I’m like that foreign exchange student you made fun of

Remember that kid in high school? The one whose English you laughed at, not to mention the way she dressed and wore her hair? Maybe you said a few words to her in the lunch room or if her locker was located next to yours, but you usually didn’t bother chatting with her too long because she had trouble understanding you and, let’s face it, you had nothing in common. Now take that same situation and make her a couple decades older, add  couple of degrees and 5 additional countries to her list of places once called home and make the setting not school but work, and you have me. Well, first subtract all of her charm, and then you have me.

I write intensely in English all day and then must communicate and listen in Spanish. Sometimes people speak about what is going on to me and other journalists in languages I don’t understand and sometimes they speak Spanish, but sometimes I am not listening during those Spanish language moments. But if I am, I still have difficulty understanding (*sometimes. Let’s stick with the theme).

This becomes especially troublesome when unspoken rules regarding the particular content I am working on are present. I inevitably discover many of said unspoken rules by making mistakes. In fact, it is the only way I discover many of the rules, secret or not. This method of “training” is fairly standard here in Spain. And while the new kid on the block is floundering through said training, the cool kids are sitting back and rolling their eyes as mistakes pour in.

I am not suffering the cruel tricks that you all played on the exchange student, like helping her out with responses to teacher’s requests with phrases such as “why don’t YOU sit down, woman?”  In fact, the people I work with are nice as well as talented and capable. But  European corporate culture generally has remained old school in that there are no processes defined for how work gets done. Some have emerged organically, but nothing is documented and therefore nothing exists to pass on to any newcomers.  Meaning: There is nothing to base any training on, no way to share knowledge or lessons learned nor anything to base required skills and abilities on for a job that opens up. Those jobs are largely defined around the person that previously held the job. Which means when that person goes, so does special job knowledge.

Of course, there are old school water cooler conversations for knowlege sharing that happen…but because of the subtelties of language that I am incapable of picking up on and producing, I don’t attempt to initiate casual conversations about work, that in itself is too much work. And since I’m the weird language exchange kid, I am not included anyway.

I realize this is kind of a big bitch-fest, but in a roundabout way it is also praise for the US corporate model. Not something you would generally consider when you think of the word ‘homesick’, but for me it ranks big. Like the exchange kid, my best friends, confidants and family are in my country of origen. If I have a bad day or feel lonely, I don’t have a community at work to fall back on, at least not yet anyway. (As it happens, I am feeling particularly lonely after a fantastic time with my best friends in the US.  To top it off, one of my only two good friends here is leaving in July.)

So I don’t know what the exchange student did when she felt isolated. Probably nothing. Just waited to go home. Or maybe she called her mom. Me, I am just going to keep at it, there isn’t much I can do about the corporate culture and I don’t care if they think I am a crazy American. I am unmotivated to improve my Spanish because I am too tired, I am working hard. We will see this year if the trade off is worth it. If not, this exchange kid might just be heading back to her friends and family in her country of origin. (!!)

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Too Close for Comfort

I live in a very dense urban environment. My windowed balcony doors look across the narrow street into the neighbors same doors. I don’t need much imagination to see how my neighbors live. The street is so narrow between the buildings that  I can step out onto my balcony and have a conversation with people living on the other side of the street.

I probably should check  if I am decent when I walk out into my living room in the morning, but I rarely do. I don’t really care what the gay couple, whose vantage point looks across and down into my flat, sees me doing. I’m sure they are less than thrilled to watch me make coffee and slouch over a computer in my underwear. It’s possible they are entertained when I struggle through my front door, sweating and swearing after hauling a mountain bike up three flights of extremely narrow stairs. Or perhaps it interests them how often I do dishes, or compulsively clean the wood floors that are constantly dusty from the crumbling brick wall that comprises the entire eastern wall of my place. I in turn can see them trimming each others hair, dining, or relaxing on a luxurious looking sofa in their beautifully furnished and much larger flat.

The place just below the gay couple is more exposed from my vantage point. I can see their messy dining table all covered in papers, computers, an iron, phones, snacks… I see what they eat for lunch and dinner at that table. I can watch them sitting on their couch in the living room, reading in the chair, petting the cat who’s litter box is on the balcony and is so close I can sometimes smell it. I see all this, just as they see all my activities, though of course we attempt to appear not to notice. This is how you live in such close proximity. Pretend not to be looking, unless both of you are on the balcony. Then you can make eye contact and visit.

Occasionally a neighbor will have a dinner party, and I’ll get to hear all their chatter and music until the wee hours. Or the old guy a few floors up and across from me will enthusiastically watch a football match, running out onto his tiny balcony in his underwear, jumping and hooting, sometimes singing. All of this is fine, I can tune it out, even be entertained by it, even with my balcony doors open. But recently, a new family has moved in, and my relaxed attitude toward urban living and it’s various and sundry music has changed.

This is a Pakistani family with at least five children, two of whom are very young twin boys. Maybe 3 years old. I think they have a special language that twins sometimes develop, you know the one I’m talking about? Yeah, that, except their particular special language is made entirely of screams, angry whining and crying. Lots and lots of crying. Seriously, I don’t know what is wrong with them, I don’t even think they talk, but they constantly squeal and  scream while standing on their balcony, or from just inside the doors of their balcony which are alway open, echoing the noise through these narrow streets and bouncing off the stone walls directly through my now constantly closed doors and into my living room. At all hours of every day. For example, it is presently 1:17am and I hear those little fuckers squealing and crying right now.

Three or four times a day I open my doors and command them to be quiet, sometime pointing a finger at them to get back inside their house. If their older sister sees me, she will pull them inside and shut the doors. Any of their brothers will ignore me. Mom will occassionally smile up at me and sheepishly laugh, as if to say “Oh kids these days. What are you going to do?” The neighbors, when one of them throws a particularly piercing temper tantrum is thrown in the middle of the night, are not so nice with their language. They’ll shout “Shut up, Muslims!” using the word Muslim as an insult, or offer a charming “Hey, Pakistanis, shut the fuck up!” (Which, for what it’s worth, generally works.)

I think from where I am situated, I get the worst of the reverberating screaming, or maybe the neighbors are more accustomed to living with noise. Either way, I won’t be able to keep my doors shut much longer. Summer is coming and it will be far too hot not to have them open. So unless the squealers shut up (unlikely), I’ll be moving again (likely). I told the owner here that I would stay until September, but I don’t think I can last that long. I hate to say it but those brats have won.

I guess it’s time to get out of my neighbors’ living rooms anyway.

Offroad Spain

I know I am overdue for a new post –  So much has happened I don’t even know where to begin.  First, I will start with the announcement that I have had the chance to go offroad riding a couple of times, thanks to my friend Uwe and his multiple dirtbikes. Uwe is headed to Morocco to go ride around for 6 months with a couple others and I’m invited. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be able to go for more than a long weekend.

Meanwhile, I have been working remotely full time for my previous employer in the US. Because I write by trade, it means at the moment I don’t have the patience to create anything here worth a crap (not that anything I wrote before was worthwhile either).

But I can still press the button on a camera or iPhone.

Here are some photos from a couple rides I took in Valls, Spain last week. I took them just for you. Enjoy.