to the front, a police officer checked my papers and directed me through a door to the inside of the building. But no, my husband could not accompany me into the building--no compañeros during this procedure--he had to wait outside.

I went inside with the number I had been given: no. 26. Five rows with about 20 seats in each comprised the waiting room, and I was directed to a seat in the third row. The number machine showed that we were on no. 4.

The line moved surprisingly quickly. By 9:20 we were on no. 13, and at 9:30 my number 26 was posted. I went through the glass doors, waited again,  and eventually was directed to one of the six or seven desks handling these affairs. I had all my papers in my hands (and all my back-up papers from the previous excursion in a folder in my bag). The clerk looked first at my proof of payment and laid it on a stack. Whew! Then she looked at the computer screen, my passport, former card, and the letter. Then she took out a unique square-shaped set of scissors and cut out two photos from the set of three that I had given her. She pressed some keys on the computer and out came some papers. I had to sign my name in two places, she asked if I understood Spanish, and when I said "si, un poquito,"  she told me in Spanish that I could pick up my card in a month in Orihuela, and gave me my old card attached to a paper indicating Orihuela. Then she directed me to the fingerprinting office immediately behind me.

I was pretty sure they wanted my right forefinger, but I was not prepared for the fact that I could not press the finger onto the inkpad or the receiving paper myself. No, the officer had to guide me in that, because there is a very special way to roll the finger horizontally from right to left. We did that twice, on two separate sheets of paper--one for the files, I suppose, and one for the card that I will pick up in Orihuela a month from today. After I rolled my finger--or rather, after the officer rolled my finger--I got a little paper to clean my hand. ¿Listo? I asked. Listo, said the officer. Hasta luego. Well, not any time soon, I thought to myself. I'm going to Orihuela in a month, not back here. I don't expect to be back here for the next ten years, which is when this card will expire.

As tramites go, this one was not traumatic.We stopped at the cafe bar on the way out and had a cafe con leche and media tostada con atun y tomate. And we were finished with that by 10:00 and had the rest of the beautifully sunny day to enjoy ourselves. Since we were in a part of Alicante that was new to us, we decided to continue on a different route and see something new before we left the city and went back to our area to do banking and go to the grocery store. We did pursue a different route, and we did see something new, though not what we had planned as we sat with our cafe con leche. But that's what happens when you go joy-riding in a new part of the city without listening to Gloria Perez Sanchez. Since we hadn't turned her on, she couldn't warn us about what roads not to take. But at least we didn't get caught while going down the ambulance- and taxi-only lane in an otherwise one-way street next to the hospital. I guess we were far enough away from the police station by that time.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Expat Love

I've never really considered myself an expat. I don't like the word, as to me it implies a rejection of one's native country, sort of like one who used to be patriotic but is no longer. I have never rejected my country, though politically speaking, I do get the opportunity to reconsider that stance from time to time. My condition of living outside the United States is simply that--a condition. I happen to be living outside the U.S. because my European husband, after living in the U.S. for 35 years, wanted to move back to Europe.

He had always said that he wanted to move back when he got old. Of course, when he first mentioned this some thirty or forty years ago, I knew that we would never get old. So it was a considerable surprise to me when, about ten years ago, he informed me that the time had come. We started investigating places to move, and settled on Spain, which, we acknowledged, was a "neutral country" for us both.

We had moved through our multinational marriage (he from Denmark, but having grown up in Argentina, and me from Ohio) trying not to fall into the "my country--your country" trap. That would be the trap of  accepting one as better than the other, and blaming each other for the sins of our countries, or if not sins, the policies, customs, or less agreeable aspects. We have learned that neither of us is responsible for, nor can influence very much, what our respective country is or does, but we can create a life that is comfortable and meaningful for us with the background and wider world of both countries.

So about eight years ago we added a third country, Spain. Many Americans who have lived much of their lives in the north (and we lived for most of our years together in New England) move to sunnier climates when they retire, and many Danes (and Norwegians and Swedes, and Germans, and Brits, we have discovered) also move to sunnier climates when they retire. Think of the Costa Blanca as the new Florida, from a northeast U.S. point of view.

Earlier today I checked the term "expat" in OneLook Dictionary Search. "Primarily British," it says, which is curious, and an abbreviation for "expatriate." Now, "expatriate" can be an adjective, or a verb, or a noun. "To expatriate" is particularly negative, with synonyms of to expel, banish, renounce, quit, and the like. The noun form from Macmillan is more benign: "someone who lives in a country that is not their own country." Well, that is innocuous and certainly describes me. 

But there is also "someone who is voluntarily absent from one's native home or country." Uh-oh. Bringing the question of "voluntary," or choice, or free will into the issue certainly complicates it. When was it that I chose to live outside my own country? As a Valentine's Day special, a UK newspaper with a strong expat column featured three expats who had left their native countries and moved abroad, apparently voluntarily, "for love." All three stories had to do with young love, where the individuals involved made the move soon after they met each other and became a couple. Good stories, but they did not speak to my situation of "voluntarily" moving abroad after several decades.

The truth is that I would not have voluntarily chosen to move to a country brand new to me as I approached retirement years. I did it--and many of the women I meet here have done the same--because my husband wanted to do it. Is my life richer for this decision? How can one tell? One cannot compare the reality of a life with what might have been. I do know my life is rich. I cannot say that I chose voluntarily to leave my country, but I do choose every day to live here in Spain, strengthening my love, as an expat.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Renewing Residencia, Part 3

We are still married. That's what we had to prove to the Spanish immigration authorities to move paperwork on my residencia renewal forward. (See part 2) Although we did not have any idea how to prove this, we had been told to go to the Danish consulate, since my application rests on the fact that my husband is a European Union citizen. We were hoping that one bureaucracy (the Danish consulate) would be able to communicate to another (the Spanish immigration office) and know how to verify this status.

On Tuesday we called the Danish consulate in Alicante. I was hopeful after the conversation. Sure, come around tomorrow morning at 10:30, a very Spanish man said. So Wednesday we piled in the car with Gloria GPS again, and after braving city one-way streets and parking shortages, we arrived at the consulate, which turned out to be a tiny office in a multi-story building that also housed the German and British consulates. We got there shortly before 11:00--we are becoming adept at living according to Spanish time--and explained the situation: We were renewing my residencia; we have our marriage certificate from the U.S., plus a Spanish translation, and we have proof of my earlier residence in Denmark, another European Union country, and a Spanish translation. What we are asked for now is a statement showing that we are still married.

The consul hemmed and hawed a bit. I told him that we had copies of our separate empadronamientos, each showing our legal address, which was the same. Wouldn't that be indicative? No, that was not important; he didn't even look at them. What he needed, he said apologetically as he pointed to a list of fees for various consular services, was 109 euros. That, plus about 45 minutes to type up the statement.

Without much choice, we agreed to pay the fee and to disappear for a cup of coffee while he took up the task of producing the paperwork. He would call us if he finished early, because that might give us enough time to get to the immigration office this same day and complete the whole process.

Off we went for coffee. Not much gets accomplished in Spain without stopping for coffee in the middle of whatever is underway, and fortunately the coffee is good. After coffee we went next door to El Corte Ingles, a nice department store, where we intended to buy tickets to an upcoming Christmas concert. But after standing in line for ten minutes, the phone rang. As good as his word, our papers were ready, so off we scooted to pick them up.

I laboriously read through the bureaucratic language of a short (16-line) document. It repeated already known facts--when and where we had gotten married--but contained the important phrase siguiende actualmente casados (continuing married through the present). Wonderful! We paid the fee, got the original, two copies, and a receipt, and rushed off to the immigration office.

By now we knew the procedure: In through the security check, stand in the triage line, get a number, then proceed to the waiting room. We were pushing the end of the day--it was almost 1:00 by the time we got there and we knew they closed at 2:00. But the triage director assured us that if we took the number and waited, we would be seen that day. What was there to lose? Once again I became number M-002, and we waited, more than an hour. We used the time to sort through all our documents and place the originals and a copy of each document together, in order, in a notebook.

At 1:55 there were only three other parties in the waiting room. Finally M-002 was called, at a little after 2:00. The gentleman who attended to us was efficient and pleasant, but it was good that we were prepared. He asked and we were able to supply the right paper almost instantaneously. For most, he examined the original, glanced at the copy, kept the copy and returned the original to us. He took the six photographs that I had in one set and cut out three of them, then returned the other three to me. He kept two and affixed one to a copy of my application form, which he then stamped several times and gave to me. Approved! Within two months I should get a letter telling me where to go to be fingerprinted; then I can expect to get a laminated card that looks very much like the one I have in my possession now, which officially runs out today. It will have one of those pictures, my name and other identification details, address, and a fingerprint on the back. I suspect that it will also expire five years from the date of my application, which means I should have the opportunity to revisit bureaucratic hell yet one more time. But in the meantime, I am legal.

We went back to El Corte Ingles to buy our concert tickets and enjoy a celebratory luncheon on a sunny pre-Christmas weekday. Life is good. And we are still married.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Renewing Residencia, Part 2

Filling out the application forms for the renewal of my residencia permit was tedious (see part 1), but I completed them this past Monday morning. As it turned out, my Spanish class was cancelled, so no sooner was Johannes' piano teacher out the door after his lesson than we were out the door and on the way to the ayuntamiento to pick up the promised certificate of empadronamiento. It was ready--not at desk no. 3, where I had ordered it, but at the Informacion desk immediately inside the town hall door. Then we walked across the plaza to the bank to pay the 10 euro and 20 centimo fee required. The bank turned out to be very busy--with Tuesday a holiday, everyone was trying to get their business done on Monday. We continued on with errands and found a bank that was slightly less busy--at least they had time to try to sell me a private health insurance policy while we processed the payment...but I paid the fee, the multipart form got stamped four times, and two copies were returned to me to take with me that afternoon.

Monday afternoon at 3:30 we left for the 4:00 appointment, and arrived comfortably on time at 4:30, having come into Orihuela and to the policia nacional via yet another route and scrambling for a parking place. The room which we had originally approached the week before was the examination room, and every chair along its periphery was taken. We nosed around, trying to find out whether they were calling names. Someone said they were, but I had not heard a single name in more than ten minutes. We asked a woman seated in the periphery what number she was--she was no. 5. I was no. 21. We went across the street for a coffee and a tapa.

Only fifteen minutes later we returned, and somehow they had gotten to no. 31 in the interim! No problem. Johannes went to the front of one line and started translating the official's Spanish to the Irish couple that were petitioning there. For this courtesy, I was promised the next session. And it came quickly, but no sooner had I sat down and presented my papers, my current residencia card, and my passport, than the official said, "No, no! Alicante!"

But my town official told me to come here to Orihuela, I told the official. No, he was wrong. Orihuela is for petitions from people who are European Union (EU) citizens. I am from the United States--estados unidos (EEUU) in Spanish, but not EU. Those who are not EU comunitarias must go to Alicante. Jose, my town official, had made the simple mistake of assuming that I was English, or perhaps Danish, as my husband. Or maybe he just didn't know that there is a separate office for non-EU citizens, since we are in such a small minority.

What with two legal holidays during the week, plus a couple days with a bad cold, it was Friday before we had the strength and the time to enter "bureaucratic hell" again, which is what one American friend terms this type of typical Spanish paperwork. After my Spanish class we jumped in the car with every important piece of paper we have in our files. We were going to be prepared--even if we expected to do nothing more than to find the correct office in Alicante and get an appointment time for a later date.

Luck was with us. Our GPS buddy Gloria Perez Sanchez got us to the right building straightaway and we found parking easily. A guard at the door instructed me to put my papers and purse on the security belt and walk through a metal detector. I passed to a short line and waited for five minutes or so before being greeted by a woman who looked at my papers, performed some unknown triage, and gave me a coded number: M002. Then we got to pass through to the "plaza" courtyard of the building, where I first discovered that there were 50 or so people waiting. By this time it was noontime, and I was grateful that they were still assuming I could be seen before the office closed at 2:00.

An electric sign periodically flashed numbers and what desks the people holding those numbers should go to. There was a series of I numbers, C numbers, and R numbers. There was also a line showing what numbers had been "recently called." One of those was M-001. It continued showing M-001 as recently called for over a half hour. Finally I saw, and heard, M-002.

A young woman greeted us pleasantly when we got to the private desk, but immediately glanced at the papers and told us we didn't have the petition. Well, we had the wrong petition--we were still carrying  two copies of the petition for EU citizens. She gave me the proper paper, the one for non-EU citizens, and I wondered whether I would be able to fill it out at her desk or whether I would have to go back to the "plaza" and wait for another attendant later today or on another day.

That was the least of my problems, it turned out. Since I am not an EU citizen, it seems, there is absolutely no reason for Spain to grant me permanent residence on my own merit. The "condition" that has given me legal status as a resident so far is that I am married to an EU citizen. I become eligible through my husband. Though this is not welcome to hear, it's not a surprise, either, and we are prepared for it. We have copies of our marriage certificate (from the United States) and of the legal notice showing the change in my name from the one that was used on the marriage certificate to the one I use now (also from the U.S.). We have copies of official records proving that, for a brief time, I lived in Denmark and thus have a Danish "person number." And we have official (costly) translations of these documents from English and Danish to Spanish--we used them all the first time I applied for legal residencia status five years ago and was finally granted it after a couple years. But what we don't have is any official statement showing that we are still married.

We are still married.

But where does one get such proof, I wondered? And why do they think we would be sitting here together in bureaucratic hell if we were not still married, I asked myself rhetorically. The official tells us to go to the Danish consulate in Alicante--apparently there is one--for a statement verifying our marriage status. This seems illogical to me, but I am hoping that it will make sense to another bureaucracy. Regardless, it is too late in the day to start to find the Danish consulate. Besides, as we discover later in the afternoon when we look it up online from home, they are only open until 1:00 PM. So now we have another goal for our next week in bureaucratic hell. I wonder what we need to do to prove that we are still married?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Renewing Residencia

Don't let anyone say that you never get anything free from Ryanair, the budget airline that we took between Alicante and Denmark two weeks ago. A helpful check-in counter clerk in Denmark remarked off-handedly, when she examined my residence card for Spain, that it was due to expire this month. What! Sure enough, my official residence permit runs out on the 18th of December 2011, so off to the ayuntamiento (town hall) I went on Tuesday morning this week. Bureaucratic paper work--trámites--is not something you put off until the last minute in Spain.

I got my first residence permit while we were living in Roquetas, and we had a gestoría--one of those wonderful Spanish legal/management agencies that have the knowledge and patience to work their way through bureaucracy--help us at that time. So I wasn't quite sure what I had to do this time, in a new town and different comunidad, and by the way, the process has changed and I did know that now they no longer give cards, but an A4-sized paper certificate, or letter, instead. So we started at the town hall.

José, the helpful man at the Información desk immediately inside the door of the ayuntamiento in Algorfa, told me that I had to go to the policia nacional in Orihuela to get the renewal. It's a two-step procedure, he said, and even grimaced apologetically: first you go to Orihuela to make an appointment, and then later you go back for the appointment. But, he volunteered, you also need to take your empadronamiento, the certificate that shows your official residence address in Spain. And where do you get the empadronamiento certificate? Just across the aisle at desk number three. That seemed easy enough.

The woman behind desk number there understood my request, but she said I needed to show a copy of the deed to the house. Oh dear, we were unprepared for that. It seemed as though we had every other official paper that pertained to our individual person, but not the house escritura. I didn't even ask what would happen if my name were not on the house deed, or if we didn't own our own home. We do and it is, we just didn't have the paper with us.

Oh well, we did have the address of the policia nacional in Orihuela, and it was a beautiful day for a drive, and we didn't need to be back home for another few hours, so we decided to drive to Orihuela and make the appointment with the policia. Might as well kill at least one more small bird with this stone. We set Gloria Perez Sanchez (our GPS persona) to work, because Orihuela is a big city and an old city, with lots of one-way, winding streets.

It took only 20 minutes or so to get to Orihuela. It took probably twice as long to walk into the building in Orihuela where the police offices are--Gloria is not up to date on the one-way streets, and of course she knows nothing at all about parking places and the lack of them. Two or three desks were open in the large room we entered into, and only a couple people were waiting, so I thought that this might proceed rather quickly. But someone pointed us to the Información desk--it is the one farthest away from the entrance door--and that person told us that we should go through another hall and into a waiting room. There were two other people there, clients before us, and two closed doors. No other signs. No official.

The other occupants spoke a language that I could not identify. We waited. Eventually one of the closed doors opened and two of the clients in front of us went in. A Spanish-speaking client appeared and we let him know that we thought this was the right place, but we would see, and by the way, he was after us. Then, another quarter of an hour later, the second closed door opened. No invitation to come in, but we didn't let that stop us. We just barged in and asked for an appointment. Yes, I could have an appointment the following week. Not Tuesday or Thursday--those are holidays. Is Monday OK? Yes, Monday at 4:00. That means, we discovered, that they open the office at 4:00, after siesta. The officer showed us the list of appointments scheduled for 4:00 on Monday--at least 20 names preceded mine. I made a mental note to not show up before 5:00. How late are they open? At least until 7:00 PM. What else would I need? Fill out two copies of this form, and bring a photo in the standard size that is used for a passport, driving license, library card, or any other official paper work in Spain.

That all seemed successful. I found one of those unused photos in my wallet and I read through the forms and saw that it would be a pain to fill them out, but I could. Then on Wednesday we remembered that I still needed to get the empadronamiento. No problem, I said. We had found the escritura, and I would pick up the empadronamiento on Friday before or after my Spanish class, which is just down the street. And then Thursday morning I woke up and it hit me--perhaps getting the certificate of empadronamiento was not an immediate, on-the-spot event.

Off again on Thursday to the ayuntamiento, this time with the escritura. Desk 3: No problem; I showed the escritura and my passport, and signed my name. The woman stamped the paper and said nicely "El lunes" (Monday). It takes two business days to get the certificate. Good thing we had made the special trip on Thursday!

Now I am just hoping that tomorrow morning when I go to the ayuntamiento at 9:30, the certificate is ready. If not, I may have to go back again some time later in the morning before they close for the day at 2:00. And then I can plan on a long afternoon at the policia nacional in Orihuela. And right now, I had better start filling out those papers that are required. All this for a renewal!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Foreign Community Sometimes Speaks Spanish

Ever since I wrote about the foreign community speaking English here in Spain--regardless of where they were originally from--I have been on the lookout for incidents in which foreigners did not speak English, and particularly, for when they spoke Spanish.

The first time was a success for me, though I did not originally realize that the person to whom I was speaking Spanish was not Spanish. I went to the dentist for a routine check-up and spoke English with the dentist, which might be expected when one goes to an establishment called British Dental Service. But I was also introduced to the hygienist, who had been out on maternity leave when I was there six months earlier; she greeted me in English, but with an accent. So I decided that when I returned later for my cleaning (no, I do not know why these had to be separate appointments) I would speak to her in Spanish. After all, conversation is going to be limited in duration anyway when one of the parties is having her teeth cleaned. When I returned the next day, I greeted her with "Hola, que bien dia hoy," or something like that.

She visibly expressed relief. "¡Ah, tu hablas español!" "Si, un poquito, y intento hablarlo si no te preocupes," I responded. And we continued chatting for a few minutes before she got down to business with the bib and the scraping and the spraying and then polishing, and I never had to levantar la mano (raise my hand) at any time as a signal to get her to stop. She only slipped into English a couple times, with routine admonishments which I am sure, in her practice, come easier to her in English than in Spanish.

It was before we started the cleaning that she told me that she is not Spanish--she is German but has lived in Spain for about ten years. Since I knew she had been out on maternity leave, I could ask about her baby (a girl) and who took care of her while she and her husband (partner, she corrected me) were working. Well, the good news is that her partner was able to do that; the bad news is that he has been out of work for eight months, a casualty of the construction crisis. I neglected to ask her what language she and her partner, an immigrant from another European country I do not recall, spoke together, and what language(s) they are using with the baby. But I should have a chance again in another five months or so.

We have also had some minor renovations done to the house in the past month. These were undertaken by a fine workman who knows the houses in our development very well and who everyone calls Christo. He drove up in a truck labeled Hristo. Hristo is originally from Bulgaria and has been in Spain for eight years or so and has established a good business, though it, too, is having challenges with the economic crisis. Nevertheless he has a compatriot who works with him; during the week that these two Bulgarians spent in the house building a closet, installing a kitchen fan, and moving the "boiler," they spoke in Bulgarian but we spoke primarily in Spanish. Hristo's helper knows only Spanish (in addition to Bulgarian, of course) and he and I were able to communicate very well indeed. There is something about foreigners speaking a common foreign language that makes it easier to understand, I think. With Hristo himself, I could speak Spanish, and we generally started out that way, but we often drifted over into English. One reason is that Hristo wanted to be very certain I understood what he was doing, and another, I think, is that he wanted to practice his English. After all, probably most of his clients are native English or English-as-a-common-language speakers. Part of the job involved moving the hot water heater--or boiler, as Hristo called it--and I felt much more comfortable talking about the calentador in Spanish, because to me a boiler is somewhat larger and has to do with a central heating system, which I did not think we were having installed and certainly had not budgeted for.

Perhaps the most satisfying experience I have had speaking Spanish with other foreigners, though, has been in my new Spanish class. Sponsored by the town of Algorfa, this class runs once a week for an hour and a half from October through May--for only 70 euros. I am enrolled in the advanced conversation class, with nine other immigrants from England, Scotland, and Vietnam. We have had three classes so far, and it is Spanish only in class. The instructor is a wonderful young Spanish woman, born and brought up in Algorfa, who is very adept at explaining--in Spanish--any word or concept that comes up in the reading or conversation. When the sense of the unknown word just does not sink in, you may occasionally hear a whispered English equivalent from one of the other students who "got it" before you did, but this does not happen very often. We are even doing jokes in Spanish now, though I can't translate the slightly scurrilous one about the stingy Catalan throwing out or letting fall ... because it just doesn't translate.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Foreign Community Speaks English

I always have a stack of newspapers beside the bed for night time reading, and last night just before I dropped off I was reading the latest Spaniaposten, a Norwegian bi-weekly. The article that caught my eye was a short one reporting on another article from the regional (Valenciano) newspaper Información. The subject was the large foreign (non-Spanish) population on the coast immediately south of Torrevieja and the fact that English is the predominant language. It was an interesting article and I will offer my translation from the Norwegian:

The large number of foreigners who live here and their lack of interest in learning Spanish have changed many areas in Vega Baja, especially Orihuela Costa, to more of an English colony than a Spanish area.

So begins an article in the regional newspaper Información. Almost 30,000 foreigners are registered as resident in this area a little south of Torrevieja.

The largest group is the British, followed by Irish and Germans. Scandinavians also make up a large part of the immigrants and vacationers on this part of the coast.

The Spanish paper writes that immigrants integrate themselves here only to a small degree. The majority of foreigners create their own colonies, shopping in stores managed by their own countrymen where they can speak their own language, and they have little interest in learning Spanish as long as the foreign community can communicate among themselves in English.

Local businesses use English to attract vacationers and residents from many of the large developments found in the area. Información writes that the area is full of "supermarkets," "grocery shops," "restaurants," and "irish pubs." [sic] Few establishments use Spanish to advertise their specials. The lack of use of Spanish in the area has made it almost obligatory to be able to speak English in order to get a job in the area, the paper goes on to say.
That is (my translation of) the article in Norwegian describing the Spanish article for its own readers (there are thousands of Norwegians along the entire Costa Blanca, plus many Swedes and Danes, and the odd non-Scandinavian person who can understand one of those languages). My reading suggests that the Norwegian article was offered without judgment or comment.

This morning I decided to find the original Spanish article and see whether it was equally non-judgmental.
Spaniaposten did a good reporting job, I think, but the original article was longer and had a few other tidbits.

To begin with, I like the Spanish title and lead:

With an English Accent
Tourists and residents along the coast of Orihuela hardly know what Spanish is.

The article goes on to say that Orihuela Costa is a small piece of Europe, but more international than many European capitals. In addition to what was reported in Spaniaposten, the original focuses on the need for Spaniards to learn other languages--English at the least--in order to get any job dealing with the public and mentions that a media explosion of periodicals, websites, and radio in several languages is burgeoning. Finally--and one wonders why Spaniaposten does not mention it--several lines were devoted to describing free Spanish courses starting in mid-September in the town of Pilar de la Horadada, on a basic and intermediate level, to promote "faster integration."

Well, integration may be beyond the range of possibilities, but it's obvious that many municipalities are stretching themselves to offer language courses to expose foreigners to even a little Spanish. We don't live on Orihuela Costa, but we live within a half hour of it, and there are probably nearly as many foreigners in our inland area. I'm still waiting to hear from my town about when this fall's language classes will start, even though they are not free. It is true that one has to work to expose oneself to native Spanish-speakers in this part of Spain. A "peculiar situation,"indeed, as Información calls it.