Saturday, December 22, 2012

Comparing Winter Holidays

In the U.S. every family has slightly different ways of celebrating Christmas and New Years, but only slightly different.  However, in general, we all share the general idea of how the holidays should be: snow (for most of us), lots of family time, gingerbread houses, a big special meal on Christmas eve and day, opening presents on Christmas morning, Christmas cookies, Christmas tree with family ornaments, Christmas movies, Christmas carols, and maybe a kiss on New Years Eve at midnight.  Here in Spain, their customs are quite different.  I'll start with Christmas.

Spanish Style Waffle!
First of all, the holiday spirit is not quite as abundant here as it is in the U.S.  Sure, there are some lights and holiday decorations, but nothing on the scale of what I'm used to in the U.S.  The biggest changes I've seen in Almería include a giant Christmas tree on the ramblas, Christmas lights lining the main shopping street in the city, and setting up the temporary Christmas market.  The Christmas market is like any average Spanish mercadillo that sells scarves, jewelry, hand crafts, t-shirts, etc.  Also, the Spanish market has quite a few waffle and crepe stands set up for a holiday treat.  Spanish waffles are similar to ours, minus the toppings.  Instead of butter and syrup, they add chocolate, whipped cream, marmalade, etc.  Not exactly what I think of when I think of Christmas treats.  Also, they set up a small ice rink on the ramblas which I found very impressive considering it's still in the 60s here most days.  Moving on to how they celebrate Christmas Eve (noche buena) and Christmas day (navidad).  Families usually gather for these holidays, go to Christmas mass if they're religious and just eat and have a good time.  However, no presents are involved in celebrating Christmas.  Spanish people exchange presents on "Reyes" which is Three Kings Day on the 6th on January.  Although this may seem strange, it makes a lot more sense.  According to the Biblical story, presents didn't occur in the story until the kings arrived many days after Jesus' birth.  So, this is the day the Spaniards choose to celebrate with presents.  When kids are little in Spain, they write to the three kings instead of Santa Claus for their presents.  In addition, "Reyes" is celebrated with parades, family, etc. and is considered a much bigger deal than Christmas around here.  Back tracking to another thing about Christmas Eve, apparently for young adults it's one of the biggest party nights of the year.  After dinner, all of the youngsters go out to the clubs for dancing and drinking!  I don't even think clubs are open on Christmas Eve in the U.S., so this is a strange concept for me.  Something else I learned is that the concept of a Christmas tree is very American/English.  Only in the past 20-30 years have Spaniards begun to decorate their houses with a Christmas tree.  Additionally, the majority of their ornaments are store-bought.  The idea of decorating a tree with handmade or family ornaments is a completely foreign concept.  Instead of Christmas trees, you will be much more likely to find a nativity scene in a Spaniard's house during the holidays. Finally, I found it strange that most Spaniards have never heard of gingerbread men, gingerbread houses, Christmas cookies and other American Christmas norms.  Just a few more cultural differences to add to the list.

The delicious paella we made :)
New Years Eve is generally celebrated with family here in Spain.  Also, when I mentioned the tradition of a New Years Eve kiss to my students, they thought I was crazy.  Their New Years Eve tradition is eating twelve grapes right before midnight, one to represent each month of the year.  Additionally, for women it is a tradition to buy a new pair of red underwear and wear it on New Years Eve.  My friend, Amanda (who I will be traveling with), and I thought this was kind of funny so we bought some to wear this year.

 Some of my personal highlights of the past week included getting together with some friends here and making a holiday meal, paella. Also, my students performed the Christmas Carols we've been working on the past couple of weeks at the holiday celebration on Friday.

Celebrating the holidays in another country really opens your mind to other cultural customs.  However, I wonder what it's like to be in a country that is not dominated by Christianity, like my friends who are currently volunteering in India, Cambodia, Tanzania, and Samoa.  Maybe I'll find out one day, but until then "Feliz navidad y año nuevo" to all of my friends and family :)  Now, I'm off on my own holiday adventure to Milan, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia.  Can't wait!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

English is More Complicated Than I Thought

It's not until you teach English that you realize how complicated it really is!  In addition to my 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade classes, I am tutoring students from ages 2-40 in English.  I know this is said a lot, but I'm honestly learning just as much from them as they are from me!  First of all, my students and I hit mini language barriers on a regular basis, which usually results in us looking up a certain word or phrase in Spanish or English.  The result?  I'm expanding my Spanish vocabulary through our confusion!  In addition to that, I am constantly challenged to recall English grammar rules that I either learned long ago or learned innately through speaking it as my first language.  If you are having trouble understanding what I am trying to explain, here are some of examples of extremely challenging parts English language you may have never though of as difficult.

-The word "get" is a simple word we use on a regular basis, but what does it really mean?  Well, according to, it has 25 different definitions!  In the following phrases, get means something different in every sentence: "Can you get me that glass?" "I've got to go" "Get dressed" "Get up" "I use my bike to get around" "I need to get my hair cut" "Sorry, I didn't get your name" "Get after it."  I could keep going, but you get the idea (no pun intended).

-One of my older students asked me what the verb "scoop" meant the other day, and I was stumped.  The first example that came to my mind was scooping ice cream.  But then I thought, you can also "scoop" someone up into your arms, but how is that any different than just picking someone up?  So the only way I could think to describe it was picking up in a circular motion.

-We all know that the pronunciation of a word can change its meaning, but how confusing is it when where you put the stress on two identical words changes it from a verb to a noun.  For example:  construct vs construct, and direct vs direct just to name a few.

-Riddle me this, why in English if you say, "I'm up for that" or "I'm down for that" does it mean the same thing?  Shouldn't it be opposite

-One of the hardest things I've encountered is when you come across a word or a phrase that literally doesn't exist in English.  I have two examples.  The verb "to lean" doesn't exist in Spanish; if you're leaning against something, they would say that object is supporting you and if you're just leaning in the air they would call that stretching.  The second example is the saying "let alone."  Sometimes we say something like, I haven't even showered, let alone get out of bed; however, there is no equivalent in Spanish.  You can imagine how difficult this makes teaching these words and phrases

Well I would keep listing examples all day but I'd be here all night!  Instead, I will leave you with my favorite "English Pronunciation" poem.  As you read it, think about how similar spellings can be pronounced so many different ways!  You'll be thankful English is your first language

"I take it you already know 
Of tough and bough and cough and dough? 
Others may stumble, but not you 
On hiccough, thorough, slough, and through. 
Well don't! And now you wish, perhaps, 
To learn of less familiar traps. 
Beware of heard, a dreadful word 
That looks like beard but sounds like bird. 
And dead: it's said like bed, not bead, 
For goodness sake don't call it deed! 
Watch out for meat and great and threat 
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt). 
A moth is not a moth as in mother 
Nor both as in bother, nor broth as in brother, 
And here is not a match for there, 
Nor dear and fear, for bear and pear. 
And then there's dose and rose and lose-- 
Just look them up--and goose and choose 
And cork and work and card and ward 
And font and front and word and sword 
And do and go, then thwart and cart, 
Come, come! I've hardly made a start. 
A dreadful Language? Why man alive! 
I learned to talk it when I was five. 
And yet to write it, the more I tried, 
I hadn't learned it at fifty-five."