Diary

Record-breaking and wrong-doing

I seem to be surviving here in France, in fact its coming up to a month now so I thought I’d do a little update on my progress as an inept intern in a luxury boutique.

We established fairly early on that I was lacking in retail knowledge, specifically of the men’s-formal-wear-in-French variety, however, you’ll be pleased to hear that things have improved. Due to a collection of fortunate events I have inadvertently broken the store’s sales record, with a huge transaction last Tuesday morning (unfortunately I do not work on commission).

Basically a nice man from Kazakstan came in looking about as clueless and out of place as me. I was manning the shop floor alone so unfortunately he had no choice but to seek my ‘expertise’ in his shopping mission. I helped him find a nicely-fitted suit, he then went on to by the suit in another colour and found a winter coat to go with it. Four shirts and an overpriced pair of socks later and he’d wracked up 1650 euros! The nice part was that this customer wanted my opinion on every single item, he didn’t speak French so we communicated in a mixture of English and hand gestures, I nodded a lot and gave big thumbs up to express ‘wow that looks great!’ and it seemed to work. Anyway I was alone in the shop at the time and my boss was super-impressed upon his return to find me scanning through all these big items.

Unfortunately, I then rained on my own parade by making a huge numerical blunder on the till and overcharging the man by €200, however we soon sorted this out and he left the store about as patient and smiley as he entered – just with a few more bags. So maybe a career in retail could be promising! Except I don’t really like folding, or rude customers, or standing up all day….

And actually, as this little example shows, I still make plenty of mistakes. In fact I do multiple things wrong every single day. Despite breaking the sales record I am bottom of the league for the number of customer details I’ve taken (and I don’t mean chatting up the French men by asking for their numbers, although incidentally I’m terrible at that too). I’m supposed to ask each customer for their details when they make a purchase, in order to send them an electronic receipt, add them to the mailing list and all that. I hate asking as most people don’t like to give out that kind of information and I feel pushy. However last week 81% of my transactions were without customer details and apparently this is bad. I like to think I just respect people’s privacy more than the rest of the team, tant pis.

I also feel bad encouraging people spend money. Every person who enters the shop is obviously a sales opportunity and I’m told to try harder to encourage purchasing, but I find it hard to do this. Plus I’m secretly happy when people don’t buy things because it frees me of the pressure of operating the till and making an inevitable faux-pas (please don’t tell my boss).

Anyway, hopefully next month will be filled with fewer mistakes, especially as I can’t play the ‘sorry I’m new!’ card for much longer. I have a much-needed weekend off now so I’m going to explore more of Paris and catch up on sleep, à bientot!

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Back to France!

Remember that impromptu telephone interview I had whilst half way up a mountain in Spain? Well, I got the job and, after a lovely few weeks in England, I hopped on the Eurostar and I started work in my new temporary home – Paris!

I’ll be working as a sales intern for just over two months. The internship is at a men’s clothing retailer which specialises in workwear, bringing the ‘English Gentleman’ style to France. It’s a British company with a Parisien store and I’m the sole British ambassador so my colleagues seem excited to have me here.

My first day went about as smoothly as I could have hoped. I had to learn many new skills, such as how to take mens’ measurements in order to advise them on the correct size shirt. This is an intimate and difficult experience which I am frankly TERRIBLE at. I have told many customers a particular shirt size based on my measurements and more often than not the shirt they then tried on was either comically big or embarrassingly small. I have the excuse that i’m learning on the job though and the fact that my previous retail experience involved potted plants and garden furniture.

The store is located in a luxury shopping village in which the footfall is primarily very, very wealthy people, fortunately almost everybody so far has been patient and friendly to me despite my incompetence. I also get to wander around during my break and lust after designer clothes that I’ll never be able to afford based on my intern’s salary!

Whilst I’m here i’m paying ridiculous amounts to lodge in a very pleasant family home. I have a beautiful bedroom however the etiquette of the lodging situation is taking some getting used to; I don’t quite know how sociable to be, whether to eat with the family or not, whether I need to label my food – there are many unanswered questions. Also I keep speaking Spanish…

Anyway this is the third and final part of my year abroad! You’d think I’d have it all figured out by now but you’d be wrong.. So i’ll continue to record my mishaps here – à bientôt! 

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The Spanish summer has begun

photoExtremadura is known for it’s extreme temperatures (as the name suggests) and I am finally appreciating why. We are currently experiencing spell of extreme heat and its almost unbearable. It was 40 degrees today, it is also May. The locals are wearing shorts and all conversations begin with ¡Qué calor!, so you know it’s pretty serious. I checked the weather and it’s currently hotter than Morocco, Greece and Uganda. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the school classrooms were hotter than the Earth’s core.

The main problem is that it’s very dry and desert-like here; there’s no nearby beach, no lake and very few trees around the town. Unfortunately I walk to my students’ houses for private classes at around 3.30pm each day and I’m fairly sure I’m the only human braving the sunlight at this scorching hour. Everyone else is sensibly en casa with the shutters down. I actually have to apply sun cream for my ten-minute walk down the road, I also have to arrive an extra two minutes early to allow for cooling-off period during which I lurk outside the students’ house for necessary brow-mopping and water-guzzling.

I’ll try to find some silver linings to avoid sounding too whiny and spoiled: I’m lucky to be getting a healthy glow, I am grateful that this town is not at all hilly and I am pleased to have quite a decent deodorant.

But madre mía, any increase in temperature and I’ll have to be forcibly removed from the town fountain. Seriously.

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Thoughts about May

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I can’t believe its May already. I couldn’t believe it was March, or April and then suddenly here we are. May is my final month in Spain and it’s also the month I turn 21 so it’s simultaneously sad, exciting and strange.

This weekend I popped to Seville to see the Alcazar, a place I hadn’t visited but knew I needed to see before I left Spain. It was really, really beautiful, with sprawling gardens, fountains and courtyards. They use it as a location for the Game of Thrones TV series and you can definitely see why, it’s a magical setting and quite incredible that it all sits within a big city centre.

Unbelievably it was 40 degrees in Seville the day I visited. 40 degrees on the first of May, blimey. It was around 30 degrees on the first of November if I remember rightly, so I’ve probably had one of the shortest winters ever. I am now appreciating the perks of a Spanish apartment too. The white tiled floors may have been icy in winter but they now cool my feet all day long and it’s fabulous. Gone are the January days of me cursing the drafty windows and echoing rooms, mi piso was built for the summer and I now realise how great this is.

So, my final month in Spain will consist of a trip to Córdoba to see the famous los patios festival, a weekend in Granada – where I will celebrate my birthday in the beautiful Alhambra, then two final weekends of parties and goodbyes. I will be making the absolute most of the hot weather too because a British summer can’t always be relied upon.

**I’ll also be negotiating the cancellation of my wifi and phone contract, closure of my bank account, deep cleaning the apartment and packing my belongings into suitcases. I’ll then be lugging the contents of the past 8 months onto various modes of public transport before inevitably collapsing in a heap of emotion and exhaustion at Heathrow arrivals. But we won’t dwell on this.**

Time to enjoy the rest of the month!

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Half way

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It’s incredible to say that I’ve passed the halfway point of both my time in Spain and my year abroad as a whole. All in all, although of some individual days and weeks do drag (lessons with 15 year olds often feel like lifetimes of pain), it has gone really quickly. Over the past few months I’ve established myself as a private English tutor, I’ve become familiar with plumbing vocabulary and I’ve finally adapted to Spanish mealtimes. I have built solid friendships with the eight other language assistants here and I’ve made plenty of Spanish friends too. Bizarrely, one of my closest Spanish connections is a seventeen year-old student with whom I’ve bonded over a shared interest in Harry Potter and One Direction. My other closest connections are fellow teachers (mostly middle-aged) and my language-exchange partner Maria (aged 35), with whom I enjoy weekly cups of tea and life discussions. It seems that I have bypassed integration with people of my actual age and so the whole Spanish party lifestyle has alluded me so far. I’m very happy though and I always feel like my head is simultaneously younger and older than my 20 years anyway. Having said that, just last week I made a new friend – a 22 year old local girl called Ana, she invited me out with her friends and we were chatting in a smokey bar until 2.30am. Perhaps my granny lifestyle may be set to change after all!

In September I was really terrified to come here and the whole first term flew by in a blur of settling in and mild panic. I got through any moments of sadness with the thought of Christmas and my impending flight home. Luckily, since returning in January everything has seemed much more familiar and relaxing. I’m now witnessing lighter evenings, easier conversations and I’m enjoying everything a whole lot more. I’ve got through January and I’ve started planning trips for the remainder of my time here, I’m off to Madrid next weekend, Morocco the week after – it’s all going far too quickly.

Now though, for memory and comedy’s sake, let’s reflect on my lowest moments:

  1. Tripping over and falling flat on my face in front of a group of students whilst on an afternoon jog. Knee severely grazed and pride dented.
  2. The power cut in out apartment on cold November morning, which lead to icy showers and a day without internet (tragic).
  3. Getting stranded on a broken down bus and watching in dispair as fellow passengers were, one-by-one, rescued by family/friends with cars. I had to wait for three hours with the driver and a few other abandoned folk, I cried silently and felt very abroad and alone.

However, as bad as these experiences felt at the time, they’re hardly terrible. I’ve had so much fun, so much sunshine and I’ve visited so many beautiful places. These can be summarized in the picture montage above.

Here’s to the rest of my time in Spain and thank you (once again) for following my year so far.

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Happy things

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Living in Spain is really fun. The traveling, the exploring and the adventures are obviously the most exciting part, but they don’t happen every day. I travel every few weekends, and that’s what the majority of my blog showcases. Most of my time is actually spent teaching in the school, tutoring in private lessons and attempting to feel at home in a region famous for iberian ham and bird watching.

My friends at home often tell me how jealous they are of the sunshine and opportunity here in Spain, but what they might not realise is that I am often jealous of the comfort and familiarity they have in England. As with everybody’s lives, there are times when I have bad days here; when I feel embarrassed and stupid in front of the class, when I get frustrated with my Spanish, or when I simply feel really, really homesick.

To overcome these moments it’s good to stop and think about what I’m grateful for, because I really am very lucky with the Spanish life I’ve made. Here are ten happy things never fail to brighten up my day.

  1. Pyjama evenings with my flatmates. Slippers, a game of scrabble, cups of tea.. we have aged prematurely and we are very happy about this.
  2. When I see my students around town and they do a shy, I’ve just seen the English assistant in public wave.
  3. Teaching nine-year-old Miguel. He pronounces, with confidence, words which bear no resemblance to English, Spanish or any other human language. I say ‘Football’ and he repeats ‘Gleefnoo’. It’s like Joey (from Friends) learning French – wonderful.
  4. Visiting my favourite fruit and veg shop and engaging in confusing but enjoyable conversation with Juan Antonio, the owner.
  5. Popping into the tea shop and being asked to taste and critique all their new teas. Amazingly, the shopkeeper has interpreted my English nationality to mean ‘tea expert/connoisseur’ and highly values my opinion.
  6. Receiving messages or emails from my family and friends. The internet is better than sliced bread / rainbows / unicorns / ALL GOOD THINGS when you’re away from home.
  7. Evening jogs to the sound of Taylor Swift’s album. Perfect.
  8. The satisfaction of understanding anything the teenage students mumble in slang Spanish.
  9. When I consult my weather app and realise it’s actually ten degrees warmer than England.
  10. Looking at my calendar and seeing the exciting things I have to look forward to this year – celebrating my 21st (!!!!!!!), a summer in Paris, returning to Durham… 2015 is going to be great.

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The joys of spanglish

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My friends and I, all language assistants here in Spain, experience mistranslations and language-based errors on a daily, if not hourly basis. Fortunately, we have each other to to confide in rather than having to endure the embarrassment alone. I thought I’d share a few of our stories here as a way to remember them in years to come, it’s always fun to re-live these moments.

Disclaimer : most of the following anecdotes involve Spanish native-speakers making mistakes with their English. I am by no means mocking their attempts, in fact I’m 100% certain that I have said equally inappropriate comments in Spanish without realising. I can only hope that I’ve provided similar amusement in return…

The adult holiday

I give private conversation classes to a couple of the teachers at the school, in one of them we were discussing holiday destinations. My pupil was talking about Portugal and persistently pronounced the word ‘beach’ as if referring to a female dog. If you insert that word into the following monologue “Yes I love Portuguese beaches, they are very beautiful and I try to see as many as I can during the summer. This year I will visit the beaches in the south, they are hotter and more appealing to me” You’ll have some idea of how the conversation sounded.

The plumbing disaster

As previously mentioned, I’ve become too familiar with the local plumber this year due to various heating/water related apartment problems. My plumbing vocabulary is quite lacking in Spanish and phone conversations with Antonio are always confusing to say the least. I recently tried to explain a leaking shower head without realising that the literal translations of ‘shower’ and ‘head’ are not applicable together as they are in English. In my panic I said ‘my head is leaking’ and even worse ‘I am leaking’ before eventually getting the point across. I get nervous during phone conversations in English so it’s hardly surprising that it all went horribly wrong.

The inappropriate soundtrack

English music is popular in Spain and, at a breast cancer solidarity event in October, various tunes were blasting in the background whilst we all celebrated the success of the day’s activities. A cancer survivor was on stage bravely telling her story when, in the most emotional part of her speech, a new song began to play. Unfortunately, this song was Enrique Inglesias’ ‘Tonight I’m loving you’ the explicit version (which replaces ‘loving’ with a much cruder verb). The song was in full flow and the audience were tearfully clapping along as they listened to the lady thank everyone for their support. A bad song choice if I ever heard one. Fortunately I was one of just two people who understood the lyrics. Ignorance is bliss…

The class room faux-pas

My friend Gavin was assisting in a lesson about Folk Music last week. Unfortunately for him the teacher alongside him persistently mis-pronounced ‘Folk’ so that it sounded much like the word in Enrique’s explicit song. He tried to subtly correct her by over-enunciating the word himself and by the end of the lesson she was saying ‘fock music’. A slight improvement then.

The constipation question

Comically, ‘to be blocked up’ as in full of cold/flu translates in Spanish as the verb ‘Constipar’. This is already a recipe for a communication disaster. During these chilly months I’ve been told, by various Spanish colleagues keen to practice their English, “Megan, you look so constipated today!” due to my red nose or watery eyes. I’ll never get used to this and I experience the same moment of shocked humiliation every. single. time.

I’m excited to see what the next four months will bring, more misunderstandings I’m sure. I’ll keep you posted!Untitled