Tag Archives: spain

Currently Craving: Pimientos de Padrón

Photo by DesignConundrum via Instagram

Spanish people don’t like spicy things. I can’t tell you how many times I’d be told at a restaurant in Spain that something was REALLY spicy, that I really needed to prepare myself, only to be underwhelmed. I myself have a low tolerance for spice, but I was always shocked by how easily Spanish people would literally break a sweat over a choice piece of chorizo (which in all fairness can pack a bit of a punch) that didn’t faze my tastebuds a bit.

One exception is the padrón pepper from Galicia. Or should I say, one in every five or so padrón peppers. They are not all spicy; the milder ones are the best, delicious, grassy-tasting little pods that have been vigorously sauteed in olive oil and sprinkled with salt. But eating these things is a bit like playing Russian roulette…somewhere in the mountainous little pepper pile you just ordered there are a few evil ones just bursting with capsaicin. But it’s worth the risk, especially when even the evil ones are delicious.

Padrón peppers are delightfully available in the States (or at least in California) in summer and early fall, and are even more delightfully easy to cook. Heat some olive oil in a pan until shimmering, then add whole peppers and cook until the skin is blistering and browned. Remove from the pan and sprinkle with sea salt. And voilà! A quick, authentic tapas dish you can easily recreate in your own home. Just watch out for those hot ones.

If you don’t trust my instructions and need a slightly more complete recipe, see here, or take it up a notch with some jamón and ajo here.  And if they don’t have any peppers in your area, you can always drop some serious cash on a pound or so from La Tienda.

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North American Language and Culture Assistants/Auxiliares Q&A Part 5

A little more info on leaving the program….

Hi, I am an auxilary in Granada. I am very unhappy–terrible homesickness–and am thinking of leaving the program at the end of February. I was wondering how “the powers that be” (aka the regional coordinators) took the news? How did you ‘frame’ your story—did you tell them that you were unhappy, or had found a better offer, or what? I don’t know how to tell them. And did you tell your school first, or those in charge of the Andalucia program in Sevilla? I live in the city, but work in a pueblo. I’m there around 20 hours a week because it is super remote and there is no options for buses, so I commute….I spent 8 hours a week in the teachers lounge twiddling my thumbs, and the rest of the time I sit in the classes and pronounce words in English occasionally. I’m really bored, and lonely, which I think is exacerbating the home sickness.

So it sounds like your situation is similar to what mine was, except that you live in a big city on the weekends….so I totally sympathize with feeling like you’re in the middle of nowhere, wondering what the point of the whole program is, etc.
I had two schools and one of them was VERY welcoming and nice and awesome and the other didn’t really bother to include me in anything. I was super nervous about telling both of them that I was leaving, but for different reasons. Neither of them took the news especially well, in that they seemed disappointed and tried to convince me to stay, but there was no problem at all with actually leaving. No one yelled, no one lectured me, no one took away my NIE or my money! I had to sign a statement saying that I was electing to leave, and they had to pay me for the work that I did. I made sure to leave on the first of the month so that the process of receiving my last paycheck was easy….I was paid monthly and normally got paid on the 1st, so on my last day I collected my check and left. I actually asked them if I was going to get paid for the last month because I really needed the money, and they said (and I quote) “Come on we’re not THAT terrible!” Truth is, they weren’t terrible about it at all, even the principal at my elementary school who didn’t like me because I had taken two days off in December to go on a trip with my boyfriend. He was also bitter that he had been assigned to a little middle-of-nowhere school so far from where he wanted to be living. I must admit I did go to the bank and cash that check RIGHT away just in case they changed their mind…
I don’t know what kind of relationship you have with your school or your coworkers, but if you’re comfortable with it, my first piece of advice would be to talk to the person who you’re most comfortable with and tell them that you are really unhappy. If you tell the school that you are thinking about leaving because you’re terribly homesick and don’t feel like you’re being utilized properly in their English program, maybe they will do something to fix it. Unless you have a particularly unfriendly batch of coworkers, I don’t see what the downside to doing that could be, besides perhaps a little bit of awkwardness. I think if I had made more of an effort to approach the coworkers who I was friends with and told them that I needed some help and support to keep me from leaving, they would have gone out of their way to help me out. In the classroom I know that I also didn’t really enjoy work when there wasn’t really work to do….I actually maintained my blog during the hours I spent in the teachers lounge and the only reason I didn’t complain about having to sit around for so long doing nothing was because I didn’t have internet in my house or anywhere else, so those precious hours were the only times I could check email, etc. But it was still super frustrating that I was going SO out of my way (my weekly commute was about 6 hours by bus total) for something that didn’t really matter to anyone.
The best days for me were the days where I put a little extra effort into my lesson plans (one of my schools let me run a full class, at the other school I just stood there and smiled) and realized that the kids totally loved when I was there. If you have the ability, ask if you can maybe branch out in class. I love arts and crafts and on the days that I brought those things into the classroom, I actually liked working and felt like the kids got something out of it. Some days I’d bring in American food like maple syrup for the high schoolers to taste and describe in English, other days I would force them to act out Thanksgiving plays (complete with costumes I made in my very plentiful free time) in English…when they were having fun, I was having a much better time.
Not living in the town the entire week made it much harder for me to bond with anyone in the area and the fact that I had two apartments (one in the town where I worked, one in a slightly larger town 2-3 hours away where there were other auxiliars) made it almost impossible for me to ever feel like I was “home.” All my stuff was divided between two locations, I couldn’t afford anything nice, we never had hot water or heat….I was less than comfortable in the places I rented, to say the least. BUT, if you have an opportunity to make friends with neighbors, coworkers, etc., do it! I should have told someone earlier that I was unhappy because there were a lot of great people around me who would have helped me out….I was just too nervous and unsure to say anything.
If you don’t think bringing up your homesickness to someone else would work, of if you try and are still feeling terrible, then leave. Tell your school honestly that you really tried but are simply too unhappy to stay in the program. You’re not their slave, you didn’t sign over your year to them, they can’t take any legal action against you or punish you because you are unhappy and want to leave. If you get paid quarterly and have been paid for work that you haven’t done yet, I’m sure that will need to be worked out, but don’t feel like they are going to mistreat you because you’re leaving. One of the things that made it easier for me to leave was that I KNEW that they weren’t getting any kind of huge benefit from me being there. They didn’t make an effort to incorporate me into lesson plans, and I usually felt like my presence was just being used by the English teachers as an easy way to catch a bit of a break while I took over their class for an hour. I felt like a burden to them at times, and even though I knew the kids were sad that I was leaving, I also knew that I was more of an exciting novelty in the town and my absence wasn’t going to hurt their English-learning in any significant way.
In retrospect, I would have tried harder to stay. I would have put more of an effort in and told people ahead of time that I didn’t feel happy. I really wish that I could have put the program on my resume instead of the awkward half-blank that I had to strategically explain while job hunting back in the States, trying to not look like a quitter. But I also remember how miserable I was at the time and I know that there were a number of other things bothering me besides just feeling bored and lonely. The program is supposed to be a great experience for you and a great value to the schools you work at. If you’re not having a great experience and the school isn’t getting anything out of you being there, then what is the point, really?
I miss Spain and wish I was back there (though obviously if I returned I would want the circumstances to be a little different from my auxiliar experience!). I know that I’m probably never going to have the opportunity to put everything on hold and go back, and it bothers me that my experience wasn’t 100% positive. But I also have some GREAT stories about my weird little adventure that not too many other people have experienced or seen.
Good luck, give it one last try, and bottom line, do whatever makes you happy and won’t leave you with regret. If you have any more questions, let me know. It’s been a while since I was there but it’s a hard experience to forget. (and next time my reply won’t be sooooo long!).
I do have one last question, if you don’t mind—do you not mention your participation in the program AT ALL on your resume? Or do you just say that you worked from October-March?
To answer your last question, I did put the program on my resume, October-March. I also put my experience as “private English teacher” on for the remainder of my time in Spain. In general, I think having something on there is better than having a big gap. If you have a gap, they’re going to ask you about it anyway, so might as well be up front with it. In my experience, it’s an interesting addition to anyone’s resume and an easy conversation starter in the interview process. I think it’s very good for showing independence, ability to solve problems, step outside your comfort zone etc. I did have one interview in which they asked me why the program was so short….I explained why I left, and I feel like it left a bad impression. I didn’t get that job (I don’t think that was the reason, but it certainly didn’t help). However, I was up front about the experience during the interview for my current job, explaining my reasons for leaving, and they hired me . I did frame it more like “I wasn’t getting the experience that I wanted out of the program and I know the school wasn’t getting the benefit that they were supposed to get from my presence, so I left to do something that would be better for me.” I tried to present my leaving the program as a show of assertiveness rather than quitting, and I think it worked.
It’s certainly not the end of the world resume-wise, but it would have been a lot easier to have the whole thing on there. No one likes having to talk about quitting anything during a job interview!
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North American Language and Culture Assistants/Auxiliares Q&A Part 4

Some more questions I received via email, this time from a current auxiliar on quitting and alternatives to the program …

I am an Auxiliar and I found your blog post about quitting and becoming an au pair in Madrid. I love it here, but, was thinking about quitting to be an au pair, or maybe do the WWOOF farm thing and really focus on my Spanish while I am here. I am also applying for jobs back home and want to go back if I get one. I am wondering about the process for quitting. Could you tell me how it went? I was paid for 3 months at once and am wondering if my next payment is like that, will I need to pay back some or.. I don’t know, I just could not find any information about breaking the contract or anything. How did the school react? Thank you for your help. I am glad I found the post.

I’d be happy to give you my two cents, though it sounds like there are a few differences between our two experiences!

First of all, you say that you love it where you are; if that’s true, then stay! Stick it out and continue enjoying your time. I have to say, I regret leaving the program because quitting something never feels good AND it’s awkward to explain to people why you didn’t finish, especially if the person asking is someone reviewing your resume. I know that at the time I was absolutely desperate to get out and felt totally alone in La Puerta de Segura, but I really wished I had tried a little harder to get through it because it was an extremely valuable experience, and looking back, I didn’t take advantage of so many things that I might never get to experience again. My experience in Madrid was great, but it’s one that so many people have and looking back, my most unique, valuable memories are the ones that came out of the little hardships of getting through the program. Chances are that very few people have ever experienced just what you’re experiencing right now, and it’s something to hold on to if you can!

That being said, if you are really miserable or unhappy or just feel like you REALLY don’t want to be where you are anymore, here is how I left the program.

1. I arranged my au pair situation before I notified anyone I was quitting. I used an online service and arranged a start date with a family, and all details (pay, vacation days, etc) were established beforehand. THIS CAN BE RISKY. You never know what the family is really going to be like, and a string of emails is not the same thing as a contract. I really really lucked out with my awesome family, but I know other people who didn’t fare so well. I had started looking for au pair positions in early December and didn’t leave until March 1st, so I also gave myself plenty of time to consider the decision and weigh all my options and really make sure I was making the right choice.

2. I gave my schools and my roommates a month’s notice. I didn’t have a lease signed (things were handled a bit differently in small town Spain!) so I was able to just give notice and go without any paperwork. The school was pretty much the same way. I did have to sign something saying that I was electing to leave the program, but they gave me my last paycheck and I left the next day (I was really poor and needed to time that right to survive!!). I was paid monthly, so I’m not sure exactly how it would work with your quarterly payments.

The schools reacted negatively, but differently. My elementary school was sad about my departure. I was closer to the teachers and students there and they had been more welcoming all along. They gave me a goodbye presentation and made me feel really crappy for leaving. My high school was a little colder about the whole thing. The principal there was not as nice and was bitter about having to live in the small town (evidently he hadn’t had much say in his assignment either!). I didn’t get much sympathy from them, but they were the ones who handled my paperwork and gave me my last check, no problems.

Some other things to remember is that the program is pretty great when you’re looking at hours you have to work and payment. You’re probably not going to find another set-up that gives you so much freedom. As an au pair, get ready to say goodbye to your weekends and independence, unless you have a REALLY exceptional family. I had one day off per week (though that didn’t stop the baby from wanting to play), and each month I got one full weekend. That meant no real traveling. I also was only free in the mornings and evenings, which was good in some ways but super annoying in others (you have kind of the opposite schedule of most people our age, though you can still go out at night). Babysitting at night could be a drag, and payment is suuuuper minimal, though all worries of running out of food/water/gas for your hot water are gone because the family takes care of that. Really think about what you want to get out of au pairing and what you have now in the program and make sure the trade-off is worth it.

I don’t know much about WWOOF except that it looks really cool, but also make sure that you have enough money to pursue that option. I’ve heard good things from friends who have done it in New Zealand and other parts of Europe, but they were ok with not having much mobility AND with roughing it, not to mention not having much of an income.

The last thing to think about is private English teaching. That is how I made most of my money in Madrid, and though it carries some risks and isn’t the most consistent of jobs, there are plenty of people looking to learn English in the big Spanish cities, and they are willing to pay good money.

Ok now the real last thing–your NIE should be good for one year from the day you got it, probably sometime in October of this year….why not finish the program and THEN WWOOF or become an au pair for the summer? My understanding is that a lot of families are looking for nannies in the summer when they kids are out of school all day. Spanish summers are incredible and you could extend your stay (kinda) legally. If you’re job-hunting in the US, I would say you are much less likely to find something when you’re not here to physically come in for an interview (that was DEFINITELY my experience), so if you’re not in a rush to come back, think about doing all of the above. Trust me, if I could have stayed longer, I would have in a second, but the long-term boyfriend and my student loans were beckoning and I pretty much ran out of money!

I hope that helps you a little, I know that there is not that much info out there on the program and there’s pretty much NOTHING out there on quitting. Hang in there if you can and please enjoy Spain for me! I miss it so much.

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¡Feliz día de los Reyes Magos!

Today, or maybe yesterday at this point, was the day that many children in Spain have eagerly been awaiting all winter. The day of the three wise men, as it’s literally translated, is known to many as Epiphany in English. It’s the day when Spanish children traditionally receive their gifts, though now many families do gifts on Christmas and Epiphany.

Biblically speaking, the day celebrates the visitation of the Magi (also known as the three kings) to the baby Jesus, symbolizing the revelation of Christ’s god/man powers to the gentiles. Those three characters climbing the rope in between the multiple Santa Clauses in the above picture (taken in La Puerta de Segura) are said Magi, and people had those things up all over Spain! Instead of Santa leaving presents under the tree, I am pretty sure the wise men break into peoples’ houses somehow and leave gifts under their shoes in exchange for hay/sweet wine/other goodies. Kinda like St. Nicholas day in the U.S., for those of you who were raised Catholic here, but better.

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No more puentes??

Puentes (bridges in English) are one of those Spanish practices that I was always jealous of and one that spoke to the Spanish propensity towards working to live and not living to work. Basically any time a national or bank holiday fell midweek, workers and schoolchildren would get not only that day off, but they’d also get a little “bridge” vacation, meaning the days in between the holiday and the weekend were also non-work days. Kind of like the way we treat Thanksgiving and the following Friday, except they do it for every holiday that falls on a non-Monday or Friday weekday. It was awesome for me as a worker, but probably not the best thing for national productivity. But now, considering Spain’s looming debt crisis and their newly elected PM Mariano Rajoy, it looks like some of that Spanish joie de vivre might be sacrificed to help get the economy back on its feet. Link.



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Things I’ve Learned Between Spain and San Francisco

So my last post was a big one for me. Not only was it the 100th post I’ve added to this blog, which is a big deal because I neverrrr keep anything up this long (yay me!), but it also marked the passing of exactly one year since the day I moved to Spain.

One year from the day that I stepped off the plane, collected my 70+ pounds of luggage and trekked it sola into Barcelona via soggy Aerobus, I am back, settled in San Francisco, and actually liking it a lot. That’s not to say that I don’t miss Spain so so so much, but I have learned that I need to give the good ol’ USA another shot to see if I can find some of the things that I love so much about Spain right here in my own backyard. I’ve learned some other things too, about Spain, about America, about everything. Here are a few of them:

1. There really is no substitute for cañas and tapas on a terracita in Andalucía or Madrid. I know that even if I find the best Spanish restaurant in San Francisco and I sit outside and I order a beer and all my favorite dishes, it won’t even compare to having a little nasty beer and some olive-oil soaked, fried seafood at even the dingiest little Spanish bar. I might miss this more than anything else, and even though that might seem shallow and petty and a little alcoholic, I think the terracita/tapas/cañas experience says a lot about the Spanish lifestyle, and I do not mean to suggest the typical lazy/party/etc. stereotype. I’m sure I’ll get back to this later at some point.

2. San Francisco is the most European city in America. I haven’t been all over the country, so this claim is really not very well researched, but I am shocked at how “European” San Francisco feels. I don’t really know what I mean by European, but I think it involves being able to walk to one store to get your (daily) bread, walking to another store to get your fruit, walking to work (!!!), taking public transportation, hearing dozens of different languages every day on the street, seeing hundreds of tourists from all over the world, hearing church bells from my bedroom window (hello, Baeza), being able to drink in a park (kinda), and a number of other things. I feel like people enjoy life here, not to the degree that I think the Spanish do, but more than what I remembered of California when I was abroad. There is a huge appreciation for great food and great wine and the outdoors and eating on sidewalks, and I definitely feel a bit of that joie de vivre (alegría de vivir?) that I love Europe for.

3. I love traveling and I love backpacking, but I don’t like living out of a backpack. After spending five months in Andalucía essentially moving a week’s worth of living supplies every four days, I really appreciate being able to come home, throw my things on the floor, and not have to immediately start doing my laundry because I know that it is going to take four days to hang dry everything when it’s snowing outside. Traveling is my favorite thing in the world, but there really is something great about that first night of sleep in your own bed, especially when you get to snuggle into an awesome bed in an awesome city. There is also something great about being able to have a full-time, secure, legal job that pays you enough to survive and not having to ask yourself “will it fit in my suitcase?” every time you see something awesome at a store. Also, I love buying furniture and plants, and after a year of holding myself back, I am ready for a shopping spree!

4. Unlimited cell phone plans > pre-paid Nokia cell phones from 2001 that cost 27 Euro cents/minute. Also, unlimited data and gps has changed my life. Goodbye, Yoigo!

5. I am addicted to olive oil. I remember the year before I went to Spain I used about a bottle and a half of oil….the whole year…while cooking for two people almost every night. Granted, I used some butter, but mostly I used the oil. In the past month and a half I have used the same amount that I used that entire year. Next purchase, to my roommates’ dismay: una freidora.

6. Parks are cool. Parks are cooler when you can drink alcohol in them. I think this speaks for itself. I will cite some examples where you should try this activity out with minimal risk of bodily harm/imprisonment: Parque del Buen Retiro, Dolores Park, Washington Square Park.

7. Vermouth is good on the rocks, and it’s just as good on a rooftop terrace in San Francisco as it is at a bar in Madrid.

8. Pan Tumaca and a cafe con leche is still my favorite breakfast. But only if I know that later in the afternoon I’ll be having a huge multi-course lunch, followed by a generous nap.

9. America is awesome, if only for the lack of siesta and presence of 24-hour everythings. I can get anything in San Francisco, and I can get it whenever I want it. Yes, I am in a freezing cold, artificially lit grey cubicle all day, straight through the time that would be siesta time if it existed here, but I don’t care. I take comfort in knowing that across the street from my office, there is a Walgreens that sells everything I could ever need, and it is always open. And if it’s not, there is a Walgreen’s every other block along my route home and at least ten of them will be open and selling everything from Cheetos to shoes to picture frames. Go USA.

10. Taking pictures is always worth it. Even when I feel like a total tourist, even when I have to embarrass myself to get the photo or feel lame for snapping a cheesy shot, it’s always worth it. I have to try to remember this here, because I want so badly to not look like a tourist in a place where I can finally feel like a local (well at least I speak the local language). I’m not saying you should get some random, ill-lit shots of the Eiffel Tower or the Golden Gate. Take pictures you want to remember. Take pictures you can frame and put up on your walls, or share with your kids, or give as gifts to people you were with. The really good pictures I have are some of my most valuable possessions, and they are the best souvenirs you could possibly take home from a trip.

11. Hearing cool noises from your bedroom window gets old fast, no matter where you are. First it was the bats in Baeza. I could hear them squeaking away all night. Awesome! For like two seconds. Then it was the church bells. Then horse hooves. Then sheep and firecrakers in La Puerta de Segura. What a combo. Now here in San Francisco, I started with the fog horn. FOG HORNS! Who wakes up to a fog horn in the middle of the night besides a wayward seaman? Moments ago, I discovered that on beautiful clear nights like tonight, the sound of barking sea lions will carry clear across the ten or so blocks that separate my home from theirs, straight into my bedroom window. I used to like sea lions.

12. I have never seen so many bizarre/crazy/creepy people on the streets in my life as I’ve seen in the past month in San Francisco. Maybe New York has more, but San Francisco’s got them beat on the crazy/sane ratio. Maybe I never really noticed the sheer volume when I lived in L.A., but Europe seemed to have much fewer homeless, and much fewer crazies (though many more homeless amputees, weirdly). It’s interesting, sad, and a little scary all at once. It also makes riding on a MUNI bus a farrrrrrr weirder experience than any metro ride I ever took in Madrid.

13. The best view of Alcatraz, and of the whole Bay is from the hill path in Fort Mason, right before sunset, when the sun has fallen below the fog layer so that everything on top is dark and gloomy and everything on the bottom is burning gold and pink. It’s absolutely beautiful, and every time I see it I like San Francisco a little bit more.

So there are 13 things I learned. There will be more to come, because there is a lot to learn, a lot to eat, and a lot to do in this great city, and like it or not, I compare everything to Spain now. Spain is still my favorite place on earth, and I doubt that’s going to change any time soon, but for now I am pretty darn happy to call San Francisco home.

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I never went to a bullfight while I was in Spain, though there were definitely times when I felt like I had to go just because I had been in the country so long and it is just so Spanish.

Not surprisingly, all the Spaniards I ever met weren’t into bullfighting. Not only were they not into it, they thought it was kinda gross. Now I’m not going to jump to any conclusions about this meaning that no Spaniards like bullfighting, because I know that’s not true, but just because it’s so “Spanish” doesn’t mean it’s something you need to see if you’re visiting unless it actually sounds fun/interesting/wonerful, which it doesn’t to me. Looking back now, I am glad I never went just because I thought it was something I had to check off my list. The first thing anyone ever asks me when I say I lived in Spain is “did you run with the bulls???” and I’m totally fine with the fact that I haven’t done that either. I enjoyed my couchsurfing and foie gras in Pamplona much more than getting stabbed by a bull horn while wasted, sleeping in the streets, thank you. Though I will totally eat some rabo de toro any day, especially if it’s  from Meson del Asador in Jerez de la Frontera. So so delicious.

And just in case I had any doubts…


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