16 Jan 2012

Spanish mothers, and yes, I am a pushover

I explained previously that in my home country, I practised as an attorney, for a number of years.

Now, due to fact that for some unbeknownst reason the Spanish government has decided I am not allowed to work (formally), I work illegally since I have a skill that seems to be rare in my host country, namely that I can (allegedly) speak English, and as such, I am a teacher. You can spot the irony here.
In any event, I now teach children and adults alike the art of speaking and writing English.

Today I had the privilege of talking to a Spanish mother, and due to the nature of this discussion I thought it prudent to share same:

1.    Her nine year old daughter is in my class. Lovely girl, very sweet and eager, she does all her written work perfectly, but she is so shy, she refuses to talk. Fine, I was once upon a time an introvert, so I can relate. I believe positive reinforcement makes a tremendous difference and as such, I don’t demand that a shy child part take in class. Clearly I am wrong in this thought.
2.    Her daughter’s marks in English improved from the equivalent of 50% to 90% since I have been teaching her. Yes, I can boast about something.
3.    However, her daughter’s own full time teacher (who is also the child’s formal English teacher), told the mother that she must talk to me, because the little girl does not talk enough. I must “make” her speak to me in English.

Right. I stand and listen to this and would like to tell the mother the following (in English, of course):

1.       You daughter is an introvert. Deal with it.
2.       I am supposed to teach a “fun” English class. “Making” someone talk hardly falls in the category of “fun” in my view.
3.       I am not the child’s formal English teacher, she has one, and surely this teacher can also “make the child talk”.
4.       I could sit on her child and make her speak English, I think however such behaviour could have serious repercussions for me.
5.       On any given day, I have a group of approximately fifteen screaming (Spanish speaking) nine year olds for one hour in my class. This hour is normally spent as follows:
Ø  I have to ensure that I don’t kill the children;
Ø  I have to ensure that they don’t kill one another;
Ø  I have to ensure that they do not all go to the bathroom all at the same time, which they of course do want to do, ten times during one class;
Ø  I have to deal with this mob who for some reason every Monday, or in fact any day that ends with a - y -, has lost their ability to speak, read, understand, comprehend or listen to English;
Ø  I have to encourage them to take less than one hour to settle down, got to the bathroom, take out their books (which they for some reason almost always forget), look at the board and start their exercises;
Ø  I have to, during each and every class, explain that “he is for a man”, and “she a woman”. One would think this explanation would, after the one hundredth time, stick. Indeed not;
Ø  I have to translate each word and sentence;
Ø  I have to encourage, beg and threaten certain children to just complete the exercises (of which the answers are written on the black board I might add); and
Ø  I have to prevent children from climbing out of windows, kicking a soccer ball, throwing scissors, pens, pencils and the like.
As such, my time to ensure a shy little girl who out of her own does not want to speak English, or Spanish as far as I can gather, talks in class.

I am however incapable of saying any of the above to the mother, due to the fact that not only is my Spanish so limited, but, further, when her daughter then runs to me, gives me a hug and says she loves English, I think, all right, take a deep breath, and just…smile and nod.

3 Jan 2012

Winter? Where?

As I write the title to this blog, I am sure that the snow gods are going to come after us with vengeance. Be that as it may, I shall continue writing my blog, one hand firmly touching wood.
I was waiting in breathless anticipation for our first white Christmas. Alas, no luck, we have only been blessed with a freezing wind. I am however extremely happy to report that the sun shines every day, which makes the cold more bearable.
As such, I am completely confused by the winter weather in Madrid. Thus far, it is very similar to winter in Johannesburg: blood curling cold at night and in the early morning (with the only difference that everything freezes outside, including our cars, and in light of our central heating, which I think is the best thing mankind ever thought of for winter in Europe, I am completely in love with our house), and chilly, but sunny afternoons. I have learnt the use of an ice scraper, and yes, I have broken one already.
I am even able to go for my daily walks with the red dogs, however, the playing field has levelled somewhat – the red dogs still launch a full scale attack to ensure that I get irritated enough to take them for a walk, however, the moment they step outside from our warm little casa, the ice bear winds whirls around them, their breath comes as white misty gasps, and they then attempt to re-enter our house. I am then off course the wicked witch of Madrid, and with an evil grin proceed to make them walk for at least an hour. I am however the creator of my own misfortune, since after this bone chilling walk, I have to sit in a scalding bath for at least half an hour in order to thaw my frozen body parts, since in order to walk around properly, I need to feel my limbs.
I have however been told that the winter in Madrid is usually very bad in January, February and March. I pray this is merely a rumour, since I can cope with this weather for a while still, however, I suspect I will not be so lucky.
As such, I am thankful for that our first winter in Madrid has been mild thus far. I pray that it will always be like this. Further, I am very happy that we are not camping during this time; I would have been one very unhappy camping buddy.
Now, how to appease the snow gods to have this sunny winter continue…of course they speak Spanish, so I may just cause a blizzard should I attempt to communicate with them….

2 Jan 2012

Happy New Year (Spanish style...)

The Engelas celebrated their first New Year with friends we met here. Yes, we have friends, not all people in Spain are Spanish, thank the Lord, otherwise we would have serious trouble meeting people. And as such, we experienced our first European New Year.

Now, this was such an interesting evening, so far removed from anything we previously experienced, that I thought it prudent to share some details of our night with you:

1.    NOTHING is open in Madrid on New Year’s Eve. We live (in Spanish terms) in the sticks, so no restaurants are open. I assume that in city centre it may be different, but where we live, everything closes at 5 PM. In my home country, this is completely different, if you are lucky enough to be able to book a table somewhere, and are willing to hand over half of your life savings for a dinner which would normally cost maybe R 100.00 (10 Euros for my non South African readers), then you will be able to enjoy a very festive evening. I hope. For those going to the Spur or Wimpy, good luck with that, your kids would love it, you, I suspect, not so much.

2.    Spanish people normally spend New Year’s Eve with their families. Food for thought me thinks. 

3.    Luckily, we know people, and we able to enjoy an evening at a friend’s house, making food, having Cosmopolitans and the like. 

4.    The Spanish eat 12 grapes every second before the clock strikes 12. This apparently brings luck. Now you are able to do this in Sol, the centre of Madrid, however every other Spaniard and tourist, plus their wife / husband / child / parent / brother / sister /aunt / uncle / friend of a friend of a friend and their dog were there, so unless you have an obsession with being squashed to a pulp whilst trying to swallow grapes, our recommendation is to stay at home. We did this in the safety of a friend’s house, and still, by grape eight, I understood that to chew and swallow a single grape in one second is a physical impossibility; however, we did our best. We do not want to risk no luck for 2012, so grapes it shall be.

5.    Spanish people love fireworks, and the fireworks carry on until the wee hours of the morning. Because they live on top of one another, there is very little space for the launching of these fireworks, and as such, same is launched between buildings, on rooftops, in other words, everywhere and anywhere. For a country that loves its pets so much, this is quite odd, however it may be that the Spanish pets are used to this noise. The red dogs are not. I will not dwell on this save to state that the smallest red dog has only today started eating again.
As such, we great greeted this New Year with mouths full of grapes, champagne glasses in the hand, shouting support to the fireworks, celebrating with our foreign friends in Madrid, in what I now think as the foreigner interpretation of a Spanish New Year.
Bring it on 2012, we will give it horns....Engela style!