Monday, December 29, 2008

Amy Cathleen

In Spain people don’t really have two first names unless you are actually supposed to use them. Most of those compound names end up becoming one shortened name, like María Jesus becomes Mariaje and Juan Manuel becomes Juanma and José María becomes Chema (don’t ask me about that one…) Regardless, the entire name is still there, at least in spirit. The American custom of giving someone two names only for one of those names to be dropped in actual usage, and frequently a cause for embarrassment among friends as a teenager, is definitely a foreign concept here in Spain.

I suppose it’s not unlike the American inability (at least on official things like immigration documents, car insurance, and company emails) to understand that some people from foreign countries have two last names. You can only imagine the headaches we got trying to explain to the people issuing said documentation that, “Yes, Nacho has two last names, and, yes, just to make matters worse, the first one is made up of two words.” Complicated, I know.

Anyway, back to the impetus for my writing. All of my official Spanish documentation includes my entire name. And I love it. Perhaps my family is strange, but for us the use of first AND middle names was a sign of affection, not of impending punishment. So now when a receptionist calls my name or the bank people call our house and ask for “Amy Cathleen” I am tickled pink.

I’m easy to please. I know.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Random thoughts

Last night in that haze right before I fell asleep, a memory from my childhood popped into my head. I cannot recall why it popped in there (I am mildly obsessed with following trains of thought back to the beginning when someone says, “How did we start talking about THAT??”) but there it was none-the-less. At first it made me happy. It was a good memory. But then it made me kinda sad in that way that so many of a Child of the 80s’ memories make her sad as we approach 2010: “Do kids still do that nowadays? It’s probably all online or something…” What on earth am I talking about?

Let’s see if you can figure it out… This is the picture in my head: rows of bookshelves topped with yellowish cardboard pages standing upright in little stands. On the cardboard pages are rows of children’s names, to the right of which are little circular stickers. Some kids have 2. Some have 20.


If you haven’t already figured it out (which is entirely likely since I am not even sure if this was a national thing and if it was it probably wasn’t done the exact same way in every town) I’ll tell you. I’m talking about the summer reading club at the local library. You know, the reading clubs where you’d try and meet the summer-long goal of reading 100 books and along the way you’d earn prizes at each milestone. With two English teachers for parents, reading has always been a big thing in our family. And that summer reading club at the Daniel Boone branch of the St. Louis Public Library System was an institution in our house. As much a part of our summer vacations as playing ghosts in the graveyards and catching fireflies.

I can remember the details of the club like I finished my 100th book yesterday. Each year my sister and I would sign up at the start of summer vacation. As we read our books we would fill out the pertinent info on little cards with space for 5 books. The filled cards were then turned it in at the library in exchange for a little circular sicker which we’d then get to stick next to our names on the list. Like I said, there were prizes too, erasers and pencils, posters and maybe a backpack for the 100th book, but I think the best part was watching the row of stickers grow. The best times were when we’d get back from a trip away with multiple cards to turn in and the 2 or 3 new stickers would push us past our neighbors.

That’s the part that makes me sad. I wonder if the club is still run like that – in such a non-technologically advanced way. Un-alphabetized lists of names, hand written in black felt marker with little stickers marking the steps towards the finish. I imagine it somehow now being all online. Kids can sign up and record their books on the internet. Download their prizes of a gift certificate to borders or If that’s the case then I will at least praise the library for changing with the times and continuing to encourage reading among children. I hope, however, that things are still run with at least some semblance of the “olden days.” I chose to be optimistic that this is the case. After all, for the time being at least, the library, by default, is a place which must be visited to be enjoyed. So if the kids have to visit to pick up their new books, perhaps they can also still affix their stickers to the list of names.

(I realize this post has little to do with the purpose of this blog, but it’s MY blog, so I can write what I want, right? But for any purists out there I will ask the question, Does anything like this exist in Spain?)

I also realize the underlying nerdiness of this post. But I happen to love books and book clubs and all that. And I love libraries. And I loved the bookmobile days in elementary school. And I was mad at the Simpson’s episode where Bart blew one up!!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Pants Down

Nacho and I typically watch the evening news as we have dinner. Last night I wasn’t paying all that much attention to the current story. Something about politics with video of the big guys arguing in the senate or the congress, or whatever it’s called. Regardless I was already bored with it. Then I heard the leader of the opposition, Mariano Rajoy, say, “Ha habido una descomunal bajada de pantalones para aprobar los Presupuestos.”

For you non-Spanish speakers, more or less what he had said was that President Zapatero had “lowered his pants” in order to get the approval of the proposed budgets. Perhaps now you see why my virginal ears, pun intended, perked up. (Yes, this expression implies exactly what you think it might be implying but at the same time are certain it couldn’t possibly be implying. After all it was shown on TV and no one was upset...) Granted, this is not necessarily an uncommon phrase in normal conversation. And with the way gruff old Spanish engineers talk, I wouldn’t be all that surprised to hear it in my daily work exchanges. Although I do think that even the gruffest old engineer would think twice before using it in a young woman’s presence at the office. But is it really appropriate lingo for such a high-ranking politician to use when addressing the Congress and the Prime Minister?

Admittedly, I might be more sensitive to these things because, although I long ago crossed into the “fluent” category with my Spanish, certain expressions still catch me off guard. Because they are not innately a part of my vocabulary, I usually end up delving a tad too deeply into their “true” meanings. A Spaniard probably hears this line and simply understands Rajoy’s message. I, on the other hand, am having an impossible time getting the image out of my head.


P.S. The politics behind all of this are more or less irrelevant to this post but if you are interested… basically the report is that ZP has agreed to certain concessions to PNV, the Basque political party, in exchange for their votes in favor of the budget proposals. Rajoy believes this goes against what is “best for the Spanish people.”

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Felices Fiestas

My office is empty. It’s been like this all week. Apparently, this year, the Christmas holidays started last weekend.

My bosses and many of my coworkers are already on vacation. It was a smart move on their parts. This year, with the way the holidays fall, to get off from December 20 to January 7, one need take just 6 work days. 6 days. To get a full 18 glorious days of vacation. Who wouldn’t take advantage of such a gift from the calendar gods? Of course, stringing together the days off would have been a natural step for people to take in any corner of the world. 18 days. Seems like a lot, right? Hardly. Here in Spain (or at least here at my company) where you get 26 paid vacation days and where the national tradition is to take a month-long vacation at least once a year… most people also took this week off (bringing their grand total of days off work in a row to 25). And so the office is empty. The cafeteria is empty. Heck, the METRO in the morning is even empty. Las fiestas have arrived.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Today I started my third job in Spain. Well, my third professional, legally-paying job.

Up to this point, both in the States and here in Spain, I have always worked in small companies – the biggest being back in the States with around 30 people. For some reason I thought that my new employer, a giant, multinational, sector-leading , 36,000-employee company would be more “American.” The idea of long coffee breaks and perpetual tardiness seemed out of place in the mental picture I had of the shirt-and-tie corporate environment, even here on the Iberian Peninsula. I was wrong.

This morning I waited about 30 minutes for my HR “greeter” to appear. And when I was shown to my desk around 10:30 the office was empty – everyone was out getting coffee. Later at lunch my coworkers complained that yesterday morning the boss had asked them not to take coffee breaks in twelvesomes. Only in Spain.

But not everyone has adopted the “when in Rome” attitude. My bosses told me this morning that they hired me in part out of a particular interest in the “Yankee” mentality of organization and discipline. I, on the other hand, am beginning to think that the corporate environment in Spain has a leg up on its American counterpart. Granted I am talking from the perspective of a lowly worker bee. Certainly the lack of productivity caused by lateness and long coffee breaks is irksome to the higher-ups. And, admittedly, I find the tardiness extremely annoying, but the coffee breaks certainly aren’t bad. And from where I sit, looking at the four new skyscrapers of the Ciudad Deportivo out the window, the 26 paid vacation days, shortened summer work schedule, and paid lunches makes me more than happy to twiddle my thumbs as I wait for a meeting to start 20 minutes late.