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My Technical Problems in Spain

Traveling and living in Spain for a couple of years, I experienced many things new and different to me. Some were funny and some weren't.

Me at the zoo in Madrid

Me at the zoo in Madrid

What’s Your Name

Okay, I realize that my pitiful high school Spanish was insufficient in conversing in Spain but I figured it was a starting point. I at least knew how to ask the basics like “what is your name” and “how are you.” Apparently not.

Every day I would pass a little middle-aged lady sweeping the stairs or mopping the lobby to our apartment building. I guessed that she was paid to do that and because I passed every day, I would smile and say “hi.” One day I decided to ask her name so I could greet a person not just wave at her. Reaching into my memory from high school Spanish, I remember that “Como se llama” was the right phrase to say. So armed with this phrase, the next time I saw her I asked. I was pretty surprised when she began telling me what the mop was called in Spanish, and the broom, and the sponge, etc. In my embarrassment, I thanked her and left. I kept asking myself, “What went wrong? That was the right phrase, right? So what did I ask her?” It later occurred to me that my high school Spanish was for the less formal conversations between kids. “Como se llama” literally means “what ya/he/she/it called?” It would have been better if I had said “Como se llama usted,” and even so that would not be as formal as they speak in Spain. I should have used the more formal “Cuál es su nombre?” I only found this out much later and by that time I was too embarrassed to ask her again. I never found out her name.

There are no language barriers when you are smiling.

— Allen Klein

Atocha train tickets

Atocha train tickets

Atocha

I remember one day my husband and I were looking for the train station in Madrid. Finally, and unlike most men, we stopped for directions from a policeman on the corner. I could see gestures but I didn't hear what was said so when my husband got back to the car I asked if he knew where to go. He said, "I told ya." I thought about it and kept silent for a few minutes. But I was sure he didn't tell me so I asked again. He answered the same thing. I frowned and I said, "No, you didn't tell me." He looked at me and said, "We are going to Atocha train station." Atocha sounds just like I told ya. I had to laugh. Even in English, I couldn't understand.

my-technical-problems-in-spain

Electricity Differences: 110 vs 220 Volts

My father had been an electrician for many years and before I left he told me that they use a different voltage and none of my appliances would work there. I found out later that all I would need would be a converter. The voltage in the US is 110 and the voltage in Spain is 220-240 volts. The physical plug in the US is two flat prongs and the plugs in Spain (and many other European countries) have round prongs. Today there are small converter boxes you can buy for these differences and still have your hairdryer, curling iron, and travel clothes iron with you. But back in the 70s, I had no idea what to do and the converter was a bit more expensive and large than today. To solve the problem I didn’t take anything electrical with me. If we needed something during the 2 years we lived there, we bought it.

Cooking meant using the butane in bottles that were sold biweekly. If you forgot to get a new butane bottle, you weren’t going to have hot water or a hot meal, simple as that. No one had an electric stove. More’s the pity.

Blessed is the man, who having nothing to say, abstains from giving wordy evidence of the fact.

— George Eliot

The Washboard

The big problem was washing clothes. We couldn’t afford to buy a washing machine in Spain and then leave it there. It just wasn’t practical. There was a Laundromat at the US Air Base but it meant a planned trip once a week. Once I had a newborn baby going through cloth diapers like they were paper, that wasn’t going to work for me. So I bought a washboard and washed out the diapers in the sink and hung them on the balcony. It seemed the thing to do in Spain. Everyone else was doing it. Once I began washing the diapers, I started washing out my own clothes in the sink as well. It really amused my mother, I can tell you. I thought I was pioneering and she thought it’s about time I discovered real work. Humph.

My painting of the Washer Woman

My painting of the Washer Woman

Final Thoughts

Just visiting a country is easier than living there. You find so many things that you are not familiar with when you live in a country for a while. The food, the language, the technology, the people. Embracing those differences really tests your metal.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Comments

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on March 01, 2021:

Devika Primić,

Did I explain well? Was it understandable? I hope so. I realize there are people reading these from all over the globe and some of my American wording may not be understandable. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on December 08, 2020:

DDE,

I'm glad you liked it. It was a great experience. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on December 08, 2020:

DDE,

I'm glad you liked it. It was a great experience. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on December 08, 2020:

Hi Deinise An interesting read about your experiences in Spain. It does makes sense to go through such a different lifestyle I had a similar problem when I moved to Croatia. I am amazed by your explanations.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on December 07, 2020:

Oh wow, Ann, what a gaff! I discovered a similar thing in regard to a baby pacifier. It seems like every culture has a different name for it from plug to binkie. One lady asked me to get the baby's comforter and I got a blanket.

Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Ann Carr from SW England on December 06, 2020:

Language is a funny thing. You think you've learnt a bit and then the locals teach you that it's not quite the same! I speak quite good French but was taken to task by a friend of ours when I translated literally the word 'preservative' with reference to jam. What a mistake! The french word should be 'conservatif' - 'preservatif' means condom! I was so embarrassed but we all had a good laugh. The image itself was hilarious!

Lovely to learn about your adventures and you're so brave for having a go - that's all it takes and people take you to their hearts. Well done, Denise!

Ann

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on December 02, 2020:

Peggy W,

It certainly kept me busy. I didn't have time to get into any trouble, now did I? My mom (in her letters) was amused that I was back to basics. I felt like I had moved to a third-world country without the benefit of modern appliances. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on December 02, 2020:

Carb Diva,

Yes. It's funny in retrospect but I thanked her and left wondering "what did I ask her?" I was so embarrased. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on December 02, 2020:

Emmy ali,

I'm glad you found it interesting. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on December 02, 2020:

billybuc,

I always thought that history comes alive when the experiences and human element are explored. "I lived in Spain" says so little unless I share the things I lived through and learned from. Thanks for commenting and being my friend.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on December 02, 2020:

bhattuc,

Yes, I have a real relationship with the washer woman painting after having to wash out cloth diapers in the sink with a scrub board for 2 years. I'll never forget that. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on December 02, 2020:

Eurofile,

The electricity was a real surprise to me. I was naive enough to think power was power everywhere and it all worked the same. We live and learn. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on December 02, 2020:

AliciaC,

Yes, she was my little Espanola. Born in Spain so I named her Luna. Only the Spanish people thought the name was strange. Here in the US people think it's a charming name. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on December 02, 2020:

emge,

I guess having more than one language under your belt would be a big help. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on December 02, 2020:

ChitrangadaSharan,

How I wish I had Google search back then. It would have been so helpful. It would have helped me pronounce words too, which I did so villainously that I made people laugh. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on December 02, 2020:

surovi99,

You are right, I am grateful for the experience. It was a rich episode in my life to be able to see things I may not be able to see again. I wouldn't have traded it for anything. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 02, 2020:

You certainly had some unique experiences while living in Spain. It would seem that using a washboard and hanging the diapers out to dry was the most practical thing to do at the time.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on December 02, 2020:

I am in awe of your bravery (although what else could you have done?) I would have lasted a week, tops. That poor little old woman probably wondered how you had never before encountered a mop. Thank you for sharing your stories.

Eman Abdallah Kamel from Egypt on December 02, 2020:

An interesting article to read about your life experience in Spain. thank you for sharing

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 02, 2020:

You had a few problems living there; I wouldn't have been able to function at all, I fear. :) I think you did remarkably well, my friend.

Thanks for sharing your experience. It is fascinating.

Blessings always

bill

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on December 01, 2020:

Very interesting reading. You have presented it in a flowing way. Nice. I liked the painting also.

Liz Westwood from UK on December 01, 2020:

This gives a fascinating insight into your time in Spain. Our youngest daighter once asked the name of another girl at a French campsite. The girl replied in English as she was there on holiday too. It sounds like your Spanish developed a lot while you were in Spain.

I am impressed at your bravery in driving around Madrid, let alone asking for directions.

We also have to take plug adaptors abroad as they don't have 3 pin sockets like the UK.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on December 01, 2020:

I enjoyed reading another article about your life in Spain. I certainly agree that visiting a country is easier than living there. The first photo of you and your baby is lovely.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on December 01, 2020:

Nice reading your account. While in college I studied French and my frequent visits to Russia have made me conversant with Russian and with these two languages I have never found any problem in Europe and of course almost every second person does have knowledge of English.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on December 01, 2020:

Hello Denise!

This was an interesting read. Yes, it’s important to be familiar with some basic words, when we are visiting a foreign place, where a different language is spoken.

When we visited Europe, few years back, I remember, we carried a pocket book, which translated most of the basic words. That was a big help. Google search is a big help nowadays, for instant translations from one language to the other.

Thank you for sharing your personal experiences. I enjoyed reading it.

Rosina S Khan on December 01, 2020:

It's normal to face technical problems in a foreign country. And it is worse when you have language barriers. Getting past these problems would mean gradually getting used to the new way of life. I am sure you are thankful for the experiences and learning along the way, Denise.

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