Photo on 27-02-2013 at 13.19

Should I stay or should I go? Expat advice needed…

4547 1 Should I stay or should I go? Expat advice needed...It’s an all too familiar dilemma for me now: should I stay or should I go? As a single, unchained expat in his mid-twenties, my options are rather black and white looking:

If I stay, I’ll live blithely, comfortably and contentedly for another year. If I go, I’ll most likely find myself working more hours for less money, bereft of the doorstep delights I had previously been privileged to, in a place that I probably don’t like very much.

The choice is simple right? Well you’re bang wrong, actually. I pride myself on putting happiness before everything and that is something I have endeavoured to do here in Spain since I arrived two and a half years ago. But sometimes the demons get to you. For me, it’s usually around the end of summer time that this happens. Here is the long and short of it from last year’s encounter:

Demon (in rasping, malevolent voice): “Go home!” Get to London and find a REAL job!”

Me: “Piss off demon! I have an excellent life – why on earth would I want to trade it all in for a miserable and poverty-stricken one in a country that is renowned for bad weather and a job market that is almost impenetrable?”

Demon: “Because if you don’t, you’ll fall behind. You’re bound to go home EVENTUALLY, and when you do, you’ll need to jump on the career ladder, so the sooner the better you ignorant ass!”

Me: “Rubbish! My career’s already started. I just can’t call it a living yet. In fact, I’m probably better off here than there in terms of long-term goals – teaching English abroad is a perfect accompaniment to blogging and piss-poorly paid freelance journalism. And if I moved home I’d have no other skills to cash in on anyhow, unless I actually taught English as a foreign language in England. And where’s the reward in that?”

Demon: “A fair point, but a move back to the UK is more likely to throw up random job opportunities that could prove life-changing. There will be none of that here; just more of the same, and that’s not going to get you anywhere is it?

Me: “Perhaps you’re right. I can’t live like this forever can I?”

Demon: “No! And there’s Starbucks in London. And that means Banana Java frappuccinos. EVERY. DAY.”

Me: “Oh bloody hell alright! This will be my last year, then I’ll go back”.

Demon: “Do you promise?”

Me: “I promise. Now do one. I’ve been doing my Smigel voice for five minutes now and people are beginning to stare”

Demon: “Yes master”

Five months later, and that promise to self is, yet again, looking rather like it’s on the verge of being broken. It’s an interminable cycle of mind-changing, and it’s always about this time of year that my expat-life loving side gives voice.

Co-incidentally, it’s about this time of year that there is a sudden drop in temperature and influx of various ‘puente’ weekends (long weekends lasting up to four days which are plentiful in spring). But if I look at the bigger picture, I really do have an enviable lifestyle here; a job that pays sufficiently; a social life that encompasses both English and Spanish; a ski-resort not one hour away; beaches not one hour the other way; free food with every beer in almost any bar; and a city typified by a unique cosmopolitan ambience and truly remarkable architecture.

gollum 1b5rnkp Should I stay or should I go? Expat advice needed...

Yet the Smigel within still lives, and has an incredibly annoying habit of sneaking to the surface in order to throw my mind into disarray just as I think I’ve made a final decision. By staying here, am I simply delaying the inevitable? Or am I doing the right thing by pursuing, however remote it may currently be, a career in freelance journalism, whilst teaching English as a means to an end?

My Dad wants me to get into ‘proper teaching’ back home.

“It’s a decent, modestly-paid and important job which offers the stability that a lot of other career paths don’t. Plus, you’re already a teacher, so you’ll already have an advantage there, and think of all the time off! PAID time off!”

As a life-long supporter of the Tories, his stance on the matter surprises me if I’m honest. Then again, he is no stranger to the trials and tribulations potentially suffered by those choosing a self-employed career path. Five years ago, his own company went into liquidation and marked the beginning of a brief, troubling spell of uncertainty in our home. Fortunately, he was quickly able to carve himself a new job at a suitable corporate firm, owing to his knowledge and expertise in his line of work.

It’s a chilling thought though. The last thing I want is a career forever endangered by the prospect of sudden unemployment – especially when I am older, with more mouths to feed. So obviously I can see where Dad is coming from – if I choose to teach full time, for my entire career, then all these potential hazards will be significantly reduced (in theory). And he’s right about the time off. That’s certainly a perk not a lot of other jobs have, and one which would allow me to continue travelling during the summer months. Moreover, I do actually enjoy teaching. I love my job, and I love building a rapport with students of all ages: kids, teenagers or adults.

However, I can’t help but think that if I were to devote my career to full-time teaching in the UK, I would forever yearn for something else. Something more exciting and less rigid, where things could go wrong, but at the same time could open up doors that would otherwise remain closed for an entire lifetime. That said, it is in no way my intention to disparage teaching as a profession; the demands of the job are hugely misapprehended, and that old saying ‘those who can, do; those who can’t, teach’ can go frig themselves off to an episode of The Apprentice. Try managing a class of 7 year olds – one with ADHD, one that cries over a hidden pencil case, one that terrorizes the others, one with epilepsy (better have that insulin injection at the ready!), one that never stops grassing on the other kids and several that scream everything they say – for an hour and a half, alone, successfully, and then tell me your fucking antediluvian adage.

Anyhow, I digress. The truth is I still don’t know what I’m going to do next year. It’s either stay in Granada, listen to the demon and begrudgingly return home or set up shop somewhere else in Spain simply for a change of scenery. Barcelona is tempting me.

photo on 27 02 2013 at 13 19 Should I stay or should I go? Expat advice needed...

Do any other bloggers out there often find themselves in a similar predicament? Has anyone gone home and later regretted it? Or vice-versa? What should I bloody well do!!??

salatrensg9

All aboard La Sala El Tren, Granada

salatrensg9 All aboard La Sala El Tren, GranadaThere aren’t many things I miss about the UK, but the ease of finding a decent club night is undoubtedly one of them. While there exists a great deal of quality live music in Granada, finding it, from time to time, can be a trying task. This can be broadly attributed to the fact that the city’s clubbing scene caters almost exclusively for its burgeoning Erasmus community. You need only set foot in either ‘Granada 10’– a glittery cinema-converted discotheque located in the city centre, or ‘El Camborio’– a two-story hilltop-perched nightclub which, somewhat incongruously, faces the majestic Alhambra Palace, to get wind of that. Both are the most popular club venues in Granada and both play the worst music. It’s a crying shame considering the design and layout of the venues themselves.

Further investigation, however, will prove more fruitful, and La Sala El Tren is perhaps the best example of that. Over the last decade, the warehouse-sized venue has staged a variety of live acts and big-name DJs in the jungle/dub scene – often to sell-out crowds – courtesy of various events labels. Substation is doubtless the most notorious of these, and has in recent years lured the likes of DJ Hype, Congo Natty and Asian Dub Foundation to the Granadian juke joint. More recently, La Sala hosted Tarragona’s Bongo Botrako, whose rumba, reggae and trumpet-fronted rhythms had the 500-strong crowd bouncing in one gleeful and frenzied ska-pit for hours on end.

Tonight though, once again thanks to Substation, it is the turn of drum & bass outfit Dirtyphonics to shake the reverberating venue to its core. Back for their second outing in twelve months, the Parisian duo have drawn a sizable horde for the event – evidenced by the queue more akin to a rugby scrum spewing forth from the door on our arrival. Casual chatter in the scrum reveals why:

“I come here from Jaén” exclaims one bass fan in front.

“And me Valencia!” blurts another, “There is my car!” He nods in the direction of an old, rusting hatchback, complete with a joke-sized speaker system that can be seen through the rear window. It is not the only one. In fact, there is a dozen or so more neatly lined up along the other side of the street, each hammering out their own distorted tempos to their own private posses of rum-chugging ravers. This sort of thing isn’t unusual for La Sala – there is even a dilapidated petrol station to the rear that routinely serves as an overspill area for the club itself. A heightened sense of zeal hangs in the air as we edge closer to the door.

Dirtyphonics eventually take to the stage at 4am, and hold nothing back from the onset. It is pure, undiluted rowdiness; a roaring flow of skanking frequencies and earsplitting basslines from start to finish. It’s unlikely that a great deal of those present will know more than one or two tunes, but people aren’t here to sing along. They are here to dance, lose all inhibitions and behave like demented people for a few hours. There isn’t a still-bodied individual in sight.

Towards the end of the set, Pitchin, one quarter of the Dirtyphonics, can’t resist an impromptu stage dive into the pulsating crowd. It goes down well, as does the fervent spokesman’s final sentiment before they depart:

“Muchas gracias! Nos encanta Granada!”

And we love you too, Dirtyphonics. Please come back soon.

crowdsurf All aboard La Sala El Tren, Granada

Cadiz, carnaval, carnival, spain, party, fiesta

Cadiz Carnival: A Step-by-step Guide

If there’s one festive tradition I’ve kept since moving to Spain, it is Cadiz’s Carnaval. Given that this year marked my hat-trick, I’d like to think that I now have a good case for assuming expertise on the anarchic event. Those of you that have been before know the drill. Those of you who haven’t will either have:

  1. Stayed away on purpose
  2. Not had the opportunity or enough ganas to actually make the trip or
  3. Have no idea what I’m going on about.

To the former, I understand your disaffection – it is no doubt to a certain extent justified and the likely reasons for it will be addressed. To the rest of you, allow me to guide you through the crammed and cluttered alleyways of Cadiz while giving you a thorough and honest step-by-step compendium of the unruly and manic street-thrash that is Carnaval.

img 0384 copy Cadiz Carnival: A Step by step Guide

Cadiz Cathedral

img 0385 copy Cadiz Carnival: A Step by step Guide

The Basics

The principle is simple. Turn up in a daft-looking costume and join the colourfully clad masses to form one giant, stumbling, booze-guzzling party monster that permeates Cadiz’s streets for an entire weekend.

The effects are simple too. Drinking from noon onwards in the company of hundreds of thousands of other similarly cracked and self-intoxicating socialites results in very blurry vision and widespread disorientation on an extraordinary level. It is sheer anarchy, on a colossal scale.

But what makes Cadiz Carnaval so fantastically different from any other fancy-dress blowout is its distinctly fertile imagination; costumes will often relate to trending and controversial news topics without even so much as a whiff of self-acknowledged ignominy. Though the event is best known for its chirigotas – satirical groups of performers who dress identically and serenade other revelers with witty refrains about politics, current affairs and everyday life. Each chirigota – whether made up of professionals, family members or friends – has a wide repertoire of songs and typically station themselves on steps or high walls where everyone can watch. Even if you don’t understand Spanish it’s not hard to tell that they’ve been practicing for weeks. It’s a pretty big deal.

What not to wear

The obvious answer here would of course be ‘normal clothes’. Though there’s a lot more to it than that. Skimpy t-shirts/shorts/vests/ generally anything that shows a bit too much skin is a massive no-no. As a rookie, you’d be forgiven for turning up dressed in your used-once-only-at-Uni Baywatch costume – we are in Spain after all – but Cadiz is an island, and – during the winter – pummelled by winds from both the Atlantic and Mediterranean. In other words it’s fucking freezing. Lose the Speedos and take the Top Gear jumpsuit instead.

Now earlier I alluded to there potentially being several downsides to Carnaval. Well there are, although in my humble opinion these are far outweighed by the upsides. A major one of these downsides, however, is the matter of answering to nature. Obviously, it is less of an issue for boys than girls, owing to the relative ease with which we can find a deserted and already piss-strewn doorway. Not that I’m condoning the act – there is just simply no alternative. Girls face a much more problematic task, though I tend not to ask where and how. At any rate, by the early hours the streets are absolutely inundated with pure liquid gold, so do not wear shitty €3 pumps bought from a chino if you’d like your feet to remain dry and pee-free. A sturdy set of trainers/boots are the way to go.

carnivalthem3 Cadiz Carnival: A Step by step Guide

carnivaltheme2 Cadiz Carnival: A Step by step Guide

img 0400 copy Cadiz Carnival: A Step by step Guide

What to bring

If you should decide to take a bag, or have been involuntarily appointed inebriant-keeper for the day/night, you will no doubt be wondering how to keep weight down. First off, pack extra alcohol. Decanting spirits from glass bottles into plastic ones and then mixing with coke will significantly reduce the load by a few kgs. Also take plastic cups and don’t forget those emergency beers either. Now that the important part’s taken care of, cram a hoody (and an extra pair of socks if you actually did buy some shitty €3 chino pumps) and plenty of munchies in there and you’re all set.

edwards Cadiz Carnival: A Step by step Guide

Last year’s Edward Scissorhands costume was part of the ‘Tim Burton’s characters’ theme. Bumped into this fella whose hands were a lot better than mine.

carnivalphil Cadiz Carnival: A Step by step Guide

Tweedledum never did find Tweedledee

Who not to go with

  • People that are likely to constantly whine, moan and walk about with a face like a smacked arse. It will only massively piss you off and probably ruin your night.
  • Mates that just want to get their end away – you’ll rapidly lose patience with them and wind up storming off and then feeling guilty when the next day you find out that they spent the rest of the night alone.
  • Scroungers. They’ll slurp all that boozy-goodness up and you’ll be left tipple-less before you know it.
carnivalfloor Cadiz Carnival: A Step by step Guide

A mere drop in the litter-laden ocean

img 0387 copy Cadiz Carnival: A Step by step Guide

How not to get lost

Forget phones. If the signal isn’t jammed then actually managing to meet someone somewhere via your mobile when lost is futile – nobody knows where the smeg anything is when there’s that many people about. If truth be told, keeping all your troops in tow for the event’s entirety is a rare feat. This year, my band of merrymakers and I began as a mere threesome and thankfully ended as one, though we had for several hours in between been part of a much larger brigade. Of the hazy memories in my first year, I can recall wandering alone for what I thought had been about fifteen minutes. Next day my friend told me I had been lost for almost three hours. So this year’s result was definitely a better one.

Getting lost or losing friends at Carnaval is inevitable, unless, as I have now learnt, you decide to create a group theme so original that it would be impossible to lose each other. Take these happy carousers for example:

img 0416 copy Cadiz Carnival: A Step by step Guide

Favourite of the night!

img 0411 copy Cadiz Carnival: A Step by step Guide

Also rather impressive

And I think that just about covers it. I suppose my final word of advice would be to just make sure that if you’re going to do Carnaval then do it properly, and accept it for what it is. There’s nothing refined or pretentious about Carnaval – it is a no holds barred, debauched and raucous piss-up which in its latter stages is unreservedly disgusting. But it is one of the most epic fancy dress parties on the planet. And that’s surely worth investigating isn’t it?

img 0398 copy Cadiz Carnival: A Step by step Guide

Have you ever been to Carnaval in Cadiz or any other larger-than-life fancy dress street party? What did you think? Would you go back?

usted, spain, spanish, learning spanish

How to (sort of) have an argument with your penny-pinching landlady whilst maintaining a decent and proper gentlemanly manner…in Spanish.

Silly title isn’t it. Long, wordy and totally ignorant of that thing they call SEO. If I were a sensible blogger then I imagine I’d have probably gone for ‘How to use ‘usted’ in Spanish’, as this is in essence, the gristly meat and marrow of what I’m about to regale you with. But then that would be tantamount to false advertising, or just pure and simple deceptiveness – for I am no expert on the matter. I am but a mere specimen, raconteur and passer-on of my valuably learnt lessons. At least I am when I decide it’s high time I rambled on about how to do something in Spanish again.

Yes, this time I thought it necessary to enlighten anybody who cares enough to listen about my woes with the infinitely problematic (for me at any rate) formal tongue of Spanish: ‘Usted’. I very rarely have to use it. In fact, I’d never had to use it until I suddenly found myself facing the inevitability of having to contend with my brusque and blinkered landlady on the subject of unreturned deposits.

I didn’t have to use it, but I wanted to ­– it was an element of Spanish I had until then avoided, due by and large to an overall lack of opportunity. As a señora*, Conchi (her name) could reasonably expect to be addressed as one, which meant the shifting from regular Castellano to this, foreign, guiri-trying, genteel version. Essentially, any verb I conjugated which directly referenced her had to change from the regular second person form, for example ‘¿Como estás?’ to what would normally be the regular third person form, for example ‘¿Como está?’ Along with this omitted ‘s’ it is also necessary to insert ‘usted’ after the main verb and substitute ‘te’ for ‘se’ in a reflexive verb structure such as ‘¿porque se enoja?’ (why are you getting angry?) as opposed to ‘¿porque te enojas?’**.

After only having recently and properly got to grips with normal verb conjugation, I must admit that the task did seem rather daunting. I would, nonetheless, endeavour to do my best, not just because I wanted to practice using ‘usted’, but also in owing to the fact that I was a young English fellow eager to stamp certitude on the myth of impeccable British manners what what?

Before I disclose to you the rather sketchy dialogue of that haunting experience, perhaps illuming you with a word or two on the landlady who to her credit made this post possible wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

Throughout my first year in Granada, I steered well clear of the woman, leaving the terrifying exchanges to my female Spanish housemates, who would spend half an hour mentally preparing for the ordeal pre-arrival, only to be rendered flattened, figuratively disemboweled and scared beyond their wits post-arrival. When we had wanted to change a light bulb, for instance, but were unable to find another that matched the busted and wire-exposed deathtrap sprouting from our corridor ceiling, we were shouted at and told to stop being so lazy; we weren’t looking hard enough.

We searched high and low, chino por chino, and nary a fitting light bulb was found. We doggedly explained the futility of the situation and that the electrician whom she had had wire the place up must surely have known one’s whereabouts. But still, nothing. Eventually, we gave up and lived without light. Then one day, untrue to form, I absent-mindedly wandered down the pitch-black corridor, assuming one foot was being placed directly in front of the other, when I met with a protruding section of wall in a most abrupt and untimely manner. Blood literally gushed from my eyebrow and I had to pay a visit to A&E. Next day, when I rang Conchi to give her a piece of my now dented mind, I was, rather than grovelingly apologised to, politely reminded that it had been my responsibility to find a replacement in the first place. I was shell-shocked and incensed. Yet words deserted me. Instead I hung up, and hoped that I would never have to deal with the vile scorpion woman again.

Fast-forward six months and I’m the only one left in the flat. The Spanish girls have gone, and so too have the Frenchman and Italian Erasmus student. The latter had been the second-to-last to leave, and he did so without paying his last month’s rent. This left me in a rather sticky situation, as I had already paid my last month’s rent and was owed my deposit. Naturally, I was furious with him for leaving me in the lurch and facing the prospect of losing €220. Conchi, rather predictably, didn’t take the news well either, as she had neither the bank details nor phone number to debit the money/contact him with – we had always paid cash in hand. She did, however, assure me that his not paying would not affect the safe and full return of my deposit. This was a highly dubious promise and one that I fully anticipated to be broken.

Fast-forward another three months and the missing rent had still not been paid. And unsurprisingly, neither had my deposit. I called her from my mobile. No reply. I called her again. Nothing. Again, this time from a friend’s phone:

Conchi: Dime.

Me: Hola señora Conchi soy Josh. ¿Como estás? Digo ‘está’, perdona.

Conchi: ¿Que?

Me: Nada, lo sien-

Conchi: -Dime. ¿Que quiere?

Me: Si. Erm… me gustaría saber porque no me ha devuelto la fianza del año pasado. Me dijiste – digo ‘dije’, perdona ‘dijo’ – usted que iba a hacerlo incluso si no pagaba Fabio su alquiler. Y no me ha contestado cuando he intentado llamarte – perdona ‘le’ – digo ‘la’.

Conchi: ¿Como?

Me: Perdone señora Conchi, quizas no he estado cla-

Conchi: ¡E’cuchame! ¡Dile a Fabio que tiene que pagarme el alquiler de Junio! ¡Si no lo paga no puedo devolverte nada!

Me: Si, Conchi le he dicho pero no puedo hacer más, y tu – perdona ‘usted’ – me dij-

Conchi: -¡E’cuchame! ¡Dile al Fabio que tiene que pagarme el alquiler de Junio!

Me: Señora Conchi como te – perdona ‘usted’, digo ‘le’ – he dicho ya, he hecho todo lo que puedo-

Conchi: -¡Dile al Fabio que tiene que pagarme el alquiler de Junio y ya está.

Me: Pero-

usted2 How to (sort of) have an argument with your penny pinching landlady whilst maintaining a decent and proper gentlemanly manner…in Spanish.

‘If you love a woman, leave her to drink by herself. If she calls you when drunk she’s all yours – if she turns off her phone, she never was yours’ Source

English:

Conchi: Tell me.

Me: Hello Mrs. Conchi it’s Josh, how are you? I mean ‘how are you?’ (formal) Sorry.

Conchi: What?

Me: Nothing, I’m sor-

Conchi: -Tell me. What do you want?

Me: Yes. I’d like to know why you haven’t paid back my deposit from last year. You told me – I mean ‘I told me’, sorry ‘you told me’ (formal) – that you were going to do it even if Fabio didn’t pay his rent. And you haven’t answered me when I’ve tried to call you – sorry ‘you’ (formal).

Conchi: What?

Me: Sorry Mrs. Conchi, maybe I haven’t been cle-

Conchi: -Listen to me! Tell Fabio that he has to pay June’s rent! If he doesn’t pay it I can’t give you anything back!

Me: Yes Conchi I’ve told him but I can’t do any more, and you – sorry ‘you’ (formal) – told me th-

Conchi: -Listen to me! Tell Fabio that he has to pay June’s rent!

Me: Mrs. Conchi as I have told you– sorry ‘you’ (formal) – already, I’ve done everything that I can-

Conchi: -Listen to me! Tell Fabio that he has to pay June’s rent and that’s the end of it.

Me: But-

She hung up. Just as well really– my (almost) impeccable British manners were wearing pretty thin after a mere two-minute exchange, though I could see her point, even if she had lied to me. All things said and done it was probably time to cut my losses, but not before one last dashed attempt at convincing Fabio to pay up. I did so via Facebook and heard nothing for weeks. Then, miraculously, a message appeared in my inbox that read:

‘Hola Josh, I paid Conchi the deposit two weeks ago and asked her to let you know. I hope she has done it. Fabio.’

She bloody well hadn’t done it. Enraged, I grabbed my mobile and called her. No reply, obviously. Again from a friend’s phone:

Conchi: Dime.

Me: Hola Conchi soy Josh. Acabo de hablar con Fabio y- (I’ve just spoken to Fabio and-)

She hung up. And that was the last time we ever spoke – I was past caring after trying to contact her for several weeks following that. It was over, and while she may have robbed me of my money, I could take solace in the fact that my manners had stayed well intact. And in some ways that’s a victory. In some ways.

*the actual crossover point from señorita to señora is a blurry one and can often lead to impromptu looks of horror and outrage/bumbling awkward apologies, but more on that another time

**there is no doubt, a whole lot more to it than that but as I said – I am no expert. I only know and use that much!

When do you use ‘usted’ if you speak Spanish? Do you find it easy to shift into it? Have you ever encountered a similarly horrid landlady or had trouble with claiming back deposits?

The Alhambra Palace, Granada, Spain, winter, sierra nevada

La Vista del Mirador de San Nicolas, Granada

Ahh yes. This is why I live here – The Alhambra: stunning, majestic and purely effortless on a winter’s day in the aftermath of a week of rain in the city/snow in the mountains. A.K.A. perfect photo-taking conditions. Last year we were cruelly deprived of such vistas due to a prolonged dearth of snow, so I jumped at the chance and took a detour on my way to work earlier this week to ensure that I wouldn’t rue a missed opportunity.

It normally takes around 15-20 minutes to climb the winding, cobbled path to El Mirador de San Nicolas, which provides a postcard-perfect view of the city’s moorish and prodigious palace, but it took me just under 10. There was no need to hurry– I just couldn’t wait to get up there and start clacking away!

Anyway, here you have it (or them, rather)…

img 0312 copy La Vista del Mirador de San Nicolas, Granadaimg 0313 copy La Vista del Mirador de San Nicolas, Granadaimg 0314 copy La Vista del Mirador de San Nicolas, Granadaimg 0315 copy La Vista del Mirador de San Nicolas, Granadaimg 0317 copy La Vista del Mirador de San Nicolas, Granadaimg 0322 copy La Vista del Mirador de San Nicolas, Granada img 0323 copy La Vista del Mirador de San Nicolas, Granada