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Our Andalucian paradise

My husband and I had lived in Mexico City, LA, Paris, Guadalajara, Oslo, Montreal, and Vancouver. On a rainy night in November 2012 we moved to a small town an hour inland from Malaga. 'Our Andalucian paradise' is about the historical town of Ronda, the mountains that surrounds it, the white villages dotted amongst them, of hikes, donkey trails and excursions around Andalucía and journeys further afield.

Want to learn Spanish? Seven tips on how to go native
29 November 2019 @ 09:22

Faux flamenco. Photo © Jaime de la Barrera

 

Many foreigners live in Spain for years and never learn to speak the local language. Some say they are too old. Others won’t even try, surviving I suppose, with English and sign language. I am the first to admit that my memory isn’t as receptive now as it was when I was young, but for us who have chosen to live in rural Andalucía, not learning Spanish is really not an option.

 

Barrio street. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

For those who struggle with past and future verb conjugations and find Andalu’ twang hard to understand, here are a few tips on how to go native and achieve semi-fluency at any age.

 

1. Change el Chip

 

The fishmonger. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

To quote a much-used Spanglish expression, the first thing one must do to learn Spanish is to ‘cambiar el chip’. In other words, start with the attitude. We must tell ourselves repeatedly and truly come to believe that we will speak Spanish. Every time we say to ourselves that something is too difficult, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 

Solito. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Learning a foreign language isn’t only a way to widen ones horizons and enables one to communicate with the locals, it is also healthy for the brain. Practicing multiple languages can keep Alzheimer’s and dementia at bay. It is never too late. My role model for continual learning is a friend of my mother in Norway, who still reads the French Le Monde newspaper every morning even though she just celebrated her 100th birthday…

 

2. Find a new maestro

 

Victoriano - Once a rebel, always a rebel... Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

When we came to Ronda, I was recommended to enrol in a Spanish course for foreigners. Actually, nobody we know became fluent through that school, though several of the students redid the beginner course numerous times. I left after a couple of months, finding that I learned less stuck in a classroom between other foreigners than on the street.

 

Salvador and María Jesús on second honeymoon. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Most foreign residents in Ronda attend a private Spanish school. It is a great place to meet the local international community, but once again, nobody we know who has taken classes there for years seem to speak fluent Spanish. At least not yet…

I am not trying to discredit the value of formal education, but one cannot achieve total immersion in a classroom. Cliché as it may sound, try to attend ‘the school of life’ as well. Begin by talking with the neighbours.

 

Manolo teaches us basket weaving. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

There are no better teachers than the locals. Take Monolo, who taught us the classic (and sadly dying) art of reed basket weaving. The lesson took place on his patio, didn’t cost us a cent and we even walked away with a basket as a present and offers of a future lesson in broom making!

 

3. Slow down

 

It’s a dog’s life.... Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

We all want things to happen instantaneously. This is certainly the case for us who came from North America to the Spanish south. But when you move to a mañana culture, you have to embrace the fluidness of any situation and accept what may come.

 

Thursday afternoon at Miguel's. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Though Andalusians talk at break neck speeds and never seem to run out of topics, the general pace of life here is more leisurely than in northern climates. It is a challenge for some of us to slow down, and more difficult still to try to calm our urgency to speak perfect Spanish right away. But learning one expression per day is sufficient. Daring to engage with one local person per week is a step in the right direction. If you cannot read a whole book in Spanish yet, start with travel brochures or Hola magazines. The know-how will come in it’s own good time one of these mañanas. If you have chosen to come to Spain in your latter years, there is no hurry, is there?

 

Two of our favourite neighbours, Isabel and Mari KiKi. Photo © Jaime de la Barrera

 

Many of the elderly in our neighbourhood love to chat, like Mari-KiKi. Now in her late 80’s, she grew up in the mills in Ronda’s Tajo. The buildings are now in ruins, but she will gladly tell you how our town used to be. Ask as many questions as you like. The bell wont ring and she has no time restraints.  And more importantly, you will be doing your elderly neighbours a social service by offering them your ear.

 

4. Go shopping

 

Laura in another barrio mom and pop store. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Some people do not need much encouragement in this department, while for others the mere thought of going into stores is torturous. But do not undervalue this seemingly trivial pastime.

There are endless language lessons to be had by simply going to a local corner shop. We love and frequent all of them, though one of my favourites is Pepe’s. His store is so small that barely two clients can fit at the same time, but you won’t believe what you can find behind his counter. These types of stores are also the best to source local produce. Pepe’s vegetables come from his father’s field, which provides fabulous organic vegetables, like this Romanesque Borccoflowers, almost year round.

 

Pepe with his father's organic broccoflower. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

The smaller the establishment, the more regulars you will meet and thus, the better the conversation. Besides, by buying from these mom and pop businesses, you contribute to the local economy.

 

Miguel cuts Iberian ham. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Make sure to become a regular, so the shop owner knows what you like and will stock it for you. If they do not have something, ask for it – in Spanish of course. If you are not sure which brand to get, ask again.

Ask Juan Lu at our mini-market which vinegar to use to clean windows and there will immediately be three amas de casa starting a major debate on the pros and cons of effective window washing. Soon you will find yourself joining in with your own opinion.

 

Right or left? Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Brace yourself and stand for half an hour lining-up at the butchers while listening to local gossip. Though I dread cooking, my inevitable waits at the butchers have been immensely productive, expanding my cooking vocabulary significantly, while giving me a chance to catch up on births, deaths and weddings of every family in town.

 

5. Do what you love

 

Our fellow community gardeners or hortelanos. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

A magical way to learn a language is to do so subconsciously. You hear a word enough times and whoops, there it is as part of your own vocabulary. It snuck in the backdoor of your brain without you noticing or trying to capture it.

The easiest way to achieve this type of indirect learning is to concentrate on doing something you love. If you like motorbikes, join an MC club and make frequent visits to the guys at the local mechanic shops. If your special interest is sewing, you will get great ideas at the fabric store or the haberdashery, where the waits are always long and customers always want to share their craft projects with the proprietors.

When we moved to Spain we decided to try new things. My husband always wanted to learn woodcarving, so he joined a wood workshop. I took up furniture restoration and together we became members of the local Friends of the Opera. As we love hiking, we also joined a couple of senderismo clubs. Why not?

 

Hiking mates. Photo © Rafa Flores, RF Natura

 

Whilst in the mountain doing what we most enjoyed, I couldn’t avoid picking up expressions about the trail, the kilometres ahead, altitude climbed, packs carried, aches and pains, lunches to be had or other trails that we were advised to do. I didn’t consciously try to learn anything, I just chugged along and the words magically lodged themselves somewhere deep inside my cranium.

 

6. Become an amigo

 

Neighbourhood kids collecting money for their religious ‘hermandad’. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

To truly get a sense of belonging as a foreign resident, you need to make local friends. However, this is a to-way street. To make amigos, you yourself need to be a friend of the locals. If they see you only mingling with other foreigners, they will naturally assume that you are not interested in their lives and thus will not be interested in you.

To become an amigo, you need to become one of them. Be an active participant and a good neighbour. Greet them, ask them how they are and offer to help whenever possible.

 

Giving a helping hands at our local convent. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

People are generally patient with one, even if ones grammar is limited to present tense. It is the effort that counts. Enquire about neighbours’ health, and they will soon do the same in return. Learn the names of their children, their spouses and their pets. Participate in local meetings and go to church concerts. Dress up and join the local fiestas.

 

Ronda Romántica. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

Help the kids in the hood with their English homework. Become member of your neighbourhood association. Volunteer your time in something you believe in. Vote in local elections. Go to church. Get a garden plot. Buy and consume local produce. Help friends and neighbours with the harvest.

 

Volunteering for a cleaner town. Photo © Rafael Flores

 

Buy Christmas goodies fro the local kids to support their school trips. Attend fundraisers and walk the solidarity walks with the people of your town. The locals will appreciate your interest and eventually begin to consider you their friend.

 

 

7. Realize your limitations

 

Costaleros in Easter procession. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 

It is sometimes easy for those who have lived in other places to unconsciously look down at the rural population for their lack of worldliness and international savvy.  The one lesson I have learned by living in small-town Andalucía is that experience is very relative. I might speak half a dozen languages and have travelled the world, but I do not know how to dance the Bulería, recite the poems of Federico García Lorca by heart, make our orange tree bloom year round, saddle a horse, identify all the different species of wild orchid in the sierra or make a fluffy tortilla. So, in the end, I certainly have lots to learn to become a true Andalusa!

 

Auxi with her 'body guards'. Photo © Karethe Linaae

 



Like 3




2 Comments


silvirub said:
30 November 2019 @ 14:04

Brilliant as usual.


toolman2 said:
02 December 2019 @ 11:34

You have expressed more completely my own feelings about living in Spain, and those of my wife. We own a house in a mountain village in Extremadura that we love passionately. We deliberately avoided tourist areas and "Little England's" We soon found the way of life in the village we adopted to be exactly what we wanted but we have a lot to learn. We have not been able to move permanently there just yet but it will be soon. You have given me encouragement and tips on how and where we can try and integrate. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.


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