Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

I arrived earlier today, because I wanted to be able to celebrate New Year's with my host family. It was a great decision.
First the kids ate, then played/caused trouble while we ate dinner.

After eating a massive meal of tapas (way too much for the 9 of us adults) AND a huge hake/ham/pastry crust thing the size of my thigh AND chocolate cakes and apple tarts and flan AND lemon/sugar/champagne cocktails AND chocolate truffles, we watched the kids get prepped (an hour before countdown) with their party kits, which included streamers, blow horns, masks, hats and leis.  

(as with all pictures on this blog, click to enlarge.)

Dani, Lucas, and Bruno

Maria, Lucia, and Paula

It's a Spanish tradition to eat 12 grapes on the clock chimes after the clock strikes 12. So popular, that they sell pre-packaged cans of peeled, seeded grapes specifically for this purpose. And they sell grape-flavored gummy candies for kids, in packs of 12.

My little can of grapes, ready to be opened.

The kids get amped up for the countdown by dancing to "Waka Waka"

The kids get really into it.

And after the clock strikes 12, and we all ate our grapes on the chimes, the couples kissed and then everyone did the two-cheek-kiss to everyone else saying "Happy new year!"

Cristina and me wearing our party kits

The kids staring in awe out the window at various fireworks shows in the distance after midnight.

Then we danced/listened to a soundtrack of ABBA, Shakira, Pitbull, and Prince until at least 3am. 

EDIT: Maria was wearing new watch, and when they went to bed around 3am, Maria whispered to Lucia "LOOK! It's almost 3!" as if they were keeping a secret from their parents that the grownups forgot to put the kids to bed on time and the kids were getting away with it. It was super cute. Also, when they said good night, they said "Buenas noches dias!" (Good night morning) since it was a bit of both at the same time.

Gettin' the New Year groove on.

I don't have my video camera, since it's in my lost luggage. I do have my still camera, which also takes video, but without any audio.

So you will just have to imagine the kids dancing to some awesome Spanish music.

This enthusiasm was high, but not as high as when their song of choice, "Waka Waka This is Africa" by Shakira plays. You wanna bring the house down, you play that.

OMG Spiderman.

I recently learned a new Spanish word, jolín, which I mentioned in a previous post.

After the New Year celebration, the kiddies went downstairs to watch Spiderman on mute. Yes, mute, because the adults are listening to music upstairs. And about 20 minutes into the movie, I see Maria, the kids' cousin, rolling around on the ground uncomfortably, pulling at her tights as she says "Jolín! Spiderman es tan aburrido!"

She thought Spiderman was a little too boring. And I'll admit, watching it on mute while Pitbull plays in the upstairs speakers must be kinda boring.

Yet nearly two hours later, as the movie still progresses, their friend's kid, Dani (not their cousin Dani), is completely fascinated by this silent version, as he sits with his head perched on his hands on the couch.

My suitcase likes traveling more than I do

My luggage is lost. It's somewhere in Paris.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Vete! AHORA.

I don't like when Gin gets in my room...
He can climb on basically everything, and he scratches everything in sight. And I don't want that to happen to my clothes or leather jacket.

Not to mention his habit of leaving behind a trail of not-very-allergy-friendly cat hair all over my bedsheets and pillow.

But, since cats will be curious, he bolts into my room when he sees the door open a crack, and then hides under the bed.

I've created a technique to lure him out...

Home Stay Tour

Once again, I bring you a visual tour of my host family's home.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays from Intercontrol!

I think the most fun project I have had so far was designing a Merry Christmas greeting to send to our clients via email.

I also just love gifs.

You like?
(Click to see animation)


My coworker, Isis, often says "¡Jolines!" when she´s stressed out, or when she´s "had it up to here" with work, as she says.

But the funny part is that the word sounds like a mispronounced "holidays!" or something of the sort. So it´s weird to hear someone just randomly shout out "HOLIDAYS!" in a room of silence.

But I asked her how to spell it so I could look it up. And on my favorite online Spanish dictionary site,, they translated it as the following:

(click for larger image)

Obviously, there are some things you just can´t translate because they sound ridiculous.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Tough luck.

My host family didn't win any money in the lotto, despite their efforts.

But the family across the street from Monica and Jose Enrique did.

They won at least 14,000 euros, or about $18,300. They won with a ticket they bought at a political party fundraiser (the tickets will be 4 euros worth of a full ticket [remember, that's 200 euros for a full ticket], but they sell them for 5 euros).

Cristina said it doesn't even matter because those neighbors are pretty wealthy anyways (they live in a pretty nice house). Then again, it's not like we are comiendo patatas either.

El Gordo!

Today is THE day.

The day of the lottery drawings.

As I wrote before, this is a huge deal.

This morning Cristina told a coworker that last night she said "This is the last night we go to sleep as poor people."

Expect more updates when the action starts.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Sometimes I find myself speaking in Spanglish (a mix of Spanish and English) because I feel like it´s not horribly misunderstood. Sometimes I don´t even make an effort to translate some words because I feel like people will know what I am talking about.

 For example, there are commercials on TV that don´t have Spanish narration or subtitles. They are just plain old English. In my favorite Spanish magazine (which is called “WOMAN”, not mujer) uses Spanglish all the time. The writers don´t translate a ton of things, like “es tu mejor LOOK del año!” when talking about the best fashion look of the year. This magazine, I swear, is about 5% in English, even though it´s for Spanish speakers and it is written/published in Barcelona.

 Movie titles are not always translated. Yes, many are. I already mentioned Criadas y Señoras was the title here for the movie “The Help. But that new movie with Justin Timberlake? Called In Time? Guess what it´s called here? In Time. Yes, the people say it with an accent, but they say it in English. I guess if it is simple enough, they don´t bother to translate it. But you can bet that they will dub it. They always dub movies.

 This next one makes more sense since some of the kids go to English schools (the teachers are usually British, and they teach in English the entire time except for 2 hours of Spanish grammar each week). However, Dani and Lucas are in pre-pre-pre school at age two, and the teachers there teach in Spanish. If the kids behave well all day, they have this reward system where the kids can get a smiley face stamp on their hand. When Lucas or Dani comes home, their moms ask them if they got a “Happy Face” today. Yes, they call it a Happy Face. “Has ganado un Happy Face hoy?” They´ll say. And those are the kids that attend SPANISH school.

 There are things that aren´t translated that you think would be. One of my coworkers has an automated voice instead of a ring tone on her office phone. So when someone calls her, instead of hearing a ring, she hears, “YOU´VE GOT A CALL FROM...THREE...ZERO...ZERO...FIVE.” And she is a Spaniard.

 My office phone buttons also has English buttons. It says “hold” “transfer” “conference” and “speaker.” Actually, when it comes to appliances in general, I feel like they are in English. Not all, but some.

So Spaniards might say they can´t understand your English, but they sure know how to “defrost a pizza” or microwave their rice on “high power.”

Do you smell something?

(this blog post has several click-through links so if you see a word is underlined like a link, click on it for a visual on what I am describing)

I would like to know how popular of a gift cologne/perfume is here in Spain. I am sure I never noticed and the ads are just as prevolent in the US for expensive things like that, but here it is actually 95% of advertising. Any show, any channel, almost every commercial is cologne. 212 VIP, Jean Paul Gautier Le Male and Le Femme, CK Shock, Diesel Only The Brave, Tresor, Victoria, Hugo Boss, and then some random celebrity endorsed colognes by Matthew McConaughey, Antonio Banderas, Ryan Reynolds, Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johannson, and the list goes on and on. Oh, and by the way, those commercials are almost all in English. No subtitles. And what´s weird is that they are mostly American celebrities-actors but I haven´t seen the commercials ever in the US. And Scarlett Johannson´s acting is AWFUL in her commercial. Although I think it´s supposed to be that way?

And as we all know about cologne commercials, they make absolutely no sense. It´ll just be a person dancing in a field of crystal chandeliers while purple rain falls from the sky. Wanna smell like that?

Or it´ll be Matthew McConaughey running from the paparazzi, then getting to his hotel room, taking off his shirt, then sitting on a couch as unseen paparazzi snap a bajillion more photos as he laughs and smiles. Wanna smell like that?

Or do you wanna smell like Antonio Banderas walking through a hotel hallway while random girls stare at him through their rooms’ keyholes?

Or would you like to smell like a young couple giving themselves (probably) unsanitary body tattoos in her bedroom?

Or would you like to smell like a woman just pouring, yes POURING perfume on her head as she gives a toothy Julia Roberts grin while standing in a room draped with white, gauzy curtains?

But I guess I´d rather take these commercials over the commercials that are probably playing excessively in the US right now, with candy commercials that adapt a Christmas song to their product name and description, or restaurant commercials that adapt a Christmas song to their product name and description, or a clothing store that adapts a Christmas song to their product name and description...

I´d rather be eating dinner and hear Joss Stone´s version of “It´s a man´s world” playing behind me than the 289754th version of “Jingle Bells” that somehow has to do with home improvement giftcards.

But these commercials are so prevalent, that I wonder what else they sell here. The commercial breaks usually go as follows: cologne, cologne, cologne, Spanish lotto, cologne, cell phone company, cologne, cologne, cologne, cologne and now your show is back!

Christmas time is here!

Obviously, being a different country and all, Spain is bound to have some different Christmas traditions than we do.This is going to be a Christmas-themed post, with traditions and other random things I´ve noticed about Christmas time.

I already mentioned how going to the Circus is a tradition here at Christmas time.

Yes, they have Santa Claus here. Lucia knows him by the name Santa Claus, but probably only because of American movie influence as well as being a student at an English school. Normally, the people call that bearded dude with a red suit “Papa Noel.”

But their tradition for presents is a little different. In general, people open presents on three kings/wise men day, which is January 6th. That´s when people open their presents, and I believe there is also a tradition of leaving your shoes out overnight and the wise men leave treats in them.

But most people also open presents also on Christmas day. But they usually are the non-anticipated, smaller gifts.
Let me explain. In my host family, the kids write letters to the reyes magos, or wise men. Cristina already bought special wise men stationery from the store, and the kids already wrote them. They will give the wise men (at the mall, like our Santa) the letters in person later this week.

The three wise men are the ones who give them the BIG presents. Not physically large, but the ones the kids really really want. Like a Red Rider BB gun.

Santa brings presents, too, but they are things the kids didn´t ask for or expect. And each kid only gets one gift each. This year, Lucia is going to get a Mickey Mouse suitcase and Lucas is going to get a set of action figures from some cartoon.

In my host family´s house, the presents from Santa arrive in a big sack on Christmas morning. The presents from the three wise men arrive on Jan 6, under the Christmas tree.

Oh, and on Jan 6, the adults get presents too, whereas Christmas day only the kids open gifts.

And on Jan 6, every gift is from the wise men. My host family goes to Cristina´s sister´s house, and there, guess what! The three kings dropped off presents for Lucas and Lucia (in other words, those are the gifts that Monica and Jose Enrique are giving Cristina´s family). And later in the day when they go over to Cristina´s mom´s house...Look! The three wise men left some gifts there, too.

But just as in the US, we´ve seen plenty of Santa Clauses in and around the malls, where the kids take pictures. And when I say “the kids take pictures,” I mean that Lucia happily hops on Santa´s lap while Lucas either cries or sports a look that could murder you as he reluctantly goes near Santa.

Now with the whole “every gift is from Santa or the Wise Men” ordeal, I asked my host mom how I am supposed to present the gifts I plan on bringing back from my trip to the states. She told me I should tell the kids that Santa left them at my house for Lucia, Lucas, Cristina and Pixon. And I am just bringing them here to Spain (because Santa got the address wrong?)
Oh, and those gifts that I´ve been buying for my family (as Lucas and Lucia were with me) for the past couple weeks? Those are just presents. For my family. Unrelated to Christmas. Because, you know, Santa brings all the presents on Christmas. Not a 23 year old girl. These are...souvenirs.

A couple days ago I came across this awesome website where you can make a video from Santa. You can personalize it and send it to friends (or to yourself for your kids to see). So you can have Santa say “Melissa, you´ve been a good girl this year because I see that you have tried to make new friends even though it´s been a little hard” or whatever you want. 

And strangely enough, the very next day, Cristina was like “Come look at this Santa video I made for Lucia!” Yes, of course, there is some other website that does pretty much the same thing in Spanish. So she made two, one for Lucas and one for Lucia, and told me that she´d show Lucia hers first, but then show Lucas his when Lucia was around. Because she´s smart enough to see it and be like “Hey, this is scripted, and Santa said almost the exact same stuff to me minus Lucas’ name!” So Lucia watched the video and was very happy as Santa asked Lucia how she was doing and that he´s been watching her and sees that she´s been a good girl. But he did say that she needs to listen more to Mom and Dad, but she´s been practicing her English a lot and he´s proud of her. Then of course Lucas was like “Where´s my video?” and Cristina was smart enough to say “Well, Santa just sent me this one today so yours must be on it´s way. I´ll show it to you once he emails it to me!” Oh, that tech-savvy Santa.

So the next night Lucas saw his while Lucia was upstairs taking a bath. And Lucas was none the wiser, just amazed at the fact that Santa said his, yes LUCAS’ name out loud. Then later they used the video as ammo when Lucas was jumping on the couch and Cristina was like “But don´t you remember what Santa said? He said to listen to Mommy and Daddy or else he won´t bring your presents.” But Lucas being Lucas didn´t listen and just continued hopping around with his shoes on.

And one more thing:
Cristina really wants an iPad for xmas and it’s pretty much the only thing she’s asked for. She knows she won’t get it because Pixon has told her a hundred times that it’s too expensive. And she makes it known to everyone that she really wants it, even to the kids. But she tells the kids that the wise men won’t bring her an iPad because it’s too much.
And one day Lucia told Cristina, “Quick mom, while daddy isn’t home, wish really really really hard and tell the wise men you want an iPad. Quick! Before daddy gets home and hears you, tell them!”


I´ve noticed that people don´t shake their heads a lot to motion “no.” I have seen some adults do it, but it´s only if their hands are busy typing or writing. Or they are somewhat distracted and not giving you their full attention.

Instead, what is much more common is the finger wag. The index finger pointing upwards , waved side to side to indicate “no.”
My host sister, Lucia, does it all the time.
Have you seen Gin? *finger wag*
Did you want any more ketchup? *finger wag*

Of course, growing up in a culture where the head shake is much more common, I find the finger wag very hard to do. If your mouth is full while eating, and someone asks you if you want any more chicken, you shake your head. Changing that habit would be so hard. Especially since they don´t move their head while wagging their finger. Just the finger wag, no other body motions necessary.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Catch me if you can!

Saturday I was caught for stealing.

Although, I wasn´t stealing. But the security guard sure thought I was. He was intent on catching me.

Well, I was Christmas shopping (and because of that, I can´t be too specific here since the recipients of the gifts may be reading). It was Saturday evening, and I was shopping on Calle Colon, a street in Valencia just lined with tons of money-spending opportunities.

Later that night I had plans to go out to dinner with my host mom and her friends (a story planned for another post) and Cristina said she´d call me around 9:30pm. It was about 9pm at the time I walked into store XYZ (see, you aren´t going to squeeze Christmas present details outta me), intending to buy a thingamajig for youknowwho. I was obviously in a hurry, since it was busy and I saw the lines were long. But before I went to get the thingamajig in the thingamajig section of the store, I went over to the tiny objects part of the store to look at the different things the store had to offer. I was picking things up, putting them back. I was reading the labels of the tiny objects and putting them back. Then I was like “hey, I need to go get that thingamajig.” I went up the stairs of the store then once I reached the top, I realized I didn´t know what color I should get, so I decided to leave since I only had 20 minutes left to visit store ABC to buy a whatchamacallit for thatotherperson. 

So I didn´t run, but sort of shuffled by quickly, down the stairs, through the crowds of people, and out the door.

But then the security guy stopped me before I left. He asked to see my shopping bag first. I showed him my bag, which contained a gift that my mom asked me to get for my 2nd cousin. He took the receipt out of the bag, looked at the contents of the purchase, looked in the bag to make sure it matched the purchase, and was like “okay, this is from Pull & Bear (the name of the store)” as he put the receipt and gift back into the bag. 

Then he asked to see my purse. Since I didn´t steal anything, I gladly opened up my purse for his examination. He started taking things out and putting them back in, like my sunglasses, my wallet, my pack of gum, searching for this object that he was certain that I took (probably from the tiny objects section I was in before). Then he found my solid perfume, which looks like a lip gloss tin, and pulled it out. He was like “Is this from here?” And I was like “No, it´s from a store called Anthropologie that I bought in the United States.” (if I wanted, I could´ve showed him the sticker on the back which even said “Anthropologie” and the price, which was in dollars. If that doesn´t say “I was bought in the USA” I don´t know what does.) He looked around some more, finding nothing, then I was dismissed.

I swear he had a look of disappointment at the fact that he couldn´t find anything.

And I walked out, and of course didn´t set off the alarms, since I didn´t steal anything.

But I could see why he probably thought I did. I was rushing through the store, running past crowds of people to get to where I wanted to be, but that´s just me...I don´t want to lollygag behind these giant clusters of people blocking my path. I have money to spend here, people!
Also, it was chilly and my hands were cold from walking inside, so when I was looking at the tiny objects section, I´d stick my hands in my pockets to keep them warm. So it probably looked like I was stealing those tiny objects. But the thing was, he never checked my pockets, which is where I could easily have stolen things. Oh well.
But I had time to rush over to store ABC and get the whatchamacallit for thatotherperson. As I was waiting in line, Cristina called to say she had left the house and was on her way to pick me up. Perfect timing.

Today I was at OpenCor, kind of like a Walgreens pharmacy minus the pharmacy part, and as I was walking around the store, I swear that the security guard was following me. Now I think I'm either paranoid (even though I have nothing to hide) or maybe there is something about the way I look that screams "Hey, look at me! I'm gonna rob you blind!"

Feliz Cumpleaños!

It was Cristina´s birthday on Dec. 14th, so she made tiramisu the night before so she could bring it to work.

Let me ask you one thing: Why the hell isn’t everyone in the world making tiramisu every freaking day to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner? It’s so easy to make and sooooooooooooo good.

She had her husband brew the coffee before she got home from work so it would have time to cool to room temperature. And when I say coffee, I really mean “a bowl of 20 espressos.”

If you are familiar with tiramisu and how it’s made, then you won’t be surprised with the description below. If you aren’t familiar and you think “tiramisu? Sounds fancy!” then you will be surprised.

First she separated about 10 eggs (the yolk in one bowl and white in another). She whipped the egg whites (and maybe cream?) until it was nice and fluffy, and in the yolk bowl she added the sugar. Then she lightly mixed the two together.
Then she took cookies (thin ones, like graham cracker style) and dipped them in the coffee and made a layer of cookies in a tupperware container. Then she topped it with the fluffy white cream stuff. Then another coffee-soaked cookies layer. Then fluffy white stuff. And she kept layering until the container was full, making sure the top layer was fluffy white stuff. Then she sprinkled some Colacao (kind of like Nesquik) powder on top (usually it´s done with cocoa powder, but she likes this because it´s sweeter), and stuck the lid on and put it in the freezer. An hour or more later, you have tiramisu to enjoy.

No cooking. That´s it. And it is delicious.

I went to a cute little papelería near our house, which is a stationery shop. But it´s so cute and it has all sorts of things like books, greeting cards, wrapping paper, stickers, jewelry, pencils, notepads, notebooks, bookends, kids´ toys, backpacks, a small clothing selection, and so much more crammed into this tiny little shop. It reminded me of this little basque shoe store in San Sebastián that was so much like the magic wand shop in Harry Potter, with boxes stacked from floor to ceiling. But this stationery shop was a little bigger, and the little old ladies who work there are adorable and know exactly where everything is, despite the place looking like it was filled with things that couldn´t fit in your junk drawer. Someone came in and asked for an English book for toddlers. The lady ran over to the overstuffed bookshelf that seems to have no rhyme or reason and went straight to the back of the second shelf from the top to find just what the customer was looking for. How do you remember stuff like that?!

After moseying around a bit, I found a cute little card that simply said “felicitades” and the book The Help, which in Spanish is called “Criadas y Señoras” (Nannies and Madams). My host mom reads the same authors and books as my real mom, so I thought this book that my (real) mom loved so much would be equally enjoyed by my host mom.

Then, for free, they wrapped the book with a pretty green paper and put a nice silver ribbon on it with stickers. They took the utmost care to make sure it looked pretty.

My host mom enjoyed it, and I explained how my mom liked this book so she probably would, too. She said she saw a commercial once for the movie, and saw it was based on a book, but didn´t want to see it until she read the book. So she was glad to have the chance now.

I kind of imagine it as a 10 year old’s idea of a bank.

Banks here are very different from the US.

 If you don’t know what an American bank is, let me explain it to you:

 It is a place that you give your money to, so they can keep it safe and sound until you need to take out small amounts. But they won’t do that simple service for free. It’s actually kind of complicated. Quite often, as with my bank in the states, they like to charge you for things.

 They charge you if you don’t keep ENOUGH money in the bank. Like, they want you to keep a ton-o-cash in that account. You better keep that number above $5000 or else they will start taking out money. Just to say “hey we see you are poor with only $3000 to your name, but GUESS WHAT? We´re gonna just start skimming off ten dollars here and there as we please to make you feel even more poor!”

 Or they will charge you for too many withdrawals. Or too few. Or because they just want to see if you are even looking at your bank statements for random $10 service charges (Citibank, I am looking at YOU). 

However, banks in the US are good for a couple things:
1. Although they have “banker´s hours” they are open usually until 6pm and sometimes on Saturday mornings. Also, the tellers at the Chase bank branches in grocery stores tend to be open pretty late into the evening.
 2. They are all interconnected. You have an account at Bank of America? Well, you could go to a Bank of America in California and open a savings account. Or, while vacationing in Texas, tell a Bank of America teller to give you all of your cash from your account just because you want a huge stack of cash to spend. Or you could fly on over to New York and go into a Bank of America and be like “I want to get a Bank of America credit card because I like the idea of fees and debt!” You would (most likely) have no issues doing any of the above tasks.

 But banks here in Spain (or at least the one I encountered) don’t run like that at all. I’ll be more specific since I don’t want to generalize all of Spain’s banks here: opening an account to use with a debit card at Barclay’s bank is fairly simple.

 I kind of imagine it as a 10 year old’s idea of a bank. You put money in it, and when you want to take money out, you can. Until you run out, of course. But you can put money back in it so you don´t run out.

 That´s it.

 Nothing complicated. No minimum balance. I could open an account with ten dollars. And just keep it like that if I wanted. Then I could come back and be like “can you give me two dollars from my account?” and they would be like “here!” and give it to me. Then I could keep my remaining 8 dollars in my account until I feel bored, and then close the account because I want to buy a couple magazines.

Seriously. I asked the teller about a hundred times about minimum balances to avoid fees and she was like “seriously stop asking me the answer is there are no fees.” And no, you don’t have to set up a direct deposit into your account because you can’t avoid fees because THERE ARE NO FEES.

 Strange, I know. I was very confused. The drawbacks of banks here are the just what you would suspect from the aforementioned “benefits” of American banks:

 1. They aren’t open at convenient times. Do you work? That´s when the bank is open. Oh, you are on lunch break? They are too. You got the day off work? So did they. You’re free to run errands on a Saturday morning? So are they. Literally, any time you want to go to the bank, they are closed.

2. They aren´t interconnected. And no, I´m not talking about local banks here. I am talking about chains. There are chains of banks all throughout Spain, including Santander bank, La Caixa, BBVA, Barclay´s, etc. But if I open an account at La Caixa in Madrid, I can´t go over to Barcelona and be like “Oh hey, can you give me a credit card?” If you were to move in Spain, you would have to close your account with that bank and take out all your money and re-open an account in your new home city. Even if it were THE SAME EXACT BANK. Maybe that´s why Spaniards tend to stay in the same town for their whole lives: bank inconvenience.

 But one of the good things is that you can have a debit card at Barclays but draw out cash from any bank in the ServiRed network, which includes Santander, La Caixa, and others, for no additional fee. So you could walk down the street to buy some ingredients for your dinner and draw out cash at some random ATM that doesn´t belong to your bank but does belong to ServiRed and you´d have no problem at all.

I´m an official resident! (almost)

Last Wednesday I finished all my paperwork to turn in to the police station to get my residence card. When I was there, I actually had the same lady who I had last time (who told me I needed to go to get a social security number). But I am pretty sure she didn´t remember me. When I finally was called up (remember, I didn´t have to wait in line super early in the AM this time...I got to enter the building right away) after waiting behind a couple people (one of which was a dude with crutches who was knowingly and happily letting everyone cut him in line...odd), I sat down with the lady and just handed her the huge stack (ok maybe not huge, but like 8 or 10 documents) of paperwork and was like “here!” since I had no idea what order she needed them in. She sorted through everything and typed stuff on her computer, then looked at my passport, then typed some more, then she asked me for my ID card photos, and I gave them to her (they were still all together on one page). She used this awesome gadget that hole-punches paper in the shape of ID photos! So she took my page and hole-punched out the two pictures she needed. Take that, scissors.

 Then she asked me for one of the documents I needed. I was like “You have it there in that mound of paperwork” and she was like “I don´t see it” and I KNEW I had it because a couple of the other things I had to get hinged on me having that paper. So I knew that it would be in there. I had gotten so many papers that I had really lost track of which was which, since they all had stamps and official-looking things on them. She was telling me it wasn’t there, still. I was like “YES IT IS! I just don’t know what it looks like!” Then she sorted through the pages again, then she typed some more on the computer, and then she asked me to stand up so I could do some fingerprints. So she must’ve found the paper she needed and didn’t want to admit she was wrong for sayit it wasn’t there OR she just gave up and wanted to move on with her life.

Then that was it. She told me to return in a month (seriously?!) and I will have my card. You betcha, lady. I will be here in exactly 30 days and you better have that card ready.

 I will be back.

Tuesday the 13th?

So here in Spain Friday the 13th means nothing, really. It´s actually Tuesday the 13th that is unlucky. Why? I don´t you know why Friday the 13th is unlucky?

 But nothing unlucky or weird happened that day. The only special thing that day was Cristina and me going to pick up Lucia from basketball practice. Cristina warned me beforehand that Lucia, being a 5 year old girl, is pretty spacey when it comes to the game. She did say that Lucia does give an effort, but a lot of the time the instructor will be telling them something and she´s off in the corner playing hopscotch on an imaginary hopscotch outline.

 So we went and watched her play, and it was pretty entertaining. It was mixed boys and girls between 5 and 6. There were about 10 or 12 kids, and they were pretty disastrous. They lower the hoop a few feet for the kids, but it was an overall 10% accuracy with any given child. And while they did an activity involving crossing the court by stepping on colored blocks, there were always two or three kids just running over to the separation screen (to the court where the older kids were playing), hitting it or each other with some plastic sticks they found.

 So overall, it wasn´t too unlucky of a day. Except maybe for the basketball coach.

Bless You

At work the other day I noticed a certificate on the wall near Arturo´s office. It said “Bendición Apostólica” and it was written with calligraphy and said something about blessing Arturo, Pedro (a company shareholder) and the rest of the Intercontrol staff.

 Basically it´s a papal blessing for the company. Pretty religious, right? There is even a stamp/embossed part of the certificate that denotes that it´s an official document from THE pope in Rome.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

*cue the girlfriends' giddy screams*

Last week I went to dinner with my host parents and their Fallas friends at one of their favorite dive bars, Los Serranos.

We were the second group to arrive after their friends Maria and her husband.

The third couple to arrive was Monica and Jose Enrique, Cristina's sister and her husband. The men migrated to one side of the table and the women to the other, where we stayed as the remaining couples arrived. But before they arrived, Cristina told me as Monica listened, that Monica was pregnant and she would tell the group that night.

Maybe five minutes after everyone (making us a table of 14 or so) arrived, the new arrivals were looking around at everyone's drinks, discussing what they would order.

Laura, who was sitting beside Monica, gave a sigh, saying she wasn't sure what she would order. She turned to Monica and grabbed Monica's drink and under her breath said "Monica, what do you have?" as she turned the bottle to view the label, revealing a non-alcoholic Amstel. Laura saw the label, looked at Monica, who was pleasantly smiling, looked back at the bottle with wide eyes, then back at Monica as she gasped "Wait, are you..."
and before she even finished the sentence, Monica quietly nodded, as Laura let out a squealing scream before shouting, "MONICA'S EXPECTING A BABY! MONICA'S PREGNANT!" to the rest of our table as she bounced up and down in her seat.
The girl's side of the table erupted in "Congratulations!" and happy applause and laughter as Monica rested her elbow on the table and covered her mouth with her hand, hiding a smile. The news traveled to the men's side of the table where the guys turned to Jose Enrique, shouting "Dude, another kid! Congratulations!" and "Epa!" as Jose Enrique just laughed.

As for the rest of the dinner, it was fun getting to know Cristina and Monica's girlfriends, who varied in what looks like ages 27 and 36.
Laura was very friendly and energetic, especially when talking about her recent trip to the United States where her and her newlywed spent a couple weeks driving from San Francisco down through California and over to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. I recently saw some pics of her on Marina's blog, modeling some of Marina's jewelry.
Marina was the quiet but whimsical artistic type who works with her dad designing and making fallas for the big festival in March. She makes jewelry, too, in a style that I can only describe as cute, light, and cheery.

This past Monday we went to Marina's gallery. While we were there, Monica filled up a large cookie tin with various wares to peddle to the other moms at her kids' schools, after which she gives all the earnings back to Marina. We also saw the sketch for this year's falla, titled Algodon de Azucar, or Cotton Candy. She also had a few paintings of people's faces, and I told her I was already somewhat familiar with her work because of the painting she did of Lucia that hangs at the foot of the ground floor staircase in my host family's home.

It was great to go out and meet/see more people, as I get to know my host family and their friends.

Elephants, yes, but lions, tigers and bears, no.

A couple weeks ago we went to....

The circus!!!

The whole family invited me to join them on their traditional trip to the circus. Cristina said going to the circus in the winter is a popular tradition, much like ice skating or seeing "The Nutcracker" is to us Americans. There are several circuses in town right now, but we went to this one, where the family bought tickets a couple weeks before the show. Though Cristina is considering heading to another one, which features Disney and Looney Toons characters, that she thinks the kids will like even more.

She was curious to see Lucas' reaction to the show, since he's so young and slightly scared of clowns. The show was entertaining and he mostly sat in her lap with his mouth open but not uttering a sound, just mesmerized by the sights before him.

 Lucas especially loved the animals and when dancers or acrobats would come into the ring, he'd whisper how he wanted to see more animals.

The clowns weren't scary at all, and they ended up being pretty casually dressed. Yes, they had floppy hats and baggy pants, but barely any face paint instead opting for a big red nose.

There were several acrobatic acts, which were nerve-wracking to watch, especially since the man below clearly showed some struggle with his balancing acts, yet he pulled through without any mistakes.

Of course, the infamous tightrope act was there as well, providing a great show, even including a part where one man jumped on top of the other.

Of the acts I didn't take photos of, the two that stand out are the sexified hula hoop girl/flamenco dancer, who doubled as the magician's showgirl during the "look the girl is in the box and now she's not" trick. 
The second was a foursome of dancers/singers that sang some Spanish pop songs. There were two boys and two girls, who, in between singing numbers, would dance and throw each other between their legs and over their back much like a professional swing dancing competition. The disturbing part was the girls were wearing thong leotards over tights. Classy for a children's show, I know.

But overall it was spectacular and I thanked my family for inviting me because it definitely was fun.


I bought a four-pack of Orbit gum the other day, which included four different flavors in four different colored wrappers:
Strawberry (pink),
Spearmint (green),
Peppermint (blue),
Eucalyptus (seafoam green).

You know how there are those seafoam-green colored Tic Tacs? They don't really have a flavor name. They're called "green mint" or something equally ambiguous. Like Soylent Green. And those are my favorite.

I was excited to open the Eucalyptus gum, since now I have a name for the flavor that I loved so much.

But then I tried one.

And it tasted like a Halls.

Those poor, poor koalas, who have to eat this on a daily diet? Awful. I feel bad for them. Imagine if you had to eat the original-flavored Halls for your entire lifetime. Torture.

Friday, December 16, 2011


Today I was playing with Lucas (my 2 yr old host brother) and Dani (his 2 yr old cousin).

As they rolled cars around on the ground, the following conversation took place:

Lucas: Dani, tienes moco?
Dani: No, no tengo moco.
Lucas: No? Porque yo si.

Lucas: Dani, do you have a runny nose?
Dani: No, no I don't.
Lucas: No? Because I do.

Dani was a very good boy and helped put all the toys back in the cabinet when he was finished.

Me: Muy bien, Dani. *pats Dani on back*
Dani: Porque me pegas? *smiles* Eres muy mala!

Me: Very good, Dani. *Pats Dani on back*
Dani: Why are you hitting me? *smiles* You're being bad!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

7 Insane Festivals You Won't Believe Are Legal

I came across this link at one of my favorite comedy sites,

It's a comedy site, but it's based in fact, which makes it super interesting.

This is a random compilation of crazy festivals from around the world. Guess what? 2 out of 7 are in Spain.

My favorite of this list is definitely the number one, which talks about burning sardines (which I wrote about in my Alicante blog), ant-filled mudballs, flaming madness, people dressed as cows, etc etc.

I haven't heard of this city nor do I know where it is, but it seems like typical Spain to me.

Friday, December 9, 2011

I'll be hooooooome for Chrissssttttmasssss

Today I bought my tickets to come home for Christmas!

Right now I'm really excited for the flight home because I will be stopping in Paris!
I won't actually be leaving the airport, but it's a new airport that I've never been to! I've never been to Paris, and I'm actually pretty excited.

This Paris airport thing is going to be to me what Japan is to my dad...we've traveled to the airport but never actually been to the place!

I'm so excited to see this airport!

Also to see family and celebrate the holidays. Maybe the excitement for that will grow, but right now....

Charles DeGaulle, here I come!

Rhymes with Orange

I don't know if I mentioned this, but we had TWO holidays this week.
No one worked/had school on Tuesday and Thursday.
Tuesday was the Constitution day, and Thursday was the day of Immaculate Conception.

Neither day contained really any kind of exciting events, although the footage they showed of Madrid on the news for Thursday made it look like it's their own little Black Friday, where everyone starts Christmas shopping.

On Tuesday, Pichon (my host dad's nickname)'s aunts and uncles came over for lunch. They brought their four kids, too, which ranged from 8 to 17 years old.

We had a feast of arroz (what we call paella), patatas bravas, roasted chicken, and of course bread.
After that, Cristina said "We're going to go orange picking...wanna come?"

Cristina's dad owns an orange orchard in Castellon, which is about a 40 minute drive from here. All of us (including their relatives) hopped in three cars and drove to the orchard.
We brought crates and those reusable grocery bags and went to town.

The kids were really excited to be there. They started out eating everything they picked. Lucas became our personal tree taste-tester, eating oranges off different trees and telling us which ones were sweet or bitter.

It was nice and quiet since obviously it was just us (there were maybe 13 of us) in this huge field. And there were SO MANY ORANGES:

I would go off on my own and the kids would try looking for me but had a hard time unless we played Marco Polo: "Melissa?" "Aqui!" "Melissa?" "Aqui!" "Melissa?" "Aqui!!!"

After a while, the kids grew weary of actually picking oranges. They also probably were stuffed from eating so many. So while the adults continued hunting for perfect fruits, the kids started playing hide-and-seek in between the trees, or even under them, since they are so low to the ground. They are very dense, so it's easy to hide behind the trees. One of the aunts started barking like a dog so the kids thought there actually was a dog running around. Once they realized it was her, it morphed into a strange animal-themed game of Marco Polo:

In the end, Lucas and Lucia probably ate 10 oranges each.

And we got a LOT of oranges to take home with us...

At the end of the adventure, one of Pichon's aunts found two snails and gave one each to Lucia and Lucas. They were so excited.
However, they complained that the snails were "broken" because they wouldn't leave their shells. Lucas even started singing to his (there is a popular children's song about snails, or caracoles). On the way home, Lucia's started crawling around, leaving a slime trail behind, which Lucia referred to as "snot."


Have a Catty Christmas

We assembled and decorated our Christmas tree here in Valencia this past Sunday.

Gin, the cat, thinks of it as a noisy, sparkly cat playground.

You can think of many captions for the following photo, but I think my favorite is this: "We ran out of ornaments, so we started using cats."

It's like Where's you see Gin?
(Click on photo for larger image)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Everyone likes money!

Here the Spanish Lotto is huge.
When I say huge, I mean huge.
So huge, it´s called "El Gordo," or "The Fat One."

In the US, I will be honest...I don´t really know of anyone who buys lotto tickets. Well, actually, that´s not true...I remember when I was a kid going with my neighbors and having them pick numbers for their mom´s lotto ticket. Once. And I bought one on the day I turned 21, because I could.

But that´s it.

Here, the Christmas lotto is suuuuper popular.
Full tickets are 200 euros (about $270) each, but a lot of people buy "tenths" of tickets, which of course cost 20 euros ($27) each.

Yesterday, when my host family and I went to my host mom´s parent´s house, the grandmother gave Cristina (my host mom) a lotto ticket. She bought three, one for Cristina, one for her sister Monica, and one for themselves.
Tonight, my host parents and I are joining their Fallas friends, or Casal Faller, who are having dinner at some dive bar tonight. I believe Cristina told me they would also be buying some lotto tickets.
The lotto is held on December 18th.
Since I already saw she got a ticket from her mom and that she planned on buying another, I asked her how much she had bought. She said "Buf...a lot." I asked her to specify.
"Oh, every year we spend around six hundred euros on lotto tickets."
Yes. That´s right.

And I get the feeling that it´s not that uncommon, since on Wikipedia it says about 98% of Spain´s population participates in the (Christmas) lotto every year.
I asked when they start selling the tickets, and she said they sell them around summertime up until the day of the lotto draw.
Cristina says their family buys tickets on random occasions, like when they go on vacation to random cities in Spain, or when it´s someone´s birthday or something.

To read more about the details of the lotto, check the Wikipedia page of the Spanish Christmas Lotto.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sweet Dreams.

This painting hangs on the wall of my bedroom here in Spain:

If it weren't for the grey man on the left and the scribbled blob of a face on the woman with the stripes, this would be a pleasant photo.
But it's not. Kind of disturbing, actually.
The overly curvy female's portrayal reminded me of Picasso, so I looked it up to no avail.
But thanks to Google's reverse image search, I was able to upload a picture I took of the painting and it told me about images that look like it. I discovered it's a piece by the anti-Franco painters "Equipo Cronica" active 1964-1981 that painted pop art. Actually, "equipo cronica" is written in the corner of this painting but I got almost nothing related to art when I searched that alone. However, the painting is actually a manipulation of this previous work:

The above painting is called "Leisure on Red Background" by Fernand Leger, 1949. version has less bikes and more ominous grey men.
I am still researching the details of this painting because I like learning a bit about the background. The red background! Hahaha, art jokes.

In case you were wondering...

If you were ever wondering what English sounds like to the non-English speaker, maybe this will give you some insight.

Prisecolinensinenciousol, a parody by Adriano Celentano for the Italian TV programme Mileluci is sung entirely in gibberish designed to sound like American English.

Friday, December 2, 2011

You have completed step '1.1 A' of your journey. By the way your journey is 329847389 steps.

As I mentioned before, I have a visa to be here but it is only for three months. Some time in the first month here, I have to get a residency card to be able to live here for a longer period.

Back in Chicago, the people at the consulate said I had to go to the Subdelegacion del Gobierno (government subdelegation) to get this residency card. If only it were that easy!

When my dad was here, we went to the tourism office and asked where we could find the subdelegation. That was the start of our wild goose chase.

The tourism office gave us an address in the old part of Valencia, to the north.

We took the metro there, only to be told by a police officer that we were in the wrong place since the offices have since moved. He gave us a piece of paper with a load of addresses on them, pointing to one on top referring to an immigrant office.

We took a cab to that immigrant office, having trouble finding it (I asked a local store owner where number 24 was, and all she said was "Well, my store is number 20..." without completing the sentence. Great help!
We finally found it, and after the man I asked went to the back room for more info, he came back to say "No no no no no. You need to go HERE," handing me a tiny scrap of paper with a typed address in Patraix on it.
Seeing as that we were out of the main part of town and therefore weren't surrounded by loitering cops on every street corner who could point this place out on a map, I went into a real estate office and they were like "HERE?! You want to go HERE!?!? BUF!" Assuming this was some reference to a neighborhood that regularly sells human kidneys, I was pleased to find that the real estate woman was just referring to how far it was. Which meant another cab!

We pulled up to the Patraix police station (it's in Valencia, just on the SW corner) and saw a massive line of people outside. I went in, explaining my whole situation (Hi, I need a residency card.) and the police officer with whom I spoke said "Just go on the right and ask who's next." I go back outside. The left line is the one that looks about 80 people deep. On the right there are a few people hanging out, and I am not really sure if it is a line or just a collection of people standing. I go around to the right side of the building, and talk to two cops, through a window (very prohibition-era-speakeasy-like) and they are like "No, you need to go talk to the guy in the front of the building!" I go back to the original cop and I am like "WHERE DO I GO!?!? I AM SO CONFUSED!" And he's like "You can walk right inside!" I have no idea where he told me to go three minutes ago, but apparently it's my turn to enter.

I walk inside and wait about two people deep until it's my turn. I talk to some lady, and she says how I need to get ID card photos taken, get something called an empadronamiento, and pay the "790 tax." I am 13% sure of what is going on. She gives me a photo copy of the magic work paper I gave her saying I had a job, and she also gave me some form and was like "pay the 790 tax at any bank, in cash." Now I am 20% sure of what is going on.

I leave, and Dad and I get ice cream. The guy at the ice cream place tells us of a photo place that he's familiar with, about 5 minutes away. We go there, and of course it's closed for siesta and won't be open for another two and a half hours. We go to the metro stop to head back to the hotel and guess what we find?! A PHOTO BOOTH! Like one of those where you can take a picture of yourself and put a bubble border with fishies on it. Except apparently it also takes legitimate passport and ID photos. Four euros and 5 minutes later, BAM! Melissa has six ID photos. Without fishy borders.

We talk to Ricardo and find out several things:
1. This empadronamiento is a census form. That doesn't really make sense in a translation, but what it means is it is a form that proves I live here in Spain. Because I am living in a person's house, I need to go to the Godella (where my host family lives) city hall and pick up a form to fill out, have my host mom sign it, and get a photocopy of her ID.
2. The 790 tax is the name of the form. Contrary to what I thought before, it's not 790 euros. It's 15 euros.
3. Once I get all of that stuff the lady at the police station asked for, I have to go back to the local government where I am living to turn it all in to get my ID card. Ricardo drives us to the police station where I will go on Thursday to turn in everything.


I get the empadronamiento filled out Wednesday, when I drop off my luggage at my host family's house. Thursday I take a cab to the town hall to turn that form in and get a certificate in return. I ask the dude to give me a photocopy, too, and that I'll pay. He's like "Why do you need a photocopy?" And I'm like "Because there is a crapload of paperwork that I am doing and I want copies of all this stuff you are making me fill out!" So he made a photocopy. For free.

I then walk to the bank and pay the 15 euros, then go to the Godella police station. It's noon on a Thursday, and it is closed. The lights are off, and the storm blinds are half-closed over the door. There are no signs of life or anything inside, save for a piece of paper on a desk somewhat near the door that says "13:30" Is that the time they are returning? Is that the time they open? I don't know. That's all it says.
I have a magazine and decide to wait a bit. Time passes and no evidence of movement in the police station. A cop car drives by, I flag them down. I explain everything. They tell me several things:
1. This police station is not open today. For no particular reason at all.
2. I don't need to go to this police station anyways. I need to go to ANOTHER police station, in downtown Valencia. One of the two cops calls his fellow officer on the phone to confirm this. Yes, positively need to go to another police station. (Side note, his ringtone is a police siren. I thought that was funny.) He gives me the address.
3. I will need to catch a cab to get there from here.
4. This police station is open 24 hours, so it will be open even for the annoying siesta time.

I start walking to my host family's house because it's almost 2pm and I am hungry. I am also somewhat trying to catch a cab even though none are in sight. My host mom calls me on the way home, as if reading my mind and says that her husband is home and can A)feed me and B) drive me to the police station.
So we do just that.
We get to the police station and some guy who doesn't seem to even work there (seriously, could just be a dude they picked off the street who is wearing jeans, Pumas and a sweater) tells us that we are in the wrong place. I need to go to Patraix, the land of long lines and foreigners. Or, we could wait until after siesta when the immigration office in the police station is open. Yes, the police station is open 24 hours, but the people you want to talk to go home during various times of the day. We decide to go to Patraix.

Now that I have everything, I have to wait in the long line. We wait, and wait, and wait and there is no movement. It's about 5:30 and we had waited for 20 mins. It's getting late, and we decide to come back the next day. However, they say that we should get there early. You see, they open at 9am to hand out numbers to people to put them in order. People arrive as early as 4am to get these numbers.
I wonder why they can't have online appointments for these people.
Let's have people camp out like they're buying tickets to the final Rolling Stones world tour concert. Let's make them suffer.

So we arrive at 7:45am Friday (we being my host dad's mom and myself), and put our name on a list. People make a list to put them in order of arrival, since in Spain people don't form lines (even though these are foreigners, they know the lay of the land). Our number, at 7:45am, is 103. That's how many people were there over an hour before this place opened. Now that we're on the list, we walk a block away to grab coffee to kill time. At 9, we line up in order of the list, and they give out numbers. To 90! We didn't make it. And on Fridays they aren't open in the afternoon after siesta, because that's just how they roll.

I come back on Monday. I get there at 6:30. I am number 80. Ricardo's coworker Jose and I wait in the car until 9:00.
Now that I have a good number, I can wait in line some more! Jose leaves and I wait in line for a couple hours for my turn. I witness two things that make the wait more like a drama-filled soap opera:
1. A cop asks who number 88 is. A man behind me raises his hand and shows his number for proof. The cop rips it out of his hands and says "You can't buy numbers! You can't cut in line by buying someone else's number! This doesn't happen today, and it won't happen on Wednesday when you return! Got it!?" Oh snap.
2. A girl behind me, who has 85 or something, moves her way through the line (why she was so far back, I have no idea). Once she sets herself in the right place, she becomes the number dictator, asking a woman (who is standing beside her) for her number. "100? Are you kidding me? Get back there! We're in the 80s! Get back to the 100s where you should be!" Class warfare.

When I get inside, I talk to one of the ladies at the desks. She looks through my papers, it all seems good. I am thinking, "Man, I better have all my stuff here ready because I will be so pissed if I have to wait all over again for some dumb post-it or something that I forgot to bring."
Guess what? I didn't have something! She asks me for a social security card, and I tell her I have an American one (of which I had a photocopy because I am that good), but she's like "no, you need a Spanish one to work here. You need to go to the ministry of labor to get one." But she writes "No line" on my paper to indicate that I don't have to wait in line. I feel like telling people waiting outside that this pretty obvious code should be written on their stuff so they can just cut in line.

Off I go to the ministry of labor! I take a cab, and immediately step out of the cab to find myself getting harassed by one of those survey people. You know, like the ones in Chicago with clipboards who act all friendly to get you to spend five minutes talking to them. Since I only know the street this thing is on, I have to shoo the dude away then awkwardly walk past him again 40 seconds later when I realize I'm going the wrong way.

I ask a cop where the place is and he tells me. You see, it's a love/hate relationship I have with the Spanish cops. The ones in buildings and behind desks annoy me for sending me all over town, but the ones on the street are like my personal tour guides, who direct me to more of those obnoxious cops in buildings and behind desks.

I get to the ministry of labor and the guy gives me a form to fill out, and tells me I need photocopies of my passport and the magic work resolution paper.
No, they don't have a photocopier.
Yes, they'll tell you where one is (address 84 on the right of the building).
Yes, there are about three right turns outside of the building (pesky 5-way intersections).
Yes, the self-serve copier is broken at the copy place.
Yes, you have to wait in line.
Yes, you are in line behind one person who seems to be asking the most complicated questions.
Yes, the 2nd cashier will open, but only after chatting with her amigo for all of 7 minutes.
Yes, you have to pay more for copies done by the behind-the-desk-people even though it's not your fault that the copier's broken!

I return to the ministry of labor, get a number, wait five minutes and talk to a lady. She is a cat lady. I know this because she is wearing an ill-fitting sweater which shows she is not wearing a bra. Bad posture, too. And she wears those tiny rectangular glasses just on the edge of her nose. And she has about fifteen tiny stuffed animals all over her desk. I mean, come on woman.

And I know it's rude to judge based on a person's looks, but I am just plain frustrated at this point and any extra person that gets in my way to get this damn residence card is gonna get it.

I get some papers stamped and some scribbles on said papers, then I (guess what!) still have to do more paperwork! Because that wasn't the social security! That was just paperwork to get the social security number. That was something I have to turn in to Intercontrol (the company I am working for) and they will give me social security. Then I can take that to the collection of long lines in Patraix to get my card. Or so I think.

I like how they just lead me on thinking I am almost there, only to say "You have completed step '1.1 A' of your journey. By the way your journey is 329847389 steps."

Oh, and to top it off, as I left the ministry of labor, I was like "Where's the bathroom?" and the dude gives me a shit-eating grin and is like "The closest bathroom is in the Corte Ingles (a popular mall/store here) down the street. We don't have one here!" Oh really, sir, I am sure NO ONE IN THIS BUILDING USES THE BATHROOM HERE. Liar.

To. Be. Continued.

Oh my gatos!

This cat that I live with is insane. It's only 4 months old and it jumps anywhere and everywhere. I am fine with it sitting on the couch when I am on the computer...I am not fine with it thinking my typing hands are catnip.

Here, you can see what I mean.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Oh, you mean [insert English word]

I went to the pharmacy today to get some nasal decongestant for my dad. I went in, all prepared with my list of fancy shmancy words like "congestion," "nasal decongestant," "oxymetazoline hydrochloride," etc etc.

So I go and explain everything, and ask for the decongestant, in the form of rociada [spray]. The pharmacist looks at me strangely. I say "it shoots out liquid?" and he says "Ahhh, quieres [you want] un es-pray."

Yes, I want "un spray." Thanks, man who speaks Spanish.

I know I didn't just ask where the sideburns are.

Tonight my dad and I went to downtown Valencia for our last night out together.
We ate at Orio for some pintxos and a drink first.

It's a chain restaurant that serves basque food, and my mom, dad and I ate at the same restaurant in Barcelona when they visited me in Spain in 2010.

After a few (one of which had caviar...ooh la la!), Dad had me ask the waitress to ask where the happening part of town is, fully knowing that there wouldn't be much since it was a Wednesday night.

So I asked her where the bullicio was. She was like "huh?" and so I found another way to ask where the action was. She gave us the answer and she walked away.

Her confusion made me think that I said a really strange word, like the time I asked for sideburns (patillas) when I was trying to buy rollerblades (patines).

But I just looked up bullicio. And it means just what I thought it meant: hustle and bustle.

I'm just gonna chalk this confusion up to me knowing more Spanish than the Spaniard did.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Packing the Suitcase(s)

Today I spent a couple hours packing up.
How does one pack for 6 or more months of living in a foreign country?
See below!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Welcome to my website. Yes, you heard right: I am going to move to Spain.
In case of confusion in this matter, please refer to the following FAQs.

I know, I know. It's hard to digest. And you have so many questions! And you wanna talk. And many other things. Just take a deep breath and continue reading.

When are you leaving?!
I will be departing next Sunday, Nov. 27.

What about Christmas? Will you, like Bing Crosby, be home for Christmas?
As of right now, I don't have a ticket back home. But my mom pretty much has assumed I will be coming home for sure. So let's say yes for now, although it isn't guaranteed and I don't know how long I'd be home. I mean, I am sure I'll have some sort of break...Spaniards are almost all Catholic.

How long will you be there?/When are you coming back!?
I will be there at least until May 2012, if all goes well. Maybe September 2012.

What will you be doing over in Spain?
I will be a marketing translator for a technical services/consulting company. As you know, the economy everywhere is pretty bad, and Spain is no exception. Since construction and engineering are two fields that struggle with the economic downturn, this company needs someone to translate their marketing materials, website, etc. into English so they can internationalize their company and try getting business elsewhere, like Qatar or London, where people are more likely to understand/read English than Spanish. I may even do some traveling with the company, if necessary, to help present ideas at conferences, give presentations or guide business associates around the cities we go to.
Earlier this year, I translated the text on their website to English.

So you know Spanish?
Yes. As most of you know, I minored in Spanish during college, and I also studied abroad in Spain twice. If that's not enough to convince you, I also took the B2 DELE exam while studying abroad the second time and received the certificate. You take the test for the specific level you want to achieve, ie, you don't take a general test and get a level assigned like a grade. I took the B2 exam and passed in listening, reading, writing, and speaking the language. The B2 level means this:
The DELE diploma level B2 certifies the linguistic competence necessary to engage in conversational situations of everyday life which do not require a specialised [sic] use of the language (e.g. technical terms). This certified DELE level is an equivalent of the level B2 of the European Framework of Reference. For business life this means, that the holder of the diploma can make sufficient use of Spanish in common work situations and handle routine duties and responsabilities [sic] at a certain level of independence and competence. Foreign students are requested to hold B2 level in order to get into a university career where knowledge in Spanish language is needed.
The levels of the exam (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2) are recognized across Europe as a standardized measure of a person's ability to read/speak/write a language. It isn't used in the United States, that's why you haven't heard of it. Nevertheless, I can still put it on my resume here in the US and get a few positive comments.

How did you hear about that job?
My dad is an engineer and works with the company in Spain to sell his company's structural monitoring systems. So he has some contacts there. My parents like to be my mobile business cards and try to sell me as a commodity. Ricardo, one of his business associates, listened and was interested. "We could definitely use someone with marketing/communications/bilingual abilities here!" So we kept in touch. When I was abroad the 2nd time, I wasn't too far from Ricardo, so I hopped on a train and spoke with him about the opportunity. We kept the chance open, although he didn't say at that time (April 2010) that I was hired. Later, maybe in September 2010, he emailed me and gave me a formal offer.

Isn't this last minute?/ How long have you prepared for this?
So as you see above, it's been in the talks for quite some time. But how did it take from September 2010 to November 2011 to get to packing my bags? Well, it's a really long process for the Spanish government to hire a foreigner.
First the company has to post the job in their country for a specified amount of time. They post it with very specific qualifications so it's hard to fill (and easy for ME to fill). For example: "Must have 4-year college degree in Communications or Marketing in English-speaking country. Must hold B2 level or higher in both English and Spanish or native speaker. Must have experience living abroad for more than 6 months." I don't know if that was exactly what they posted, but they made it catered to me. And they didn't find anyone there who filled it.
So then they can offer it to me, but this specific job was through a government grant (it's the government paying me, not the company). They have to apply for a loooong time to get some fancy paper that says I have the job there.
Meanwhile, I am here getting apostilles (stamps that verify US documents for foreign use) for everything from my college transcripts to my birth certificate to photocopies of my passport. And I am checking off the long list of documents to get a Spanish residence visa (more passport photos, forms to fill out, photocopying, etc).
To apply for the visa here, I needed that magic paper that they were getting all sorted in Spain. Once they sent that to me, I could get my visa. But it "expires" in 30 days, and I still was waiting on the apostille for my FBI background check. And that could take another 5 weeks. So I went to the consulate with everything BUT that, and they accepted it, telling me after they call me to say the visa is ready, I needed to bring copies of my plane tickets and my FBI background check with apostille. I figured I'd have some time to get that visa phone call, but it actually took 2 days. TWO DAYS. For those of you who have studied abroad, you know that when applying for a study visa, 4 to 8 weeks pass from the time you turn in your stack of paperwork at the consulate until the time you get the email/call saying it's ready. So I was shocked.
But I still had to wait for my background check to come back (which took 8 weeks, starting a little before applying for the visa), then get a notary to sign a paper to send back to the US Department of State for an apostille. Which took another 4 weeks.

Oh, and I did a lot of this stuff when I first heard about the job in late 2010, but I found that they expired 90 days after issuance (like the fbi background check) so it was just wasted time and money and I had to do it all over again when I got that magic Spanish paper.

So yeah, it was a LONNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNG process. But I kept on plugging along, since I invested so much time in it already and didn't want to stop.

But once I got my apostille of my background check, it was like "Okay, so I could get my visa, theoretically, today if I wanted." So I thought for about 2 days, then decided that yes, I want to do this. I gave 2 weeks notice at my jobs, and picked up my visa during my final week of work. I told Ricardo that I was ready anytime. Then I decided to wait until Thanksgiving because why not? So the weekend after Thanksgiving became the date.

But aren't you frantic trying to do this over the Thanksgiving holidays? Don't you have a lot to do to prepare/pack?
Not really, no. Now that I have all week without work, I have the time to take care of things, like calling my banks and letting them know there isn't some identity thief that will be prancing around Spain for 5 months buying low-cost items like 20 euro bus rides.

I am actually thankful that I save lots of stuff, especially my papers from studying abroad. I am just going through the "Get-Set Guide" doing the pre-departure checklist. It's actually super helpful.

Where exactly will you be located?
Valencia! Along the Mediterranean Sea. It's the 3rd largest city in Spain (just like Chicago is the 3rd largest of the US!).

Do you know anyone over there?
In Valencia? Just Ricardo. But it's about an hour train ride from where I studied abroad the 2nd time, Alicante. And in Alicante, I have my old host family, my study abroad program directors, and the whole Radio San Vicente staff that I interned with.

I am so jealous. I want your life right now.
First of all, that isn't a question. And this is frequently asked QUESTIONS, not statements. I'll let you slide this time.
But don't be super jealous...remember, it is a job. Like you (most likely) have. I will be working, not just drinking kalimotxos on the beach somewhere.

How can I keep in touch with you?
I'll have a phone, but the way phone service is there, it would cost a ton to even receive a call from the US. Instead, you can video message me on Skype, you can email me, facebook me, or comment on my posts here in this blog!

I don't really know you that well. So I am REALLY confused. What have you been up to lately?
This summer and fall I worked as a videographer for a small social media marketing agency. I shot and edited their videos (since the first week in June) for our clients' use online. Here are some videos (the ones I did are the most recent few, starting in June until November).

Starting in September I also worked as an intern at Optimus, a post-production and finishing company that worked on commercials. This KitchenAid commercial? I was in the color-correction room for that. I saw those muffins get more golden, Pilar (the actress's name) get less red in the face, and that kitchen get sunnier.

This movie, Sin Bin (which isn't yet released), starring some up-and-comers as well as Jeff Garlin (Curb Your Enthusiasm) and Ben McKenzie (The O.C.)? I have sat in on several editing sessions watching the editor trim scenes to match music and audience's attention spans.

This Blackhawks commercial? It's narrated by Optimus' Bruce Lash (audio engineer). And I've sat in with the editor of this as well, who is currently working on Splenda ads for the holidays. And he told me that Toews, in the Blackhawks commercial, moved his mouth during the high-five scene, so they had to super-impose a still mouth over his face so it matches the narration of him not talking. Yeah, now you're gonna look at it and say "It DOES look weird!"

So yeah, that's what I've been up to.

Is there any chance this Spain thing could go longer than you mentioned above?
Yes and no. It's funded by the Spanish government, and the duration of the program is finite. May is the earliest I'd come home, but I think September, from what I understand, is the definite end of the program. "We'll see" is basically my answer to that.

Where will you be living?
I requested living with a host family since it's been so great the two times I did it while studying abroad. Ricardo is helping me with that, and although I posted the other day that I already found one, it now looks like they might back out. But he's still looking.
And contrary to what my brother thinks, a cardboard box is not the second choice option here.

Wow. This is gonna be something pretty crazy/exciting/adventurous, isn't it?
Well, I know what I'm in for because I studied abroad twice so I won't have much of a culture shock. Although, it will be different working in a more formal workplace (I had internship experience in Spain). I'm looking forward to it. I'm a bit nervous because January is probably the last time I had full-on Spanish conversations with someone (my neighbor's Spanish boyfriend and his brother). But as with the times I studied abroad, it will start off slow and then pick up in no time. I'll be fluent and then come home to the US and be weird. Like when I said "Gracias" to my Polish drycleaners in Illinois.

Can I come visit you?
Yes! Please! That would be fun. Keep in touch, and we can plan.
I am saying that assuming you are a friend or family member. If you are a creeper/crazed stalker, please don't.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


Before I go, I should make a haircut appointment. I don't want the land of rattails and mullets to be cutting my hair.

Which one?

Welcome to Melivin' in Spain! Like a play on my name and the word living! Get it?

Or is it Me, livin' in Spain?

Either way you punctuate it, it's Melissa, in Spain. Round three.

See round one here,
and round two here.

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