How to… get a haircut with minimal Spanish!

the-barbers-cornerLets get one thing straight: living in another country is hugely different to holidaying in another country. It may not seem so dissimilar on the surface – there is, at times, enough sun, sand and sangria here in Spain to suggest otherwise – but eventually, every expat realises that they have to build a life; find a place to live, make new friends, get used to the local fodder and, worst of all, get their hair cut.

This daunting task is obviously a lot easier after a few months of tussling with the local lingo, but at least initially, the anxiety brought on by such a distressing yet gallingly necessary exercise can be enough to put you off your paella for weeks. Even going for a haircut in your native country is worrying at the best of times, but imagine trying to do it in a country whose language you’re only just getting to grips with.

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If the proper steps aren’t taken, then consequences can be disastrous; the mullet, for example, still very much lives and breathes in Spain, as does the army-style crewcut. I fell victim to the latter days after my arrival here just over two years ago. I had learnt the words for ‘short’ and ‘long’ but foolishly forgotten to write them down, giving rise to inevitable confusion and a sort of Spongebob squarepants look that I’d never sported before.

This experience left me justifiably wary of Spanish barbers, so for the next year or so I opted to cut my own hair, which, in hindsight, was an even worse decision owing to the frequent hunks of hair visibly missing from the back of my gauchely beshaven bonce.

Earlier this year, however, I waltzed back in to a nearby peloquería, confident that I possessed sufficient Spanish to help me through the impending ordeal. Fortunately, I did, and I eluded another coiffure cataclysm. Now I am on first name terms with my chatty barber, and a simple ‘lo mismo como siempre’ is all I need to say.

Torres, Mullet, Spain, España, Hair, Pelo
This was not a fad in Spain

Though if I look back on that first dismaying encounter with a Spanish barber and his set of not-so-trusty clippers, I can’t help but think that with a bit of expert guidance and some thorough planning, my resulting Spongebob bouffant might have been successfully averted…

So if you’re new in Spain, or in any other foreign land for that matter, and your locks are in need of a good sheering, then heed my advice:

One: Learn some useful phrases and write them down

Do this and the risk of adversity will be considerably reduced. Pronunciation may be an issue, but if you’re really unsure then simply show your barber what you’ve written. You could even get a local friend to translate exactly what you want to say onto paper, though ensure that this friend can be trusted; you wouldn’t want to get stitched up and be the laughing stock. Some useful Spanish phrases to know are:

“Me gustaría un corte de pelo por favor” – “I’d like a haircut please”

“Corto por los lados y de atras, pero mas largo por la parte de arriba por favor” – “Short round the back and sides but longer on top”

“Solo un recorte por favor” – “Just a trim please”

“Me gusta liso/rizado” – “I like it straight/curly”

“Está bien asi?” – “Is it fine like that?”

“Si, está bien asi” – “Yes, it’s fine like that / No, it’s not fine like that, but I’m going to pretend it is and swear all the way home”

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Two: Cut out a picture from a magazine

If your style can be likened to any celebrity hairdos, you may want to take one or two magazine clippings with you. This keeps things simple and, needless to say, completely eradicates the necessity of words. However, this is neither culturally embracing nor healthy for your second language skills. And there’s no telling what the back will look like. 

Three: Look serious and don’t talk

Following the initial verbal hurdles, one then has two options; proceed, and try in vain to understand and contribute to the barber’s chosen topic of conversation, or sit down, look dead ahead and keep schtum. If you opt for the latter route then the assumption is that the barber, upon noting your unwillingness to engage in small talk or listen to him harp on about football or whatever, will inadvertently become quietly engrossed in what he or she is doing and therefore be less prone to mistakes or overzealous snipping.

Haircut, Spain, worried
I’m sure we all know just how this chap feels…

Four: Ask for something simple

If back at home your usual cut involves blending, thinning out, colouring, straightening, shaping (is that a service?) etc, then you may want to rethink your style abroad. Throwing technical words like this into the mix only complicates matters, and leaves you wide open to potentially perilous consequences. Start small and work your way up.

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Five: Take a friend

If you have nice, native friends with enough free time on their hands, then why not bring them along? This eliminates the possibility of having to contend with unanticipated questions and accidentally agreeing to a number one all over or, heaven forbid, the famed dreadlock mullet.

Six: Get drunk

If the idea of leaving your precious head of hair in the hands of a non-English speaking barber really does give you the heebie-jeebies, then you might find that a generous pre-intake of alcohol will help alleviate your concerns. And of course everybody speaks better Spanish when they’re drunk. That’s just science.

Have you ever had a haircut in Spain or any other part of the non-English speaking world and experienced disastrous consequences? Or do you have any other tips? Let’s hear about it!

Granada at Christmas

Despite my usual distaste for Christmas lights, owing to their excessively tacky nature, I couldn’t help but feel a touch bedazzled when Granada’s festive decorations went up this year. Since moving to Spain i’ve never really experienced that Christmassy feeling during the run up to the day itself, but it appears Granada is now mounting a case against that. So after two weeks’ worth of procrastination, out eventually came the camera and off I wandered into the gleaming city centre…

Granada, Christmas, lights,

Granada, Christmas, lights,

Granada, Christmas, lights,

Granada, Christmas, lights,

Granada, Christmas, lights,

Granada, Christmas, lights,

Granada, Christmas, lights,

Granada, Christmas, lights,

Granada, Christmas, lights,

Granada, Christmas, lights,

Spain 101: Spanish Telly

spanish tv
That last episode of Gandía Shore was just too much to endure…

There aren’t too many things I dislike about Spain, but this is undoubtedly one of them. Of course it’s not all bad; the news, for example, is a good watch. And in no way am I slagging off Spanish films either- with or without subtitles they are invaluable sources of language learning, and should be watched regularly (‘Que Tan Lejos’ and ‘Y Tu Mamá También’ are two of my favourites). However, in general terms, Spanish TV leaves a lot to be desired, and it’s only recently that I had this realisation.

When I first moved to Spain I hardly ever watched TV. After a day’s work and/or an hour and a half of uncomfortably bumbling my way through a snail’s pace intercambio, I just wanted to switch off. It was a chore to me, and the prospect of sitting down for a double helping of Dexter or Breaking Bad was invariably more appealing.

I knew, of course, that this was an entirely unhealthy approach to overcoming those bumbling intercambios, yet I continued to shun my dust-gathering boob tube like superman shuns kryptonite. I suppose it mainly came down to the fact that it was just so effing fast, and instilled in me nothing but scorn and further embarrassment for my self-determined sh*te Spanish.

My first year here generally continued in this injurious fashion, and as a result I arrived in Granada not knowing nearly enough to comfortably chitchat with my new, plainly appalled (at the fact that I had spent nine months living in El Puerto de Santa María and knew so little) Spanish housemates.

Things had to change, and getting acquainted with Spanish TV was a sensible start. So, considering that I was void of any opinion when it came to Spanish telly, I was content to let my student housemates take charge of the controls. What I was watching didn’t really matter- as long as I could understand some of it, I was satisfied.

Thus, I spent most of my TV dinner time trying to make sense of either squabbling football pundits on MARCA or badly dubbed rappers talking about their cars and ‘cribs’ on MTV. At the time, I presumed that this was merely the arse-end of Spanish TV and just something I needed to get to grips with before feeling suitably qualified to take on a whole other world of laudable and fascinating television, rife with riveting documentaries and original, hilarious game shows.

How wrong I was.

Now in my third year in Spain, I am yet to discover anything approaching ‘watchable’ and to be perfectly honest the more I look the worse it gets- Telecinco’s wishy-washy, predictable and canned laughter-filled ‘Aída’ is a textbook example. My new, older housemates can’t get enough and the show, now in its ninth season, has apparently won stacks of awards. God only knows why. Call it a cultural barrier if you like but I can understand more or less all of it yet nary a snigger has ever escaped my lips. Imagine the progeny of ‘Friends’ and ‘Will & Grace’ birthed by a surrogate Spaniard and you’ve pretty much got it. It’s on every day and each episode is dragged out for 45 agonizing minutes.

spanish tv
The cast of Aída

When ‘Aída’ isn’t robbing me of my will to live, there’s a good chance that newly launched singing competition ‘La Voz’ is (again, housemates are infatuated with it). Now, I am, by my own admission, secretly addicted to the X Factor, which may well have just compromised anything more I have to say on the matter of creditable television, but if comparisons are to be drawn between the two, then the Spanish version is simply laughable. It sounds harsh, but it’s true. The contest is currently in its final stages, yet you would be forgiven for thinking it was the first round owing to some of the contestants’ ‘voices’. And when one of them attempts to sing a song in English the cringing can even become painful. Fair play for trying I suppose- the day an English speaker sings a song in a different language on X Factor will never come- but someone really ought to put a stop to it.

spanish tv
Judges must sit with their backs to the contestants so as not to be influenced by their appearance- only their singing…

Maybe I’ve just been spoilt by the BBC, and Spanish TV is simply a reflection of the global standard. Whatever the reason, I’ve had enough. I’m boycotting Spanish telly until it gets its act together and reverting back to my old ways. C’mere Dexter. Oh how I’ve missed you.

*Watch as La Voz’s Rafa Blas massacres Bon Jovi’s Livin On A Prayer!*

Anyone else feel this way about Spanish TV? Or do you really like Spanish TV and think I’m a prudish and unreasonable ass? Either way I’d like to hear your thoughts!

Day One at The Sierra Nevada

It’s amazing how much covert energy suddenly manifests itself in the face of doing something that you love for an entire day. I’d barely slept a wink all night, yet at the first shrill beeping sound of my alarm had leaped out of bed and pretty much landed in my snowboarding boots in about 10 seconds flat. The day I hadn’t been able to stop thinking about had finally come, and being tired was simply not allowed. My brain full on rejected it.

It had rained the previous day (there I go about weather again…), though on this occasion I had been grateful, as normally rain in Granada = snow in Sierra Nevada, AND it was all supposed to have cleared up by Saturday, leaving nothing but bright blue skies. In other words, this would make for perfect conditions. Yes, you could say I was ever so slightly excited for this one.

sierra nevada, spain, granada, españa
Yo (© Tony Lee Bruce)

We set off late, unsurprisingly, and for this we paid the price. Of course we’d expected it to be busy; it was Puente weekend, and this all but guaranteed that there would be crowds, but none of us had quite anticipated throngs of this magnitude. Finding a parking space took what seemed like an eternity and queuing to buy our passes, and subsequently board the gondola/chairlift added another maddening forty-five minutes to our waiting time. In fact, it wasn’t until 10.50am- two hours after we had left Granada- that we actually found ourselves looking down the mountain, as opposed to up the damn thing.

It also hadn’t gone unnoticed that conditions weren’t perfect. Actually, they were pretty far from it. Apparently, it hadn’t snowed the day before- it had rained! This meant only one thing: ice. Our hopes dashed, we pushed off down the slope for our first run, determined not be deterred and to make up for lost time.

piste, sierra nevada, spain, españa
Icy Slopes (© Tony Lee Bruce)

Minutes later, it was over, and we were right back where we started- the tail end of the now even longer queue. Though to our pleasant surprise, the snow wasn’t all that bad, thanks to the whirring snowmakers on either side of the groomed pistes. Any off-piste exploits, however, were well out of the question- the immediate juddering brought on by the scores of frozen snowballs littering the off-piste track were a sure indication of that.

Eventually, the swarms scattered and the slopes opened up a bit, allowing us to really brush the cobwebs away. Predictably, I let myself become a little overzealous, and in an attempt to cut across a slope in order to reach the start of a run yet to be explored, I collided with a skier. A very, very, pissed off skier, might I add. Speed had been key, or else I risked slipping too far down the slope and overshooting my exit. I didn’t stick around to explain myself, preferring instead to hold up both my hands and yell ‘lo siento!’ at the top of my lungs, as I trundled away (he had ended up skis akimbo on the ground). I couldn’t quite hear his response, but as I watched his lips move I highly doubted that they were imparting words of forgiveness. Oops.

The best snow of the day was found along el zorro and el rebeco, beneath the stadium chairlift (click here for piste map), owing to a greater concentration of snowmakers sporadically showering the runs in artificial powder throughout the day. The loma dilar on the far right ridge, which leads to the resort’s presently substandard super park (1 jump and 4 boxes), also offered up some rare carving opportunities. Elsewhere, it was pretty underwhelming, but at this stage of the season you can’t expect the whole enchilada I suppose. Several chairlifts and the whole Laguna de las Yeguas section remain unopened, so there is plenty more to look forward to.

sierra nevada, spain, españa,
(© Tony Lee Bruce)

By 4.30 the tiredness had definitely caught up with us; our group had shrunk from seven to two, and we were no longer in the least bit bothered about sticking together. I managed to catch the last lift of the day, and I mean THE LAST lift- not a single person was left in the queue behind me (which left me feeling rather smug), meaning that I could mosey down the mountain at my own pace, without any clumsy skiiers getting in the way…

Back in the much-welcomed warmth of the car, we gorged ourselves on mandarins and mini-donuts before committing the cardinal sin of falling asleep, leaving the equally as deadbeat driver to battle it out against his eyelids for the drive, or rather queue, home. Ordinarily I wouldn’t commit such atrocities but keeping my eyes open was futile. My body had countered, and my brain simply gave up. The countdown to day two has begun.

icicle, sierra nevada, spain, españa
(© Tony Lee Bruce)
sierra nevada, spain, españa, sunset
Sunset over the Sierra (© Tony Lee Bruce)

Anyone else been up to the Sierra Nevada yet? What did you think? Or are you planning to go? I’d gladly answer any questions…

The Great Spanish Cheap Supermarket Wine Face-off! (Part One)

It’s a common conundrum. There’s just so many. Which one to go for? Garish label with classic Castellano-style font hovering above arty wine barrel sketch, or label with chic, elegant stencil-style font with unpretentious white backdrop? Or neither? After all, any respectable bottle of wine shouldn’t cost anything less then €3 surely?

You’d be wrong. In fact, some of these €3 and under vinos rank among Spain’s tastiest, according to my wine-worn palate. And best of all, they can all be procured from just about any local supermarket! Licking your lips yet?

The top end stuff generally sells for around €6 or €7 but its hardly worth splurging on when there are so many just as agreeable options for half the price. That said, there are a few bad eggs to watch out for, but don’t worry, because that’s where I come in.

I, along with a carefully selected team of similarly self-assuming supermarket wine connoisseurs, will drink all that nasty stuff on your behalf (It’s ok – you’re totally welcome) in the hope of eventually being able to set the good eggs apart from the bad eggs, which in turn should yield a fastidious and highly reliable supermarket wine hierarchy (thoughts will be written down at the time of tasting so as to ensure that nothing is forgotten in the drunken state we are likely to find ourselves in).

But if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it properly, and with a healthy dose of impartial interest. Therefore, I am asking YOU to nominate the candidates in the comments section below. I already have a few in mind, but am nevertheless willing to leave most of the decision-making to my small but good-sporting (you know you are) band of followers (please leave a suggestion or I shall feel most dejected). Such a grave event deserves the utmost respect and consideration, so I thought it only proper to have some ground rules in place. So here they are…

The Ground Rules

1. Each candidate must be red. Sorry, I just can’t stand white in any shape or form so if I were to drink any then my opinion would be null and void. This standpoint also goes for at least two other participants (I think).

2. Each candidate must be under €3. Any more expensive and it would not be considered cheap, relatively speaking.

3. Each candidate must be available from any of the following supermarkets:

  • Mercadona
  • Supersol
  • Día
  • Carrefour
  • Dani
  • Coviran

There aren’t any others within walking distance of my house, nor can I think of any more.

4. Only two wines per supermarket. This is a fair,  unbiased contest (although Mercadona is clearly the best).

5. All those taking part must not be drunk prior to the face-off. This shouldn’t be a problem on a week night but one can never be too sure with English teachers post-work parched expatriates.

And that’s it really. A date has not yet been set as it largely depends on how many suggestions are offered, but it will definitely take place this week.

So, dear, obliging followers, let the nominating commence!

How to… survive a Spanish winter *shock horror!*

This blog is only six weeks young and I can’t help but feel that I’m already getting quite the penchant for writing about Spanish weather. And quite frankly it concerns me, because everybody knows that weather is all together a rather boring topic of conversation- something better left for impromptu awkward silences or endless inane chatter between grannies on buses, let alone something to blog about. But given that I am presently sat in my bedroom, wearing a hat, gloves, hoody and my snowboarding jacket with two mini-heaters blasting hot, musty air at me, I also can’t help but feel that weather over here is something that one can’t help but talk, or indeed blog about.

You’re probably wondering why I haven’t just switched the central heating on. Well, I could switch the central heating on, if my housemates weren’t so uncompromisingly against it. “El crísi’!, el crísi’!” (andaluz translation for “The crisis, the crisis”) they keep yelling at me- in other words, the bills are getting harder to pay and we can’t afford to turn the central heating on yet. Mind you, at least we actually have the luxury of central heating in our house- many Spanish homes simply don’t bother with it, their tenants preferring instead to pay cheaper rent and risk freezing themselves to death.

spain, cold, winter, hat, gloves
Bye bye suntan

So whether you share my circumstances, you’re new here, or considering the move, wearing nearly all your clothes and/or rocking back and forth in your frozen desk-chair in a state of shock, fret not. For you have just stumbled across the first ever ‘how to survive the winter in Spain even though it probably isn’t as cold as winter back at home’ blog post! So take my numbed and quivering hand as I walk you through some nifty tips on fighting el frio…

One: Dress sensibly

One can never underestimate the power of a good wooly jumper. If you haven’t got one, get one! They’re comfy, cozy and rather fashionable these days I believe. Grab a bargain at H&M or Pull & Bear.

Two: Cover the Floor

Buy a rug and pop it down next to your bed. The thought of peeling yourself away from beneath the duvet covers in the morning is an unpleasant one in any case, but during the winter months even conceiving the idea can be regarded as an achievement. If you don’t have a rug readily available nor the income to go splashing out on one, have your slippers at the ready. 

Three: Drink and eat well

Common sense this one really. But when in Spain you’ll no doubt discover that certain luxuries that were once easily acquired are no longer so. Fortunately, there is Mercadona, and thankfully it offers us Brits what no other Spanish supermarket can: tea. And I mean proper, actual tea, as in the one you add milk to. Not that ghastly fusion stuff. You’ll only find PG Tips but it’s better than nothing, and when you’re sat caressing a mug of it, shivering under a blanket in your subzero casa, you’ll have never felt so grateful.

Food-wise, I’ve often found that there is nothing more doctoring than a rich, delicious and mightily healthy bowl of ‘pisto’ to warm your entrails.

Four: Spoon a housemate

Why not? You’ll no doubt already know from that very first, clumsy double-cheek kiss greeting that the Spanish are a plainly uninhibited nation when it comes to bodily contact, so stick the telly on, and snuggle up. Body warmth is of the utmost importance and what better way is there to share some? Boys, just bear in mind potentially awkward consequences if you’re housemate is super hot. Girls- don’t insist on being big spoon for extra warmth, it’s extremely emasculating and we don’t like it.

Five: Steal someone else’s heat

As in go to someone else’s house where there is central heating and stay as long as possible. If you don’t have any friends with central heating, or if you simply don’t have any friends, then head to your nearest café or cozy restaurant. Not that I’m encouraging stinginess but it probably costs less for a few rounds of coffee than it does for just 15 minutes of your mini-heater. Take a book and find a quiet corner.

sierra nevada, granada, spain, winter
Sierra Nevada peaking through the clouds at sunset © Tony Lee Bruce

Six: Jump around!

Jump up jump up and get down. Jump, jump, jump, jump… etc.

Seven: Utilize sunlight 

Another one that should really go without saying- leave your curtains open during the day and let in all that lovely sunlight. It may get cold in Spain (it does, honestly!) but we can at least rely on there being bright blue skies every day. Those golden rays will provide pockets of magnified toastiness for respite from the rest of your chilly living room. Shut them before bed though, or you’ll shiver yourself silly.

Eight: Sex it up

Presuming of course that you have another willing participant, this cold-combatting tactic is, needless to say, the most enjoyable. I won’t bother with all the scientific spiel- it’ll hardly be a turn-on for your other half if you attribute the reason for shagging to a statistically proven blood circulation increase of 30% etc. If you’re especially fond of bonking (first time I’ve ever used that word, by the way) then click here for some extra raunchy tips to keep yourselves pleasantly heated. However, click here, to learn about what not to do.

Nine: Microwave your socks

This is a neat, crafty little trick I picked up back at University, and never fails to provoke a long, gratifying sigh. Stick a cup of water in there as well to add some moisture and reduce the risk of your socks catching fire.

Ten: Sod it and get drunk

Sometimes the only effective measure in such drastic circumstances is to get suitably and unabashedly sloshed. Stick to spirits or wine though (cheap Supersol wine or Mercadona rum are best)- beer will only make matters worse. And don’t inadvertently turn yourself into an alcoholic. This will not solve any of your problems.

Got any more tips? Let’s hear them…