Tag Archives: spain

How Do You Speak My Language So Well?

30 May

Adelia was a friend of mine when I studied abroad in Sevilla, Spain back in 2007. Years had passed without much communication, until a few months back when she began to ask me for advice on South America before a big move to Brazil. And now, after a month in Brazil, she’s in Buenos Aires for a week-long visit, and on Friday we saw each other for the first time in four years.

Even after the long time apart, she looks just as I remember, and though we’d liked to have caught up right then and there, with six other Brazilians in the pregame talking loudly and vying for attention, the best we could wiggle out was “4 years in 30 seconds, go!” One thing did happen, however, which was much more interesting. When I first got to the apartment in Las Cañitas where she’s staying with her old roommate from Sevilla (who is actually studying a Masters here) the Brazilians in the house didn’t pay much attention to me except for one who I chatted it up with. But soon they all headed out on the balcony and with Adelia speaking a few words in Portuguese, suddenly they all opened up.

I almost felt badly for her at first, knowing exactly what it feels like, You become the toy in the party and everyone wants to ask questions or grill you on something. It can be nerve wracking the first few times it happens, yet it’s also thrilling, to be able to communicate in another language. Adelia started speaking in Portuguese and the Brazilians broke into huge smiles and claimed disbelief that a foreigner could speak so well. Apparently she has an accent from some region in northwestern Brazil which couldn’t be explained by the fact that she’s from Florida. Shy and humble, she said the standard, “Oh no, I don’t speak that well…” but the Brazilians wanted more, wanted to know how she could speak their language so well. I could relate to my own triumphs with this in Spanish.

For me it was also impressive; the last time I saw Adelia we were both beginner Spanish speakers, and now here we were, in Argentina both fluent but in different languages. I don’t speak Portuguese but with the Spanish and a French background (high school education), I’m able to loosely keep up. The Brazilians even wanted to talk to me and find out how I could speak Spanish so well, as if the realization that you could speak another language was a ticket in, and it really is. As people always say, “language opens doors.”

In a single conversation we were continuously switching from Spanish-Portuguese-English, often all in the same sentence. Someone on the outside would have been totally confused by the situation. These experiences are always priceless and explain why we travel. There’s a huge difference in how you speak and also understand a culture, and it often will direct how deep the conversation can go. On a number of occasions, for example, someone here has opened up to me and told me to leave Argentina and go back home, yet not in a xenophobic way. The fact that I could speak to them well enough showed that I perhaps wasn’t just another tourist, and that they could say more to me than just “Welcome to my city” or “It’s a beautiful country”.

Study a foreign language and learn about another culture. In fact, just today the New York Times ran a piece on The Bilingual Advantage, stating that it can also help prevent or slow down the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease. You would be surprised at how valuable just a few words or phrases can be, and it really makes a trip overseas worthwhile.


Alma: Is There a Concept of a “Soul” in Olde Spanishe?

26 Jul

This is an open question to the public, and if someone has an answer or opinion, I’d love to hear it. I took a history of Spain course back when I studied in Sevilla, and during one of the lessons, the professor taught us that just about any word in Spanish beginning with -al comes from Arabic. Works like almuerzo (lunch), alcohol, or almohada (pillow) derive from Arabic routes. The same can be said for alma, meaning soul. The Arabic influence in southern Spain brought in many things to the culture such as food, architecture, and of course, a different religion.

This makes me wonder: did the concept of a soul exist in Spanish before the Berbers invaded and brought their own beliefs? Is there a word in Spanish referring to a soul which can be traced back to before this time period, and if so, what are the connotations associated with it?

Dreams of World Cup Glory Crushed

3 Jul

On little sleep I hurried across Recoleta to get on the C line, connect with the B line and rush through the streets of Almagro that I don’t know at all to a bar called El Banderín to watch the game this morning with some friends. Argentina vs. Germany, elimination stage of the World Cup. The city was already buzzing and things felt alive. Everyone else was already there getting their coffee and croissants when I walked into the packed cafe, so it took me a while to get my own. A raucous group of women next to us wouldn’t stop screaming and was actually shooshed several times throughout the game.

Immediately as the game started, Germany came out attacking hard and making Argentina look like second string amateurs. Their early goal deflated the mood throughout the city, but with so much time left on the clock it was hard to feel totally crestfallen. But Argentina continued to play sloppily for the next 10-15 minutes, causing everyone in the bar to scream and bang the tables in frustration. Bad passes, missed opportunities, and lackluster moves were soon forgotten as Argentina began to dominate the game for the next half and a half. It really seemed like Argentina was doing as they wished, and if it weren’t for the score they would have seemed like World Champions, yet scores are the only things that matter in sports.

Argentina wasn’t getting many good looks towards the net and it seemed like anytime they got near it, a giant German came in to stomp the ball away. Take away the fact that a goal was taken away for an obvious offside, and the game was still not in their hands totally. As that overturned goal first went in the bar went into pandemonium, with screams so loud that the blasting TV was droned out. But once we realized what happened, the energy flattened out quickly. And with the second German goal, things looked dim. From then on it appeared as though Argentina just gave up, and those last two goals to finish it off at 4-0 were more of a slap in the face and acceptance of defeat. They couldn’t even score one goal.

The game drew more questions, like why Lionel Messi, arguably the best player in the world, didn’t score one goal throughout the World Cup, or why the team played so sloppily at the beginning of the match. We lazily ambled out of the cafe in defeat and had to deal with the remaining beautiful and hot day, despite the fact that it is winter. A few of us headed to Puerto Madero for some lunch and then to Plaza San Martin to watch the Paraguay vs. Spain game, surrounded by Paraguayans and two or three Spaniards who had bottles thrown at them when they finally scored and knocked out Paraguay. Another crowd of sad fans. So now we need to find a new thing to look forward to, which can only be the spring. It’s going to be a boring and upsetting winter here in Buenos Aires.

Here is a short video showing the tension of World Cup soccer in South America.

4 Cool Boutique Hotels in San Telmo

2 Jul

Yesterday I went on some site visits in San Telmo to see four boutique hotels. For those who don’t know what a boutique hotel is, it’s basically a small establishment that generally has more luxurious facilities and services, catering to minimal clients. This allows service to be much more personal and effective. The four hotels that we visited were Hotel Babel, Mansion Vitraux, Telmho Hotel Boutique, and Sagardi Loft Ostería.

The company that I work for deals with many boutique hotels, but I don’t get to see them all firsthand, so it’s really exciting and worthwhile when I do actually get to visit these places. It makes my job much easier, to say the least. Here’s what I thought about the hotels.

Hotel Babel

To start, I’m just going to say that it seems like almost every street in San Telmo is cobblestoned, so I’m only going to use that adjective once here, but apply it for all of the following hotels.

Peering in off the cobblestone street (one and done) you would get the impression that you’re looking into an art gallery or hipster café where you need to know Italian to order a cup of joe. But that’s more of a bad call which is overturned once you walk in. A well lit lounge/bar boasts chairs, couches and reading material on both the left and right, with a stairwell and glass wall splitting the uprights leading to rooms upstairs. The bar in the left corner offers a welcome drink as music is played, and you are able to connect to the Wi-Fi to catch up on emails. Once a month this hotel actually hosts wine tastings and art exhibitions as well, with art being continuously rotated.

Its cozy atmosphere almost makes it seem like a hostel, but the luxurious rooms say anything but starving backpackers. Not exactly in the “heart” of San Telmo (though it’s such a small neighborhood that it really means nothing), you might just get some rest and quiet here. With an inner courtyard to sun in, you can find many reasons to be happy.

Potential Age Group: Younger, trendier

Mansion Vitraux

Not to be outdone, around the corner Mansion Vitraux has an ultra-modern lounge with tear drop lighting leading to each of its 12 distinct rooms and basement wine bar where breakfast is held and wine tastings take place whenever the guests want. The hotel also features a Dutch Spa with color changing lights which dim the hue of water, a small gym with a flat screen TV, and a rooftop deck with a Jacuzzi and small pool. From above you get a nice view of San Telmo’s rooftops, which may or may not inspire you depending on the weather. Another one of those classic San Telmo mansions that has had a twisted history, this building is now up there as one of the nicest in this part of town.

Potential Age Group: Younger to middle aged

Telmho Hotel Boutique

For some reason, I got the feeling that I was in a Stanley Kubrick futuristic movie at this spot. A traditional “chorizo” (sausage) house of San Telmo, Telmho Hotel Boutique is very narrow but long, with high ceilings to make up for the limited width. The best part of this hotel is the one room which sits directly over Plaza Dorrego, where the famous San Telmo Sunday market is held. The balcony juts into the street and boasts some prime real estate come the weekend, though I have to imagine that it gets loud too.

Tighter spaces would make it tough for older or handicapped guests to get up and down the steps to the loft bedroom, but a younger couple might find it pretty cool. With an excellent location and a nice rooftop deck that gives a total panoramic view of the neighborhood, it has pros and cons worth figuring out through your own experimentation.

Potential Age Group: Younger, trendier

Sagardi Loft Ostería

Just around the corner from Plaza Dorrego is Sagardi Loft Ostería, which is actually joined with a Basque cuisine restaurant downstairs, considered the best one in Buenos Aires. First I’ll start on the restaurant. The second I walked in I was taken back to my days in Sevilla and the tapas bars, and my heart longed for a small beer and some traditional Spanish food. Even though Basque cuisine is quite distinct, pintxos (pronounced peen-chohs) are similar to tapas but served over bread. The open space in the bar allows you to lean back and see the pintxos offered and pick what looks good. Currently, the rate is $8 ARG per pintxo, but keep your eye out because inflation is in full effect and prices change often.

Up the steps to the side of the restaurant and you enter the hotel, with its large suite with balcony to the street and interior rooms spreading off of the nicely adorned open courtyard. Again, this hotel features loft rooms, with couches on the bottom floor and the beds above. These rooms have small kitchens for making coffee and maintain portions of the old brick wall, keeping in touch with the roots. The rooftop pool and grass nook is the real gem, giving the sense of backyard splendor in the middle of the city. Literally across from the Belén Church, it seems like you could reach out and touch it. In the spring and summer, this has got to be an amazing spot to lounge.

Potential Age Group: Younger to middle aged

So there you have it, four great options for lodging at boutique hotels in San Telmo. There are many more as well, but I just haven’t seen them yet. I still find myself impressed with how far hotels have come and how so many little details are taken care of by these small establishments. These are the kinds of things that can really make the difference between an OK stay and the place you will tell your friends, “You have to stay here.” If you ever do stay in these hotels, let me know what you think.

The Expat Curse

26 Jun

Last night I spoke with my friend Amy who recently returned to the United States after spending almost two years in Ecuador. She’s been home about a week and a half and we were lamenting together about the difficulties in returning home, seeing the differences after living abroad, and having to come to terms with how things will never be the same. It’s a topic that we’ve discussed before. You go abroad, maybe trying to change yourself, and after so much time and experience you go home and find that things aren’t the same. But really, they are the same and it’s you who is different. In the end, you do change whether you realized it or not.

It’s sort of like the expat curse. Whether intentional or not, you realize that you’ve reached a point beyond which you can return to a normal life. I proposed the idea of having some expat country for those who don’t really fit in anywhere anymore. Sort of like a retirement community for those who can’t relate to old friends or family. You could call it the 4th World. Maybe it will make a good story some day.

Continuing with that, today I went down to a bar in San Telmo to watch the U.S./Ghana World Cup game. I went to the same bar that I saw the U.S./England game in, though it was a different vibe this time. With less people, I was alone surrounded by study abroad students. Last time there seemed to be more of an expat crowd, and you can definitely see the difference between the student who parties it up abroad and the person who is working. I don’t admit to be the biggest soccer fan, though my time in Spain, Ecuador and Argentina has given me an appreciation and understanding of the game, especially its impact on the culture.

Yet in the bar with the study abroad kids, their actions could be considered rude to any Argentinian who wanted to watch the game. First of all, even though the bar is heavily frequented by foreigners, I expect to be greeted in Spanish. That wasn’t the case. I was expected to speak in English and even when I answered in Spanish I was continually spoken to in someone’s second language. Next, someone must have complained because the commentary for the game in Spanish was changed to English. Maybe it made things clearer, but if a sports game in the U.S. at a bar was ever changed to Spanish for even 30 seconds, there would be outrage.

Throughout the game the students were taking pictures, talking loudly, and mocking various aspects of the sport which is clearly not popular in the United States and only recently accepted as something different and fashionable. If you went to a bar in the States to watch a playoff game of the four major sports (Football, Baseball, Basketball, Hockey) and a group of people were being obnoxious and not really watching the game, they would be booed out, assuming management didn’t ask them to leave. I’d say the majority of the people were there for the drink specials.

It reminded me of how I must have been as a study abroad student in Spain, and just reiterated to me that you have different levels of immersion. As a student it’s usually plastic immersion, in that you live abroad but have American friends and get by in American circles. I’m at a different stage in my life and currently have no American friends and just a couple of British friends. Not that it should be compared with the other side, but you might call that full immersion.

While I’d much rather watch the games with a group of friends I can relate to, I’m still glad to be living abroad and able to watch it in a country where literally everyone cares about it. Tomorrow will show that as Argentina plays Mexico. I just need to figure out where I’ll be watching.

Some Immersion Recommendations

29 May

I’ve lived abroad in three countries and each experience has been totally different, yet oddly similar in many ways. Before studying in Spain I did almost no research on Sevilla, the idea being that I didn’t want to get my hopes up and wanted to see it all fresh for the first time. It worked out well, but it also could have helped to know a thing or two about the city and culture. I remember one night I met a girl in a bar and got her number, even with my basic Spanish. We made plans to meet up at a cafe later in the week to practice Spanish and English together.

Of course I got there early, but not being savvy on the culture, I went in, ordered a coffee, and sat down waiting. I can’t picture it now, but I have to imagine that would have been normal for me in the States. The girl seemed kind of taken aback when she finally realized I was inside, and not surprisingly we never hung out again.

In Ecuador, I did a little bit of research beforehand, mostly because my organization, WorldTeach, mailed me a lot of information on it. My expectations were nothing like what I eventually found. Reading the literature, I thought I would have chickens living in my house and wash my clothes by hand with dirty water in a dark room. There are places like that in the country, but not for me in Cuenca. There was such a difference in being able to say a couple of words about the government or the president that separated me from other foreigners who just popped in for a few weeks. People actually want to talk with you when you know something about their society.

In Argentina it was similar, though even knowing a thing or two didn’t help for quite a while simply because of the culture here. It’s most closed off and more based off of trust. Now that I’ve been here 9 months I know enough about life here to be able to throw some comments in. But not only that, it’s about knowing what has recently happened. Knowing about a strike a few months back makes it much easier to relate to people. That’s why I feel like if you want to truly immerse yourself in a culture, you have to start well before you show up.

Start reading the local newspapers if you can, or at the very least look through sources like the New York Times or BBC for information on the region. This way, when you show up to where you’ll be studying or living, you have an idea about what people are talking about. Not only that, but try to figure out the local phrases, slang, etc. It’s not just the language that you need to overcome, but random buzz words that are actually more useful than complex subjunctive and conditional phrases. People will generally understand what you’re trying to say whether you sound like a professor or not. But they’ll be more likely to keep talking to you if you use the same words they use than try to talk above your level.

Watch movies, pick up a book, or find someone in your area who already knows the place for more background support. And with these things in mind, you’ll hopefully be able to hit the ground running when you land overseas.