First milestone : Normandie – Spain
I arrived on Spanish soil in February 2014. Meteorologically speaking, it was going to be a good year, but I didn't know it yet and I was not close to knowing it : at the crossing of the border, rain was pouring on my car.
Moving to Spain was a dream come true of course, but when I started to have to fill up the car, I still hopefully had good reasons to be motivated : I was in a dead end situation in France. Judge by yourself. There was for example this lady from the RSI (the obligatory social security of independent workers in France) who absolutely wanted to know if I was married. Her computer was asking her that question and I didn't feel like answering her. Nor was I very pleased to be called a ‘miss' since this was the term that her computer definitely wanted to stick on me by default. Here is a letter I wrote to that department of the French administration about this matter and that illustrates well my dead end situation in France.
I thus left …
The color of the grass
Thirty years ago fortunately, I had swallowed two years worth of Spanish classes at school. It was already a good thing, except that obviously between school and real life … The very first word that I hadn't learnt at school and that I would really have needed at my arrival in Spain was gasolinera. This word means ‘gas station' as you certainly have guessed and it would have been very useful to me because I thought that ‘car' was said caro (when in fact caro means ‘expensive').
Anyhow, I was there and in spite of the rain, the change of decor was certain : there are palm trees in Spain ! The grass, I prefer the one of Normandie, that's for sure ; it's softer and denser. In Spain, when there is, it is rougher and when you pull on a strand, you take the high risk of finding yourself with a whole coil in the hand.
The subjective color of the grass is however, I think, much greener in Spain. There (I should say ‘here' in fact), people use ready-made expressions that they say often and that do good. As far as the administration I was talking about sooner is concerned for example, we often hear :
“- Ask them, they are here for that. Call them or go see them, it's their job, they are here to help you.”
That's repetitive, but it's not bad, no ? In the same register, there is an expression supposed to calm people down, but that, I must say, always irritates me a little, it's poco a poco. You're starting to feel frustrated over something ? “Well, poco a poco, you're gone get there, that's for sure …
– Aaah yeah, ok !, but it's till a little irritating ! – No, no, you'll see, poco a poco …”
There also is “No pasa nada.” (‘It's nothing', ‘It doesn't matter') that comes back quite often. And I don't translate the famous “Tranquila, no te preocupes !” that has calmed me down more than once.
Of course however, in this ambiance, letting from time to time your righteous indignation of a French person escape entails, I tell you beforehand, a great risk of putting you in the situation of having to comfort a person who can't apologize enough for the harm that he/she caused you … It's very, very embarrassing, I assure you. Stay tranquilos because here, people aren't on the defensive and the smiles they offer you without restraint are marked by an innocence that is not feigned. Really.
Papers and politeness
That there seems to always be a solution to problems doesn't mean that everything is easy, far from it. Two years after moving to Spain, I am waiting for my Spanish driving license with impatience. It was the last administrative formality that still weighed on my to-do list and if only not to have to re-do all the process backwards : I am in Spain, I am staying ! It must be said that I had to undergo all those administrative procedures even though I was precisely then not speaking nor understanding Spanish well. The worst was to change my car's registration plate. Papers to translate, certificates, stamps, technical control, etc. For my driving license, things went much more smoothly, especially since I was then starting to do better language-wise. The proof : lately, I was talking to myself (hum yes, I do it all the time) in French and I told myself I was going to “faire-le” (‘do-it' even though in French, you say ‘le faire'). I put the article after the verb as in Spanish !
In the same vein, I can now say ‘hi' all in one go. I say “Hola !” (‘Hi !') and I follow up almost without any hesitation with Buenos dias or Buenas tardes. Before, I was saying Hola, I was answered Hola, buenos dias and then only I was saying Buenos dias, which is not the way to proceed. Autochtons, please correct me if I am wrong, but I think that Hola only really serves the purpose of signaling its presence and what follows is the most important part of the salutation, where all of our innate politeness is put.
Of course, the morning hello, Buenos dias, is said up until 2 PM. When someone gives you an appointment at 1 in the morning for example, it's at 13 hours that you have your appointment, don't be surprised.
About politeness, the use of the formal Usted is required only when talking to really old people, to people of the administration or of a company like in stores for example. The companies in return seem not to know how to do. Between respect and sympathy for their clients, they don't choose and use alternatively the formal Usted and the informal Tu ! On the same webpage, on the same leaflet, sometimes it's Usted, sometimes it's Tu. Really strange in my opinion.
The word ‘OK', I only ever heard it coming out of my mouth … In Spain, it's Vale (pronounce [bale]) that one must say and it often by the way replaces gracias, less used I think than ‘thank you' in English. On my learning path, I went through an intermediary stage that consisted in saying ‘OK … hum … vale !' Then, I assure you, everybody eventually ends up saying one little plain Vale. Poco a poco, I even got there, so !