Archive for the ‘Language’ Category


Duke in Spain, as a program, is now over for me. I’ve finished all of my homework (which actually began to resemble real homework toward the end) and turned everything in. We’ve had our final say-goodbye dinner, and I’ve begun to pack. In two days’ time I’ll be heading back to America: to my family and to English. I’ll also have be starting a long summer of physics, EMS, and OIT–penance for having taken a semester-long vacation, I suppose.

I’m going to miss Spain. I’ll miss the culture, the language, the food, and the people. I’ll miss my family, who have been nothing but incredible in hosting me (I’m going to try to update this again with a picture of all of us), and I’ll miss Pedro and Roberto, my Spanish buddies. I’ll miss, as my roommate, Caleb, said, the ability to turn Spain and Europe into a carefree playground to roam and simply experience what comes at me. While it has been difficult to be on my own on the other side of the Atlantic, I have grown to love Madrid and to really feel as though I know have a second home. España: te echaré de menos. Algún día nos veremos de nuevo. Hasta pronto, amigo mío.

Thanks to everyone for reading this blog and sharing my memories with me.

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Categories: Language

Svenska Talk

Hey everyone! This is going to be my second to last blog post during my study abroad time. As I never truly caught up after Berlin, I figured I’d start out by talking about my magnificent stay in Sweden. My last will be published directly after this one.

My brother’s roommate, Felix, is a Swedish international student (he can’t help it, he was born that way), and over the years our two families have grown closer to one another. As I was searching for ideas as to where to spend my Spring Break, the thought occurred to me to go visit the beautiful Wibergh family in Stockholm. Unfortunately, Felix was still in the USA as the breaks did not correspond, so that means some day I shall have to go back again :-D. I arrived in Skavsta airport and took the bus to the middle of Stockholm where Felix’s brother, David, picked me up. We went back to the Wibergh residence where I unpacked and joined the family.

All-in-all, my time with the Wibergh family was centered around the premise of me being a member of the family. I took my shoes off at the door, I kept my room presentable, and I carried my dishes to the sink after meals. Similar in some ways to being able to see Felipe G. in Berlin, being able to spend some more time around some familiar faces was truly splendid and valuable.

Felix’s house, I must say, could not be in a prettier location. On the outskirts of the city, the house is situated next to a lake suitable for boating, kayaking and swimming. David and I did go kayaking one day, after we all helped to get the boat and the pier in the water, which was amazing as I haven’t done anything like that since I was in the Cub Scouts. Additionally, there is lots of forest nearby, which served as a treacherous yet beautiful running trail. Staying with the beautiful, albeit woefully incomplete, Wibergh family was as peaceful and relaxing as one could ask for.

I did get to go through the city of Stockholm a bit as well, though not as much as I would have liked given that I had so much homework to do while I was there. While I mention homework, I should say that I can’t believe how much basic orgo concepts I’ve forgotten–a rude realization I made as I tried to help David with his homework. I’ll have to get back in the swing of things when I get back. Anyway, the city was incredibly beautiful–I was told it’s often mentioned among the most beautiful cities in the world. I wasn’t able to get a super thorough tour, both due to my time constraints and the family’s, so again I’ll have to go back to learn more of the history of the city. In the slideshow below, I’ve marked some of the things I did learn in the captions.

Sweden, honestly, was amazing. Not only the place itself, but also the fact that I had the most incredible hosts a person could ask for. A personal thanks to the Wibergh family for hospitably hosting me in their home and treating me as one of their own. Next time, Marie, hopefully I’ll bring the great weather with me again!

P.S. Marie, if you have the pictures of all of us eating dinner together, would you mind sending them to me? Thanks!

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Categories: Language


April 25, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s the 25th of April, meaning that only 13 days remain of my time in Europe. Upon returning, I’ll be at Duke doing physics, EMS, and OIT for the Summer, and will have quite a full plate in the Fall. For the moment, I’m trying to enjoy the last few days that I have here, and try to remember to blog as I’m finishing up with my classes. The workload isn’t exactly strenuous in Spain, but I’ve let a lot of it pile up. While I have a bit of time to breathe, I’ll throw down this post. West side. West Berlin side. Haha puns.

Anyway, after going to Galicia, I went directly from the airport to Berlin where I met Felipe Gaitan. It was late when I got there, so I didn’t get to see much of the city immediately upon arrival. Felipe’s host family was incredibly nice and spoke English impeccably well. I couldn’t have asked for a more hospitable group of kind people.

The next morning, I explored a bit. As has been the case with Madrid and Barça, I felt that same big city feel in Berlin. That is to say, it didn’t particularly emanate “German-ness” like perhaps a smaller town would have. It was even more modern than the others, I’d say–much more company and logo-oriented. You can see the giant Bayer building, a big Adidas outlet, etc. I think this modernness comes from the fact that the Berlin Wall went down so recently. Felipe kept telling me that Berlin considers itself the city that changes every 10 years. Wonder what it’ll look like in 2020…

Though I’m dropping out of chronological order a bit, I think that last paragraph serves as a good segue into a conversation about the Wall. The Berlin Wall, as probably all of you know, was torn down in November of 1989. Most of it was torn down quite quickly, as the Berliners were eager to rid the city of the scar that divided the city for decades. However, a few parts of it do remain today; some have been moved, others remain in their original locations. Felipe took me to visit the Wall, which was probably the coolest thing I got to do the whole time I was there. You truly get a strong feel of the history of Germany–a place historically torn apart by bad luck and poor leadership. Standing next to the Wall was somewhat eerie. One panel with the word “Necessary?” really stayed with me. You can almost feel the author’s pain in the shaky handwriting. A social commentary about divisions, maybe the same message could be applied to a certain southern border of this country I know… </politicalopinion>

Necessary? - Click to Enlarge

Since I’ve ruined my chronology already, I’ll pop backwards a bit. The second night I was in Berlin, I had the opportunity to view a classical music performance with Felipe and the Duke in Berlin crew. As my grandfather is a classical music DJ, I’ve been exposed to this before, but it was exceptionally cool to see it in Berlin. Everybody present was respectfully attentive. They also followed tradition well: coughing only between pieces, and giving the composer and special guests several rounds of endless applause. In a conversation I had with Felipe’s host mom, I asked her what the biggest difference between the USA and Germany is. She responded that the German people are much more cultured. In my experience, I’d have to agree, and this is just one example.

From my pictures, you can see some of the other travels I had as well. This includes the street performers, the architecture of the city, and the government buildings (including the Reichstag, which I wasn’t able to enter). Check it out in the slideshow at the bottom.

A couple small observations:

  • Germany is incredibly environmentally-conscious. They have tons of different types of recycling bins to enable easier sorting of their reusable trash. This leads to good things, such as the rinse and reuse of soda bottles (you get small reimbursements for recycling the bottles). Another example is the tall ceilings, which means that hot air will settle at the top of the room and therefore less air conditioning is needed. Finally, as a giant symbol, the Reichstag (their parliament) is one of the most efficient buildings in the world. I was quite impressed by their ecological effort.
  • I swear, everybody in Europe drives stick-shift. Germany is the same as Spain is the same as Amsterdam is the same as Sweden. I think in Spain the only vehicles I’ve seen that are automatic are the buses.
  • To continue my identity crisis, the Germans all thought I was one of them. I must look like a German/Dutch/Swede. The Spaniards never make that mistake :(.

Hopefully I’ll be able to throw down the Sweden post soon, and then perhaps one more before I return to the land of the free. Thanks, everyone, for following my posts!

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Categories: Language

Buen Camino

April 21, 2011 22 comments

I want to first start by saying that the music video FINALLY CAME OUT. You can’t see much of me in it. Not only are the extras not exactly in focus, but literally the full extent of my appearance is approximately 1/10 of a second. For your convenience, I have uploaded a fancy-pants screenshot of my presence. It is a pretty good song, too.

Our final official trip for Duke in Madrid was to the north of Spain to the region known as Galicia. Galicia, like Cataluña and País Vasco, has its own language that rather closely resembles Portuguese–in fact, the two were originally the same language. It also is similar enough to Spanish that most speakers can read and understand it without difficulty. However, in contrast to the nationalistic attitudes of Cataluña and País Vasco, Galicia is more than happy to be part of Spain–and for this reason I admire them.

I think the culture merits mentioning as well. Galicia, due to its location, shares a significant amount of its culture with the Celts. This ranges from everything from dances to bagpipes to landscape (sharp rocky coastline and high cliffs). In contrast to the South, Galicia has very little Arab influence. While the Muslims held Al Andalus (now Andalucía) for 700 years, their presence was only made known in Galicia for a mere 36. For this reason, their cultural and architectural impact is largely nonexistent in this community.

The first city we went to was La Coruña, a coastal town that, like much of Galicia, thrives off the seafood industry. Our tour, led by the glorious Paula from the University of Santiago de Compostela, directed us through the city–an examination of the architecture and their way of life.

The Tower of Hercules - Click to Enlarge

The first real monument we saw on the trip was the illustrious Tower of Hercules. Originally built by the Ancient Romans, the tower is used as a lighthouse and has remained in constant use since the 2nd century A.D. The Tower couldn’t be in a more picturesque location–it’s simply stunning, overlooking the sharp rocks along the coast while also giving you a glimpse of La Coruña’s “skyline”. It’s a 180 foot climb to the top, but totally vale la pena.

Panorama of La Coruña - Click to Enlarge

After visiting the tower, we were given free time, and Thea, Mónica and I chose to go to the beautiful pebble beach and relax with a bottle of wine. It was warm, but not hot, and there were surfers were practicing. It was a peaceful afternoon. I also somehow managed to get sunburn, but what can you do?

The pebble beach... Not to be confused with Pebble Beach - Click to Enlarge

Later on in the trip, we headed toward Santiago de Compostela. The city turned out to possibly be my favorite of my entire time here (perhaps tied with Toledo)–it’s everything I could want: old architecture, tons of history, lots of cultural significance, and plenty to do. It is also the final destination along the Camino de Santiago, a famous pilgrimage running from France to Galicia. The history of the Camino is quite extensive and beautiful, beginning before Christianity as pilgrims began trekking in the direction of the Milky Way. Over time, with the burial of the apostle Saint James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the journey obtained religious significance. While today, the “official” pilgrimage is a one-way trip from France, originally of course it was a two-way trip from wherever you lived to the Cathedral. The symbol of the pilgrim, a shell, was obtained and displayed as the sign of the completion of the pilgrimage. The Camino has really been revived lately; in 1983 there were only 13 pilgrims who completed the journey versus a projected 270,000+ who will make the trip in 2010.

In addition to just learning about the camino, we actually had the opportunity to walk about 8 km of it or so. And it truly was amazing. The path ranged from concrete to gravel to dirt, from flat to hilly. The cool thing about it is that, once on the trail, all you have to do is follow the yellow arrows painted along the trail all the way to the church. Not to say the trip itself is easy–it’s not–but it’s at least difficult to get lost. Just follow the yellow brick road.. err, arrows.

Panorama of Santiago de Compostela - Click to Enlarge

In Santiago de Compostela, we toured the University (beautiful), as well as parts of the city in general. We also had the opportunity to walk around on top of the cathedral, which gives a breathtaking view. Again, check out the photos, but I’ll put the panorama here:

Panorama from the top of the Cathedral - Click to Enlarge

After prancing around the tops of buildings, we took a plane flight back to Madrid, where I stayed in the airport. My next flight to Berlin departed only two and a half hours after I got back to Madrid. The next blog post will outline my time in Berlin with Señor Felipe Gaitan. Until then, thanks for reading!

Categories: Language

Observations: Episode II

April 11, 2011 Leave a comment

As with last time, I’ll just kind of write, with observations first and stories second. Here goes (how’s that for an introduction?).


  • Though I don’t eat out at restaurants often, I have picked up on one thing. In Spain, you don’t tip the waiter, no matter how nice the restaurant. I’m assuming their salaries are higher, more like a regular job. In the USA, the waiter’s salary is generally lower and they depend on tips to make up for the lower pay rate–for this reason, tips are expected. Additionally, if you don’t ask for the bill, it’s not coming. They consider it rude to drop a bill off at a table, as if you’re pushing them out the door. Makes sense–it’s just different.
  • Taking care of its citizens is a major concern of the Spanish government, whether liberal or conservaitve, and it manifests itself in many ways–sometimes small ones. One example is that, at crosswalks, the street posts beep audibly to let you know when it is safe to cross. It’s a GREAT idea, and not only does it make it safer for people who aren’t paying attention, it makes a world of difference to the blind. Spain helps the blind a lot: spoken names of bus stops and Metro stops (as well as talking signs to tell you when the bus you want is coming), different sized paper money, etc. This technology might also exist in America (NYC or Chicago maybe?), but I know it exists in Madrid, Barça, and Amsterdam.
  • I’ve raved about the public transportation system the whole time I’ve been here, and I’m still quite happy with it. It’s cheap, easy to use, and easy to navigate (once you get used to it). The other day I found out you also get free WiFi use on all the buses. They’ve done public transportation the right way–nothing like Facebooking as you’re riding down the Paseo del Prado.
  • Though I’ve been here for three months, I still never hear Spanish music. Going to clubs, eating at restaurants, walking into stores–no matter where you are you almost always hear American music. There is one exception that I can think of: I went to a cheap-o Indian restaurant one time that has included some Spanish songs in its playlist, but the songs they played were by artists Juanes and Julieta Venegas… The songs were Mexican.
  • Though the American economy isn’t as strong as it could be (1.49 dollars to the euro), in some respects, we’re still far better off than Spain right now. They’re sitting at around a 20% unemployment rate right now. That’s not a typo. The Prime Minister, Zapatero, is hated here much like Bush was and is probably blamed more for the crisis than Obama was by the right. The ugliness of politics is universal: nobody’s ever happy, and it’s always the other guy’s fault.
  • Europeans introductions: As a male, if I meet a new guy, I greet him with a handshake. However, introductions with females are made with kisses, one on each cheek. Don’t try to shake a girl’s hand–the resulting situation is just awkward. I think this type of introduction is present in Latin America as well (and maybe in more places), but I’ve still never been there, so I wouldn’t know firsthand.
  • Drinking alcohol here is very much different from the United States–in legality and culture. Obviously I’m allowed to drink here legally, but its societal role here is much more than recreational (which is not the case for people my age in the USA). I generally have a glass or two of wine with every lunch and dinner, and it is incredibly normal. In fact, Pepe (the host dad) drinks wine with me every day. Returning to the States where it is neither culturally nor legally acceptable will be an odd relapse.
  • The Spanish word for buzzkill or party pooper is aguafiestas, which made me laugh endlessly when I learned it. It doesn’t translate well in a literal sense, but a rough translation would be “water to parties”, which to me for some reason is really funny. Along the same silly lines, the word for handcuffs is esposas: “wives”. Languages can be pretty funny at times.
  • I still can’t roll my R’s too well. My intercambio, Pedro, makes fun of me pretty endlessly about it (in good fun). When I try, I either end up doing a uvular trill (back of the tongue and/or in the throat) or a really weak hiss sound with the correct part of my tongue. Oh, I should also mention that I have something between a Spanish and an American accent now. C = th. ‘Nuff said.
  • Smoking–everyone does it. Walking into school every day means walking through a small cloud of smoke from the kids loitering around the building’s entrance. The number of smokers is astronomically high here, particularly among the younger generation. According to this site, 40% of young women smoke here (I will say that it seems that even more women than men smoke here). I have also seen other figures that are higher.


  • For Mythography class the other day, our teacher Patricia took us through the underground scene of Madrid. In Lavapiés, a place known for its diversity, we were taken into a previously abandoned warehouse that had been seized by this sort of hipster young crowd. The entire building was decorated with artistic graffiti (a la Banksy), and full of young people dressed like revolutionaries (almost). We toured it, walking through a coffeeshop among kids with thick-rimmed glasses and plaid shirts. In one room, there was a trade-shop. Clothes were placed pell-mell throughout the room, and if you wanted something you could take it. It was just understood that you’d replace it with something of your own–a trade. Later on, we ended up into a large room where there was strange music playing in the background while a man and woman dressed in metallic clothing were seated, unmoving, on a raised platform in the middle of said room. The man, who looked a bit like he belonged in Daft Punk, was wearing fake glasses with big, bulging eyes, while grasping his hand to his throat and grunting as if struggling for air. Surrounding them were around 100 art students, drawing the scene quickly from different angles. In yet another room, we saw some teenage girls practicing acrobatics on giant ribbons hanging from the ceiling. It was easily the oddest place I’ve been to in Madrid, and perhaps the strangest thing I’ve seen in all my life.
  • The Champions League is in full swing right now, and the most recent match that Real Madrid played was against Tottenham Hotspur, a team from the English Premiere League. The day before the match was the day I came back to Madrid from Amsterdam, and while riding the Metro back home, I heard two folks speaking English. This is relatively rare in the Spanish Metro, so I generally make a point to talk to people when I hear it. Turns out, these two men, Ivan and Joe, were Irishmen who were in town for the game (Tottenham has a large following in Ireland). Additionally, neither spoke a word of Spanish and both were extremely lost. They had simple directions to their hotels and to the stadium (where they had to pick up their tickets), and the Madrid Metro system can be a bit intimidating and unhelpful without experience on it. I took pity on them and chaperoned them to the stadium. At the Bernabéu, all you have to do when you buy a ticket is stick the credit card you used to pay for the ticket into a machine and it prints it for you. However, one of the tickets was incorrectly cut by the machine, cutting it directly in half. I ended up having to go talk to their main office to get the ticket reprinted for them, but I suspect that without me there, Messrs. Joe and Ivan might have been out of luck. I left them with more detailed instructions on how to to get to their hotels and went back home. They were both very grateful, calling me a “good samaritan”. Just doin’ my part to make ‘Murica look good. Tottenham lost 4-0.

Tomorrow, I’ll be in Galicia. On Thursday, I come back to Madrid, but I’m staying in the airport to fly out to Berlin to meet Felipe Gaitan. After that, I’ll go to Stockholm to see Felix Wibergh’s family. Should be a great Spring Break. It’s not that much time until I come back home, which is a strange feeling to be sure. I now have a routine established here–something of a life established. Furthermore, I am going to have a ridiculously difficult schedule upon my return. But alas, little I can do about it except enjoy the time remaining, then work my ass off when I return.

As always, gracias por leer!

Categories: Class, Culture, Language

Extra, Extra, Read All About It!

March 20, 2011 2 comments

Now, I’m only speaking from my experience, but let me tell you: sometimes when you’re visiting a foreign country, the stars align and you get to do something really freakin’ cool. I’ve got to do and see some pretty cool things in Spain so far, but yesterday I did something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life: I got to be an extra in a music video for Luis Ramiro.

The process of becoming an extra in the music video started when I was still at Duke. Jacob was showing me some Spanish music, and Luis Ramiro was one of the artists that he played for me. I really liked the album Jacob had, particularly the songs Esdrújulo and Relocos y Recuerdos, and I became somthing of an addict to his music. I started listening to his first two albums a lot, even memorizing a lot of the songs. I added him as a friend on Facebook to keep up with him, and from there I learned that he was planning to release his new album. The day of its release, I downloaded it from the Zune Marketplace (I support him enough that I actually bought the album), and sent him a Facebook message that told him how much I liked it. He and I talked for a few short messages, and he was interested in my opinions, particularly as my first language isn’t Spanish.

About a week later, Luis sent out a Facebook message saying that he was looking for extras for a music video. I discovered that the location was in Madrid, and immediately RSVP’d. The day arrived, and I started the long Metro ride to San Cristóbal (it took me something like 40 minutes to get there on Line 3). In the same metro car as me were two 20-something year old women, and from their conversation I could tell that they were going to the same place as me. I decided to follow them to make sure I didn’t get lost.

The "Set" - Click to Enlarge

An official-ish looking person met us at the exit of the Metro station, and the small crowd materialized within the next ten minutes. He had a list of expected arrivals, around 60 people. Once he was satisfied that everyone was present, he led us to a nearby park. The park was quite pretty, and had lots of trees and nature–something that most of Madrid lacks. As we walked in, we saw Luis being photographed and he waved to us.

The Picnic Table - Click to Enlarge

The extras were corralled around a picnic table (with free Coke, water, and chips) and greeted by the director. The director was an absolutely hysterical man, constantly making jokes and goofing around–I’m surprised we got anything done. He started explaining what exactly we were going to do in the video. The extras would appear in the last 40 seconds or so of the music clip of his song “Un Amor Sin Estrenar”, which translates roughly to “A New Love”, but it’s a bit more… poetic than that. The director asked the people who had come as couples in relationships to come with him to help “demonstrate” what he wanted. He positioned them next to the trees and asked them to kiss, with the woman’s back against the tree. At that point we all understood–our roles in the music video were as lovers making out while Luis sang. And to those who didn’t bring a partner? Well, you were going to find one.

Luis directing his troops - Click to Enlarge

Though most of the crowd was in their mid-twenties, we all still giggled uncomfortably like we were in middle school. I think we were just generally a bit shellshocked–not in the sense that we were offended, but just that we weren’t sure how to react or how to break the ice. The director anticipated this, and he started a game to kind of loosen the mood and get people used to kissing strangers. He pulled a few stag members of the crowd out among the trees, and explained a game of tag that he wanted them to play. One person would be “it” and when he tagged someone, that person was frozen. The only way that person could be unfrozen was if he or she was given a kiss to start moving again. Of course, the game was kind of childish, but I think it did help cure some of the jitters a bit–alleviate some of the shyness.

I, however, decided I didn’t particularly want to play the game. For the spectators, it was quite amusing, and I didn’t want to be laughter fodder. The only way it could be avoided was to be in a “couple,” so I turned to the group of girls to my right (around 6 of them, including the two who had been on the Metro with me) and grabbed the hand of one of the girls and something between a suggestion and a plea, said, “¿Somos una pareja?” She laughed and agreed, as I don’t think she was wild about playing the game either, and I joined their group in conversation as we waited for more instructions.

The conversation I normally have with Spaniards I’m just meeting is sort of becoming a routine. How long have you been here? Where and what are you studying? What do you study in the US? Do you like it here? Where do you live in Madrid? How long have you known Spanish? I answer the questions, but then try to break the pseudo-monotony by responding with more questions to them. I found out that the girl I was partnered with was in her mid-twenties, a music teacher, and was really interested in visiting the USA someday. She’s not unique in that regard, as almost everyone I talk to tells me about their past trips to the USA, or of their future hopes to visit. Some of them, like Roberto, are really passionate about American culture, and kind of view the USA as a dream vacation. I feel like most Americans are constantly dying to vacation in Europe. I suppose the grass is always greener on the other side…

The funny director is in the blue, walking awkwardly - Click to Enlarge

Eventually, we were all placed in the forest and told to “act.” The director continued to keep it interesting, getting us mentally prepared before each take, shouting “Don’t get tired!” and “With the same passion as the first take!” and “Concepto primavera!” which means, “With the idea of Spring!” One time, he even screamed maniacally, “Love is in the air!” in English with a very thick accent, and I burst out in uncontrollable laughter. As the takes occurred, Luis walked among the couples singing in time with his song. At times, crowds of interested people walking through the park would gather and watch the takes.

The experience truly was fun, for multiple reasons. I got to see how a music video is made, for one. And of course, I got to make out with a pretty Spanish girl for a few hours. My brother, Jeff, tells me that this one event alone makes him feel inferior to me, and that what I got to do yesterday was legendary. I think he’s right. The only problem is, I think my life has now reached a climax. It is simply not possible to do anything cooler in the future. I’m already over the hill. 🙂

I’m not sure exactly when the video will be released, but I’ll be sure to link to it on here when it is. Additionally, there should be a big group photo that Luis took that I can link to as well. Luis plays a concert in Madrid on April 30th (it was originally scheduled in be in March), and there is no doubt in my mind that I’m going to attend.

I want to include a few more observations about Spain in this post as well:

  • Pedro, my Spanish intercambio, is improving a LOT with his English. I went to his house the other day where we played a bit of Playstation and then he taught me how to play padel. During these activities, we had our normal bilingual conversations, and it struck me that the boy is like a sponge. If I say an idiom just once, he remembers them and integrates them directly into the conversation when he’s speaking. For example, he’s noted that when I approve of some sort of plan to meet, I normally say, “Sounds good.” He says it all the time now. I suppose I’ve done something similar in Spanish, as I now say “pues” and “o sea” all the time as involuntary space-fillers in my speech. Maybe it’s one step closer to fluency? I don’t know…
  • Through teaching Pedro, I’ve learned a lot about the fundamental differences between Spanish and English. One of the best things about Spanish is that it is spelled phoenetically, meaning that you can read a word and know instantly how it’s pronounced. This is absolutely not the case with English. “Rough”, “dough” and “bough” all look like they should have the same sound–this would be logical, as they all end in the same sequence of letters. However, as we know, they sound entirely different. This is a huge problem for ESL students, as it’s something that must be memorized, not figured out. Additionally, English many more actual sounds. Spanish has 5 or 6 vowel sounds, whereas English has 20. Some of those 20 are extremely difficult for the Spanish to figure out how to create. Some of our consonants are difficult, too. For instance, the difference between the “a” in “cat” and the “e” in “edge” are virtually indistinguishable for his ear, and since that “a” sound doesn’t exist in Spanish. These are things I just simply never would have thought of previously.
  • I’ve noticed that even the sidewalks in Madrid are very different than home. Madrid is an old city, and I suppose this is evident everywhere. My home town has poured cement sidewalks, very gray and bland. Madrid, as well as everywhere else I’ve been here, has tiled bricks for their sidewalks. It’s the little things…
  • There is WiFi on the buses here. On the rare occasion that I need to be on the bus for a long amount of time, this is a nice little luxury to have. Honestly, the public transportation system here is incredibly nice. Much better than DC’s, for instance.
  • Everyone here smokes cigarettes. Literally, it’s everywhere. Somewhere around 40% of the population here habitually smokes, and I think that number might be higher among kids my age. I see a ton of people with packs, or with rolling paper and tobacco pouches, especially directly in front of the entrance to CEU. Heck, even Luis Ramiro smokes, and his future relies on the health of his throat and lungs! It’s rather unavoidable, and coming from a non-smoking household, this was actually a bit hard to get used to.
  • I think I’m losing my English. When I was talking with Agata and Nicole the other day, I accidentally switched to Spanish in the middle of a sentence and didn’t even realize it. I also misused words, malapropism-style. Lately, in general, I’ve found it hard to think of the words that I want to use. Writing this blog, for instance, is a tricky affair at times. It’ll come back when I get to America, but it’s kind of funny in my opinion.

The weekend of April 2nd, I shall be going to Amsterdam, which will be pretty awesome I hope! Spring break, I’m planning on going to Germany and Sweden, to visit Felipe Gaitain and the Wibergh family, respectively. I also still intend to walk through Madrid with a camera and just make that a blog post, as I think that could be pretty interesting to see.

All in all, things are going well here. I miss everyone at home of course, as well. It’s strange to think that my time here is about half over. I’m torn, as I miss America, but am finally starting to feel as though I have a life and a routine here. Oh well, what happens happens.

Until next time!

Categories: Culture, Language

Observations: Episode I

March 9, 2011 3 comments

Hey! So, this Friday (two days from now), we are going to be heading to Barcelona on a short two-day trip, so I’ll do a post-trip post when I come back. However, I’ve lately been trying to be more meticulous and actually write down my observations when they occur to me. Generally it’s just stuff that pops into my mind while I’m walking around the city, stuff like that, but I hope that these thoughts might be interesting. I think part of living in a place is recognizing the little things, and sharing them gives you all a sense of what it’s like to live in Europe from the point of view of a thoroughbred Yank. I’ll start the blog post with some of these observations, but also I will throw in some brief recaps of some of the things that I’ve been up to here.

The random observations:

  • I’ll start with one that’s really hard for me to get used to as an American. Here, in most areas of your day to day life, tardiness is more or less acceptable. I am still used to Duke (and America in general) where, if class starts at 10:05, you had better be in your seat by 10:00 so that you have everything ready when the professor starts lecturing, or else risk enduring his wrath. That’s not how it works here… If you’re on time, you frankly probably beat the professor to the classroom, and you will have ample time to twiddle your thumbs waiting for the rest of the class to get there, too. Generally speaking, five minutes late is on time. One of my professors put it quite eloquently, saying that “Spaniards don’t let the watch govern their lives.” I suppose that’s one way of looking at it.
  • Another thing I’ve noticed is a very random–something you don’t really think about. When you pass people on the sidewalk, to which side do you need to strafe to avoid bodily contact? Spain can’t make up its mind at all about lanes of traffic in general. Cars drive on the right side of the road, the Metro goes on the left. Sometimes you enter Metro station turnstiles on the left side, other times on the right. Escalators may be going upstairs on the left and down on the right, or vice-versa, with no rhyme nor reason–it’s just odd, like it’s entirely unplanned. When you find yourself in the sometimes inevitable situation where you need to walk around someone, they seem to have no real instinct as to which side to pick. I have sort of turned it into a little game, where I try to predict my opponent’s next move and steer clear in advance in order to avoid that awkward dance that sometimes results just before contact. It’s just an odd thing to have to consciously think about, as in America I think everyone just habitually walks past each other on the right. Am I wrong?
  • Here, the party scene is nuts. You generally can go out any night of the week, but particularly Thursday through Saturday. You generally start consuming at around 10 or 11, but the night can last (I kid you not) until 8 or 9 AM. It’s insane. I’m told it’s a big plus for getting Real Madrid players to live in Madrid. Beckham apparently was quite the addict of the clubs here–it’s common knowledge, I am told, that he cheated on his wife frequently.
  • PDA out in the open is really common. It is almost expected if you’re anywhere near a university that there will be at least one couple aggressively making out. I’ve also seen it in the Metro car and on the bus. After some thought, I believe the comparative openness is because people live with their parents here for so long–I admit that would be more awkward to engage in tongue fencing next to mommy or sissy than next to a rando.
  • The police cars here always keep their top lights on. They’re not flashing, but rather the blue lights are constantly lit. I can’t imagine that speed traps are particularly effective.
  • Everybody here listens to American music. When I ask about Spanish music, invariably they tell me that Spanish music sucks. They also think they know the lyrics, but usually they are comically wrong.

Random thoughts… gotta love them. It’s fun to record them, though. I carry around a little notebook to write down vocabulary words (I’m at around 600 right now), but when I get a little thought I sometimes write it in the margins.

As far as some of the actual things I’ve been doing, here goes:

  • Carnaval was last weekend, and it was a relatively fun experience. It’s a Brazilian tradition, but they also celebrate it here (to a far milder degree). Generally it involves a normal night of partying… plus costumes. Thea and I went with our two Italian friends from school, meeting them at their apartment. Finding the flat sucked, as we got caught in VERY cold rain halfway there. Upon arrival, they were still getting ready with makeup and such, so I just talked to the girls who were already costumed as I dried off. We then went to a club that they knew and liked. Upon arrival, the womenfolk were stormed by men (men here are very forward, even more so than a frat star in the US), but they handled it well. Generally it was a successful, fun night. I intend to hang out with them more, as they’re silly and exciting to be around.

Carnaval with the Italians - Click to Enlarge

  • My intercambio Pedro introduced me to his friend Roberto the other night. Roberto went to a British school in Madrid, learned English, and speaks almost fluently. From watching American TV and such, he has learned a lot of vocabulary and has quite the arsenal of phrases and idioms at his disposal (he said “gut it out” to me. I was stunned). A bit comically, he has essentially adopted an American accent. Spaniards have a lot of trouble pronouncing certain sounds, like the soft “g” in “hug” and the “i” in “igloo”, but Roberto speaks like he’s from the midwest–something he’s picked up from copying the sounds he hears in movies and in music. He’s a really cool guy. The three of us played billiards the other night, something I haven’t done in ages. Another cool thing about Roberto is that he admires American culture very extensively–bordering on being more patriotic than many Americans. I can’t wait till he visits!

Me, Roberto, and Pedro playing billiards at a bar near the Bernabéu - Click to Enlarge

  • I bought a plane ticket to Amsterdam for the weekend of March 31. Of course that will be another blog entry. Additionally, I’m intending to visit Felix’s (my brother’s roommate’s) family in Sweden over Spring Break. If I can make it happen, I’d also like to visit a contact in England and Felipe Gaitan in Germany. We’ll see what happens, but at the very least I’ll get to see the Netherlands and Scandinavia–not a bad deal at all.
  • As a result of having worn braces, I currently have a permanent retainer on my bottom teeth, and about two weeks ago or so, it broke free on three of the six teeth it was connected to (once one breaks, you get a domino effect). I managed to secure an appointment with an orthodontist today, and they fixed it in less than 20 minutes for less than 20 dollars. When I had a similar repair done in the USA in Chapel Hill, it cost me 150 bucks. I was floored that it was so cheap. It was certainly unexpected, because everything else here costs a fortune.


  • I wrote an essay for Art History about the transformation of Velázquez’s style over the course of his lifetime, and the effects that his exposure to Italian art had on his works. If you want to read it (or just look at the pictures) you can read it here. I think the Spanish is relatively well-written, but I’m certain it could be improved to sound more native. Nevertheless, I’m pretty happy with it.

All right, the next time I update this will be post-Barcelona. I’m still ticked that their football club beat Arsenal yesterday. I went with Roberto to an Irish Pub called Shamrocks to watch and left a tiny bit disappointed. They have a frustratingly good team. Anyway, with that, I bid you all adieu.

¡Hasta luego!

Categories: Class, Culture, Language