Reasons Why the “Auxiliares de Conversación” Facebook Group Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

Guiri with her Spanish Boy

Left: guiri, Right: not a guiri

One of the ways I have found to amuse myself when bored is to get on Facebook, but that can be depressing. All those enormously successful, happy people, while I’m at home eating yogurt out of a mug on my couch. But I know some people who will never fail me, los auxiliares de conversación en España. That is to say—the Facebook groups. Some are more interesting than others, but my favorite one is “Auxiliares de conversacion en MADRID”. Of course, for every amusing post, there’s an equally boring post.

But then there are the pull-my-hair-out, scratch-my-eyes-out posts. Here’s the rundown of some of the most annoying posts, topics, and people in these groups:

British (and sometimes other European) people who love to talk about the ignorant Americans they know.

Because stereotypes are there for a reason, amirite?! Guys?

People trying to avoid all contact with other guiris.

Guiris are the gringos of Spain, if you didn’t know. And aren’t they just the worst! This guiri-avoider must live with other foreigners in order to avoid speaking English. He/she will see Americans out at restaurants and remark about their loud voices and annoying laughter. Boo, guiri hater!

Actual quotes:

staying away from americans is my #1 plan.

“Everyone’s so flipping materialistic here [in the US]”

People who only want to hang out with other guiris.

Conversely, some people actively avoid contact with the other, a.k.a. Spaniards. Strange, isn’t it, that one would travel so far to speak only English, interact with only foreigners, etc.? These are the people that invite—ostensibly—the whole group to their house for their very first fiesta. Oddly they never seem to have a second …

People stereotyping heavily about Spaniards.

People who think getting residency in Spain as an American is as easy as 1-2-3.

Asked by one curious auxiliar: “does anyone know how difficult it is to obtain residency in Spain if you’re not employed or a student?” Two words, young one: Very. Difficult.

Crazily ignorant people.

These people will ask for tapas bar recommendations after living in Spain for nine months. They wonder if this Messi they’ve been hearing all about plays for Real Madrid (or what?).

“whats the difference between piso and habitacion as far as looking for something to rent?”

Where can I buy a good/inexpensive umbrella?

do public libraries exist in Madrid?

According to Spaniards I’m a “giddy.” Still haven’t figured out if thats a good thing or bad thing…

You begin to wonder how in the world they’ve survived this long.

(Thank you to the Twitter account @GuiriBullshit for the quotes!)

Doomed/Destined to Teach English

Or the life of a native English speaker in Spain.

Auxiliares de Conversacion

When you move to Spain, you might have high hopes of finding a job, a job that will satisfy you, hone your skills, perhaps even assist in your professional formation and networking. If you moved here with such aspirations, I salute you—for your optimism and your naïveté.

If you are here, you most likely teach English in some form or another. To quote my parents, you don’t have to like it; you just have to do it. Suck it up and do it: speak slowly and deliberately at all times, learn to deal with ridiculously low pay expectations, and search for endless Youtube videos to entertain your six-year-old students with amazingly short attention spans. Lauren from Spanish Sabores writes eloquently about this dilemma in her post, The Quarter Life Expat Crisis.

If someone had told me five years ago that I’d be an English teacher, I would have laughed. Hard. You see, I got my degree in Spanish (surprise, surprise!), and teaching wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. So to find myself here is rather ironic. Disheartening is a word I’d like to avoid.

Colegios Bilingües

Bilingual elementary schools … where many end up

It seems that many of us (by us, I mean fellow native English speakers) want something more than private classes, language academics, and applying to the Conversation and Language Assistant program for the third year running. But we’re stuck. Spain’s rampant unemployment (56.5% for youth!) isn’t exactly helping. So we stay here, we schedule classes with reluctant sixth graders, and we learn to refer to tennis shoes as “trainers” in order not to confuse anyone. We get used to being paid under the table, to being part of Spain’s undercover economy that doesn’t show up in the jobs’ numbers.

Five years from now, I may still be here in Madrid. Perhaps I’ll still be trying to get students to remember to add an “s” on the third-person singular present verb forms: “She runs” and not “She run,” please and thank you. But here’s to hoping—hoping that, as many expats before me, I might break out of the English-speaker mold and find that, somewhere out there, Spain has a place for the Spanish major in me, too.

What Not to Put on Your Auxiliar To-Do List

I read the Facebook groups and occasionally the forums for this year’s Conversation Assistants in Spain. I see the various questions about what to bring, visas, NIEs, etc. I also see the questions about “bucket lists” or, if you want to use the less-annoying term, “goal lists.” You know, it’s cool to have goals. I’m pretty terrible at setting goals, so I’m inspired when people set goals and achieve them. But some goals should never be set. Let me tell you what not to put on your auxiliar/Spain “to-do” list.

  • Date a Spaniard—Wait, what? Is this really a goal of yours? I know, I know … I too am attached to one, and they are great. Well, Mario is great. But why oh why is your goal to date one? At the end of the day, Spaniards are humans, just like you. So perhaps you can understand why I find your goal of a Spanish significant other to be flat out stupid. They are not a commodity to be had. Sorry.

Spaniards aren’t an item to check off your to-do list.

  • Become fluent—Unless you come to Spain with an absurdly good level of Spanish, your Spanish is not going to progress to “fluent” level in just one year. Fluency is notoriously difficult level to achieve. Fluency requires immersion, a lot of speaking time, and loads of patience for the times when you don’t believe your Spanish is getting any better at all. It’s a good goal, but perhaps not so realistic if you only plan to stay a year. But don’t be discouraged! You can improve a lot—if you try.
  • Only hang out with Spaniards—I understand your motivation. I do! But, to me, this goal reeks of snobbery. I mean, I understand you, in a way: you want to embrace Spanish life, to have an authentic experience. But, seriously, is only hanging out with Spaniards feasible for you? You know, it is kind of nice to have a person who empathizes with you. I found my American auxiliar friends to be of great help. They knew what I was going through, and we made time to “tomar un café” once a week or so.

DSCN1925

Hanging out with all Spaniards. Am I cool or what?

  • Travel all over Europe—It’s just not possible, tempting as it may sound. While you definitely should take advantage of your time to travel around Europe a bit, you should also find time to explore your own area and even visit other areas of Spain!

Since I now feel like a total aguafiestas, I want to assure you that it’s not all a “no” for me. I’m not an expert, but here’s what I think sound like good, reasonable goals for your time in Spain:

  • Make some Spanish friends—Do it! You don’t want to only hang out with English speakers. I mean, yeah, it’s cool that your friends are also from Britain and Canada, but you did go all the way to Spain, and it wasn’t just to hang out with people from Illinois. (But people from Illinois are cool! I swear.)
  • Improve your SpanishYou’re going to Spain. You should learn Spanish if you don’t know it. Likewise, you should improve if you already know the basics.
  • Get to know your own town or area—Like I said above, your town or area likely has a lot to offer. Zamora, where my husband is from, is not a place most guiris put on their to-visit lists. Nonetheless, it is an interesting city, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know more about it over the years. Your town may not be Santiago de Compostela or Sevilla or Valencia, but it likely has something to offer.

IMG_0583

Exploring the province of Zamora: Toro’s wine festival.

  • Realize how capable you are: moving abroad, doing it all yourself—Maybe you’re just out of college, like I was, when I moved to Spain in 2009 to do an internship. I didn’t know anyone, but I packed all my stuff into one suitcase (how?), and landed in Salamanca in early September 2009. I had no idea that I’d meet my husband that very month, that I’d be moving back indefinitely in 2012 with a ring on my finger, that I’d have a family in Spain. I was alone, but I was capable. Moving abroad can be exciting, but it can also be scary. You’re doing it!

IMG_2953

Student, Auxiliar, Expat

Do you remember study abroad? I’ve talked about it often, if only because it was the beginning of so many things (good, bad, and neutral) for me. It was the first time I set foot in Spain; it was the first time I felt overwhelmed by the idea of becoming fluent in another language; it was the first time I truly embraced my Americanness.

At La Fundación José Ortega y Gasset in 2008.

Continue reading