13 Dec 2011

Yes, I am a big girl … or possibly a Gigantor …

From the outset let me state that my forefathers and foremothers were not small folk. We are tall, have shoulders, breasts, a waist, hips, thighs, long legs and big feet.
In South Africa, I was a slightly tall woman, but there were many other women my size, and bigger.
According to my host country, however, I fall in the category of gigante.
It is not so bad that people point and stare, possibly because the husband is taller and bigger and he can apparently hit quite hard, but it has happened to me a number of times when I am on the metro, or anywhere where I sit, that when I stand up, that the Spanish folk step back.  I wonder (In Afrikaans of course) what the Spaniards are thinking ... that I will step on them because they are so small? That my size is contagious?
For the reader who does not know this, the Spanish women (and men) generally are not very tall, and the women are super skinny, their thighs are the width of my hand. There are not many countries that they make skinny jeans for men. If I wanted to, I could probably snap them with my one finger.
Now, normally this would not bother me at all, but with the change of seasons I have now spotted a problem: buying shoes.
Every shop I go into I have to ask if they stock my size. I had one shop assistant laugh at me (I nearly stepped on her … the little freak). The other shop assistant gaped at me with her mouth open in horror, shaking her head. I stepped on that little freak, sorry, she was so bloody tiny what is a big girl like me to do? I have no fear facing her loved ones, they will be so small, that once I stoop down to their level they will run away screaming and go hide in the hills …that’s what they do with giants.
I have, in addition hereto, established that Madrid appears to cater for all shapes and sizes, and there are shops that cater for cross dressing men, in that they can wear woman shoes. Out of sheer desperation I visited this store with a friend, and unfortunately have to report that I was not trying to buy glitterati high heeled shoes, which come in red, yellow, pink, blue and leopard print, all in one shoe. Nor were the white thigh high patent leather boots exactly up my alley.
As such, the search continues, since all shapes and sizes clearly does not mean shoes in my size. If there are any other gigantors out there with big feet, let me know where you secretly shop in Madrid, please, otherwise the small town folk shall continue to suffer.

11 Dec 2011

Feliz Navidad or is it Merry Christmas?

It appears that the Engelas have according to my host country, wrongly celebrated Christmas on 25th December each and every year. It appears that the Spaniards or Catholics or possibly everyone from Europe, celebrates Christmas on 6th January each year. Apparently, this is when the Three Wise Men come bearing gifts. Who knew? We of course will continue with our celebrations as per our upbringing, but we will not complain if we score some public holidays in January. If I have learnt one lesson here, it is not to look a gift horse in the mouth.
We have, admittedly, been swept up in the whole “first Christmas in Europe” fever.
It could be worse, I could be experiencing a “I am able to shop in Europe with Euros” fever, which would lead to quite a number of interesting stories, therefore, in my view, my husband should thank his lucky stars (and non-existent overdraft) that I only suffer from Christmas fever…for now.
Now, like many other folk out there, I hope, I have an unhealthy obsession with Christmas lights and Christmas tree decorations; I am literally unable to pass any shop that may stock these items. The mere flickering of a Christmas light in a shop window makes me stop dead in my tracks, gives me a warm glowing feeling around my heart and I am compelled to wander into the store.
I was therefore in absolute heaven last week when we visited a beautiful Monastery in El Escorial, and after the necessary cultural exposure to things older than by home country, my beady eye caught…the flickering of THE LIGHTS. My husband has learned to step back (probably in the “safe zone” which means “hand over the wallet, don’t ask any questions, especially not where will we put this one?”) and just let me be. I thus found the most wonderful little Christmas store, tucked to the ceiling full of wonderful Christmas things…and yes, at one point I was considering buying the train that goes through snow mountain, with the little people and the little houses, with the music … but sanity prevailed and I only bought a couple of beautiful handmade tree decorations. I normally do not do this, but by merely looking at this picture, you my dear reader will have no option but to compend me on this willpower...

It has reached a stage where I know a second Christmas tree is a necessity, and trying to figure out how many outside lights we need and when enough is enough. I am furthermore being unduly influenced by my neighbours, since every time we drive to our house, more and more Christmas lights are appearing on patios, railings, trees and whatever else cannot be carried away over your shoulder. As such, I am beginning to suffer from an inferiority complex – we therefore will have to shop some more. By “we” I of course do mean I and my husband’s wallet…
I am therefore a self-confessed anything Christmas shopaholic, I admit, but bearing in mind this crazy season only lasts a couple of months, how bad can it be? I will report back on that question once I have sneaked the second (slightly) larger Christmas tree into the lounge…of course I now need more decorations…

8 Dec 2011

How to go from attorney to teacher in 0.3 seconds

As I may have stated before, I practised as an attorney for many years in my home country before we moved to Madrid.
Clearly we did not move because I am clever.
Also, I never set out to study for so many years, and practise for so many years, to be in a situation where I don’t actually work in my field of expertise. This is not due to any misconduct on my part, this is due to some Spanish red tape which is about as complicated as Russian, which in layman’s terms means “sorry, for whatever reason we deem necessary or because the mayor had back pain or was angry at his wife, you may not formally work”. This logic makes no sense to me, but be that as it may.
We moved since my husband is allegedly a rocket scientist and those are no longer needed in my home country. My host country however needs rocket scientists so here we are. Possibly my father was right and I should have studied engineering and not law but alas, here I am, two degrees and many years of experience later, and I don’t practise law anymore.
Now, before I (finally) stopped practising, I tried to think what the heck I would do in Madrid. To briefly explain the boring stuff, once I have crossed the red tape mountain, I need to do a conversion type of course, but for that, I need to speak Spanish. This may take a while.
In the meantime, after packing and moving and unpacking and the usual “let’s move country things”, I came to realise a number of important things:
1.    I cannot speak Spanish. So I have a problem, possibly law is not in my immediate future. Check.

2.    I could write a blog to vent. Check.

3.    I am not a housewife. Check.

4.    Cleaning and cooking makes my blood boil. Not in a good way. Check.

5.    I need to do something otherwise I can easily turn into the wicked witch of Casa Engela. Check.
As such, and since I am suddenly “native” English speaking, I was roped into teaching English to children.
Now, for those who know me, stop laughing.
For those that don’t know me very well, I am not familiar with children.
In addition hereto, the idea of teaching never ever in my wildest nightmares crossed my mind. However, my host country suddenly wants their children to learn English from people who actually speak English. I cannot comment on the merits of this decision, however, I can tell you, suddenly I find myself in a group of people who are not very well liked by other teachers – again, this entire argument is in Spanish, which I definitely don’t understand, so I keep quiet and go on my merry little way.
I have now been at this teaching thing for about two months, and can honestly say that I can add to my list that I am not a natural born teacher, however, I know that the idea of sitting at home and not doing anything scares me more, so I shall stick it out, until some clever other English speaking person figures out that I don’t understand what I am doing, at best the children will speak with a South African accent, and furthermore, what the hell are you thinking letting an attorney loose on your kids? Talk about a nightmare.
So, if you are bored at your job, or think you may have made the wrong career move, I have a couple of pointers:
1.    You could marry a rocket scientist and change careers.

2.    You could move countries and suddenly not be allowed to work.

3.    Your English could be very important in ways you never thought possible.
If all else fails, and you married for love and not money, or you are single, then your only solution is to rob a Bank, flee the country and buy an island somewhere. I would love to join you, since I think robbing a Bank could possibly be easier than teaching a screaming mob of little adults to speak English.

1 Dec 2011

The wildlife (or is it night life?) in Madrid

From the outset, I warn any reader that this blog is not for the faint hearted. Reason being is that it deals with a certain portion of people in the host country we live in, namely the “ladies of the night”.
Now, to explain, in my home country there are such ladies (and men) but it is done quietly, only in certain areas, and as a regular Joe Soap (such as, for example, one innocent South African “meisie”) one would never normally see such persons or events. As such, and based on what we have seen thus far, I am compelled to inform you of our recent discoveries regarding these ladies.
In my host country, the situation is very, very different to my home country. I always thought that a country known to be so religious would be more conservative. Not so. Apparently being conservative in your religion has got nothing to do with what these ladies do. Right.
Our first exposure to these ladies was from the safety of our car. We were visiting friends on the coast of Spain, when we saw extremely scantily clad woman hanging around at roundabouts. We were quite astonished, since clearly, the sun had set, so pray do tell why are woman hanging around on the roundabouts wearing less than bikinis? These ladies are called “gloriettas”, and work to service tourist and locals. Now I am not one to judge, but really, being flashed by a woman, as a woman, is not something I really want to experience. As such, after this jaw dropping experience, we were not as astounded by more recent events as we would have been a couple of months ago.
Over the weekend, we, with the same South African friends who also live in Spain, went meandering around Madrid checking out the Christmas lights. We ended up having a late night coffee on a very busy road in Madrid, when we realised we were apparently on one of the roads where these ladies work.
Now of course, and as I previously pointed out, the Engelas are extremely nosey and curious, and as such, our entire group proceeded to watch these working ladies and the behaviour. All we needed were some popcorn, but admittedly, a pair of binoculars would have been wonderful as well.
Here is what I can summarise from our scrutiny:
1.    Most of these ladies appear to be from other European countries: they are however quite adapt to swearing at prospective clients (and their female partners) who refuse their services, in Spanish. I wonder of this leads to more work?

2.    They are able to stalk on killer high heels. These heels may however also be used as weapons, possibly when services are refused.

3.    If you look quickly, they may appear to be wearing large belts. Upon closer inspection, the belt is a skirt.

4.    One gentleman quite literally ran away (in circles, since when one is stalked the hunter tends to be able to accurately guess the preys next move) from one of these ladies who was stalking him. The South Africans were rolling around on the floor laughing at his acrobatic moves. And yes, Spanish men can blush. And yes, we received some glares and swear words, which we did not understand, so we continued watching.

5.    One event which had us all in stiches was that (and this is a true story) a Spanish mother requested the services of one of these ladies for her son (who was accompanying her) who looked to be quite young. This is an interesting take on motherhood in my opinion. Our friends, when returning home, saw this same mother and her son on the train – he was looking far more uncomfortable than prior to the meeting with said lady, and was scratching in places where no man should scratch continuously. Me thinks a very embarrassing visit to the doctor is on this young man’s horizon.

6.    Be careful not to try to determine if any lady is such a lady of the night, purely based on their clothing, you can be seriously mistaken; some local girls and woman wear clothes like that just to go out. Yes, their mothers allow them to leave their homes looking like that.
Today, I was in the city centre, with a guest from South Africa, when I noticed that the ladies of the night, also work in the day. Somehow these ladies seem as intimidating and scary in the day, as at night, if not more so ... something about black leather thigh high boots in the sun seems to scare me.
So, my conclusion is that the wildlife in Madrid is similar to the wildlife in South Africa, they move around day and night, they stalk their prey, they are seriously scary looking, it is safer to do a game drive from the safety of your car and if you don’t run away quickly, you will get bitten in places you do not want to be bitten in.

27 Nov 2011

Hunting smunthing

To our utter shock and horror, we ascertained a short while ago that we have moved to a country where hunters live. Yes, hunters, in a European city, with huge guns.
This story actually starts some time ago, when I used to walk with the red dogs in farm lands very close to our house. We loved it: dirt roads, no traffic, the red dogs could run loose and smell SPANISH THINGS (it appears that everything smells different here for the red dogs, that’s why we have to stop at all the random spots where other dogs walked, breathed, sat, had a wee and a poo in the last century).
So the farm land walks were wonderful.
Until the day a strange looking hairy old Spaniard came galloping towards the red dogs and I on his horse and started shouting at me, in Spanish (which I could understand, yes, it is similar to alien language which I could speak from birth – please note the sarcasm).
Of course when I returned home, I spoke to a friend who told me that this shouting Spaniard was probably trying to warn me that hunting season had started, which means that anything that moves in the fields are fair game and as such, I should avoid the farm roads. I was astonished; firstly, clearly there is a difference between one standard human, two red dogs, and wild game? Furthermore, one would think that there would be enormous warning signs everywhere warning people about the hunting season, but apparently not. It appears that this knowledge is part of the book of knowledge that Spanish children are born with. Foreigners don’t get those books.
About one week after this event, my husband and I were woken up at some ungodly hour (on a Sunday), with the sounds of people shooting guns. Admittedly I did not know what this sounded like, but for some reason my husband does…
Apparently we live in an area where these shooting events take place regularly. Later that day, we went walking with the red dogs, on proper non-farm roads, when we spotted a group of 4x4 vehicles parked in a little field between houses. Of course being the nosey people that we are, we spied on the 4x4 vehicles and their occupants for as long as we were able to.
For the record, I come from a country where people hunt as well, with huge guns, camouflage gear, lots of alcoholic drinks and meat for the braai, in order to shoot some game. Not that I ever partook in these events.
Now, in the town we live, hunters seem to behave in a similar fashion: the 4x4’s were grouped closely together, the hunters were in full camo gear, bearing huge guns, their whippet dogs sitting quietly next to them… whilst they were sipping their coffees and eating the baguettes and gammon. Yes, I admit, I was already in stiches with this: clearly hunting in the European fashion requires some serious style. However, here is where it becomes even more interesting: of course the camo gear in necessary, the hunters are hunting in a farmed field full of cut corn, it is therefore of tantamount importance to blend in with the corn, but of course, since the wild rabbits and birds that they are shooting will spot them a mile away if they are not in camo gear. Indeed, they hunt rabbits and birds. The mind boggles.
As such, I have learned a couple of lessons which I have no problem in sharing with you:
1.    Walking on farm roads can be seriously dangerous for your health.
2.    Clearly some Spanish hunters have a size issue: from afar, the red dogs and I could be mistaken for rabbits and birds.
3.    It is safer for my health to stay at home and have more wine.

10 Nov 2011

Driving on the wrong (or is it right?) side of the road...and trying not killing any Spaniards

One of the most terrifying and difficult aspects of moving to an EU country like Spain, for me, was not the difference in culture (yes, they are not Africans. Duh.), or the language (nothing is in English. Nothing. If it is in English, it’s because you are a tourist and you will pay for the English), or the strangeness of it all. Nope. The biggest problem for me thus far was this whole driving on the other side of the road business.

When we moved from our furnished loft apartment to our house, we realised we needed wheels, and quickly. Yes, indeed, the metros and trains do not go everywhere. Of to Renault we charge with a friend who helped us through this maze of Spanish bureaucracy and red tape, to buy a car. Or two cars that is, the husband needed one for work, I needed one for the rest – shopping; going to my English classes; dragging the red dogs of to the vet and the like, you know, the little housewife stuff.
The first few weeks I was so scared of driving on the other side of the road, I point blank refused. Of course this meant the husband had to drive everywhere and between trying not to kill pedestrians and shouting at the Tom-Tom (my husband is convinced the Tom-Tom is out to get us. When we are driving anywhere in Madrid, and highways criss-cross each other - which they do in Madrid, a lot – then the Tom-Tom looses signal and tells us to execute a U-turn now. On this Highway. You can see where this is going. My lovely husband then turns into Chuckie, the crazed one), I realised that for the sake of my marriage and any future children we may have, that I need to drive on these crazy roads.

The first couple of weeks were completely insane.
When I tried to change gears, I would grab the window next to me. The ability to park completely evaded me, if I had to parallel park, I would stop four blocks further away just to avoid it.

Then I had to learn to watch out for pedestrians, since here they have right of way. That is fine, but the problem is that a lot of pedestrians start crossing the road a couple of meters before the crossing, or, and this has happened, they would just not look and start walking, so, for example, I would be on the pedestrian crossing, since they were not even close to where the crossing begins, and they would increase their speed to land in front of my car. So not only do you have to watch for pedestrians crossing the road, you have to watch for pedestrians possibly thinking of crossing the road. Trust me, this is not easy.
In addition hereto, this town is one big roundabout. I drive from my house to where I give class about 30 kilometres away, and there is one traffic light, but about 25 roundabouts. Now, the rules of the roundabout here are quite simple: you can do whatever the hell you like. If you enter the roundabout at 6o’clock, and want to exit at 3 o’clock, you are welcome to be on the inside lane of the roundabout. That does not sound like an issue, but then the other driver who enters at 6 o’clock, and exits at 9 o’clock, is allowed to be in the outside lane. You do the math.
Lastly, I have to avoid certain Spanish drivers. I do not mean to insult my host country but I would like to know how certain people obtained their driver's licences? Lanes are changed without indicating, I have seen drivers execute an emergency stop in the middle of a highway to change lanes, and for some reason the mimimum speed limit appears to be a goal. I have also seen more accidents in parking lots than on the roads. Apparently parking is not always tested when the practical test is done. Right.
Thus far, I am pleased to say, I have not killed or maimed any Spaniards, as far as I am aware (and if I have, I don’t understand Spanish, so I don’t understand their shouting), nor have I collided with anything.
One would think I have had my driver’s licence for three seconds. I have not, I have been driving for more than 10 years, but, alas, for the Spanish system this means nothing, of course. We come from Africa and this means we cannot drive. We were riding elephants a short while ago, what do we know about cars? I may just vent for a second here and inform you, my dear reader, that Algerian drivers licences are acknowledged in Spain. Algerian. Have the Spaniards been to Algeria in the past 50 years? I seriously question the logic of that decision but it has something to do with the Spaniards trying to rule the World at one point, which of course included Algeria, so now Algeria and Spain are friends. Wonderful. Why did the Spaniards not come to South Africa? It would be a lot easier today. Yes, admittedly we would have had an Anglo – Boer – Spanish war but come on people, at least I would have a valid driver’s licence.
So this means that the Engelas have to redo their licences. We have completed our classes, and now have to write the theory exam, and then do the practical. I am pleased to state that the Americans have to do this as well, therefore I don’t feel as prejudiced. Sorry my American friends. Therefore, this saga is not finished and I shall report on our administrative and financially crippling adventures regarding obtaining our EU drivers’ licences in due course.
In the meantime, I have to go, I am leaving the house in two hours which leaves very little time to plan my 30 kilometre route in order to be exposed to as little roundabouts, highways, Spanish drivers and pedestrians as possible. This could mean I have to take a 60 kilometre detour but for the sake of my own sanity, I am prepared to make these plans. Otherwise I may have to move to the Moon.

6 Nov 2011

This cooking thing, she is not as easy as she looks

After this weekend of taking care of a broken husband (he tore his left leg hamstring, I of course think it is hilarious that his boss asked him if playing cards is not a more appropriate sport for a man his age), and keeping the red dogs calm due to jogs having to be planned according to the rain (yes, I hate walking and jogging in the rain!), I am contemplating not only housewife duties, but more specifically, the whole business of cooking and baking. Due to our housebound state, I have been cooking and baking this weekend, and survived this ordeal. Yes, I admit, this sounds like an advertisement. And no, I don’t want an apron thank you. Not yet, anyway.
I, as a previously full time working singleton and later wife, had no qualms about the fact that I was what you would call an average (at best) cook. At university, my limited repertoire was spotted within weeks of sharing a flat with a (still) good friend (clearly she accepted my limited cooking skills as one of those things, possibly because I was a good drinking and partying buddy), when we, together with two other friends of ours, decided to at least have four “proper” meals a week, in other words, each person cooked a meal once a week. After the first three weeks, the girls realised that I could only make sticky chicken and macaroni cheese. Needless to say, my first birthday present was a cookbook. I am still too scared to look at it, but it did make the move from South Africa to Spain.
After finishing university, travelling and starting my articles, I met my husband, but still had not improved my cooking skills, unless making a killer salad, being able to cook pasta, perfecting oven roasted vegetables and making edible sandwiches, counts as cooking, which I strongly suspect does not.
Pretty soon into married live, my husband and I (good heartedly) made certain ground rules: I was not allowed to touch meat (meat should apparently not be burnt black); I was not allowed to make eggs (those damn things can get quite rubbery) and rice was just a no-no.
My husband, bless him, can cook, and for this I thank my mother in law. My husband and his sister each had a “cooking turn” over weekends. I assume that this meant a whole lot of toasted cheese sandwiches, but still. My mother in law had foresight; she knew her son would marry me, the worst cook in the world.
My husband is one of those people who just loves the creativity of cooking, which drives people like me crazy: he can just look at the cupboard or fridge and make a meal. I would look at the same cupboard and fridge, and promptly jump in my car and race to Woolworths. On this point I place on record that I think I have individually succeeded in making the shareholders and directors of Woolworths very, very damn rich. Bastards. But at least my alleged cooking skills “improved”.
Through my married years, I received a couple of kitchen utensil gifts which I always eyed with suspicion, put away in the cupboard for a rainy day (I mean, what is a pressure cooker for?), and still shopped at Woolworths.
How was I supposed to know that the rainy day would be when we hopped, skipped and jumped and ended in Spain. Without Woolworths. Without Mrs. Balls Chutney.
Suddenly, I was completely and utterly out of my depth.
Firstly, I, for example, loved the “Cook in Sauces” that was sold everywhere in South Africa, any stew tasted wonderful. Of course, I took credit for this. Sorry. Now, sauces are made from scratch. That’s fine, I can live with that, but to find the items on the Spanish shops can be quite a challenge, it seems people here are not that fond of spicy food. So, the learning curve for making sauces has commenced. I have found one sauce from a good friend, my husband thinks it is the best sauce ever. However, now I hear horror of people making their own stock. Yes, indeed, people do that. I shall not even begin to consider such a bold step, thank you very much, Oxo stock it shall be.
Secondly, recipes are quite stressful I have realised. I tend to follow a recipe down to the last gram, but I now realise that it is not always possible to have the exact same ingredients in this country, and as such, I have to improvise. Yes, my throat closes up at this point and I grab the closest bottle of alcohol I can find.
Thirdly, I have started finding out the purpose of a lot of these kitchen gifts: I think a pressure cooker is wonderful; my slow cooker is working overtime; I at long last know how to use the garlic press; I now use that Verimark “Twista” thing, and I even went and bought new pots.
Around Halloween I tried for the first time to make an oxtail stew, in our slow cooker, and I was gobsmacked that my guests did not go running for the hills. None of the sauces where homemade though, sorry, but I had bought them myself.
Today I was very bold and tried a completely new recipe, Coq a Vin. This means chicken and a box of wine. I was horrified by the smells emanating from my kitchen, but, the guinea pig (my husband), after tasting some of this new creation, promptly announced that I am the best wife in the world. This may be due to the fact that I have to help him get back up one flight of stairs, into bed, with his pills and cream on his torn ligament, and therefore I am in a position of power, but I would like to think it may be due to the fact that the food is edible.
As such, I have developed a very sound respect for woman (and men) that can cook and bake, and with such grace and ease that it seems effortless. But, as I read somewhere, it is apparently a skill that requires trial and error. I really hope that there will be more trials than errors in my learning curve, but I do know that the red dogs will not mind having some of the errors.

3 Nov 2011

Adventures of the two red dogs: Chapter 2

The red dogs have had an enormous culture shock due to our decision to move to Madrid – not only do other dogs apparently speak Spanish (which, it turns out, is a minor problem for the red dogs, they are much larger that most Spanish dogs, so their sense of superiority is firmly in place), they suddenly have to (and this is an “bad” word) EXERCISE.
Let me explain why this is such a shock. Our dogs lived in the lap of luxury in South Africa, they had a huge garden, they chased the gardener (to be petted, not to eat him), they also chased every single unsuspecting person who dared to walk in front of or in close proximity to – which included the immediate 10km radius around our old house - our front gate and as such, and generally they did not go for long walks. Yes, Mr Dog Whisperer, I admit, I am the worst dog owner ever; I did not exercise the dogs regularly. In my own defence, I would like to state for the record that most days, we left home before sunrise and arrived home after sunset.
In Madrid, I work only part time and since we have a small garden, the red dogs have been exposed to a vigorous work out every day. The transition from determining their own exercise regime to falling into my exercise regime has been a battle of the wills. At the beginning, they could hardly walk up our hill close to our house. Twenty minutes into the walk, they would drag their feet, their tongues would be extended past their feet and they would lie down in an attempt to stop the torture. This lying on the ground technique works very well, since they will only move if it is backwards towards casa Engela. Since I cannot carry a combined weight of 100 kilograms, they had the upper hand.
Of course, admittedly, their wilfulness worked very well for this unfit writer.
Now, three months later, the red dogs and I love our daily walks, we have conquered the hill, and the next one, and now we walk and run for about an hour and a half every day. I admit, I would some days love to not walk or run, but the red dogs have all their senses tuned in when such a thought crosses my mind, they start bumping into me, stepping on my feet and generally fledge a full scale war to drive me crazy, in order that I succumb to their will to go for a walk.
The walks are also quite adventurous, since we encounter all kinds of wildlife: crazy cyclists with dogs tied to their bicycles going for their daily run (I am in awe by the good behaviour of the Spanish dogs, I would be flat on the ground, with the bicycle wrapped around my ankles if I let the red dogs do this); parental cyclists who have their children in a little seat on the back of the bicycle (the red dogs are in awe by the good behaviour of the children); joggers (both the red dogs and I are gobsmacked by how fit most Spanish people are, we can only hope to achieve that level of fitness) and dog walkers (again, both the red dogs and I are in awe: Spanish dogs are not on leashes, generally, they walk and run freely and listen to their owners – I can only imagine the havoc the red dogs would create if I let them loose, I shudder at the thought and hold their leashes tighter). We also once encountered a car with six Whippets running next to it: the Whippets were tied to this bar extendable thing and running quietly alongside the car. I got a death stare from the red dogs at that, but I am still not prepared to even try that. The only time we encountered real wild wildlife was a little rabbit along a farm road, the big red dog sniffed and sniffed but to her credit, did not bite or bark or scare the little rabbit to death.
As such, the daily walks are (mostly) not negotiable at all, however, the red dogs are aware that if they refused to go for a walk, I would probably also bump into them and step in their feet.
I must admit, however, that on this cold rainy day, the red dogs and I are tucked underneath our blankets and refuse to go for our daily exercise, who on earth would walk and run in the rain? Not this human slave or the red dogs…

1 Nov 2011

Happy Halloween (Or is it Galloween?)

We did not know that Halloween is celebrated in Spain.
Yes, we may be completely daft but I was under the impression that Halloween is an American tradition. I have however been corrected quite a number of times this week and was told by someone that Halloween is an Irish tradition, and by someone else that the Irish are wrong, Halloween is a Scottish tradition. Where I got the short end of the stick that it is American, I don’t know.
The point is, Halloween is celebrated in Spain, with pumpkins, spider webs and creepy monster creatures appearing everywhere (no, I am not referring to my dirty house or myself in this description).
The entire week during my “fun” English classes (a topic for another day), the children for the first time became excited during class, possibly because they were making Halloween decorations and cards, both activities which require very little English input. Score one for Ms. Michele. This of course does not mean that some children did not cry or throw tantrums; I was just able to bribe them to behave like children and not like a scissor throwing, physically violent, screaming mob. Of course the childrens' level of English is so good, that when I explained about Halloween, I only got a reaction when I pronounced the H as a hard G.
Last night for the first time in my life, children were ringing our doorbell asking for candy. The red dogs were quite astonished and became extremely confused as to why little devils and witches are being allowed in our property, and they cannot eat them. Clearly my double standards are a point of dispute with the red dogs but be that as it may.
As such, we were dishing out some very expensive Belgian chocolates because of course we did not know we need to have a vast amount of candy available for strangers and their offspring who we have never met before. Luckily some friends arrived with a bag of candy, which was not some expensive Belgian chocolate brand. As I was handing out the candy to the well behaved children (I don’t know how children in other countries behave during Halloween and when trick and treating – or in Spanish, truco y trato), but here, they are extremely well behaved, you must put the candy in their goody bag), I could not help but wonder if these parents are aware that their children will be bouncing of the walls for the next three days. As such, and being the evil (alleged) witch that I am, I handed out extra candy.
I may just point out that my lovely husband at one point during the night commented that I can fit in quite well with Halloween, I don’t need a costume, just my broom. I would be careful with my home packed lunches this week if I was him.
As such, and in order to support my host country and the (American? Irish? Scottish? Spanish?) tradition of Halloween, I have decided that next year we shall partake in this event but not only dressing up and possible scaring ourselves half to death, but the red dogs shall promptly be made part of the cast, with, I think appropriately, little red devil horns and pumpkin baskets tied around their necks. Any child, devil, witch, nurse, zombie, skeleton, monster or other creepy creature that is willing to get the sweets out from the pumpkin basket, is welcome to it. I shall have a recorder ready, DVDs shall be on sale in 1 November 2012.

30 Oct 2011

Patrick Sweis et al

On this sunny winter Sunday afternoon, I have the privilege of watching some Spanish television whilst the cute husband and the not-so-cute-today two red dogs are snoring and sleeping blissfully. As I am flicking through the channels, I hear the words “Patrick Sweis” and I for three seconds wonder “who the heck is that”, when I realise that is the way which the Spaniards pronounce Patrick Swayze. Since laughing by myself, alone, are in some countries considered a sign of being a crazy batty old lady who has 100 cats, I decided rather to put pen to paper.
When we arrived here, I soon realised that a large portion of the Spanish community believe that everyone in the world speaks Spanish. I now understand, why, since everything is translated in Spanish, movies, television shows, books, magazines, you name it. Trust me, it is very strange to see George Clooney drawling with a suspiciously young Spanish voice. And I do not for one second believe that the girls in Sex and the City (sorry, Sexo de Neuva York), are fluent Spanish speaking girls. I must also say, the Spaniard who installed our television looked at me like I was a freak alien when I asked if the channels have options for English - he promptly showed me how to get the “Version originale”, and seriously asked me, when the original version was French, if that is English. He was not joking.
As such, the locals struggled with both my husband’s and my name – my husband was known as “Enrique” or “Hi”, and me, well, I was “Mitchell” or “Mikele”. Sometimes I still am, to the locals. So there you go, it is completely irrelevant what your parents decided to put on your birth certificate. Your name will be Spanish.
I may just mention here that our surname is also impossible to pronounce here, and when it is pronounced, it sounds like “Angel” with a hard g.
So for the record, if SARS wants to find us to pay some obscure tax for foreign residents, good luck with that.
To truly comprehend the, which I now believe, conspiracy to make Spanish people think everyone else needs to learn to speak Spanish, no matter where they live, listen to this story: I was told a while ago by a friend, who was born in South Africa but has been living in Spain for many years, that Spanish people who lived in South Africa, had to register their children at the Spanish Embassy in Pretoria. There was apparently a Hitler type woman working there that, no matter what you named your child, she would change the name to a Spanish name on the Spanish documents, for example, “George” would be “Gorge” (again with the hard g) and “Hendrik” would be “Enrique” and so on and so forth. Therefore, these children had a South African name and a Spanish name. This story is so bizarre; you have no choice but to have another glass of wine.
Then again, I experienced the other side of the coin: a very common name in Spain is “Jesus”, pronounced “Gesus”, (with a hard g) not the Bible way. When we moved here, the Spanish moving company had a gentleman communicating with us, and his name was “Jesus”. When I got back to South Africa, I received a phone call from the South African agent, who kept talking to me about “Jesus” (the Bible pronunciation) and for the life of me I could not figure out why this man who I did not know from a bar of soap, was talking to me about his religious beliefs. It was only after a couple of minutes that I figured out he was talking about the gentleman from the Spanish company.
So there, according to the Spaniards, the whole world speaks Spanish, you have a Spanish name, which is your true name sorry for your parents, and people mispronounce names all the time, however, I am quite happy being called Michele, thanks, and I am married to Hein, not Enrique or some other weirdo Spaniard.

27 Oct 2011

How easy is it to get a mobile phone...not...

It is easier to buy a car (with only an AA driver’s licence I might add) in Spain, than what it is to get a mobile phone contract when you only have residency in your host country. You may think I am exaggerating, but that is indeed the case.
A couple of months ago, we had a relocation company help us to move to Madrid. These people tried, in vain, to help us get a phone, but their English was not enough to explain to us that as people from Africa, we apparently need to live in Spain for 100 years, before we can get a mobile phone, because we are a risk and can leave at any time. Right, we moved countries, sold our house, moved the entire family and two red dogs to a foreign country and will leave quickly. Check. The other aspect which the relocation company was probably to good mannered to explain is that people use mobile phones, it appears, for car bombs. This I assume only applies to foreigners because each and every Spaniard I meet has a mobile phone.
So, a couple of months later, with proof of regular income, we set off, on our own, to one Very well-known mobile network shop (I shall not name names directly, but is known for their red logo…), to get a mobile phone. When faced with only Spanish speaking sales assistants, who could not understand our Spanglish nor had Google translate, we eventually returned to our little home, defeated, without said mobile phone.
Eventually we convinced our good friend who is South African but who speaks Spanish like a native, to help us, and he (again) kindly agreed. So we again set off to the Very well-known mobile network shop. After negotiating for days, collecting documents and bribing bank officials to give us bank slips (No, it is not enough to give to the said mobile shop your original bank accounts, you have to produce a document that the Bank prints. One would think that the fact that the Bank prints a bank account is sufficient. Apparently not). After a couple of days of finding documents, producing blood tests, fingerprints and promising not to disappear, the Engelas had a mobile phone. Joy all around.
I then leave for South Africa for “Die Groot Trek”, and after two days, the mobile phone is cut off…due to fraud, “because my husband is phoning Africa”. This is fraud people. No-one in Spain phones Africa. Phoning said Very well-know mobile network does not help, since “The Fraud” has been handed to some Fraud Unit. Who will phone the Engelas. On said mobile. That has been cut off. After some heavy negotiations, my husband ends up meeting the boss of the Very well-known mobile network in Madrid, at a braai, and (hear the Angels singing), he is a South African. I am not kidding. Said phone is only then switched on.
This process took two months, excluding the time to obtain said mobile, which was also two months.
Of course the said mobile now has some serious coffee stains, due to a certain red dog being possessed by an Alien one morning when suddenly out of nowhere she decides she has never seen a coffee cup, does not understand why said coffee cup is on the bedside table that she has to sniff and said coffee cup should move, which resulted in her getting rid of coffee cup, over my bedside table, over my books, the said mobile and my side of our bed.
Now one would think to buy a car takes the same amount of time. You will be mistaken. We saw the cars on a Monday, bought said cars and had same cars by Wednesday. Without EU driver’s licences. Because South African driver’s licenses are not recognised in Spain. Algerian ones are. I will not dwell on this today. Three days for two cars, four months for one mobile phone.
My conclusion is that if my car could send a text message and call someone, it would have been the perfect fit. Unfortunately, it does not, so therefore, I am thankful for my coffee stained mobile phone, I just don’t ever want to try to renew the contract. Please.

26 Oct 2011

The adventures of the red dogs in Madrid – Chapter 1

One day out of the blue, two innocent (not so little) red dogs were put in a white tube that moved a lot and next thing they knew, they arrived in a very hot little town called Madrid. What were their human slaves thinking?

And so began the adventures of the two red dogs. Some highlights thus far, to bring other potential human slaves up to speed:

The Vet has never seen such big dogs. She appears to be afraid. As such, the red dogs bump her, step on her and to show the “Vet” (known to the red dogs by her true name, namely “THE ONE WHO HAS THE INJECTIONS HIDDEN AMONGST TREATS, WE ARE NOT FOOLED”) that they know her evil plans, knock over all the goodies in her shop/rooms. Surely this human slave should know space should be left for the red dogs to run, jump, sniff and wag their tails? Duh.
The Vet calls her boyfriend to help her when the red dogs are being examined. Human slaves can be so gullible, if they only knew that with a little leg of lamb, the red dogs are sluts.

Because the red dogs are big (usually accompanied with a small shriek), but “oh so good”, they get treats at the Vet. Little does the Vet know that by sweet talking the red dogs, and rubbing their ears and tummies, they will also pretty much jump through hoops. So for treats, the red dogs will lie down and be quiet.

The human slaves have been trained well; they had to look for a house with a garden. The red dogs don’t care that in Madrid a house with a garden is like trying to find Mrs. Balls Chutney in Spain, that’s why they have human slaves.
Because the red dogs needs a place to wee, to do their number two and roll around in, their human slaves bought grass and spent two weeks of hell trying to get the grass in. To show that the grass which the human slaves bought is just not on par, the red dogs do dig it out. In clumps.

The female human slave is trying to fool the red dogs by leaving some mint in the garden to cover the ungodly smells that she alleges emanate from their “number two’s”. The red dogs however have figured this out and find that aiming for the mint bushes crushed those dreams. So the human slaves must do that what they were born to do, pick up after the red dogs so that the grass is clean and pristine for the next bathroom visit.

The red dogs have quickly figured out that by running up and down the stairs, farting and stepping on the human slaves’ feet and any other body parts that could be close to their level (which includes knees, legs etcetera), will result in the human slaves agreeing to be dragged all over the little town. Again, human slaves are gullible.
The youngest red dog has also perfected “the frog march”, which in layman, slave, terms means that as soon as the leash is on her, she puts her head down, and pulls, with all her might, to such an extent that her hind legs look like two body builders. This frog march continues until the youngest red dog is sure the human slave cannot return to the red dogs’ house for at least 30 minutes, which would include running time. She will then relax for about 2.2 seconds, and then proceed with the frog march again, since the human slave has to understand that she is entertaining the human slave by agreeing to drag the human slave all over town, she had no problem staying under her blanket on her bed the whole day.

The jury is still out on potential Spanish human slaves. Both red dogs have tried to eat Spanish builders, internet/telephone installers and other folk that deliberately plan to walk past the gate in front of the red dogs’ house. What the red dogs have established thus far is:

1.    Builders and installers jump high, and fast. This is quite entertaining and as such, the red dogs are trying to find the next Spanish human victim that can leap and clear the outside wall.

2.    The other folk may already have a Spanish dog as their Boss. As such, the red dogs will give the Spanish dogs a blood curling stare, advise them that their human slaves are superior and that Spanish human slaves will never be on standard. The red dogs don’t care that Spanish dogs can only speak Spanish, those other dogs and their slaves can learn Afrikaans.
And so, the adventure continues further tales (and tails) to come...

24 Oct 2011

102 Tips: How to relocate two red dogs and not want to chew off your own arm

I am still not sure which is more difficult to do, move humans or dogs to another country. Humans have their own issues, I admit, for example, you have to prove that the host country company truly, madly needs you and that no-one in this whole wide world can do that particular job (even if they approached you, but lest not dwell). Dogs, I have subsequently established, are a different kettle of fish all together. I never knew there were EU rules to regulate what you can and cannot do with dogs, so during trips from Madrid back to good old SA, I had the privilege of being in charge of “sorting the dogs”.

Tip one: Avoid Google. Yes, there, I have said it. Google makes you crazy. The more you read the more you are questioning why the hell you bought a dog in the first place and why oh why did you not rather buy a snake or a kimono dragon, those are easier to get into a country, I’m sure. Then, certain countries define “dangerous dogs” which you are not allowed to import. In certain places, the red dogs are defined as “dangerous”. Have you met my dogs? The only dangers you have are being licked to death, pushed over because they weigh, respectively, 45kg (the baby) and 50 kg (the old girl), being farted out of the house or that they snore louder than your husband. This of course for the record does not apply to burglars or other creepy people. You will be eaten by the red dogs.
Tip two: Go to your local Vet. Not only will you get the Evil Eye from some countrymen as to why you are leaving, but your Vet’s first questions are not “How is it going”, but rather “Will there be space for them? Who will look after them? Are you sure?”, as if I will suddenly turn into the horned, fanged monster that will hate my dogs, stuff them in a mini me crate the whole day and ignore them? Right. You are aware that I am prepared to spend the same amount that a small car costs to get them to Spain? Check. It is however important to remain calm with your Vet, especially if you read tip four.
Tip three: After you have successfully avoided a standoff with your Vet, you will get a two page document with what could in certain instances be tantamount to Greek, but which are actually “The Rules”. “The Rules” are written in specially coded language that only EU people and Vets can understand. Good luck figuring it out; I suggest you have some wine. I am sure my first university degree was easier.
Tip four: Once you understand “The Rules” (good luck), you can start the process, which involves things like blood tests, injections, chips, more blood tests, certificates from Somewhere, and then the roller coaster time periods which I still have not exactly figured out, but means that all these things are valid for a certain period of time only, otherwise they probably send your pets back to SA. Or they hand them over to the closest ready, willing and able Spaniard.
Tip five: And this is the one that proved to be the trickiest. Find a Pet Relocation Company. Once you have successfully completed tips one to four, you will have the joy of not only finding a Pet Relocation Company, but dealing with the humans working there. Now, there are a number of places who do this work. How to decide? Which is best? Who will at least treat my girls well? The questions continue and you will want to pull your hair out, but all I can say is suck it up, you want them in Spain, you have to deal with them. This also means that they charge you a fortune for checking your understanding of “The Rules”, misinterpreting the documentation, sending your in-laws in SA on a wild goose chase and literally driving you to drink. And of course they buy small cars with your money. Now very important to remember: your Vet may need to be involved in faking certain documents because when you got “The Rules”, no reference was made to the books of the dogs having to be produced. So you in your wisdom, and during the home invasion of packing your house, you packed the books into a box. Somewhere. In the 200 boxes that represents your life. And your life is in a steel container somewhere on the ocean. So you will be forced to bribe your Vet, and make him help you. Otherwise the red dogs are moving in with some Spaniard. Or staying behind with the in-laws (who would not mind but they are our girls!)
Tip six: When you go pick up your dogs from the airport, be sure to drag a good friend who can speak Spanish with you to the Cargo place, because your Spanish truly sucks, no-one speaks English and you have to find documents and produce papers that either the Airline or the Pet Relocation Company lost. Also, you have to deal with the State Vet, who also gives you the Evil Eye (in Spanish) because Someone lost the original documents of the dogs. In light of the fact that you have not yet seen your dogs, it wasn’t you, but these guys come from the Spanish Inquisition. You will admit to almost anything.
Tip seven: When you eventually locate the original documents the Airline lost (not really, it was stuck on one of the two crates but you know, it is so much work to check both crates), you will have to go back to the State Vet and give the documents to him. Of course you forgot about the original documents, so technically you are two months late give or take and will probably get a fine. This would not be a problem if the State Vet was there and you were not forced to fend for yourself (without your Spanish speaking friend) with six Spaniards standing around you, wanting to desperately understand your Spanglish, to such an extent that when the State Vet does eventually arrive, you want to fall to the floor and kiss his feet, because he can speak ten words of English.
And so, the red dogs arrive. Joy all around. Of course the Cargo guys are so friendly, they let you figure out how the hell to open the darn crates facing a brick wall. Thanks. Tails are waging, the red dogs jump into the back of the dusty car, and off we go.
The conclusion I have reached is yes, it’s absolutely worth it to have the red dogs here, I am glad we spent a small fortune on getting them here, and I thank the Dog Relocation Gods that the girls were not in quarantine. But relocating them? Great for the red dogs, insane for the humans slaves.

Why washing my car is like gambling with Karma

On this cold and rainy and windy Monday morning, I reflect on Karma and her evilly concocted plans to make me stay in bed. After five months in my host country, I finally pluck up enough courage to have my car washed. Now, you may think that this is easy, in South Africa you go to the garage, they wash it, you pay, you leave, or you get Solly to do it. Here, it’s not so easy. Let me explain why:

1.    My wonderful husband (God bless him) always offers to wash my car. Again, we must reflect on my terminology book, such phrases like “Don’t worry, I will wash your car this weekend and I understand your car is dirty because we do all our road trips in your car and the dogs are in your car all the time”, means “You will have to take the car to a car wash. I, who have had Spanish classes, will not go with you. Such a promise after five months is all it is, a promise. Learn the Spanish.”

2.    The practicality of washing your own car only becomes a reality nightmare when you realise you may need a 100 meter long hose pipe to fit from the closest tap to the outside of your house, to your car. This entails shopping and trying to explain what you need to an extremely helpful Spanish sales assistant (note the sarcasm), and to try not to get yourself arrested because somewhere along the line you will place the emphasis on the wrong syllable of the word and probably end up making a sexually explicit proposition to the Spaniard. So we have a problem. And to this day we cannot locate long enough hose pipes. We are too scared to ask, I admit. Maybe it’s hidden with all the other things we want to buy but cannot find, like Mrs Balls Chutney. 

3.    So scratch that idea. 

4.    And I might add no-one in your street washes their own cars but miraculously their cars are bright and clean every week whilst your car looks like the dusty stepsister. 

5.    So the next option: go to a car wash. This entails some carefully thought out questions, that you need to either memorise or pray that you can keep the conversation to a minimum. So on Saturday (possibly due to lack of sleep), I decide today is the day. I shall conquer my fear. I have two degrees, I am clearly not a complete fool and as such, should be able to have my car washed and restored to its bright and shiny condition that it was five months ago.  

Well, I arrive, smile like an idiot (again) and pray that I can get this done. So I start in my best (limited) Spanish, and with some extreme hand gestures (the question was if the car must be cleaned inside and outside, so we both gesture like mad and eventually I have to knock on the outside of the car and point to the inside) – and yes, I do look like a flying monkey some days with the hand gestures – I go off to a blissful shopping spree at the Chinaman’s shop (a topic for another day) and return to a shiny sparkly new car. 

Of course I am at this stage also thinking, I am so happy that there were so few cars at the car wash, it was so quick. Must be the Spanish thing of only waking up at 12, whilst I am the early bird catching the worm (the saying sound wrong if I say catches the wash?).
And so, today, I reflect on the amount of preparation this one hour event took, why it was so hard do in the first place and want to throw my coffee cup at dear old Karma, because it is raining buckets and the new shiny car looks like a heap of washing forgotten outside. I think all the Spaniards probably knew this, that’s why the car wash was empty, and they are laughing madly into their coffee cups at the South African’s inability to listen and understand the Spanish news and Spanish weather. Or maybe I should invest in a gypsy crystal ball. Thanks Karma!

23 Oct 2011

101 tips on how to move humans from South Africa to Spain, Engela style... (102 tips on moving two Rhodesian Ridgebacks to follow...)

I have a few pointers that can help, for those of you who may be interested, it worked for us; it may not work for you:

1.    Ensure you work for a company that will close down. To be very sure that you choose such a company, study two degrees, work 15 hour days and if possible, it should be a research and development company for Energy resources, which employs close to 1000 people.  If you have done this, skip this tip.

2.    Understand the lingo.

Words like “I have an interview at Eskom” can loosely be translated to “some Spanish company called me, and I have a job in Madrid”.

Also, and this is important, terminology like “I will go back to South Africa with you to pack up the house, settle and move the dogs, sell what we need to, pack the various items that need to go all over South Africa to family and friends, and be involved in the three day home invasion of the moving company” means “You’re on your own love. Sorry, here is a glass of wine”. For more such translations, contact me, I have a couple of chapters.

3.    Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork...

“They” will need proof that you are who you say you are, blood tests are not sufficient. It could mean you may need to find the doctor who delivered you, but then he has to prove he knows you, photographs and video recordings may help of that event. Handwriting and signatures are important, so please retain your primary school books.

Marriage and birth certificates are also of vital importance, but there is an evil conspiracy about, and no, it has nothing to do with the difference (which I still don’t understand) between abridged and unabridged birth certificates (which on this point is just a money making evil scheme), but rather with the fact THAT IT IS NOT IN SPANISH. This could mean a nine month delay on paperwork or your life as some people call it. It does not help to explain to your host foreign country that no one speaks Spanish in South Africa. The Angels of the Emigration Company in Madrid dealt with this conundrum; I don’t even want to know how.

4.    Moving countries does not take a week or two. Nonsense. It takes a couple of vineyards and one or two little chocolate and chips factories.