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.