Category Archives: #Spain

Lost in Translation

Our casita en Málaga has a TV with an attached DVD player, as well as an assortment of DVDs to watch if you so desire.  One of the movies is called “Lost in Translation,” a film that was produced about 10 years ago and that stars Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson.  Little did we know that the phrase “Lost in Translation” would become a running joke for us while we are here in Málaga, and so I would like to share with you a few funny stories of miscommunication that we have enjoyed here.

The first day I met the owner of the casita where we are staying I rode with him to get a replacement gas cylinder for the house.  (Most of the city still does not have gas lines, so trips to the store to buy gas cylinders is a normal part of life here).  Antonio speaks English pretty well, and he was eager to practice his English with me, so instead of insisting that we speak Spanish, I just deferred to him.  However, when he was talking about the software development work that he does he kept mentioning a “geerl.”  Since I don´t know much about software programming, I kept trying to ascertain the meaning of “geerl” in context, but finally I asked him, “What is a geerl?”  And he replied, “You know … boys and geerls.”  One problem for native Spanish speakers who are learning English is that the letter “i” is always pronounced with a long “ee” sound in Spanish, thus “girl” is often pronounced “geerl.”

The first weekend after Sheri arrived we took a bus east to stay for the weekend in a picturesque, small, Spanish town called Frigiliana.  I had found the rental apartment on, but I could not remeber exactly what the owner Francisco looked like.  So, when we arrived at the bus stop I went looking for a 40-something-year-old Spanish dude who also was looking for us.  Soon I found a man who looked like he was looking for someone, so I walked up to him and asked, “Francisco?”  He looked at me puzzled and said, “No … yo hablo español (No … I speak Spanish).”  I cut him some slack on that one because, in all fairness, there are a lot of French people who live and/or travel in Spain.  We got a big kick out of that confused interchange.

Yesterday Sheri and I went with Antonio to the large convention center here in Málaga to see a healthy living fair where many vendors where selling lots of good food and other products.  Antonio mentioned that he liked a particular type of “wox,” and that he had found some of this good “wox” at the same fair the previous year.  My wife and I looked at each other puzzled thinking, “What the heck is wox?”  Silly us, we should have known that he was talking about the wax in good beeswax candles.

Antonio also told us about a past trip he took to Amsterdam, and he mentioned that several varities of marijuana are sold legally in Amsterdam as well as “peels.”  Hmmm … I´m not exactly proud of my use of drugs about 30 years ago, however I am pretty sure I had tried at least one time just about everything that was available on the streets.  Nonetheless, I can never remember doing any “peels” — who knows, I might have missed out on a good buzz.  Well, Antonio was not talking about peels, but instead was referring to drugs that are sold in pill form.  So, in Amsterdam one can get high legally on marijuana and pills, but hopefully no on is doing anything crazy with lemon peels.

Finally, today Sheri and I took a trip to a small town called Ronda that is located about 1.5 hours away, and we had a fabulous day.  Before we returned to Málaga, Sheri and I had a nice lunch at a restaurant that overlooks a river gorge.  I knew immediately that our waiter was not a native Spanish speaker by the way he talked, but also because his skin was much darker than your typical Spaniard.  So I asked him in Spanish, “Where are you from?”  And he replied by saying, “ten years.”  I responded and said slowly, “No, no … where are you from?”  Again he replied and said, “ten years.”  So then I replied and clarified that I was not asking him to tell me how long he had lived in Ronda, Spain, but instead I was curious to know where he was from originally.  Again he said, “ten years.”  At that point we realized that something was lost in translation, and as it turns out he was trying to tell me that he was from Tangier, as in the city of Tangier, Morocco.

Isn´t language fun!?

Los Coches de España

I like to think that I am fairly well tuned-in to the auto industry, at least to the U.S. auto industry. Just about any time a new model is released I already know about it before it hits the streets, or if one happens to dodge my radar, I can generally spot a new model when I see it drive by.

However, I had no clue how out of touch I am with the European auto industry until I arrived here in Spain. In the last 5 weeks not only have I seen dozens of models that I did not know exist, I have also seen entire brands that I did not know exist. For example, the Seat brand of autos was orginally a Spanish automaker that was launched in 1950 – who knew? – but alas is now owned by Volkswagen, and is cranking out cars here in Spain.

So just for grins, over the last few weeks I have jotted down the make and model of several cars that I have seen, and the list shown below is by no means an exhaustive list.

Also interesting is how few “American” cars that are here, by American I don´t mean only American-based companies but also the other makes we commonly see in the USA. For example, I have not seen a single Subaru here, which are ubiquitous where we live. I have seen two Chevrolets, one Chrysler, and no GMC nada. There are some Toyotas and some Hyundais, and a few Mercedes here and there. The one exception is that there are several Fords here, and it seems to me that Ford has a large presence in much of Europe.

So, here is a list of 8 different car manufactures that includes some of their models. Have you seen any of these vehicles recently on the streets of the USA?

Seat – Leon, Ibiza, Altea, Cordoba, and Toledo.
Opel – Corsa, Vectra, and Astra
Peugeot – 107, 307 and 406
Renault — Clio, Megañe, Kangoo, and Scenic
Citroën – Xsara, Ax, C3, C4, and Jumpy
Fiat – Stilo, Punto, Doblo, and Scudo
Aixam — A741
Skoda – Fabia

Operatic Jazz, Orchestral Rock, and More

There are many things I enjoy about travel, but one of the things I enjoy most is getting out of my culture in order to experience life from a different perspective. It is a great exercise in breaking down preconceived notions about people, and hopefully it makes me less judgemental and more accepting of people who don´t eat, or work, or play, or think, or live like me.

Sometimes it can be overwhelming, and also frustrating, to adapt to a different culture. But I also find myself getting past all the differences to arrive at the same place over and over again … and I would describe that “same place” as the realization that deep down all people are the same everywhere and for all time. We all want to be loved, we all have hopes and fears, and we all want to feel that our life matters.

Yesterday I broke one of the social rules in this society, and I did so because I was frustrated and in a hurry and just not paying attention. And it is a little embarrassing to admit that I broke this social rule in pursuit of cottage cheese – I never knew that cottage cheese could be so important! Let me explain.

During my very first week here the Spanish language school took a group of us students to the local city market, but before going they explained to us how to form a line in Málaga. At the market there are many vendors, and there are also many people at the market who want to buy goods from the various vendors. So, how does a vendor know who to help next? When the people here show up at a particular vendor´s booth, they know to ask out loud, “Quién es el ultimo?” Translated this is “Who is the last one?” … in line. When the last one acknowledges that they are last, you will know who to follow. And if someone shows up after you and asks the same question, you are supposed to say “Soy yo” so that the new person knows that they follow you.

Well … it seems that yesterday I was at the grocery store (where the same line forming process is understood), and I was looking for cottage cheese. The cheese aisle was enormous, they had every kind of cheese that you can imagine, from about every country in the world, and after looking and looking and looking, I could not find the cottage cheese. I wondered, “What kind of cheese aisle does not have cottage cheese?” So I asked the young girl who was carrying a plate of sample snacks where to find the cottage cheese, but she did not understand my Spanish (or perhaps had never heard the words “cottage cheese”), and went to find someone who speaks English. Her fellow sample snack distributor showed up, and the new girl did know a little English, but she also had never heard of cottage cheese. So after looking for what must have been 20 minutes, back and forth among all the cheeses of the world, I headed to the meat and cheese counter to talk with the experts. And it was there that I flubbed up big time.

Although there were several people who were in the counter area, I went directly to an older gentleman who did not seem to be waiting on anyone, and I asked him in my best Spanish where to find the cottage cheese. He looked at me perplexed, and then hollered down the line at José because evidently José knew a little English (although I was in fact speaking Spanish, or at least I was attempting to). So José turned to look at me, seemingly startled, and I went directly to him while switching to English in order to ask him about the exact location of the cottage cheese in their fine store … and in the process, I cut right in front of all the other people who had been patiently waiting in line to be helped, the order of said line surely known to everyone but me. You know this situation, right? You are just looking for a small bit of information, and you think it will only take a microsecond, so you feel justified in talking with the clerk directly even though they may be waiting on someone else at the moment. So José mumbled what sounded like the words “cottage cheese,” and the older lady he was waiting on (who was “primera,” meaning first) gave me a look that I would describe as a mixture of shock and scorn. So I tried to soften the blow by gently touching her shoulder while continuing to seek the location of the cottage cheese from José. It was at that point that I had my ephiphany, and everything became clear to me, painfully clear, and I realized that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time doing the wrong thing. Immediately I tried to crawl away without being noticed in order to find the nearest rock to crawl under. And I never did find any BLOOMING cottage cheese in that store!

So … cultures are different, and customs are different, but in truth I believe that people are the same everywhere deep down in their heart-of-hearts. And before I finish this week´s update, I would like to tell you about one more cultural discovery I made this week.

There are some interesting fusions of musical styles here, which involve taking the old and blending it with the new. Honestly, I don´t know much about classical music, but it seems that all of the giants of classical music originated here in Europe. The same seems to be true of the music used in opera, which I believe is much more entrenched here in Europe than in any other place in the world. So I was intrigued to see on Spanish television an opera singer accompanied by a jazz band playing what I will call Operatic Jazz. Similarly, I have seen on television a rock guitarist playing along with a classical music orchestra, or perhaps it was the rock guitarist who was accompanied by an orchestra … it was a really cool fusion of rock with classical music overtones, or Orchestral Rock as it were. Finally, I have also seen a pianist and cello player playing classical music accompanied by a bunch of guys who looked and sounded like they had just arrived from some island in the carribean, it was classical music with an island vibe.

So sometimes cultures clash … and sometimes cultures blend … and I much prefer to blend and harmonize than clash, don´t you too?

Estoy perdido!

My second week in Málaga is coming to a close, and I have some more adventures to tell you about.
Shortly after I sent last week´s email, I decided to go for a bike ride on the road that travels east beside the Mediterranean Sea, and I was excited about seeing the sea for the very first time.  However, the bike that the owner left here for me to use needed air in both tires, so I rode over to the nearby main street that runs north and south in the city.  When I got to the corner someone told me to go north to find the nearest gas station, so instead of going toward the sea I was travelling north away from the sea.  After filling the tires with air, I just decided to keep going north thinking that I would soon find a spot which overlooks the city.  I kept riding and riding while enjoying the bike-only path that runs parallel to this main road, and before long I started seeing several other bicyclists on mountain bikes, but no one on a road bike.  So I stopped to ask three bicyclists if there was a mountain bike trail nearby, and they told me to continue going the same direction and turn right when I saw the tunnel.
Just before I passed over the highway I looked down and saw that the highway passed below me through a tunnel, so I assumed that this was where I should turn right. I followed this new road, and though it felt like I was on some sort of campus I continued because I thought that it could be a city park as well … and how beautiful a park it was!  While I was riding I kept thinking to myself, “Wow … I am really going to enjoy this ride.”  There were beautiful trees and flowers, and everything was nicely landscaped.  But then I came up to a gate that was manned by a security guard.  So I told the security guard that I am new around here and that I did not really know where I was going.  Then the security guard informed me that, sure enough, I was on the grounds of a psychiatric hospital.  And, as if I needed any further proof of what the security guard told me, one of the residents of the facility who was standing by the gate confirmed for me that I was indeed at a psychiatric hospital.  The resident seemed very interested in me and/or my bike, but rather than stopping to learn more about his interest, I thought it best to get my butt out of there.  
I continued to heard north away from the city, and soon thereafter I found THE tunnel on my left, so I turned right and headed up a paved road,and before long I was on a hard-pack dirt road along with many other bicyclists as well as walkers.  After another 45 minutes of riding and pushing my bike uphill, I finally found the overlook I was looking for.  ¡Qué bonita es la ciudad de Málaga!
Speaking of being lost, one day this week I decided to take a different way home, and along the way I found a grocery store that is much bigger than the one I had been frequenting.  So I reasoned that I may as well do some shopping while I was there, but for some strange reason I decided to buy some containers of milk, a six-pack of non-alcoholic beer, fruits and vegetables, and to top it all off, a large 5-liter bottle of water.  After I left the grocery store I realized, oh yeah, I have to carry all this stuff home.  So I´m walking and walking and walking … and the groceries are starting to feel like lead weights … and I´m walking and walking … and suddenly I realized that I had no earthly idea where I was.  I was walking in what I thought was the direction of our rental house, but the streets of Málaga are not laid out on a grid, and instead they go off in many different directions.  So I approached someone to ask directions, which I kind of enjoy doing since it gives me the opportunity to use the Spanish I have been learning. Unfortunately, I didn´t know where our rental house is located … I mean, I know how to get there when I´m walking on the same street I´ve been using all week, but this particular time I had decided to walk home a different way.  So, the nice man stood in front of me waiting patiently for me to say something, anything, however I could not remember the name of our street, nor could I identify any landmarks near the rental house.  After stuttering for a few moments, the only thing I could think of to say was, “Estoy perdido!,” which translated means “I´m lost!”  The gentleman could not help but break into a grin, but then he quickly stifled his grin so that I would not appear as a fool.  But then I had to laugh at my own predicament, and he laughed too.  Eventually I blurted out the street number I had seen on a road sign near the house, and he pointed me on my way … and I wouldn´t blame the guy if he chuckled to himself as I walked away while carrying my lead weight groceries.  Who needs a gym membership when you shop for groceries like I do?
Nonetheless and surprisingly (in light of my recent adventures), I am settling into a nice routine here.  I have completed all the big tasks that were on my list, such as getting settled into the house, buying all the necessary supplies (e.g., some kitchen utensils, school supplies, various and sundry items), opening a bank account (which was required to join the gym), registering for the Spanish DELE exam, signing up for the preferred grocery shopper program, doing laundry (including hanging the clothes out to dry), and other tasks.  At this point I can focus on Spanish while awaiting the arrival of my Sweetie in two more weeks.
I don´t know if it is just me, or if other second language learners my age feel the same thing, but there are times when I feel like I am making serious progress toward fluency, and there are other times when I feel like I am going backward.  Learning a second language has been one of the most challenging projects that I have ever undertaken, and I am confident that I have already invested more time and effort in this than I did in earning my college degree.  But fortunately, it does not feel like work most of the time, and the reality is that if I stopped right now, it would have been worth my time, and I would do it all over again.  But I´m not stopping now, and I will continue to press on with the hope that hearing and speaking and reading and writing Spanish will feel more natural every day.   It´s been a great adventure … and as I always like to say, it feels like stepping into a whole new world.
You can find pictures of our Málaga trip at,
Nos vemos pronto.

My first week in Málaga

¡Hola a todos!

One week ago today I arrived in Málaga, Spain, and I´d like to tell you about some of my adventures and first impressions of this part of the world.

After traveling for about 24 hours, including several hours spent in layovers, I landed in Málaga at about 4:30 PM local time (8:30 AM in Arizona). I walked out of the airport and immediately caught a city bus that would take me to the center of this city of about half a million people. When I stepped off the bus I had no clue what direction I was facing, and since I did not feel like hanging around a downtown bus station in the middle of an unfamiliar city, I just started walking. Since Málaga is a port city, I had assumed that I would be able to spot the sea and get my bearings, but the buildings were tall and the skies were cloudy, and so I became the typical lost tourist looking around with a puzzled look on my face. So I started asking people for directions, but unfortunately the map that I had printed which showed the location of the house I would stay in the first two nights DID NOT show the area of the bus station. Thus, no one that I showed the map to could tell me what direction to go … so, I did the next best thing and started following people. Clearly, in a downtown there are people who are walking in all directions, but I decided to go where the highest percentage of people were going. Finally I wandered into an area of the city that was also shown on my map, and the next person I asked could point me in the right direction. Next time I will bring a better map!

I stayed the first two nights in the home of a family who had posted on a room for rent for only $22 a night. Fernando is an emergency room physician who grew up in Chile, and his Spanish partner Carmen makes jewelry that she sells on the internet. They were so nice and welcoming, and they even invited me to return two days later to enjoy Easter dinner with their family … we enjoyed a feast of Paella, which is a very popular local dish. And oh, they also have three small dogs that instantly became my amigas … every time I sat down, those three were on me in an instant giving me that doggie love. One was named Blanco (White), the second named Negro (Black), and I forget the name of the third because I decided to call her Marrón since she had a brown coat.

After two days I moved into the small rental house that I also found on, and small is a good description of this place because I am sure that it has less than 500 square feet of living space. There is a living room, bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom. Interestingly, the owner Antonio is proud to be able to call it a “casa mata,”which I have been told refers to any private dwelling irregardless of size that sits on its own lot. There are so many multiple-story buildings around me, but this little place has no dwelling above it while sharing a wall with the dwellings on each side (kind of like a townhouse). Antonio bought this place 20 years ago about 5 years after graduating from college, and it no doubt has been a good investment for him. (Now Antonio lives with his family in Granada, Spain, a town located about 1.5 hours away).

God willing, I will be in Spanish immersion school for the next 2 months, and this first week has been fairly intense. One of my challenges is to adapt to the Spanish accent of the people who live in this part of Spain, which is different from the Spanish spoken in other parts of Spain, which is different from the Spanish spoken in Argentina, which is different from the Spanish spoken in Mexico, and so on. Of course, the same is true of English, for the English spoken in Nashville is different from the English spoken in New Jersey, which is different from the English spoken in South Africa, which is different from the English spoken in India, which is different from the English spoken in Britain, and many other places. I can´t tell you how many times in my life I have met people who spoke to me in English that I could barely understand, their accent was so very different from mine. As a result, this first week I have been focused on tuning my ear to recognize and understand the Spanish as it is spoken here. The other big challenge for me is that I specifically asked to be in an upper intermediate Spanish class, which is a bit beyond my current level. But hey, you have to stretch yourself in order to grow.

Málaga is located in the (normally) sunny, southern coast of Spain, and indeed this area is known as La Costa del Sol. (I said “normally” because all the locals are talking about how it has rained more here in the last few months than in any other year in memory). Since the shores of Málaga touch the sea, one staple of the diet here is seafood. Today one of our Spanish teachers took us on a tour of the large food market in the center of town, and I was amazed by the volume and assortment of fish and seafood … not to mention all the other meats, as well a cheeses, breads, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and olives by the ton since this is olive country. Fortunately, my lovely wife and I are dedicated to regular exercise, otherwise you might not recognize us when we return.

Málaga is also the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, and where he lived for most of his life. There is a huge museum here dedicated to him, as well as just about everything else that can be named Pablo Picasso … such as Pablo Picasso street, Pablo Picasso café, Pablo Picasso Spanish school, Pablo Picasso books, Pablo Picasso pillows, Pablo Picasso ice cream, and Pablo Picasso this, that, and the other thing.

The “siesta” is alive and well here in Málaga, and by that I am referring to the customary afternoon nap. In fact, a majority of the stores close here from 2:00 PM until 5:00 PM so that people can go home and have lunch with their family, lunch being the primary meal of the day here as in many other Spanish-speaking countries. Then, after a nap of an hour or two, people return to work and the doors of the stores start swinging open again right at 5:00 PM. Many of the stores will then stay open until 8:00 PM or later before closing for good for the day. As a result, the people here generally don´t eat dinner until 8:30 or 9:00 PM, and in fact there are some restaurants that don´t even open for dinner until 9:00 PM. Accordingly, in the morning businesses generally do not open until 9:00 or 10:00 AM. It´s a very different schedule than what I am accustomed to, and it takes a little while to get used to it. There is, however, one notable exception … the Chinese variety stores, which are kind of like mini-mini-Wal-marts that have a little bit of everything, you can count on these stores being open all day from about 8:00 AM until 8:00 PM. Don´t expect these Chinese store operators to speak to you in English, because what you will find is someone who speaks Chinese natively and Spanish fluently, but who speaks little or no English.

Okay, there you have it … some of my early adventures and first impressions of Málaga. Overall, I have found the people here to be very welcoming and generous and kind, and I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity to meet new people and experience this part of the world.