Viva Los Novios [The Story of a Spanish Wedding]

I have to laugh when my iTouch auto-corrects “boda” (Spanish for “wedding”) to “bodacious” (80’s American for “awesome”) .. my various bits of technology cannot keep up with my code-switching.

This wedding was an adventure from the get go. Three important facts to start: 1) not my wedding; 2) not in the country in which I currently reside; 3) invitation received via Facebook on April 26 for wedding June 16 (yes, same year).

So what do you do when your host sister says “I really want you here to share my day.. in 6 weeks?” You buy a plane ticket, of course. Forget the fact that it’s summer, high-season, hot, wildly expensive and on very short notice. Buy the plane ticket! And that’s what I did.

It was to be my first Spanish wedding, and after all the hype I’d seen surrounding other events like this one en la patria (see: Fatima’s First Communion), I started asking questions. Luckily, I have several friends who a) are dating Spaniards, b) are married to Spaniards, c) have attended Spanish weddings. Everything from some of the most basic advice on what to wear (evening wedding long dress no hairpiece); on what to give (pay for your plate); on what to expect (at least 8 hours of your time).

In what can only be defined as Typical Spanish – I did not actually have confirmation of wedding details until the night before. You know, when I met up with the bride for a beer and some tapas. The night before. Before her wedding. It is a true testament to the Spanish that they can maintain the “no pasa nada” attitude in all things, at all times. This must have brushed off on me over the years because I booked a ticket and boarded a plane without these precious details. Americana / Andaluza, ya sabes.

During my whirlwind weekend, here are some of the differences I noticed between American & Spanish weddings:

* no rehearsal dinner – as evidenced by the bride’s availability within 24 hours of her walking down the aisle.
* old, new, borrowed & blue – also holds true in Spain. This discovery after a panicked conversation with the bride the night before.
* Catholic mass, yes. Wrote their own vows. Dad walked her down the aisle (looking super guapo in his tux, I think).

walking down the aisle

walking down the aisle

* conspicuously absent: “you may now kiss the bride” – in fact he kissed her on the cheek when she arrived.
* also missing: “I now pronounce you man & wife” – family photos commenced almost immediately afterward, leaving the Americans in the audience waiting for the return walk down the aisle that never happened.


family photo

* no bridal party – bride’s choice. As Kaley recently lamented, this also eliminates the need for choosing a color and coordinating all of your decorations.
* exchange of coins, and rings – coins are a nice touch; “I will love you even if we go broke in this economy.” It should also be noted that the ring goes on the right hand in Spain – a point of contention for many Americanas.


with this ring

* no father / daughter dance – which is a shame because Juan would have been a hit on the dance floor.
* no tapping of the glasses to get the couple to smooch – instead some yells: viva los novios! and the response is: viva! Yes, this is a mixture of “long live the Queen” and “go team” which is pretty appropriate for matrimony.
* gifts to guests – handed out, instead of favors on the tables (olive oil for the men, fans for the women).


ideal favor in 100 degree heat

* four hour meal, several courses – LONG dinner.
* cut the cake with a sword (!) – I’m told this is seriously old school, but it happened.


sword cutting the cake

* no garter toss – bouquet did go, to a particularly aggressive friend in the front.
* pictures of tables – similar to theme park photos, smile pretty and buy this from us later! Which is why we’re taking a photo of the photo.

photo of photo

photo of photo

* videographer – and I don’t mean, let’s get this documented for future generations. I mean, let’s get this on the 5 o’clock news. For reference, see the cake-cutting photo.
* package deal – most weddings I’ve been to involve the church bit and the reception bit, it’s not so much a pick and choose. Well at the church there were approximately 50 people. At the reception there were 200, and that’s what we call priorities.
* rose petals & rice – the tradition of throwing things at the happy couple continues.

Total time clocked at the wedding? About 12 hours. I walked home (in flats) at the end of the night, or the beginning of the following day, at 5 a.m. Anything in the name of love, right?


Americanas & family

The thing about Places

“Places all have their own characters,
and returning to a city where you have lived before
is like coming home to an old friend.

Chocolat, Joanne Harris –

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Granada & Sevilla, Spain / June 2012

[guest blog] From North to South

This guest blog is brought to you by Natalie of crumbcastle. We met via CouchSurfing in 2010 and became fast friends over food, art and language. As the old ladies of the auxiliares hoard (then 27), we spent a lot of time in observation of our compatriots and our adopted country. Natalie’s first assignment was in Northern Spain: Vigo, Galicia. Her second assignment led her to my own backyard: Andalucía (Aracena, Huelva). Below she shares her thoughts, and original artwork.


Yes, last year was a bit of a disaster. I wouldn’t trade it out for the world, but … it was A BIT of a disaster.

My first year abroad as an auxiliar de conversación had high hopes I would be living in a corner of Spain unknown to most travelers, a place with a rich culinary tradition; I would be learning Spanish, exchanging cultures, gaining a new skill set as an English teacher; I could buy manchego and chorizo in an old supermarket.


cheese with your English?

Galicia did live up to most of these things, but two factors effected them tremendously.

1: my job. Crippling disorganization, miscommunication ran rampant; I anticipated cultural exchange, they preferred to keep things strictly British.

I was once told to talk about Pancake Day… “What is that?”
I asked to show the kids Schoolhouse Rock. “What is that??” (request denied).

Of a staff of about 10, I still think some of them had no idea that my home was an ocean and a continent away. When a girl moves abroad for the first time, a surrogate sense of family really does wonders for her transition. Bless ’em, I was the first auxiliar they’d ever had; I couldn’t be mad at them, but I could be bummed.

2: the weather. Sorry. I’m a sundress and sandals girl. Winter is “sweater weather”; rain coats, fashionably ironic; sunglasses, a mandatory part of my waitress uniform. I had never gone weeks or months without seeing a bright blue sky and Galicia soon taught me just how much that sky can effect my countenance. I was pretty grey and bleak until the sun finally came out .. two weeks before I left.

If rose-colored glasses make people think everything around them is fabulous, my pair of steely blue ones – no matter how I tried to tear them off – were casting serious shadows over my idea of cultural exchange in Spain.

rose colored glasses

not so rose-colored glasses

Luckily, in an attempt to turn grey-blue into rose-violet, I enrolled in a Spanish class at the Official Language School in Vigo. These schools are throughout Spain for inspired adults to learn a language.

We were inspired; our teacher, an inspiration. She vetoed the usual plague of flash cards and drills. Instead, she carefully directed what felt like a hilarious, addictive forum for us foreigners to go stumble around Spanish. Somewhere amid the laughter and after-school beers, I learned Spanish and found Spain.


caña? so que es?

… All well and good until the grim morning reminder of my day job. The reason I was in Spain. To renew my job for a second year would mean subjecting myself to another year of students who had no desire to learn any English beyond “toilet please.”

Yes, the possibility was powerful repulsive. At least it was only a POSSIBILITY – I could technically get placed anywhere…

Out of pure, morbid curiosity, I reapplied.

You know how sometimes your brain files a memory of a conversation under “Kind of Interesting, Soon to Forget” only later to realize it should have been filed under “Totally Creepy and Foreboding”?

One regular escape from Vigo, I happened to be on the same bus to Porto as my Spanish teacher; we got to talking about my “future plans.” This particular topic has the curious effect of turning my brain into a buoyant cloud, no matter how much I’m sure I could use the advice.

A month later, I had in my hands a teaching placement in an official language school in Andalucía. My teacher’s brief, freakishly relevant advice came crashing back: If you get placed in a language school, don’t even hesitate, just go.

before and after

The thing is, it’s really hard to ignore advice once it takes on that creepy forebodingness.

I finished off the year, spent the summer in California .. in search of a job .. in denial .. The hideous .. heart. beat.

By September, the morbid curiosity and creepy foreboding had me boarding a plane back to the scene of the crime.

It’s now April. I feel very confident I have stumbled upon a new scientific proof: If plain old curiosity kills, then morbid curiosity must create a nullifying double jeopardy where everyone walks away intact – life, cat and all.


curiosidad del gato

Truth be told, I blame it all on that most Spanish of mystery spirits: duende. I wouldn’t have been lured back at all if I hadn’t caught a glimpse in Galicia of the duende that attracted me to Spain in the first place. That spry little gnome-spirit led me on her chorizo-laden trail, then slacked off .. just so slightly out of reach …

But it’s not every day a duende clues you in like that – Who would I be to give up looking after only eight measly months? I wouldn’t be Uncle Jesse, that’s who.

Turns out I just had to look to the South to find mine – to Andalucía. To Aracena.

Here, I work with people who invite my weird California slang and pumpkin pie recipes. My students, too, are just as eager to learn and share, and I’m fortunate to call them my friends. Best of all, I get to pass on the wisdom of my Spanish teacher: it’s now my turn to lead the random forum of language-learners, to show the fun in speaking and stumbling around English together.

Call me drunk on ham and Andalu hospitality, but I actually love my job.

As for the rain? Well, I can count on two hands the number of days it’s rained in Aracena. This unusual dry spell is the talk of the pueblo. I would celebrate my great weather karma, except that this rural agriculture community I adore needs the rain for ham .. business.

Today, it finally came. I’m looking out onto a grey, dank sky, remembering my time in rainy Vigo – how different it was, how different I am. I put on the boots I bought there last year and head out, glad – READY – for the splash underfoot. Bring on the rain, Spain! This year, I came armed with wool socks. And I learned where my duende lives.


park it in the parque

One thing I have tried to reflect on while here in Spain is my obsession with time. As evidenced by not one but two previous posts about Countdown Syndrome, I still need to mark time over the long term. I am a planner at heart (ENFP), but I’m learning. I can go to the park on a Sunday afternoon without a watch. This is huge. I can stay up and talk to friends and go to bed when I’m tired, whether it’s 1am or 5am. This is also a big deal if you know me, and know how much I like my sleep.

There are many foreigners here trying to keep pace with the Spanish schedule. I am not one of them. Ok, I will eat lunch at 2 pm and start making dinner around 10 pm but that’s where I draw the line. I really don’t need to be out until absurd hours of the morning. I prefer to sleep like the dead and then wake up and make the most out of morning, taking advantage of the siesta later in the day. I will also eat whenever the hell I feel like eating, but that’s a post for another day.

This idea of leisure time is startling: la cultura del ocio or the leisure culture. Since there is no such thing as free time in the U S of A, it’s no wonder that I’m shocked by the whole concept. At home it seems like there is always something to be done, somewhere to be and some great sense of urgency. Just last night we were out walking in a big group and as usual the tall Northeasterners pull out in front.

Es que … tenemos prisa. Somos del noreste” my roommate says (We’re in a hurry, we’re from the Northeast).

Our friend Sam (a West coast native) wants to know why that is. ¡Relajate! (relax). What IS the big rush? The truth is I have no idea. Is it the old Fear of Missing Something Good? or a little bit of Keeping Up With the Joneses? I like to call it Social Guilt, a blend of both of these. It’s when you can’t leave your phone at home, multitask just to survive and it takes a serious breakdown for you to go off the grid. But at the end of the day… does it really matter?

“¡Cállate, rubia!” – Spain says – “Go to the park and leave your watch at home.

Q&A: Reapplication

Q: What do you have to do to reapply for a second year?

A: Since I’m currently working as an auxiliar, the re-application process was relatively simple.  One difference is that we follow a separate time line than new applicants – we enjoy a “first come, first served” preference and our placements are awarded much MUCH faster than the first time. The most notable difference is that we don’t have to re-do all of that hideous paperwork involved in the first round. This time the requirements include: a letter of recommendation from your director, a one-page letter of motivation and an online application submitted via Profex. Apparently this time around they trust that you have remained in good health and the FBI is not after you.

Q: Do you have to stay in your current location or can you go somewhere new?

A: Second year auxiliares have the option to relocate or stay put. This decision is a lot harder than you may think. After 6 months in one place, you become comfortable with your surroundings. The teachers, the students, and the buildings are familiar. In my case, I have a long running love affair with the region of Andalucia and this experience has only added to the memories. Last month our students realized that Jaime and I are at a crossroads for next year and have been asking if we will return to San Antonio and to Bollullos. For me the answer is no, after some serious thought, I requested a move to central Madrid to work in an urban school.

Q: What is the time frame for accepting or declining the offer?

A: In dramatic Spanish form, you receive an email entitled: Adjudicación de Plaza

Ha sido adjudicada la plaza en This City, España a su solicitud 123456 del programa de Auxiliares de Conversación en España.
Si desea aceptar la plaza, hágalo a través del menú de la izquierda en Profex en el plazo de cinco (5) días hábiles a partir de la recepción de este correo. Si desea renunciar comuníquelo en ese mismo plazo a Señor So and So.

This is similar to the email that scared the hell out of me when it appeared in my inbox in May 2010, four days before my graduation from graduate school. “You have five days from receipt of this email to accept or deny this post” sounds pretty serious, doesn’t it? In reality you are not fully committed until you sign a contract, many months later. Even then, you can withdraw your position if your circumstances change. In fact, there can be 800-1,000 people waiting for you to do just that.

All in all the re-application took 4-6 weeks, significantly shorter than the first round. I also received my first choice in location, which is not always the case in the first year.

Q: Are you interested in being an auxiliar for a second year?

A: Yes and no. At the age of 27 with a Masters under my belt, I am uncertain if I should focus my attentions on teaching English for another school year. At the end of the day this is a phenomenal experience, and the addition to my resume is a serious one. I chose the position in part because it is related with a government agency (the Ministry of Education). I accepted the first year opportunity with the understanding that I would be working and living abroad, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. This program also gave me a direct line back to my beloved Spain, and who can say no to that? Taking advantage of a second year abroad is exciting, but also daunting. Madrid is nothing like Andalucia, which is why I made the choice… now is a good time to try living in a big city and uproot myself from what has become so comfortable. I continue to apply for jobs both domestically and internationally, but as we turn the corner toward summer, it looks as though the capital city has a prominent role in my future.

Q: Do you think you’ve made an impact on your school?

A: This is such a popular question! Do the kids speak better English? I doubt it. Do the kids speak more English? Also not entirely true. Do they know where Pennsylvania is on a map? I think so .. now that we’ve established I do not come from the same place Dracula does (after much discussion). It is hard to gauge how much of an impact one person can make on 120+ students in a short amount of time. I’m sure there are specific things that will stick with them – like Frank Sinatra singing Let it Snow, or how American teenagers can drive at 16 years old, or how mashed potatoes are not just for Thanksgiving. We recently taught them “gonna” and “wanna” and have been trying to make a dent in their knowledge of colloquial American English… it can’t all come from books you know. And I’ll be damned if they’re only going to learn British English! Every little bit counts 🙂

For other questions that you may have about this adventure check out my previous Q&As:

Q&A Spotlight on School – about where I teach and what I’m teaching

Q&A Instituto – more info on the students, dress code & holidays

Q&A In Sickness & in Health – the pharmacy, the medical insurance & other fun things

Q&A Teaching & Language – exactly what it sounds like!

Q&A Show Me the Money – self explanatory