Sometimes I’m the only one who doesn’t get the joke. Some days I smile, reassuring everyone that I’m not on the outside. Some days I even laugh a little. At other times I just keep my face blank … After all, is there any shame in not getting it? I can’t decide.

I speak fluently, even rapidly. My brother, upon hearing my conversation with my mother-in-law, rolls his eyes and tells me to slow down. I don’t. But when I’m here, I can never speak fast enough. Every error stays in my mind, reminding me that what I thought about myself was wrong. Is wrong. Most do not correct me, but some take it upon themselves—without my permission—to remind me of my errors. When I speak, the words tumble out, seemingly unstoppable in their urgency. I say things I know are wrong in the heat of the moment, just to keep the words flowing, just so my listener doesn’t have to wait five seconds. I can’t bear to make them impatient. I find it insufferable when they correct me, tell me agua is feminine.

“I know,” I mutter to myself. “Why don’t you correct me on something that I actually don’t understand?” But on the outside I am silent.

During the fall semester of my senior year at Indiana University, I met some students from Hong Kong, who were spending a semester in Bloomington, Indiana, of all places. We had so many memories together: dinners in their high-rise apartment building filled with foreign students, watching The Nut Cracker at the IU Auditorium, Thanksgiving in my hometown. When I remember their halting English, I wince to think I should have ever been patronizing to them. It is quite astonishing to recall their level of fluency and willingness to travel to the frigid Midwest, a region not known for diversity or even good weather. Yet there they went, and thus we all made lifelong friends from across the world. I can only hope to have been gracious and welcoming to them, to have never made them feel like they were on the outside looking in. Perhaps that was impossible. I must have tried, though. Can one ever truly feel like a native when the language is foreign? I can’t say. It hasn’t been my experience.

In high school, a schoolmate made a joke about someone’s mother’s broken English. I didn’t laugh, certainly not, but neither did I say anything, and I certainly could not understand what my classmate felt at hearing her mother held up as an object of ridicule. Even now, after five years as the foreigner in the crowd, I only have the smallest grasp on what that feels like—to be somewhere, to be the perpetual outsider. A small language barrier is still a barrier.

Most of my peers will never feel like outsiders. They will always live in a place where their first language is the language, and if they do travel, English is and probably will be the lingua franca, at least for the foreseeable future. To speak English is to have the world in your hands, to know that wherever you go, all you have to do is walk up to the counter and say, “English, please?”

Spanish Old Wives’ Tales (And Their Veracity)

I’m on a bit of a blogging break, ever since my laptop decided to go belly up on me without any prior warning. The audacity of it all! Really, we shared so much: that time when I vacuumed a key up and had to search desperately in the bag for the L, when I thought it would explode from overwork and lack of proper heating (silly me, I take the term “laptop” quite seriously), and endless amounts of blog writing, commenting, and recipe searching. RIP, dearest one.

The other day I read an article about Spanish mother sayings and the truth behind them. I was gleefully happy to read that some of my most-hated sayings have no basis in reality. I do hate being told that walking around barefoot will suddenly cause the air around me to create a virus and shove it into my nasal cavities, but I realize and will happily admit that it’s not you, it’s me. Nonetheless, I have adopted the timeworn Spanish custom of wearing slippers absolutely everywhere. Nowadays you couldn’t pry mine off my callused, blistered runner’s feet. Here are some of my favorite tidbits from the article.

Dry your hair well before going to bed or you’ll get a cold.

Continue reading

Typical First-Time English Conversation Assistant Blog Ideas

I try to write with good grammar, but I’m going to depart a bit from the norm for this parody of some typical first-time in Spain English Conversation Assistant posts I read. This is all in good fun, though, because I too wrote some blog entries like this in the past (think 2009 or 2010). I hope you enjoy!

– omg no dryers
– spanish people eat, like, really late!
– did y’all know that spanish people have their washers in the kitchen! why is that! i will not spend too much time actually thinking about why that could be; i prefer to just laugh about how crazy that is!
– spanish people are, like, so fashionable!
– i loooooooooooove tinto de verano. and also tapas.
– lol, bidets.
– i just can’t stay out as late as they do!
– omg traveling around europe is so easy!
– i traveled one time, so i can write a post on how to pack your bag properly. i have experience.
– spanish schools teach british english, but lol, they say rubber. dirty word!
– milk doesn’t have to be refrigerated! what is this uht madness!
– spanish bureaucracy is the WORST (of course i have never compared this to my own country’s!)
– i still like tapas.
– i gave in and went to starbucks; i know, i know, a crime! i feel shame, but i promise NEVER to go into a mcdonalds. except when really drunk. but i hope to only have vague memories of that.
– i visited a city, so i now know the top 10 sites to see, i am an expert.
– ham.
– i ate some shrimp and it had eyes. duuuuuuude.
– i am supposed to be teaching english, but i realized i don’t know that much about english. halp!
– post about how much spain has changed me, de verdad, i am a better person and i will become that annoying person back home that always responds with, “well, when i was in Spain”.
– i tried to say peine (spanish for “comb”), but i said pene, and well, my life is basically over.
– i am now fluent in spanish, lol, it only took a year of being in spain but mainly speaking to other american expats! i even dream in spanish, it is true, do try not to be jealous.

Once I got started, I found I couldn’t stop. How my impression of Spain has changed since I first got here, way back in 2008!

How has your perspective on Spain shifted over time?

Hotel Posada del Valle in Asturias, Spain

Recently we went to Asturias, and we were looking for somewhere to stay. I found this hotel by happenstance, as someone tweeted a link to a New York Times article about it. They said it was like you were living in a cloud, and I thought, Okay. We’re going. I mean, who doesn’t want to live on a cloud?

We drove there from a nearby village, Ribadesella. At first I thought I had made some terrible mistake, as the roads were tortuous and there was a steep drop off to the valley far, far below. When we got there, it was nighttime, pitch black and with very little lights, as we were in the middle of nowhere. (Basically.) The driveway that lead down to the house was also a huge hill, and I was a bit apprehensive about driving down that hill, even if I wasn’t the one driving. But sometimes you just have to bite the bullet, and so we did.

This hotel, which cost a total of €60 for one night, was the loveliest place I’ve stayed in. Seriously. 100% the best place. It’s run by a British expat couple, who (I think) live nearby. It’s on an 18-acre organic farm with animals and such, including the sheep native to Asturias, the xalda sheep. They are interesting.

Oveja Xalda


The building was originally a priest’s farmhouse and was constructed in the 19th century. The owners bought it in 1995 and converted it into what it is today. Downstairs there’s a small bar area and a fireplace. The owners, Nigel and Joan, have written up walking routes that can take you all over the region, with varying levels of difficulty and time. They always point out the best place to get refreshments if need be!

The hotel has a restaurant, in which they serve local, organic food and wine. The menu changes daily. We chose to have dinner at the restaurant. On that day’s menu was a salad bar, a carrot-ginger soup, and a choice of a vegetarian or non-vegetarian entrée. I chose the vegetarian, which was a moussaka, and Mario got the roasted red peppers stuffed with hake (merluza). We ordered an organic white wine, and soon realized that the other two couples were British! It seems that this is a popular hotel choice for British people, which makes sense, as there aren’t as many English speakers deep in the heart of Asturias as there are in the big cities and on the coast.

After dinner, we relaxed with a copa on the terrace. Nigel set us up with a candle and offered us a blanket. It was wonderful to see the stars, as in Madrid the light pollution makes this impossible. There was very little going on, but it was the most peaceful night.

The next morning at breakfast was no different. In Spain, it’s common to have a pretty delicious breakfast spread. (Do not talk to me about U.S. hotels and their “continental” breakfasts.) Hotel Posada del Valle had the highest-quality breakfast I’ve had in Spain. There was the organic apple juice, made from apples picked nearby. We enjoyed two types of homemade bread with honey and butter. There was muffins made from various fruits, including kiwi, which I found delightful. And as we breakfasted, we saw the mist in the valley slowly rise to the mountaintop. The saying goes, “Niebla en el valle montañero a la calle; niebla en la cumbre montañero a la lumbre.” (Fog in the valley, mountaineer hit the road; fog at the summit, mountaineer stay at home by the fire.) It was a good day to be climbing! We had other plans, but we stopped to take some photos of the place.


If you go to Asturias with a car, consider staying here, especially in the off season. You can’t beat the prices or the surroundings!
Collía, Arriondas, 33549 Asturias Spain
Telephone: 00 34 985 84 11 57

Ever been to Asturias? What was your favorite place?