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!)

I Refuse to Say Trousers—Or Why American English Is the Best

I sometimes feel like the creature in the old Dr. Seuss book Green Eggs and Ham. I will not say trousers, I will not say trainers. I will not say them in a house, I will not say them to a mouse. I will not say them here or there, I will not say them anywhere. I can be stubborn when I put my mind to it, which is basically all the time.

Green Eggs and Ham

Okay, this is not true. I do try to refer to both American English and British English for a few reasons (reasons I have deemed good ones, as I like to congratulate myself on my decisions):

Continue reading

Learning English

You may think you know English. In fact, you may be reading this right now, and you may think to yourself, “Golly gee, I can understand everything Kaley is saying in the very complicated language known as English.” You are wrong. You speak what I will refer from now on as ‘merican. (Pronounced = “mer-kun”.)

My students, although they speak very little English, speak even less ‘merican. So I too have had to learn a bit of English.

When I was younger, I remember learning that, in England, they also spoke English, but it was different. Taking this to mean quite different, I told my friends that in England they spoke another language also called English. “For instance,” I would say, “to say goodbye, you say ‘cheerio.'” Satisfied at my obvious linguistic expertise, I would nod smugly, hoping to see a hint of wonderment creep onto my friends’ faces.

Sadly, I learned that I was mistaken and that, although they might seem rather different, ‘merican and English are really quite similar, with differing expressions, grammatical changes, spelling, and pronunciation. All in all, we can and do understand each other, even if American cable channels try to dumb us down by subtitling English from the U.K., as though we are too thick (great expression, you Brits!) to get it.

In Spain, in general, the children learn British English. Thus, I will often be doing an exercise with them and come across a word that startles me in that I’ve no idea to what it refers. For example, upon seeing a picture of a flashlight, I searched for flashlight in the vocabulary list only to find it missing. Instead, by process of elimination, I figured that it could only be torch. Now, when you say torch, I think:

That is a torch. There is fire. A torch is not a flashlight because, when you light a flashlight, fire is (sadly) not involved. However, in England, they have mad the regrettable decision to call it as such. Sigh. To each their own, I suppose.

By far the funniest such mess up has been with a common classroom object—the eraser. Erasers are ubiquitous here because every child must, by Spanish law, carry a pencil case. Now, it’s up to you what the pencil case has on it, whether you decorate it when your name, and what size it is. The thing you are required by law to do is buy it and take it to school. But I digress. Because of these handy-dandy pencil cases, every child has several pens, pencils, erasers, and his or her own personal white out. I never came to class that prepared; in fact, there were often days I forgot to bring a writing utensil at all. If only my government had required me to carry a pencil case, none of that would have ever happened. The Spanish government are some smart cookies.

An eraser in ‘merican is eraser. There. Easy. In English, it is—get this—rubber. Now, rubber is a nice product with many uses. If I were to say, “It’s rubber,” you’d think, “That object is made of rubber.” However, and this is where it gets a bit tricky, if I add the article “a” before the word, the whoooooole meaning changes. “It’s a rubber,” I say, and you laugh, expecting me to be holding something quite different. (Ahem—a condom.) This is exactly what happened with poor little Raúl. I was going from desk to desk, picking up various objects, asking, “What is this?” and the children were responding, “It’s a pencil” / “It’s a notebook.” So, silly me, when I picked up the eraser, I kind of wasn’t expecting the response to be, “It’s a rubber.” No, children, it is not. It is an eraser. Don’t bring rubbers to school unless you plan on hooking up in the bathroom. And if you do, don’t.

Now really, I don’t think ‘merican is intrinsically better than English. Instead, I favor it because it’s just plain easier … for me. And thus, by my impeccable logic, it is easier for you, and you, and you. Mario has already experienced this and has learned to not add that extra u in favorite, lest he experience the wrath of his better half. But still, it does lead to some funny moments, like when he asked me if I wore dungarees as a child, and I immediately thought of a type of jeans. (He meant overalls.) Dungarees, to me, sound like something your typical Australian would wear in the Outback, but that’s just me, I suppose.

So, all this to say that I too am learning English, and it’s been an interesting ride. Your homework this week is to learn the alternate meanings of the following words:

  • trainers
  • jumper
  • biscuit
  • boot
  • lift
  • football
  • bum bag
  • public school

Your homework is due in one week—that is, November 14, at precisely 4 PM. I am a tough grader. You were warned.

My Job

I have a job! Did you know that? I’m just making sure, you know. It’s sort of prestigious and really selective and totally hip and … wait. Did I just say hip? I think that proves it’s totally not.

I am not a teacher, yet I am not not a teacher. I’ll wait until your brains wheels start to turn again after that sentence. Ready? Okay. I am a conversation assistant; I go to class and talk until I’m blue in the face and the children don’t listen. It’s fun! You sound all breathy and hoarse, which is obviously great for my future career involving 1-900 numbers and late hours. No really, they listen. Sometimes. Most of the time, they just don’t understand me. I’ve got a funny accent, you see. It’s native and I pronounce Spain as Spain and not Espain. I use funny phrases like “How’s it going?” instead of “How are you?” I don’t say trousers and trainers; I say pants and tennis shoes. (Isn’t funny how little tennis is played while wearing tennis shoes? I’d say a good 99% of the time, people wearing tennis shoes are definitively not playing tennis. Hm.) They are not used to my voice, my intonation. They are used to their teachers, who repeat the instructions in Spanish. It’s a rather annoying truth really—they know it will be repeated in Spanish, so why bother trying the first time? They’re just conserving energy, you see.

I am a cultural ambassador. (Beware, my ambassadory skills are formidable.) This means I tell them about the U.S. and try to look as cheerful as the above Americans at all time. My smile may be plastered on, but gosh darn it, I must convey a positive image to the outside world. I do not fulfill their idea of a typical American, though, and this may be my downfall. I don’t really like meat and potatoes and my favorite band is not, as one child asked, “Laddie Gaga.” I don’t often wear blue jeans with “trainers.” I eat lots of vegetables. (No comments here, family.) I speak Spanish fairly well … HUH! Whodathunk it?

I work Tuesday to Friday. Yes, it’s a cushy job. My favorite part is the midmorning break, from 11:10-11:40. The children all bring some sort of snack (be it a Serrano ham sandwich or these airy corn chip things or what have you). The teachers all go to a nearby café, which has a table reserved for us and another for a nearby elementary school. We are VIP. The owner and his wife run the whole establishment and know what each person wants before they ask for it. Some get pinchos, little appetizer-ish things. Most get coffee and several smoke, annoyingly. I have learned to expect it, but still. I always smell like smoke upon leaving. It’s a great time to see them act normally, although an older teacher urged me to put on a jacket before I caught cold. (I did feel as though Mario’s mother were there in spirit.) It’s nice to have real conversations and get to know them on a more personal basis.

Check back soon for more in-depth discussion of my classes and the students (not specific ones) in them.