Thursday, December 20, 2012

Córdoba, Spain: Christians, Jews, Muslims…and Travelers

After Granada, the place I was most looking forward to visiting in Spain was Córdoba. I had learned much about the city in college while taking classes on Hispanic Culture & Civilization and Islam, and couldn’t wait to experience a locale where memories of three cultures—Christians, Jews, and Muslims—were preserved in buildings of such stunning architecture.

Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, Spain
Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba
Three weeks ago, I finally got the chance to visit this city in the southern part of the country—and by visit, I mean wander in circles in the town’s old Jewish quarter. Read on to learn what I saw when I wasn’t lost!

Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos

Castle of the Christian Monarchs, Spain
Castle of the Christian Monarchs
The Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (“Palace of the Christian Monarchs”) sits at the southwestern corner of Córdoba’s old town. The site itself has been a fortress since Roman times, and for ten years the castle served as a home base of sorts for the Reyes Católicos—Ferdinand and Isabella. Here they planned their final attacks on the Muslim-ruled Kingdom of Granada (which fell in 1492) and agreed to finance Christopher Columbus’s journey to India America.

There’s not much to write home about this place, but I did enjoy the views of southern Córdoba and that surreal feeling you get whenever you step into a place that’s just overflowing with historical significance, like the U.S. capitol building or Westminster Abbey in London.

Archaeological Museum

Archaeological Museum of Córdoba, Spain
Archaeological Museum of Córdoba
During an afternoon rainstorm, I ducked into the town’s Museo Arqueológico (Archaeological Museum) for a visit, and didn’t regret anything about that decision. In fact, I ended up learning a lot about the city’s past in the short hour I spent there. The museum is rich with numerous artifacts—silver denarius coins, blue-tinted glasswork, and countless inscriptions—from the Roman, Visigothic, and Moorish eras.

Another plus is that the current museum is built on top of the ruins of a Roman amphitheater. You know, no big deal. The nearby ruins of a Roman temple and the Plaza Séneca (where the Roman philosopher is rumored to have been born) really tied my visit together well.


Mihrab, Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, Spain
Mihrab, Mosque-Cathedral
Córdoba was number two on my bucket list of cities to visit mainly because it’s home to the Mezquita-Catedral (“Mosque-Cathedral”). It’s not widely known that for almost 800 years in Spain there were kingdoms ruled by Muslims from North Africa—from the century following Muhammad’s death till just before Columbus sailed the Atlantic. During this time, the city of Córdoba was the capital of many a kingdom and became a center of technology, learning, and architecture. Perhaps no better example of Spain’s Moorish heritage remains than the Great Mosque of Córdoba.

Built on the site of a Visigothic church, the mosque was expanded three times from its initial construction in 785 to the shape it has today. When the city was conquered by King Fernando III in 1236, he decided to spare the magnificent building the destruction that was so often the doom of mosques across re-conquered Spain in the Middle Ages. Little construction was done on it except for a small chapel where the original skylight was.

Transept, Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, Spain
Transept, Mosque-Cathedral
Then, in 1523, King Carlos V decided to insert a European-style cathedral, the Capilla Mayor, smack-dab in the middle of things. Upon its completion, however, he remarked that he had “destroyed something unique in the world.” Nevertheless, it’s said that this awkward arrangement probably preserved the original mosque from demolition.

But in the interior, the cathedral has been seamlessly grafted into the original mosque structure. The architects tore out only those sections that were necessary and even incorporated striped arches into the supporting buttresses. Within the small, square, cross-shaped cathedral light pours into the dim naves below. Of course, the reason the rest of the building is so dark is because all the doors were walled up after the Reconquista; the Lonely Planet guide mentions that centuries ago these doorways “would have filled the original Mezquita with light.”

The experience was truly magical for yours truly, a student of history and Spanish language & culture. I went gaga walking under the endless overlapping red-and-white striped arches; seeing the contrast between light and darkness; and recognizing the transitions between the original naves, the Muslim enlargements, and the Christian additions.

Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, Spain
Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba

Roman Bridge & Calahorra Tower

Roman Bridge & Calahorra Tower, Córdoba, Spain
Roman Bridge & Calahorra Tower
Due south from the Mosque-Cathedral flows the Guadalquivir River, perhaps most famously spanned by the Puente Romano (“Roman Bridge”). Evidently not much of the original bridge remains after two millennia of repairs and improvements, but the fact that this stone bridge crosses the river reminds us that, for a time, an empire placed the same standard that it once put in Britain, Egypt, and Italy. Today the bridge has been pedestrianized, and therefore street performer-ized, too.

At the southern end of the bridge (i.e., the other side of the river) you can find the Torre de la Calahorra or Calahorra Tower (calahorra comes from the Arabic qala’at al-hurriya, “free-standing fortress”).

Inside this renovated mini-fort is a small museum highlighting the three cultures of Christians, Jews, and Muslims that once shared the Iberian peninsula together. At times the narration came across as abrasively pluralistic (e.g., going on and on about how spiritual the mosque was) and often simply cheesy (e.g., melodramatic descriptions of the Alhambra). However, I really appreciated the miniature mosque in one of the exhibit rooms. It was maybe 1-2 meters square with tiny arches and columns meticulously reproduced and even a prayer floor looking suspiciously like sushi mats. It showed what the building just across the river used to look like before the Reconquista rolled in, illuminating the different sections of the mosque as they were built over time. 

Calahorra Tower - Museum of the Three Cultures, Spain
Calahorra Tower - Museum of the Three Cultures (note the sushi mats)

Jewish quarter & synagogue

Córdoba Synagogue, Spain
Córdoba Synagogue
Many Spanish cities have a judería or Jewish quarter where, as the name would suggest, the town’s Jews once lived in isolation. Even my present town of Úbeda has one on the south side of the old walled city. Not much is left of the 1,500-year Jewish presence in Spain, but in a handful of cities you can still see Jewish stars on some homes and maybe even a synagogue.

Sepharad House, Córdoba, Spain
Sepharad House
The Sinagoga de Córdoba is advertised as one of the three remaining synagogues in Spain (the other two are in Toledo). I was surprised at how much is left of the original mudéjar-style plasterwork and Hebrew inscriptions. There’s not much to see inside the small building besides the central hall and translations of the Hebrew on the wall. But as the Lonely Planet guide describes it, those inscriptions, “eroded in mid-sentence[,] seem like poignant echoes of a silenced society.”

Just down the street I visited the Casa de Sefarad, or Sepharad House (sepharad is the name given by Jews to Spain; for example, Sephardic Jews come from the Iberian peninsula). This is the museum the synagogue should have had; it presented a great exposé of Jewish history and culture in Spain as well as an overview of the Inquisition (which affected Jews as well as non-conforming Christians). I got chills reading about how the Jews gradually lost their homes and rights in Medieval Spain—something that would be repeated over and over again in Europe up through World War II.

Ruins of Medina Azahara

Ruins of Madinat al-Zahra, Spain
Madinat al-Zahra ruins
For the last day I had in Córdoba I ended up, in fact, leaving town. A few miles kilometers to the west you can find the ruins of a short-lived capital city that served the Muslim Caliphate of Córdoba in the 10th century. Called the Medina Azahara (from the Arabic Madinat al-Zahra, “the brilliant city”), the archaeological site was a worthy half-day excursion from the main city. (To be honest, I was starting to get a little bored with the old town after two days!)

Madinat al-Zahra, Spain
Me at Madinat al-Zahra

I caught a morning bus from Córdoba that first took me to the Madinat’s museum. Its exhibits were so-so, but its introductory video was extremely helpful in explaining what a big deal the Madinat was in its time. Through 3D animations and voiceovers, I got to see how the ruins used to look before setting off to explore them. Today, the place looks pretty pitiful, but in the movie this palatial capital appeared outrageously lavish and precisely designed.

Another bus took me from the museum to the ruins themselves. They weren’t quite like the video made the originals out to be, but hey—they’re ruins, so I guess that’s the point. Still, that video made wandering through the stones and paths much more constructive since I was able to visualize what the buildings would have looked like as I walked past them. However, the star of the show, the well-preserved Hall of Abd al-Rahman III, was closed for “conservation problems.” Oh well.

Mosque ruins, Madinat al-Zahra, Spain
Mosque ruins, Madinat al-Zahra


Graffiti from the callejero pirata of Córdoba, Spain
“I’ve finally found you” / “Por fin te he encontrado”
After the Mosque-Cathedral and the Madinat al-Zahra, I was most looking forward to experiencing the graffiti of Córdoba. Not just any street art, though, but thoughtful sayings posted on the white walls of the old town by the so-called callejero piratathe Street Pirate of Córdoba.

A few years ago they began spray-painting these short quotes on sides of abandoned buildings using the same font that the road signs use, so at first you don’t notice that it’s actually graffiti. But then you see a “road sign” that reads Finding My Place and you realize, “hey…that’s not that street’s name, right?”

Graffiti from the callejero pirata of Córdoba, Spain
“I’ve found a shortcut” / “He encontrado un atajo”
I tried really hard to hunt them down but only ran across four in the three days I had there. Supposedly there are dozens but I think over the years most have worn away or gotten painted over. If you ever visit Córdoba, keep a lookout for these cool little sayings; they look just like the street signs!


Salmorejo from Salmorejería Umami, Córdoba, Spain
Salmorejo from Salmorejería Umami
I’ll try to keep this section short and sweet savory. One of the things I look forward to when traveling is trying out the local dishes (and desserts!). In Córdoba they serve something called salmorejo cordobés, a cold tomato-based soup garnished with boiled eggs and jamón ibérico (high-quality cured ham). The flavor of the soup itself is kind of difficult to describe; it feels like a refreshing fruit smoothie in your mouth but because it’s made of tomatoes and garlic, it tastes more like a garden than an orchard. Traditionally a summer dish, this creamy soup is served throughout the year.

Blogging note: I will be traveling around France and Spain over Christmas vacation sans laptop; therefore, I am putting future blog posts on hold until after January 7th (read: I don’t have any finished blog posts in the queue, therefore none will be published!).

Question: What are your impressions or expectations about the city of Córdoba? What’s your opinion of the microcosm of Spanish history that is the Mosque-Cathedral? Comment below!

For more pictures, check out my set on Flickr here.

Monday, December 17, 2012

5 Things That Scare Me in Spain

Living abroad is a fun and intellectually-stimulating activity; I don’t at all regret making the decision to move to Spain for nine months or more. There have been so many opportunities to travel to beautiful cities full of historical sights and gastronomic delights, so many ways I have been challenged to get better at speaking Spanish, and so many differences I’ve picked up on between Spanish and American culture.

But doing life here in Spain isn’t always the magical experience it may seem from my Instagram feed or travelogue blog posts. I tend to stay in most weekends to save €€€ for the one city trip I take per month; Spanish schoolchildren, as cute as they are, tend to be loud and wild; and I struggle to understand what most of my fellow Spanish teachers are talking about because of their accents.

Sabiote, Spain at night
Sabiote at the blue hour
And although I’ve moved from one developed country to another, there are a few parts about living here in Spain for nine months that make me worried. Thankfully, I have been paid by my school for two months’ work so far (other language assistants are still waiting!), I live in an apartment (albeit a chilly one), and I cook food for myself each day that is both healthy and tasty. Yet, I worry about a handful of things happening every now and then:

1) Getting robbed/losing documents

Applying for and picking up my TIE (foreigner’s identification card) and getting a debit card for my Spanish bank account were a huge hassle, and I don’t want to even think about how I would go about replacing those cards were I to get robbed/mugged or misplace them. Even worse would be losing my passport—which I need to have on my person when traveling outside of Spain. Of course, there are ways of reapplying for your passport, but I hate headaches just as much as the next guy. Rarely do I worry about crime here in Úbeda, so it’s probably yours truly that I need to keep an eye on.

2) Computer dying

Like language assistant-turned-travel blogger Liz Carlson, my computer is one of the most important things I brought with me: I use it to keep in touch with friends and family back home (via Facebook, Twitter, email, Skype, etc.), upload pictures and blog posts of travels and daily life, listen to music, watch movies and YouTube, pay bills, do research for future travels, and resolve problems with living abroad. I often wonder how people used to live without the internet—I wouldn’t have been able to navigate Spanish bureaucracy, rail lines, or old towns without it. (I can guess how people did live: they talked on the phone, something which I absolutely dread doing.)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Recipe: Personal Pan Spanish Tortilla

The other day I had a big craving for some tortilla española—Spanish potato omelet—with the memory of tortilla from Casa Santos in Córdoba, Spain, still fresh in my mouth. Since cooked eggs (apart from boiled ones) don’t keep too well in the fridge, there was no way I was going to make a family-size tortilla using a traditional recipe. So, I decided instead to make what I am calling a Personal Pan Tortilla, inspired by Pizza Hut’s Personal Pan Pizza.

There’s nothing really original about the recipe; it’s basically a normal tortilla with the number of eggs and potatoes reduced. Spanish cuisine may not be very spicy or exotic, but it is comforting and savory. I hope you enjoy this warm and simple representation of Spanish cooking.

Personal Pan Spanish Tortilla

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes

  • 1 large potato
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  1. Peel and slice a potato into thin disks and whisk 2 eggs.
  2. Fry the potato slices with a lot of olive oil until easily pierced with a fork, and put into the mixing bowl. Drain off the used oil, clean the pan, and pour a tablespoon back in.
  3. Pour the whisked eggs over the potatoes and onions and egg, add the spicy paprika as well as salt and pepper, and mix.
  4. Pour the tortilla mixture into the frying pan and cook on one side until set.
  5. Then, gently push the half-cooked tortilla onto a plate larger than the frying pan, turn the pan upside down on top of the plate. Then, holding the hot pan with a towel, flip everything so the uncooked side of the tortilla falls onto the frying pan. (This is the hardest part—don’t worry if it gets a little messy!)
  6. Cook for a few minutes and serve with mayonnaise.
When cooking for one person, how have you tweaked your favorite recipes so you don’t make a week’s worth of food? And where do you stand on the onions-in-tortilla debate? Comment below!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Granada, Spain: City of Magic

The first weekend of November I took a trip to the city of Granada, a city in the southern Spanish region of Andalucía and nestled up against the Sierra Nevada (“Snowy Range”). I know, I know, I’m writing this post about a month after the fact, so forgive me. Anyway, in the future I’d like to use these travel posts to talk about the highlights of each place I visit—not every emotion I felt or food I ate or street I walked down but the main things to see and do in town. I hope these will be concise yet interesting for future travelers (be they backpackers or armchair travelers).

Granada Cathedral, Spain
Granada Cathedral

Catedral & Capilla Real

Granada Cathedral, Spain
Granada Cathedral interior
In the center of the city are the Catedral (“Cathedral”) and Capilla Real (“Royal Chapel”). Even if you’re not Catholic or even religious, I think it’s always a good idea to stop by the major cathedrals in cities you visit in Spain because they give you a closer look into the country’s history and culture; often they are veritable museums. For example, Granada’s cathedral was built in the Renaissance style of architecture, but it might have been constructed as a Gothic one (like Notre-Dame in Paris) had the city been (re-)conquered earlier than 1492.

In the Royal Chapel are buried the Reyes Católicos (“Catholic Monarchs”), better known in English as Ferdinand and Isabella. Yep, the same Ferdinand and Isabella whose marriage united the crowns of Castilla and Aragón to form the kingdom of Spain; who financed Columbus’ journey to the Americas; who completed the “reconquest” of the Iberian peninsula, which ended when they got Granada; and who attempted to enforce religious purity by expelling all the Jews and Muslims from the country. Beneath the lavish Gothic mausoleum rest their plain, lead coffins. It was a very surreal experience to pass by the resting place of two of the most important figures in Spanish and world history.

The Albaicín neighborhood & Moroccan tea

Albaicín neighborhood, Granada, Spain
Albaicín neighborhood
To the north of downtown Granada is a neighborhood built on the side of a hill called the Albaicín. Before the 16th century, it was the quarter of the city where the Muslims (Moors) used to live, and today—perhaps because of tourism, perhaps because of immigration—there are dozens of Moroccan-style restaurants, tea houses, and markets among the Albaicín’s many winding streets.

One night, Ashley and Reina—friends of mine who also visited the city that weekend—and I were walking through this neighborhood’s main street when it began to lightly rain. I think it was at this point that I realized how true many of my Spanish friends were when they called the city “magical.” The air was fresh and slightly warm, and even though there were a lot of people walking to and fro, it was remarkably quiet. When I looked up to the right—bam!—there was the Alhambra castle, illuminated in reds, oranges, and yellows.

Albaicín neighborhood, Granada, Spain
Church of San Gil y Santa Ana
We decided to stop off at one of the many North African-themed tea houses in the area. I tried té marroquí (“Moroccan tea”) and was surprised at how tasty it was. It’s a mix of green tea, sugar (heh), and spearmint, but the sugar really brings out the fresh, fruity flavor of the mint leaves. I now try to make a poor imitation of this at home at least once a week.

Parque de las Ciencias

I had no idea Granada even had a science museum (“Park of the Sciences”), but my friends were saying it looked like a really cool place to visit so I agreed to go. I didn’t leave starstruck like I did from the Alhambra (see below), but I enjoyed this relatively-recent addition to Granada’s offerings.

In the middle of the whole museum complex is a tall tower with an egg-shaped observation deck. We went up the elevator and were treated to great views of the city center, the Alhambra, and all the nearby suburbs. Granada is big, y’all.

Parque de las Ciencias, Granada, Spain
Parque de las Ciencias
Probably my favorite part of the whole park was the planetarium. We entered into a dark, circular room and sat down on these really comfy seats that reclined waaaaay back. Once it was time to start, the lady who was narrating the show turned out the lights and started talking in the most soothing, calming Spanish as she initiated the star show. She showed us constellations like the Big Dipper, Orion the Hunter, and the Zodiac. I was really disappointed that it ended after only half an hour because it was so incredibly relaxing.


Eating a pomegranate in Granada
While wandering around central Granada, I came across a local Burger King chain and had to stop off for a quick bite. I don’t eat fast food that often back home, but I think it was the combination of not having eaten any fast food for a month plus the novelty of an American restaurant in Spain that drew me in. The burger itself really wasn’t all that great, but it was fun trying out American food abroad.

While in the restaurant, I cut into a pomegranate I had bought a few hours earlier and felt sooooo clever eating it in Granada. Why, you ask? Well, the Spanish word for the pomegranate fruit is granada, spelled just like the city’s name. The words come from two different sources, but because they just so happen to sound and be spelled the same way, the pomegranate has become the symbol of the city. I wanted to eat this most Spanish of fruits at least once, and was happy to have that dream come true. </cheesiness>


Patio de los Leones, Alhambra
Patio of the Lions, Nasrid Palaces
Visiting Granada, I was probably most looking forward to strolling through the palaces and citadels of the Alhambra, a complex built up over successive centuries by Muslim and Christian rulers alike.

In the hostel I stayed at, I met a Brazilian novelist named Thiago who was living in Madrid for a spell. After talking, we realized we were both going to the Alhambra the next day, so we decided to get up super early and hike across town to visit the site together. After all, the ticket stand opens up at eight in the morning, and there’s only a limited number of tickets for the protected area of the monument.

plasterwork, Alhambra
Plasterwork, Nasrid Palaces
The next morning, we got tickets and headed straight for the Palacios Nazaríes (Nasrid Palaces). Although they’re only one part of the whole complex, the Nasrid Palaces come to mind most often when people think of the Alhambra: the lavish palatial residences constructed by the Moorish kings (Muslims from North Africa) of southern Spain in the 14th century. Walking through the halls and patios, I experienced Florence syndrome on a small level—the endless walls covered in intricate, perfectly-designed geometric and nature patterns dumbfounded me; I even got lost trying to get out. Still, as I passed through these many rooms, I concluded that I could get used to such a royal residence were I a king. It doesn’t surprise me that Ferdinand and Isabella wanted to move in after conquering the Kingdom of Granada in 1492.

Outside was the Palacio de Carlos V (Palace of Charles V). This is a perfectly-proportioned Renaissance building constructed during the reign of, you guessed it, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (Charles I of Spain). There was a Museo de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts) free for European residents on the first floor, but I didn’t feel like paying the nominal entrance fee so I wandered around for a few minutes before heading out; I just wasn’t that excited about it. Like the cathedral part of the Mosque-Cathedral in Córdoba, this palace felt out of place among all the other Moorish-era architecture.

Alcazaba, Alhambra
Alcazaba, La Alhambra
The Alcazaba (“Fortress”) was at the far southern end of the Alhambra complex and in the past served as a military installation. After the Nasrid Palaces, this section was one of my favorites. The pathways guide you from tower to tower until you reach the Torre de la Vela (“Tower of the Candle”), the highest point of the monument from which you can see the entire city of Granada. Granted, it was really windy, but the views were comprehensive and it was fun seeing places I had visited days previously like the Parque de las Ciencias, the cathedral, and even a lookout point in the Albaicín neighborhood.

According to the official site map, the Generalife was a palace and set of gardens for the kings of Granada whenever “they wanted to flee from the official life of the palace.” The name comes from the Arabic Jannat al-‘Arif, which means “the architect’s gardens.” The Lonely Planet guidebook calls this a “coda to most people’s visits,” which I think best describes it. After the aesthetically-overwhelming Nasrid Palaces, the Generalife (pronounced [ɾaˈli.fe] “hay-nay-rah-LEE-fay”) was a pleasant set of gardens and rooms built in a similar style to the rest of the Alhambra below.

Generalife, La Alhambra
In the end, I left the city not disappointed at all; my expectations were fully met! If you ever get the chance to visit Spain, make an effort to stop by Granada on your way from Barcelona to Madrid.

Question: If you’ve visited Granada before, what was your favorite part of the city? Were you awed or blah’d by the Alhambra? Talk about it below!

For more pictures, check out my set on Flickr here.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Sloppy Joes, Expat Edition (Recipes Inside!)

A couple of weeks ago I had a hankerin’ for some of my mom’s sloppy joe sandwiches garnished with coleslaw, but here in Spain canned Manwich—the sloppy joe sauce you simply pour onto a frying pan of cooked ground beef—is nowhere to be found. What was this poor boy to do? Well, do just like when I made pumpkin pie—make it from scratch.

I did some Googling and came across the ingredients in a can of Manwich. Scarred for life! That stuff is mainly water, sugar corn syrup, and creepy chemicals. Perhaps not having the convenience of canned Manwich can be a good thing.

Sloppy joe sandwich
Sloppy joe sandwich by me on Flickr

More Googling…then I came across (coincidentally enough) a Spain-themed cooking blog. The author, Diana, is half-Spanish and is all about natural, healthy cooking and has provided a recipe for “real” sloppy joes here. Her ingredients list inspired me to put together a little how-to post for how to make sloppy joes while living abroad. Feel free to tweak it as you cook; mustard and tomato paste would probably round out the flavor nicely.

Note: Since my dad’s side of the family is originally from West Virginia, a custom we have is to put coleslaw on top of the sloppy joe meat before topping it with a bun, but if that sounds weird to you (or you’re feeling lazy) don’t worry about the coleslaw. It’s below if you want it, though!

Expat sloppy joes

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
Serves: 4

  • 500g / 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 can whole tomatoes
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1/2 onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  1. Dice the onion, garlic, and pepper. In a large frying pan, cook them with some olive oil on medium high heat until onions are translucent and peppers are no longer bright green. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. In the same pan, brown the ground beef on high heat and add the chili powder and cumin.
  3. Turn the burner down to medium high heat, add the tomatoes, and continue cooking to reduce the liquid.
  4. Drizzle honey and apple cider vinegar.
  5. Serve on a bun with coleslaw.

Expat coleslaw

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
Serves: 4

  • 1/4 head of cabbage
  • 1 small carrot
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  1. Finely chop the cabbage and julienne the carrot or, if you have a food processor, blend until chopped.
  2. In a bowl, mix the coleslaw ingredients together and put in the fridge to cool and marinate for half an hour.

If you’ve ever lived abroad, how have you made your favorite meals without special ingredients from home? Talk about it in the comments section!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

November Monthly Update: The Day of Giving of Thanks Edition

Well, another month has come and gone in Spain, which means I now “carry” (as they say in Spanish) two months in the country. A quarter of the way through my stay here already—unbelievable, but I can’t wait to see what comes next.

This month I did a lot of teaching about Thanksgiving, or in Spanish, el Día de Acción de Gracias, which I have literally translated in this post’s title. I guess sometimes English naming conventions are a bit more tidy than those in Spanish! Anyway, what follows is a little bit of what I’ve been up to lately.

The Alhambra, Spain
La Alhambra

Granada trip

The first weekend in November I took a weekend trip to the city of Granada during the puente (long weekend; literally “bridge”) for All Saints’ Day (Día de Todos los Santos). Granada is a beautiful provincial capital about two hours south of where I’m living in Úbeda, and was a welcome break from Month 1 of working and living abroad.

Nasrid Palaces, the Alhambra, Spain
Plasterwork, Nasrid Palaces, Alhambra
I’m going to publish a full post about the trip later this week, but it’s safe to say I was not disappointed by any means with Granada; this (excuse the cliché) magical city met all my expectations. I enjoyed exploring the Moorish palace complex of the Alhambra, the cozy, North African-themed neighborhood of the Albaicín, and even the city’s science museum.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

10 Tips on How to Stay Warm in Your Apartment in Andalucía in the Winter

We’re already almost finished with November, which means winter is here to stay in Andalucía, the region in the far south of Spain. You’d think its latitude on the globe would protect it from the bite of cold but, nevertheless, it does get cold here; I’ve heard many language assistant bloggers mention that the “coldest winter of my life” was experienced right here. Now, I think much of that is simply exaggeration (just compare Andalucía’s monthly temperature and precipitation averages with those of, say, Chicago or Fargo, N.D.) but a lot of it has to do with facing the weather head-on. In the U.S., many of us are blessed to have central heating in our homes and cars to drive anywhere we need, so we’re fairly insulated (pun intended) from the worst of the winter.

Here in Spain, however, most apartments or homes don’t have heating (calefacción), and people use their feet instead of their wheels to pick up the milk, meet up with friends, and go to work. Naturally, winter feels much more bitter than it might back home. This month I’ve been doing a few things that have helped me stay warm in my chilly apartment.

Spanish brasero
El brasero (de picón, por supuesto) by A. Antolín Hernández on Flickr

1) Use a brasero

A brasero is a circular table, usually in the living or dining room, with a long, heavy tablecloth that covers a little furnace that sits on the floor beneath the tabletop (recursion overload, sorry). People sit around these modified tables with the tablecloth draped over their legs (and sometimes arms), basking in the warmth from the electric heater. A long time ago, they used to have little bowls that they laid coals in, but now you just plug an appliance into the wall.

2) Use a space heater

You can either get one of those tall, rectangular ones that shoot warmth throughout an entire room, or you can get a little Nintendo 64-sized one that my flatmate has, which directs heat at a specific location (kind of like an oscillating fan, but a different idea).

3) Stay in bed with lots of blankets

Sometimes this is all you can really do.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012, Expat Edition

This year I celebrated my first Thanksgiving away from home, but more importantly, away from Mom’s cooking. However, I did not have a complete breakdown and resort to binge eating of Spanish tortilla, jamón serrano, and cold gazpacho soup for supper. Instead, two American girls, a girl from England, and I—all fellow language assistants in Spain—got together Thursday afternoon and prepared something close enough to a traditional American Thanksgiving feast.

expat Thanksgiving in Spain
Expat Thanksgiving in Spain 2012

What was on the menu? If you’re not hungry yet, you will be after reading this list: roast whole chicken with onions, herbs, and olive oil…homemade gravy made from chicken drippings…buttery mashed potatoes…green beans cooked with bacon…pumpkin (butternut squash) pie made completely from scratch…sweet potato casserole with brown sugar & pecan topping…cranberry sauce (substitute) made from pomegranate seeds.

How did we do it? With an oven, stovetop, and a few pots, pans, and dishes, you, too, can enjoy an expat Thanksgiving next year! Below are links to the recipes I used as well as my mom’s sweet potato casserole recipe and some directions on how to make pomegranate “cranberry” sauce.

expat Thanksgiving dinner in Spain
Thanksgiving feast, expat edition


Since we failed to order a turkey from our local butcher’s shop (carnicería) a week or two in advance, we had to settle for a whole chicken from the grocery store. But it was a worthy substitute. None of us had ever roasted a whole chicken before, but we followed this recipe from the website Beyond Kimchee and pulled out a beautiful, savory bird from the oven after one hour.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

5 Things to Be Thankful for When Living Abroad in Spain

We language assistants here in Spain can be a whiny bunch. From worrying about not getting paid on the first day of the month (despite being warned that our first paycheck would be delayed by a month or so), to being bored in a small town, we tend to voice any and all concerns in the program’s forum and its numerous Facebook groups.

But even though we do have a few legitimate reasons to complain (not getting paid is perhaps the most likely candidate), we language assistants still have a handful of things to be thankful for during our time in Spain. In light of our recently-celebrated American holiday of Thanksgiving, I thought I’d list five things I’m most grateful for while living abroad.

pumpkin pie
Source: Instagram

1) We get to live in Europe

I know that living abroad either during or after college has been a longtime dream for many of us, and Europe pretty much takes the gold for Most Glamorous Place to Live. When week-long winter rains are keeping us indoors or disrespectful kiddos are discouraging our meager teaching abilities, remember that we are immensely privileged to be living abroad in Europe—in western Europe, at that.

2) We have a job

Around a quarter of American college grads can’t find work, and half of all Spanish young people don’t have jobs. We are incredibly fortunate to have employment at this stage in our lives, fleeting though that employment may be. And because living expenses are so low in Spain (depending on how much you travel or go out at night), this job allows us to live decently for the better part of one year.

3) We work 12 hours a week at that job

While most of our friends (who have jobs) are grinding away at the 40-hour work week, we’re required to show up at our schools for 12 hours a week. Granted, most of us find more cash via private classes or language academies to fund adventures or nicer lifestyles, but still—we’re pretty lucky to have this gig.

4) We get to speak Spanish every day

Many of us majored in Spanish in college, or at least studied it at some point in our educational careers. Apart from studying abroad, it was pretty difficult to practice speaking the language frequently enough to become (mostly) fluent. But, for these 8 months in Spain, we have an immersion experience like no other—having to speak Spanish to survive (negotiating apartments, buying groceries, and having friends) and often needing to explain things while teaching (depending on the English level of our schools).

5) We’re just a hop, skip, and a jump from Europe, Africa, and Asia

To the west of Spain is Portugal; to the north, France; to the east, Italy, and to the south, Morocco—all world-class travel destinations within hours by plane or a day by train from our home in Spain. Sky-high (pun intended) airline tickets often prevent many Americans from taking the plunge to “see the world,” but we already overcame that barrier when we left home to work here. I know of lots of people who have taken, say, a month-long, epic, see-as-much-as-possible Grand Tour of Europe after graduation because they know they may not ever have such freedom to travel until maybe even retirement. We are so blessed to be so close to so many locations.

If you’re a language assistant in Spain right now, what else should we be thankful for? Comment below!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

7 Helpful North American Language and Culture Assistant Blogs

It’s about that time again—application period for Spain’s North American Language and Culture Assistant program!

downtown Granada, Spain
Calle Reyes Católicos y Plaza Nueva, Granada
This year I’m working as a language assistant in a bilingual elementary school in southern Spain. To be honest, there’s no way I could have made it to where I am today without the help of many informative, helpful, and quite funny bloggers who have chronicled their journeys from America, to Spain, and back (or not, if their romantic status changed over here). Below, I’m going to talk about the blogs that really helped prepare me for the program and life abroad as an American expat. I hope they help you as much as they did me!

Young Adventuress (Liz Carlson)
From 2010 to 2011, Liz worked in a pueblo just outside of Córdoba in Andalucía (southern Spain), and repeated the program for 2011-2012 up north in Logroño, the capital of La Rioja. Before going through the language assistant program, she spent a year in Salamanca and a summer in Madrid, so she definitely knows her stuff when it comes to Spain. Also very well-traveled (across most of Europe!), she has decided to enter the field of travel blogging and writing, so you should keep following Liz’s interesting blog even though she’s no longer a language assistant!

Liz en España (Liz Pitt)
Like Liz Carlson, Liz Pitt also studied abroad in Spain in college before coming to the country as a language assistant in 2010. She and her boyfriend, Matt, taught in the city of Bilbao, in the Basque Country (northern coast of Spain), from 2010 through 2012. She posted quite consistently during her stay in Bilbao, writing about daily life, teaching, and travels across Europe.

Y Mucho Más (Kaley Hendrickson)
Like Liz and Liz above, Kaley also studied abroad in Spain in college, but she worked as a language assistant in Zamora, Castilla y León (north central Spain) for the 2010-2011 school year. While there, she ended up meeting her future husband, Mario, and has since been blogging about her wedding, honeymoon, and new life in Madrid.

Graham in Spain (Graham Cruise)
Here’s one of the few guy bloggers I’ve come across while traversing the blogosphere (nothing against these very fine blogs written by women; Graham’s is just the only one written by a fellow man I’ve seen). Graham spent two years working in Madrid, the capital, first as a language assistant in 2010 and then as a full-time history teacher in 2011. Currently he’s attending graduate school in Barcelona. His long, expressive posts recount the great international experience he had working and living abroad.

Love & Paella (Sarah Gonski)
Sarah and her husband left the U.S. in 2010 for Málaga (southern coast of Spain), where they worked as language assistants for two years before returning stateside to attend law school. Perhaps the most outstanding part of her blog is her photography; the pictures she posted of paella, tortilla, and travel are simply top-notch.

Spanish Sabores (Lauren Aloise)
From 2009 to 2011, Lauren worked at a school in Sevilla, Andalucía, but partway through her stay there, she met her future husband, Alejandro, and got married. Now based in Madrid, she manages a clutch of Spain-related blogs, including Teach & Travel Spain and Recetas Americanas, and runs a business she started, the Madrid Food Tour.

Sunshine and Siestas (Cat Gaa)
While in college, Cat studied abroad in Valladolid (north-central Spain) in 2005, and came back to the country in 2007 to be a language assistant in Sevilla for three straight years. She found her current boyfriend, steady teaching work, and a new life in the Andalusian capital, where she resides today. I actually met her in April 2013, and she’s a great gal! Her blog is especially helpful for all things Sevilla, since she’s been living there for five years now.

For current (and veteran) language assistants, which blogs would you add to this list? Link to them below in the comments!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Albacete: or There and Back Again from Arabic to Spanish

Tuesday afternoon I had to catch the bus from Villanueva del Arzobispo (where I work) back to Úbeda (where I live) because the teachers I carpool with had to stay late for parent-teacher conferences. Anyway, once I got to the bus station, I ran into a guy from Morocco who wanted to know where he could buy tickets to what I heard as “ahl-bah-SEE-tee” [al.baˈsi.ti]. Albasiti…where in the world? I thought. It didn’t help my confusion that we were two levels deep in foreign languages: I, a native English speaker using Spanish to talk to him, a native Moroccan Arabic speaker. At first, I struggled to figure out where exactly he was trying to go.

Bus station, Úbeda, Spain
Estación de autobuses, Úbeda
But then I remembered from the tiny bit of Arabic I studied in a course on Islam I took in college that Arabic only has 3 vowels, “ee ah oo” /i a u/, and it dawned on me that he wanted to go to the Spanish city of Albacete; he had raised the /e/ vowels in the city to the nearest one he could make, given his accent: /i/.

He ended up getting tickets for a departure later that afternoon, and we went our separate ways. But as I was riding home on the bus, I wondered if the way he pronounced that city’s name was, in fact, close to its historical form. After all, most place-names in Spain or words in Spanish that begin with an al- are usually of Arabic origin; that prefix means “the” in Arabic. Because Muslims from North Africa ruled over much of the Iberian peninsula for centuries in the Middle Ages, countless cities and towns draw their names from Arabic words or titles, often the Arabic form of a previous Roman name. I wondered if an “al-Basiti” happened to be the ancient form of Albacete.

Back at my apartment, I hit up Wikipedia and, sure enough, the city’s current name came from the Arabic al-basit, which means “the plain.”


al-Basit in Arabic script
Source: Wikipedia
Interestingly, the Arabic Wikipedia’s article for the same city lists al-basit and al-basiti as equivalent names (I can’t read Arabic script; I just use Google Translate’s speaker option).

Now we’ve come full circle.

For those of you not familiar with Spanish history, during the Middle Ages the “Christian” (i.e., European) kings in the north of the Iberian peninsula waged war against the “Muslim” (i.e., North African) kings to the south in what was called the Reconquista (“Reconquest”) of Spain. During this period, as regions were (re-)conquered, castles were handed over, mosques were converted to churches (or razed and rebuilt), and city names were approximated into Spanish from Arabic. al-Basit became Albacete and that was that.

But now, as more and more people from Morocco immigrate to Spain, perhaps in the future we will be hearing “ahl-bah-SEE-tee” as much as the Spanish “ahl-bah-THAY-tay” [al.baˈθe.te]. Stay tuned.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Different Sets of Words for Olives and Olive Trees Across Andalucía

The other day I was in one of my 3rd grade science classes and we were talking about reproduction in plants and animals. The teacher I help as a language assistant used olive trees as an example of asexual reproduction in plants, and as an aside, told me that there are two different words for the tree and the fruit in different parts of Andalucía, the southern region in Spain.

He told me that here in Jaén province and the east (the green highlighted region below) they use one set of words, but closer to Córdoba and Sevilla in the west of Andalucía (the gray part to the left of the green shape), they use another. I thought that was really interesting so I decided to do some brief research and summarize the findings here. Enjoy!

Region of East Andalucía, Spain
Source: Wikipedia

Olive trees

Olive tree in a field
Olive tree field by Hervé Blondeau on Flickr
East Andalucía
Here in the eastern half of Andalucía—where the province of Jaén alone accounts for approximately a tenth of global olive oil production—the word la oliva means “olive tree.” This word comes from the Latin OLĪVA, “olive.”

West Andalucía
To the western half, el olivo is used for the same plant. It comes from the Latin OLĪVUM, “oil.”


Unripe olives
East Andalucía
Perhaps owing to a longer history under Arabic-speaking Muslims from North Africa, folks in Jaén and Granada use la aceituna for the fruit of the olive tree, the olive. This word comes from Hispanic Arabic azzaytúna, from Classical Arabic al-zaytūnah.

West Andalucía
Here they retain the Latin-based word, la oliva, for the olive fruit.

If you’ve lived in western Andalucía, does this post accurately reflect the words you use for olive trees and olives? For those of you outside the region, what words do Spanish-speakers in Madrid, Barcelona, or hey, even Mexico use for these things? Discuss it below!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

What the Catalan Language is NOT

Catalan flag, the Senyera
25 April by Marc Sardon on Flickr
Sometimes when I hear people talking about the beautiful language that they speak in three regions of Spain—Cataluña, Valencia, and the Balearic Islands—they often describe it in a way that, to me, is like nails on a chalkboard. Let me explain:

* Catalan isn’t Spanish.

* It isn’t French.

* It isn’t a fusion/mixture/combination of French and Spanish.

* It isn’t a dialect of Spanish.

* It does look a lot like French, and Spanish, too; but it’s neither one of them.

* It is Catalan.

The Catalan language arose from the Latin spoken by the common people in the northeast corner of the Iberian peninsula, centuries after the Roman Empire had dissolved into the Mediterranean Sea, in just the same way as French, Italian, Spanish or Portuguese similarly developed. Although, like all Romance languages, it’s related to French and Spanish, it’s nevertheless individual and unique.

For example, here’s the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as spoken in Catalan:
Tots els éssers humans neixen lliures i iguals en dignitat i en drets. Són dotats de raó i de consciència, i han de comportar-se fraternalment els uns amb els altres.
And for comparison, the same text in French:
Tous les êtres humains naissent libres et égaux en dignité et en droits. Ils sont doués de raison et de conscience et doivent agir les uns envers les autres dans un esprit de fraternité.
And also in Spanish:
Todos los seres humanos nacen libres e iguales en dignidad y derechos y, dotados como están de razón y conciencia, deben comportarse fraternalmente los unos con los otros.
If you check out this great video below you can really start to get a feel for how un-Spanish and un-French the Catalan language really is:

Just as English isn’t a mix of Dutch or German or French, neither is Catalan a mix of French and Spanish. It is a Spanish language (una lengua española)—a language spoken in the Kingdom of Spain—but it’s no dialect, that’s for sure.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

How to Dress Like a Spanish Grandpa

Over the next couple of months or so, I’m going to try and provide a few tips for my fellow men on how to dress more like a native Spaniard. (Not that you have to if you visit here, by any means! This is just if you’re curious about how they dress.)

Here in Úbeda where I live, the ratio of older to younger people is pretty lopsided in favor of the former, so I get many chances each day to observe retired Spaniard fashion. So today, I want to give you some pointers on how to dress like a Spanish grandpa.

Spanish grandpa pants and shoes
Interruption by Fernando Rodríguez
on Flickr

By “grandpa” I mean simply the older generation of men that, for lack of a better distinction, came of age well before the end of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship in 1975. In parts two and three of this little “Spanish menswear” series, I’m going to talk about adult Spaniards and teenagers. But for now, abuelos it is.

Whenever you see them walking around town (something I admire very much about the elderly here—even the slow, hunched-over, cane-using man will have his daily walk despite his age!), they will invariably be dressed in a simple, stylish, and classy manner.

While there are always exceptions depending on the person, the weather, etc., five elements define a Spanish grandpa’s uniform:

1) Flat cap or newsboy hat

Spanish grandpa hats
~~ Abuelo II ~~ by Oscar Brene
on Flickr
Even the simple wearing of hats hearkens back to the times when most men wore hats whenever they went outside—as they once did in America, too. Of course, while there have been attempts to restart the hat-wearing custom among younger men in the States, here in Spain it’s still a mark of older guys. Usually the newsboy hat is the most popular choice.

2) Button-up shirt (tie optional)

Spanish grandpas tend to wear button-up shirts almost exclusively; I’ve never seen them wearing casual t-shirts. Often they’ll sport a tie as well depending on the occasion.

3) Cardigan and/or blazer

In the U.S., cardigan-style sweaters have been making a comeback as a fashionable article of clothing for men to wear, especially for us younger types, despite years of association with grandfatherly types like Mister Rogers. Here in Spain, this (ironic) fad hasn’t quite caught on with the youth, so you will most often see them worn by the senior crowd. A blazer can also replace/be paired with a cardigan, especially once it starts to get cold outside.

4) Slacks

Spanish grandpa on a bench
100 Strangers #012
(Grumpy Old Spanish Man)
by Sebastian Raskop
on Flickr
At first I was going to put “khakis” or just “pants” (trousers in the UK!) but I feel like the English word “slacks” connotes just the type of more formal pants they wear here. The colors dark brown, navy, gray, black, or khaki are most popular.

5) Leather shoes

American tourists often get a bad rap for wearing chunky, white training/running shoes regardless of the weather or social situation. Not so with older Spanish men—they rock the classic, traditional leather shoes like they never went out of style. From loafers, to captoes, to wingtips and everything in between, grandpas here shod themselves very fashionably.

How does this compare with how our grandfathers dress in the U.S. or in other parts of the world? Do you think this is a fashionable way to dress or simply outdated? Do Spanish grandpas dress differently in other parts of Spain? Talk about it in the comments!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

October Monthly Update: Getting Settled Edition

So, I’ve decided to change up the format for my “update” posts from publishing them once every week to once per month for two reasons: First, there just isn’t enough material to justify a post every week only about my life; now that I have a routine it’s mainly working…cooking…reading…speaking Spanish…writing…sleeping. And when there is some variety—like traveling—I’ll be writing a separate post for a city trip. Second, publishing a weekly post every week for my entire stay in Spain would result in about 39 posts, which is simply too much. Therefore, I’m going to be publishing a monthly update either on the last day of the month or a few days later.

Clouds over olive groves in Jaén province, Spain
Jaén province: an interior paradise

Getting settled

I arrived in Spain on September 24th and spent the next two weeks settling in to the country. Some big things that I did to prepare for the next nine months abroad were: I got a pay-as-you-go cellphone, was approved for residency—my NIE (foreigner’s identification number), opened a bank account, received my health insurance card, moved in to a shared apartment, bought groceries, washed and line-dried my clothes, and began to cook for myself. That last one leads nicely into the next section…

Learning how to cook

One of my personal goals for this summer was to teach myself how to cook. Safe to say, it didn’t really happen, although I did become more comfortable in the kitchen and even prepared a chicken tortilla soup that my parents liked. Still, my first time living on my own without a university meal plan was not a complete disaster. After a week of salads and stir-frys, I discovered the cooking blog The Stone Soup and was blown away at the tastiness and ease of Jules Clancy’s five-ingredient recipes. Seriously—my flatmate thinks I’m a “chef” now but I just follow the directions and out pops dinner! Hands-down my favorite recipe I’ve made so far has been her “magic sausage supper” of roasted squash, red onions, and sausage.

Becoming a teacher

Apart from informally tutoring a good friend from Mongolia in college, I don’t have any teaching experience, so it has been an interesting month adjusting not only to the classroom but also to the Spanish classroom. For my language assistant gig here in Spain I’m basically a teacher’s assistant in the classes that are supposed to be taught in English. I help out by pronouncing vocabulary, asking simple questions or giving simple directions, and explaining American culture—mostly in English. The kids’ level of knowledge is pretty low, so if I break off from pronouncing vocab or if I give a presentation on Halloween, I have to fall back on Spanish a lot just to get the point across. And although the kids are crazy (out of their seats, never quiet), they’re so stinkin’ cute that it all evens out. I’m working with five-year-olds through fourth-graders in classes from science to music to English (but mainly science).

I started giving private English classes last week with a third-grade boy whose parents are from Castilla-La Mancha (to the north of here) but he already speaks the local accent. Haha! Twice a week for an hour every afternoon I go over to the house and help him with English homework, pronunciation, or American culture. Hopefully I can find a few more classes to give in the next few months for a little extra €€€.

Getting sick (and better!)

Capilla del Salvador, Úbeda, Spain
Holy Chapel of El Salvador, Úbeda
I knew it would happen eventually this season and…it did. I got my first sinus infection or sinusitis in Spain halfway through October. Thankfully, the program provides us with health insurance, so after first going to the doctor’s office, I was sent to an ENT doctor who prescribed antibiotics and Nasonex spray. I was pretty impressed with myself for being able to explain my symptoms, what I thought I had, and my medical history—all in Spanish.


As this month I’ve been trying just to get routines established and getting my feel for the town, I haven’t done much traveling. However, I have visited a few towns here and there:

* Úbeda (duh—I live here, but I did take touristy pictures of the town)

* Villanueva del Arzobispo (also duh—I work here but I had to stay in a hotel there over a weekend)

* Iznatoraf (super tiny city on a hill that I walked to from Villanueva del Arzobispo)

* Jaén (provincial capital where I applied for residency and attended the program’s orientation)

* Baeza (sister city to Úbeda with lots of Renaissance architecture)


I’ve probably enjoyed Halloween more this year—in Spain!—than I have ever since “growing up” and being “too old” to go trick-or-treating. I was floored when Carrefour (the local supermarket in town, the French equivalent of Walmart) started stocking big, orange, Halloween pumpkins. Evidently this is something new that has happened just within the past two years or so. Anyway, I thought it would be cool to try and cook one—bad idea. The flesh in carving pumpkins is flavorless and stringy, but it was a cool experience chopping it all up and seasoning it. One of my Spanish friends LOVED it, so I guess it didn’t turn out so bad.

This past Sunday, I invited three fellow language assistants over to the apartment for dinner and I cooked the aforementioned sausage supper with butternut squash and it was a delicious harvest-season meal that made everything feel like home for a little bit. Then I carved a pumpkin into a jack-o’-lantern and my Spanish flatmate was very impressed.
Teaching Halloween to ESL kids

At school, I toted around my jack-o’-lantern and gave a PowerPoint presentation on the holiday to most of my classes. On Wednesday, I dressed up as a student from Hogwarts (from the Harry Potter series), complete with wizard hat and red-and-gold tie. In my kindergarten class, the teacher happened to have a lighter on him, so we closed all the shutters and turned off the lights and lit up the jack-o’-lantern. It was magical, indeed! Many of the kids at school asked me “is the pumpkin real?!” and I was like, “yes, it is!”

Tomorrow I’m taking a weekend trip to Granada, the city of the Alhambra palace complex. Expect a brief post on the city and the next monthly update to come sometime in November.

Monday, October 22, 2012

4 Names for “Teacher” in Spanish

This week I’ll be going into my third week in Spanish classrooms, but even in that short amount of time I’ve picked up on the words the kiddos use to get the attention of me or the teacher I’m helping.

US highway exit sign
No Name by Patrick Spence on Flickr

1) profe

Pronounced “PROE-fay” [ˈpɾo.fe], this is a shortening of the Spanish word profesor or profesora, which looks like our word “professor” but means both university professor and teacher in any grade.

2) seño

Pronounced “SAY-nyoe” [ˈse.ɲo], this is a shortening of the Spanish words señorita (“Miss”) or señora (“Mrs.”). Two syllables are always easier to say than three or four!

3) maestro

Pronounced “mah-AYS-troe” [maˈes.tɾo] (locally “mah-EH-troe” [maˈe.tɾo]), this word (and the accompanying female form maestra) means “teacher,” plain and simple.

4) teacher

In Spain, they learn British English in schools, so they pronounce the word “teacher” as “TEE-chuh” [ˈti.tʃə]. Sometimes they do attempt the American pronunciation, but it comes out more like “TEE-chahrr” [ˈti.tʃar].

Bonus: my name

In Standard American English, my name “Trevor” is pronounced something like “TREH-vur” or “CHREH-vur,” depending on how you say the digraphs TR and DR in words like “train” and “drain.” But because Spanish kids often repeat my name as a mumbly “chrvr,” I usually tell them to use their word for “clover,” trébol, instead; this sounds like “TRAY-voel” [ˈtɾe.βol], complete with flipped Spanish R.

It struck me as kind of strange that Spanish students (at least, the elementary ones I’m working with) almost exclusively use these four terms to ask questions or say “hi!” instead of, you know, the teacher’s name (e.g., Señor García or Señora Álvarez). When I was in third grade, one of my classmates always referred to our teacher, Mrs. Copelin, as “teacher,” and thus gained the nickname “teacher.” I guess that’s just not as strange here.

If you’ve ever taught abroad, what did students call you in their language? And if you’re from elsewhere in the English-speaking world, is “teacher” a fully-acceptable substitute for the teacher’s name? Comment below!
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