We had a power cut the other night.
I hate power cuts, and especially when they happen at night; I am invariably prevented from doing anything that I want to be doing (if my laptop battery is low, which is often) and I can’t boil the kettle or use the hob, therefore am unable to make myself a cup of tea, which causes the sort of anguish that no man should ever have to bare.
As a kid, I’d jump for joy if ever there were a power cut, and then rush off to the loft to unearth some dusty board game (usually Risk or Monopoly) while Mum sorted out the candles and Dad waited in a dark corner with the torch held under his chin, ready to click it on and petrify me when I emerged with the board game underarm.
On this occasion, my instinct reaction was very different. I swore, sighed, got up (still swearing), wandered off to fetch a candle and then began reading a book. Of course I like reading books, but not when I am forced to do so and generally not at night – it’s much more of a daytime, terrace, coffee and sunshine thing for me.
Inevitably, the lights flickered back into life within moments of having sat down, and my untimely, darkened interlude was over almost as abruptly as it had started. I drifted insentiently back to my computer and settled down into my swivel chair to resume my evening of mindless web browsing.
And that’s when it hit me – just how reliant I have become on the internet as a tool not only for casual distraction, but for everything I do. Before coming to Spain, I hadn’t been so unremittingly consumed with it. Facebook, uni stuff, fantasy football league and one or two news websites were just about the extent of my web browsing.
Evidently, that’s all changed now, and after a bit of a ponder and several cups of Yorkshire’s finest, I’ve drawn up a list of the online resources that I deem to be categorically invaluable to me, as a young (barely), working, travel-fervid expat here in Spain.
If you live under similar circumstances or have done before, then perhaps you’ll be inclined to agree with some. If you’ve never called yourself ‘expat’ but are thinking about it, then I assure you, ALL of the following will be hugely helpful in the settling in process – I only wish I hadn’t had to find (most of) them myself…
Fair enough, you don’t have to be an expat to become a ‘couchsurfer’ – the worldwide social networking site is for anyone, anywhere – but if you’re living away from home, you’ll invariably be surrounded by new and interesting places that you will no doubt want to investigate on a regular basis.
Couchsurfing is the perfect way to go about doing this. You save lots of pennies and meet lots of very friendly, local people, who are likely to show you around town or at the very least send you on your way with an elaborately modified map.
What’s more, couchsurfing also offers expats the opportunity to meet other, like-minded people in their own cities. It wasn’t until my impromptu trip to Pamplona last March that I realised the potential benefits of attending regular meet-ups here in Granada. Before that experience, couchsurfing had only ever been a service I occasionally needed whilst travelling or offered to other travellers. Now I attend the Granada forum’s intercambio every week and meet new people from all over the world. It’s a huge part of my life.
#2 Car sharing websites
In a recent post about SOS 4.8 Festival in Murcia, I alluded to the Spanish car-sharing website amovens.com. This particular site is probably my favourite, as it never seems to let me down. I’ve also used blabacar.es and carpooling.es, albeit each on just one occasion, but both were equally as positive experiences.
To give you an idea of the savings I make using these types of sites, consider that a one-way train ticket to Seville from Granada costs €29 and lasts just over three hours. Now consider that I made that same journey in almost half that time at a third of the price. I’ll say it again…
There is of course that element of risk involved, but I’ve never heard any horror stories to put me off. Girls, understandably, are and ought to be more cautious, but like couchsurfing, many of these sites function on a reference-based system, so that any would-be passengers may give their would-be drivers the onceover before making arrangements. The golden rule is that you do not fall asleep; this is both rude and dangerous!
It took until my third year here in Spain to stumble across this gem of a site. Whether you are planning to stay in Spain as a short-term or long-term expat, you will, inevitably, at some point begin teaching English. It’s the easiest job to find and with a bit of luck you’ll be able to find a decent academy who treat their staff well. I am fortunate enough to be able to count myself among the few English teachers here in Granada who are paid well, on time and most important of all – legally. Others aren’t so lucky, and often find themselves scrapping for hours and desperately trying to seek out private students.
Tusclasespartiulares.com is a service that makes this issue a hell of a lot simpler. Students – of any language – and language teachers alike may create a profile and post short ads detailing their needs/services etc. Users can instantly see prices, hours of availability, relevant experience and so on.
Earlier this year, I created my own profile and received around 15 messages within the first week. Some came from private students and others from directors of local academies inviting me to an interview for a part- or in some cases full-time position. It’s a surefire way to get the moneys rolling in.
This site provided me with answers when I needed them most.
Last year, I went through hell and back trying to replace my lost NIE at Granada’s oficina de extranjero (complainy post in the works). Those of you who already live in Spain will almost certainly be aware of just how infuriatingly slow and tedious Spanish bureaucracy can be. I was desperate for a new certificate so that I could legitimately claim el paro (extremely generous unemployment benefit) over my jobless summer, but ran into countless stumbling blocks along the way.
Hours of frantic Google searches led me to expatforum.com, where I was at last able to read something concerning the matter in English and, after registering as a user, send beseeching messages to the senior, Spanish bureaucracy hardened members. Eventually, I resolved my issue by requesting and subsequently being granted a temporary residence card, but I very nearly had to cry in order to get what I wanted. I didn’t cry, but probably would’ve done had it not been for some expert guidance via the Spain page on expat forum.
#5 Second-hand / flat-share websites
I’m guessing sites like this exist in just about every country by now. The US has Craigslist and the UK have spareroom.co.uk, gumtree.com and flatshare.com. All of them work amazingly well. Here in Spain, you have to look a bit harder for the better ones. I use easypiso.com (branch of easyroommate.com) and loquo.com to find my digs.
It’s just chaos in the mornings…
My first year using easypiso.com yielded a moderate apartment with excellent flat mates (except one, asshole) and the second pretty much the opposite way around; I now live in an incredible, modern, three-floor house with a terrace, patio and soundproof basement. However, my housemates and I do not get along, and I recently decided that, despite how in love I am with the house, the people with whom I live are more important, so I’ll be enlisting the services of easypiso or loquo once again this coming June.
I should also mention that loquo.com, as well as segundamano.es, are fantastic sites for buying second hand stuff. I’ve bought a phone, a bike and various other bits and pieces, and met with the seller in person every time. Waaay better than ebay.
#6 Wordreference.com, NOT Google Translate
Thanks to wordreference.com, I am able to trick people who I only speak Spanish to on Facebook into thinking that my Spanish is absolutely flawless. I can use words like ‘diluviando’ or ‘quisquilloso’ or (personal fave) ‘zarrapastroso’ and pretend as though I didn’t just look it up in two seconds flat. Better still, each translation yields two, three or even four uses of the word in context, so you are able to choose which word suits what you want to say best.
The same cannot be said for the erroneous Google Translate. Often, a search for a single word will turn up numerable results, with no contexts given as examples. If an entire phrase or paragraph is copied, pasted and translated, the result is even more inaccurate, as complex grammatical structures somehow seem too much for Google’s gargantuan brain to deal with.
I must admit, since I downloaded the app for my smartphone I have perhaps become ever so slightly overindulgent. Beforehand, I used it as a quick fix whenever I was reading or writing in Spanish online. These days, it’s whenever I am momentarily unsure of how to say something, when in actual fact I could probably wrest it out of me if I just mulled it over for another minute.
No list of invaluable expat resources would be complete without giving an honourable mention to Twitter now would it? Frankly, I’d be lost without it.
Since finally giving in and joining shortly before Christmas, it has become an almost exclusive news resource for me. There is, however, a lot of distracting, pointless dross that when clicked on swallows up a good chunk of my day. And that isn’t good.
I can’t keep up with it to tell you the truth, but I do like retweeting things I find funny or interesting. I’d retweet this if I hadn’t already tweeted it.
God that’s the most incredibly twattish-sounding thing I’ve ever said on here.
*Another useful resource that breaks information down into chunks such as Employment, Work Permits and Visas and Healthcare in Spain is Whichoffshore.
Expats, would-be expats and er, ex-expats! What are your most invaluable resources in your adopted homeland? Do pitch in!