One year on, or, hell no I’m not coming back to England

Good news for all the astrology nerds (me) out there – Mercury is out of retrograde/Gatorade/whatever the hell has been happening for the past two/three weeks. Sometimes suggestion is more powerful than the thing itself and I swear if my dumb Mystic Meg ass hadn’t read an article about this, I wouldn’t have had such a dramatic few weeks.

This actual real scientific thing causes a bit of a wonky planet shift and means that all communication goes to shit. It’s especially bad if you are an Aries. The past couple of weeks I’ve had arguments with literally everything from friends to lampposts. I’ve broken countless cups. I’ve openly cried on public transport because of sad songs. I’ve caused accidental beef with a couple of really cool people for no other reason, other than I’ve been an argumentative bastard. It’s been eventful, to say the least.

Apparently Mercury in Gatorade is a good time to reflect on things and close off projects. It’s a time of renewal, and also a time of crying at cute cat videos. For me, it’s definitely been a time of reflection because it’s one year since I left the UK.

On this blog I’ve already rambled about my semi-snap decision to leave the UK, my struggle with adapting to a new culture and learning a new language, various mental breakdowns and relationship dramas, so this is really just a little post, not to re-hash old ground, but to say I DID IT, BITCHES. Also a post for anyone considering giving up the rat race and creeping off somewhere else – DO IT.

In one year of being semi-nomadic and eventually settling in an awesome city, I’ve had a lot of ridiculous experiences, but I can honestly say it’s been one of the best things I’ve ever done. Yes it was difficult. Yes there were times where I literally couldn’t function. Yes, I ate too many tapas and spent the better part of October wondering where my four extra chins came from. But I made it. And you can too.

To reflect this and to welcome normal alignment of planets again (hopefully), I’m taking a very slight change of direction with this blog. I’m still going to talk about travelling, but I’m going to focus more on a more settled view of expat life, namely in adopted home country. I’m still going to share posts detailing my other travels. I’m still going to be embarrassingly honest and overshare about things like mental health, relationships, my lack of skill as an educator, etc. I’m still going to call out the occasional fuckboy, let’s be real.

I’m also going to talk a bit more about my other passion (besides food) – music, and how I’m currently attempting to establish myself on the DJ scene here in Spain. So expect the next few posts to be a bit more eclectic than normal, but whatever, I don’t care, I’m not here to impress you.

So, despite this weird astrological period causing lots of tears, awkward arguments and general fuckery, it’s made one thing very clear: the mad decision I made just over a year ago was absolutely the right one. Hell no I’m not coming back to England. I’m gonna stick it out here for a bit. I’ll keep you all posted.

I reject your suggestion to grow up

*two years ago at a family party*

“I’m serious though,” said my grandmother, side-eyeing all four of her granddaughters at the same time, “One of you has to get married before I die”. Cue awkward silence while my younger sister and our cousins attempted to avoid eye contact with their respective partners.

I looked at my date for that particular family gathering, a wheel of cheese that would have fed a small town for a month. “NOT GOING TO BE ME THEN IS IT HAHAHAHA EVERYONE AMIRITE,” I practically screamed into the conversational abyss. A surprising amount of people looked like they were about to nod in agreement.

Cue awkward silence, broken most likely by my dad saying something hilarious. He always has my back.

*several months later at another family gathering – we like to party apparently*

“Moving abroad, eh?” said the old dude who was apparently a great uncle of some description. “Won’t that be tough on account of all the foreigners?”

I hadn’t even started teaching yet and I was about to school someone. Before I could open my mouth to educate and promptly disown him, he followed up with this absolute banger. “Well I suppose you’ll be alright if you’ve got a nice fella to look after you. Must be engaged by now, no?”

Unfortunately it wasn’t acceptable to say “Bitch WHAT” at this particular event (my other grandmother’s 90th birthday piss up) so instead I pretended I had forgotten how to speak English and wandered off to the gin.

*one year later*

My sister buys a house with her boyfriend. My friend buys a house with her fiancee. I buy another hat.

*now*

Peter Pan Syndrome has been rife amongst my generation for some time – thankfully I don’t mean wearing green spandex and hanging out with small boys. Because we’re living longer and, sadly, working for longer, we’ve got more time to enjoy our youth and extend it for as long as possible. This isn’t always viewed as a good thing, but as someone who has always been something of an overgrown child, I am fully in support of living in a state of perpetual adolescence.

It took me an extremely long time to realise that there wasn’t anything wrong with me – when I graduated university, I watched people who had once been the biggest wreckheads on campus getting engaged, moving in with their partners, buying houses, and I wondered aloud why I didn’t want that too. When I ended a four year relationship because I was scared of passing the aforementioned milestones, I panicked that I was abnormal. When I quit my job and became a semi-nomadic little creep, I worried that I was destined to be the oldest dude at the party. Sometimes I am, to be fair, but that’s ok.

The way I see it, we have a huge amount of time to be grown up and responsible. The rush to settle down that our ancestors were faced with is disappearing, or at least being pushed back several years, and I for one think that’s a great thing. We have the luxury now of having the time to discover ourselves, learn exactly who we are and experiment with that – and if we decide we don’t want to settle down in the traditional sense, we’re no longer social pariahs.

I am fast approaching my 28th birthday *vomits uncontrollably* and am single, have no children that I know of, and I own literally one piece of furniture. I consider myself successful but I am not a CEO of anything and I’m making a damn sight less money than I was when I was living the PR gal life in London. Despite the fact that I’ve grown up emotionally an awful lot since I was 21, not a gigantic amount else has changed. I still wear pyjamas as daytime wear. I still don’t really know how to work a washing machine. I became a DJ because I literally did not want the party to end. And I am ridiculously happy.

To be fair, I have excellent role models in my parents who, despite being married and owning a house and doing adult things, still know how to have fun. Like, A LOT of fun. When my mum was my age, when her friends were popping out kids like confetti cannons, she said ‘eff this’ (probably in a more polite manner) and moved to the States. And this was the ‘80s. My point is, my parents taught me to enjoy your youth for as long as possible and that there’s no specified time to do things. Take your time and enjoy being young and ridiculous and focusing on yourself, because once that time is gone, it’s gone.

As someone in my mid-late Twenties , I’m nowhere near doing the responsible thing. I’m not bashing people who are taking this path in life at all, but for me, it’s a long way off. I don’t want a boyfriend, I don’t want to get married, I have no interest in owning properly and the only kids I’m interested in are the ones I can give back to their parents at the end of class. I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready to settle down in the traditional sense, to be fair, and –  despite protestations from my grandma about impending weddings – I’ve made peace with that.

 

 

 

 

 

How to create an international entourage, even when you’re a bit of a dick

You know the feeling you get when you meet someone for the first time and instantly you know you’re going to be friends? The feeling that you’ve known this person for ages, the excitement when you think about all the awful decisions you’re going to make together?  When you’re a child, this happens pretty regularly, especially if you’re an over-friendly loudmouthed little lunatic like I was. Your standards are much lower, granted, but you’re not a grumpy old bastard yet and therefore you’re more open to conversing with anything that stands still for long enough.

The older you get, the more difficult it becomes, however. They say that most adults can count the people they consider true friends on the fingers of one hand. These guys sound like losers to me to be fair, but you get what I’m saying. When you leave school and start doing grown up things like paying taxes and eating ice cream out of bowls instead of the container (or the floor, sorry mum), creating a new circle can become more difficult.

This is especially true if you’re someone who travels or moves around a lot. I tend to accumulate friends easily (Lord knows why) that doesn’t mean it’s not difficult for anyone travelling or moving to a new city. So here are some not remotely expert tips for creating an international entourage of friends if you’re the travelling type, because free accommodation on your future trips is more precious than gold:

If you’re travelling for an extended period, get on the volunteer hype

I did this when I first moved to Spain, mainly because I didn’t want to leave the awesome hostel I was staying in. I cannot recommend this enough; it’s fun, it’s great for travelling on a budget and you meet literally hundreds of wonderful interesting people from all over the world. The best thing is that most of them only stick around for a few days, long enough to create a friendship but not long enough for them to notice how weird you are, so they’ll always think you’re cool

Say yes to everything

Except incest and folk dancing. Go to everything you’re invited to, even if you’re exhausted. My first month in Salamanca I played ultimate frisbee (which incidentally, I was shit at), went out for so many dinners I lost the ability to walk, went to endless language exchange events and played horrible drinking games at various botellons. I aged about ten years in those weeks but it was worth it.

Don’t just hang with other people from your respective homeland(s)

The phrase ‘going to a brothel for a hug’ springs to mind. What’s the point in travelling or living elsewhere if you’re going to spend all your time with Brits abroad and roll around in large groups asking for ketchup at every eating establishment? NOPE. Diversity is key, not just for the aforementioned free accommodation. Broaden your horizons, people.

Talk to anyone and everyone

Break through the shyness barrier and introduce yourself to anyone who looks vaguely normal. Doing this in Barcelona introduced me to some wonderful people from all over the world, many of whom who I’m still in contact with today. Doing it drunk in Croatia gained me a very cool American friend who I’m still mates with two years later. I did it on a bus in Salamanca with carrot sticks (during my first week of attempted veganism) and met a group of excellent Irish people without whom my experience here wouldn’t have been half as good. Trust me, as stupid as you might feel approaching complete strangers, you’ll feel more stupid if you miss out on meeting some amazing people.

Get jiggy with someone local (OPTIONAL)

About a week after I split up with my most recent boyfriend, one of my housemates suggested I get myself what roughly translates to a ‘bed dictionary’. I’m not here to give y’all relationship advice but, you know, it might help you pick up more of the language wherever you are.

Be a good friend once you have established international entourage

Always do what you say you’re going to do. Show up to things you’ve committed to, be a good friend and keep feeding these friendships. Again, FREE ACCOMMODATION. But also yay, friendship.

Don’t change yourself (NOT OPTIONAL)

DON’T BE A TERRIBLE GAP YAH PERSON. Just be yourself and someone will probably be cool with you, even if you’re a bit of a dick.

Parties in Spain make parties in the UK look like a bloody Downton Abbey tea party

When I was growing up in the hood of East England *cough cough COUGH* it wasn’t easy to get on it on a regular basis. Mostly because everyone knew my parents so I couldn’t sneak into clubs without being recognised (thanks again, local celebrities). Before the people in my school with more apathetic parents started throwing Skins-esque house parties, wild nights out usually involved a bottle of White Lightning and a park bench.

It wasn’t until university that I was able to go completely nuts (which explains a lot for anyone who went to uni with me, shout outs) and even though I spent a large portion of my life in central and east London, various issues meant that nightlife in general there has been on the decline in recent years. Carnival, New Year’s and bank holidays aside, I feel we’re becoming a more chilled nation when it comes to celebrating life in general.

NOT HERE MATE. Last weekend, I experienced my first Spanish carnaval. Taking place all over Spain pre-Lent, it’s a slightly mental and absolutely brilliant mixture of parades, fancy dress, excessive drinking and general happiness, traditionally a giant all-out party before everyone got involved with Lent and gave up chocolate or swearing or whatever.

I was in Ciudad Rodrigo, a small city about one hour from Salamanca, where I currently live. Everything kicked off fairly early in the morning, starting off with the running of the bulls through the main square, continuing with a fairly monumental fancy dress parade through the city and culminating with me passing out upside down on my bed somewhere around 8am. It was NUTS. My friend went to the celebrations in Cadiz and honestly I’m not sure if she’s still alive.

Here’s a few pics (taken badly because I was hanging out with my good friend Don Simon at the time). Overly-descriptive captions above each photo:

Before the madness. Ciudad Rodrigo is usually pretty chill, located in the Castilla y Leon region about 80km from Salamanca. Check the weather tooCity

Lone shot of a cheeky astronaut (one of our party) on an expedition. We went for an aliens/space theme because there was no particular theme and when else do we get to wear blue glitter on a daily basis

More fancy dress

Running of the bulls in the main square. As you can see, I could see virtually nothing but wanted to show just how important this tradition still is despite the general beef (no pun intended) surrounding the treatment of the animals. I’m not entirely comfortable with it but it was something I wanted to experience and I’m glad it did (although to be fair one of the bulls was only jogging)

Bulls

Couple of shots of the fancy dress parade. This was ENORMOUS and incorporated every possible theme you can imagine – superheroes, Vikings, traditional Spanish dress, there was even a family dressed as churros, which was honestly the best thing I’ve seen in 2018.

A worrying amount of people seemed to have forgotten that cultural appropriation is a thing – you wouldn’t believe how many people I saw in blackface which was a little confusing, not to mention upsetting. It seems like here it’s less of an issue to imitate another culture (I saw people dressed as Mexicans too) and I wasn’t sure how to take that, being incredibly white and all, but still…

(Special shout out to the dictator costumes though, they were incredible)

Parade 5Parade 4Parade 3Parade 2

Only vaguely appropriate photo of the author in alien costume, hanging with John Cena (because she’s in camo…you can’t see her…GEDDIT) from a party in a tent which lasted for five hours and know I know all the words to every reggaeton track ever

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Aliens again (photo credit my fellow alien)

Aliens.png

 

This isn’t the only time I’ve been surprised/impressed by the level of dedication to partying in Spain. Nights out here start at midnight and end when it’s time for (late) breakfast. Religious holidays and celebrations are taken seriously – all the shops shut, everyone gets involved and if you think you’re going home before the sun comes up you are sadly mistaken. All of this combined demonstrates a geniune lust for life that we could learn a lot from in the UK.

Also, fancy dress is good. Do it more.

 

 

 

 

Some stuff I have allegedly learned since I staged my own personal Brexit

I was putting my life in order the other day and I realised it’s been one year since I made the decision to leave the UK. It happened about twenty minutes after I arrived back from a trip to Barcelona – the first ever trip I took completely solo. I remember being back in London, sitting in the middle of Lincoln’s Inn Fields on my lunch break, getting unnecessarily tearful over a One Republic playlist (joking aside, Native remains one of my top twenty albums).

Eff this, I thought. I’m leaving, and I don’t know where I’m going to go.

That was my turning point, and since then, a lot of crazy stuff has happened, but I don’t regret it for a minute. This entire post exists because I’m coming off about three days of hangover/lack of sleep, but this is meant to be a deep, existential look at all the important life lessons I have acquired during my time travelling and living/working abroad. Or something like that.

Anyway, here’s some things which may or may not be useful to anyone:

Being by yourself actually isn’t terrible
I’ve always been one of those people who hates being on their own. Back in the UK I was constantly surrounded by people and on the rare day or evening where I found myself without plans, I would descend into a pit of existential despair, usually with chocolate.

Ditching your familiar surroundings to creep around the world means you’ll be by yourself a lot. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you live in a society based on constant connectivity. It will be difficult – you force yourself out of your comfort zone to make friends, speak in a new language, to do anything. But it’s so worth it in the end because not only do you become a master of self-sufficiency, you also end up liking yourself a whole lot more in general. Which is never a bad thing.

I never had it that bad before

I basically never had problems back in the UK. Worrying about being ten minutes late for work because my bike had fallen apart, occasionally misplacing my keys, wondering which type of gin to buy, etc. Having to navigate literally everything in a foreign language, getting horribly lost, strict budgets, having to leave my fantastic group of friends and going through a breakup, all at the same time, means I will literally never complain about anything again. Maybe.

Things are a lot more intense

See above point. Getting lost in a supermarket or accidentally buying something non-vegan (VEGAN HUMBLEBRAG IM SO HEALTHY) is so much more of an emotional experience. It gets easier, of course.

Things are also a lot more ridiculous

So many stupid things have happened to me in the last few months, probably more than happened in total during my time at university. I won’t disclose everything on here (some things even an oversharing Millennial should keep a mystery) but I did accidentally co-found a possible cult where everyone a got matching tattoos (six people and counting y’all). Personal highlight.

Fuckboys are the same in every language

Literally. I can now understand ‘U up?’ in about seven languages. Initially, the dating pool in a new country is exciting because it’s different, but don’t be fooled by the sexy accents. BE STRONG MY FRIENDS.

Genuine, wonderful people are everywhere

When people travel, sometimes they adopt weird white rasta dreads, take up the bongos and talk overly loudly about how the tourist trail in Southern India is SOOO MAINSTREAM YAH. These people are terrible. More often than not, however, people actually become better, more genuine versions of themselves and you make some truly wonderful friends.

When I was living and working in Barcelona, I was dropped into the middle of an apartment with about 12 other people, none of whom I had ever met before. Literally every single one of them was excellent and even though we came from comically different backgrounds, we became super close in a short space of time. Because everyone was just themselves. This whole experience restored my faith in humanity and also means I have lots of free places to stay when I’m travelling out of Spain (thanks mates!)

I’m a surprisingly good rapper

Unrelated but since moving to Salamanca I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot more musical activity, my favourite thing in the world. This has included numerous rap battles. I’m actually quite good.

 

In closing, I think what I’m trying to say is, if you’re thinking about it, even just a little bit, DO IT. This has been the most ridiculous, traumatic, confusing, stressful, but also happiest time of my life. GET ON IT

 

 

 

Becoming a Spanish resident, or, what the eff just happened seriously I don’t know

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, you’ll know that travelling from the UK has become a little more difficult. This is due in part to the monstrous mistake that is Brexit, also to the increase in terror attacks happening worldwide. It’s not just the UK of course, the whole world is feeling the strain, but I can only speak from a British perspective. Thanks to Freedom of Movement continuing for Brits for at least another year, it was thankfully easy for me (although much more expensive), to get to Spain. Getting legal, however, was an entirely different story.

This is the first time I’ve been an immigrant. I don’t have any relation to the migrant experience, bar when my grandfather’s family made the perilously long trek from Scotland to the East of England. The closest I came before this was some vaguely stern questioning when I arrived in Morocco. I had no idea how long, arduous and moderately hilarious becoming a legal resident of a new country could be. And so, with complete ignorance, I set off with my colleague at the English school, a fellow Brit, on a perilous journey to gain my NIE.

I compare my journey to becoming a Spanish resident to the quest undertaken by Frodo Baggins in Lord of the Rings, only with less hobbits. It was RIDICULOUS. I can only imagine how complicated the process is in the UK, but in Spain it’s an absolute nightmare. My journey was as follows:

Part One: In which my colleague and I got up very early, arrived at the Oficina de Extranjeria with various piles of paper and identification, only to be told that we couldn’t register because we weren’t registered in the town yet.

Part Two: In which we journey to the local town hall to get registered. After a painful ten minute conversation in extremely bad Spanish, a few panicked phone calls to another colleague for translation purposes and a long and arduous search for a pen, we get registered.

Part Three: In which we make the long trek back to our place of work to make multiple photocopies because the guy at the town hall took all of ours.

Part Four: In which we go back to our first destination and register for our NIE numbers. I engage in a very slow conversation with a member of staff, get laughed at a couple of times and eventually am presented with my number, another pile of papers, plus instructions to come back in a couple of weeks to get the actual card.

Part Five: In which I have to go to the bank and pay 3.74 exactly for the privilege of having a form filled in, the purpose of which I cannot remember.

Part Six: In which I take my bank form to the Ministry of Justice for a criminal record check. Due to the accidental hiring of a paedophile in a nearby town last year, anyone working with children must have a form to prove they’re not a sexual deviant.

Part Seven: In which I journey back to the first office (again) to get a form to get my card. I have to make an appointment to come back another day and pay ten Euros for the privilege.

Part Eight: In which I cry for ten minutes because I don’t know what’s going on.

 

After about four weeks of this ridiculous activity, I am now a legal Spanish resident. I hope it ends up being worth the bother…

The crippling embarrassment and comical ridiculousness of learning a new language

When I lived in Barcelona, most people spoke better English than I did. No joke, Most cosmopolitan cities in the world boast a plethora of languages, with the Queen’s native tongue being fairly high on the list, but this was ridiculous.

I spoke English all day, every day, and despite attempts when out and about, plus the advantage of a Spanish-speaking boyfriend and several Spanish-speaking friends, we all kind of got stuck in English. The hostel we worked at took mostly guests from North America, Australia or the UK, and those who weren’t from those particular reasons still spoke excellent English. My colleagues were a mixture of Europe, the US and South America (with Spain, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay represented respectively), but even for them it made more sense to continue in English. Locals, sensing my trepidation when I tried to order groceries, kindly switched to English (partly because they would have had to wait an additional twenty minutes for me to respond to them).

It was a nice introduction to my new country of residence, in a way, however now I’m living in a much smaller city, I’m wishing we’d all made a bit more effort as I’m getting to grips with the difficulty and general hilarity of learning a new language.

Salamanca has many English speakers – students from overseas, young people, a few expats here and there, however it’s not uncommon to come across someone in their twenties or thirties who doesn’t speak English. Even those who do will continue in Spanish in shops and restaurants, and why shouldn’t they? This is Spain after all. I’m happy that my new city is pushing me to learn Spanish, but it’s bloody hard work.

This is the first time I’ve really worked to learn another language. Most of my English friends are monolingual – unless we had a strong aptitude for a language or had family to keep up with, we were never encouraged to continue much past GCSE. I have a decent level of French but I’m nowhere near fluent, and although I have a handful of useful phrases in German and Italian, I can’t claim proficiency in either of those language (apologies here to my Italian auntie). The older you are, the harder it is, not just because of the human brain’s capacity to retain information, but also because of the additional shame that comes with messing up. And boy do I mess up. My understanding of Spanish is decent and I can write reasonably well (albeit with some dictionary-based guesswork). My spoken Spanish, however, is still comically slow and full of errors.

Here’s a typical conversation in my house (translated into English to show you how difficult this language lark is):

My flatmate: ‘What’s for dinner? Smells great!’
Me: ‘Dicks (pollas). Um no, wait, I mean chicken (pollo)’
My flatmate: *dissolves into laughter for the next ten minutes*

Here’s another typical conversation:

Friend: ‘We were just saying that normally, A has a beard, but he’s gotten rid of it!’
Me: ‘Ah that’s a shame. I am beard. My dad is a beard. My boyfriend is a beard’.
Friends: *tumbleweed*
Me: ‘I mean, I like beards’.

See what I mean? As a child, I would have found the above hilarious. As an adult, I still do, although I feel a huge sense of shame and embarrassment at not yet being able to form sentences. I feel bad for new acquaintances who have to speak to me extremely slowly, as if I’m recovering from a severe concussion.

I sometimes worry I’ll never get it right. I want more than anything to speak Spanish fluently, to be able to think and dream in Spanish, to speak to my boyfriend’s family in their native language. I don’t want to be the one everyone has to translate for, the one everyone has a little bit less respect for because they didn’t make the effort. It’s sheer determination right now that is spurring me to keep going, to keep trying. I will, for comical effect, be making a documentation of all my errors, because when I get really good I can look back on them and laugh. A lot.