The autumn at last #livinginSpain

November already … it’s been ever so hot and only in the last few days has the temperature shifted grudgingly to the point where my summer duvet was retrieved from the storeroom, cat hairs brushed off, and returned to the bed. It’s still kicked to the floor by morning.  Duvet. Not cat.

It’s also been nicely busy, including lovely guests from the Shetlands who sold their holiday house here last year and have been back to Spain at least five times since but usually stay with friends, I got lucky getting them in August and again in September as they speak fluent Spanish and know everyone. They were slightly disapproving that my Spanish was so utterly poco and found out where and when the next local course was starting.  Most towns offer free Spanish classes to new residents and I have looked for them since I arrived: turns out the notices (and notices in Spain are never snappy brief things in large print, they are lengthy chatty communications and there are many) advertising the lessons had all been put up in, um, Spanish.  Anyway thanks to them I could join the new class starting in September: while my Pidgin Spanish has been handy, many of the words I chose to stress as being the closest to English (i.e. easiest to remember) are not going down well with Felipe, our maestro. NOT  alfabeto, he says sternly. Yes, it is a known word, but abecedario is more correct.

And yes we are doing verbs (los verbos), on Tuesdays. Sigh. On Thursdays we read tracts and translate them ourselves with dictionaries or smartphones, then take turns reading aloud and mangling Spanish in ways which have to be heard to be believed.  Last Thursday we covered Halloween, which was excellent: some words have come direct from English, as it is new to Spain, so a zombie is a zombie is a zombie.  A werewolf is either a werewolf or a hombre lobo. I mentioned that to a bearded friend of mine who said hang on, that’s my name in the village here! Fairies (fairies?) are fairies but witches on broomsticks are brujas en escobas. We are a very mixed bunch, between 10 and 20 turning up depending on the day. Many are English or Irish, but we have also an Italian couple, a Norwegian gent with the wonderful name of Thor, a Polish woman who has been going for years and helps out with translations ,  a gent from Algeria and my preferred study partner when we have to split into pairs, a Moroccan housewife who arrived in Spain a few months ago. As she otherwise speaks only Arabic we have no choice but to communicate in Spanish.  She’s doing private lessons and apps as well and is leaping ahead, and calls herself a casa mama rather than ama de casa  so I am not the only one rewriting the language.

Lessons are not the only sociable outings, I went to the last fiesta of the summer which is held annually in Los Tablones, a small village in the mountains, usual population about 200, fiesta population about 2000. Most guests start arriving for the evening shindig in the village square around 10 pm and spend a couple of hours catching up with neighbours and friends while laying the necessary foundations of beer or wine and tapas to provide essential energy for the night ahead. Around midnight the first band starts up so explosively the entire village vibrates.  The music is a complete mix of pasa doble and current hits in both Spanish and English, and when that band starts to flag cakes and doughnuts are served at all tables (free of charge) while the next, louder, band takes up the fallen instruments. We left at 4 am and my  ears were still buzzing three days later –

Los Tablones fiesta 2019 off web

I’ve also been through to an English evening in Granada where a very cosmopolitan bunch gather on Tuesdays to practice English, mainly business types but a fair mix from students up to jubilados. There must have been a  hundred of us there, lots of Spanish but also Japanese, Czech, French, German, Canadian, quite a few English, even a South African. As the Czech guy had worked in South Africa for several years we three broke the English-speaking rule briefly to exchange what fractured Afrikaans we could remember – as one does on a rooftop terrace in the middle of beautiful Granada.

Granada at night off web

The South African invited me along to his writing group, also in Granada, which was fun, but Granada is over 50 kms away, I won’t be going as often as I’d otherwise like.  October is also my birthday month – I tried to get out of my new Spanish tradition (well, 2017 and 2018)   of going out to lunch and should have stuck to my guns, from now on I shall absolutely stonily ignore the horrible things and if necessary avoid all human contact. I only cheered up two days later when I met up with friends-of-friends travelling through Europe in a motorhome, the exact pick-me-up I needed. I did drool a bit over their motorhome – two years has been long enough for me to remember my weeks living in my converted camper as heaven and forget all the less ideal aspects, and what a beauty this one was by comparison!  Restless? Moi?

campervan Peter and Gill

 

Should you die in Spain – there’s stuff you should know first #livinginSpain

Dying is the last thing I intend to do, but it seems where you die can make quite a big difference. Dying in Spain doesn’t only leave your British-trained friends and family with a language barrier to be surmounted, it is handled completely differently.

In the UK the process between death and farewell takes a while: apart from anything else there’s frequently a wait of a week or more for a date at the crematorium, there could even be an inquest, and it means lots of time for that assembling of the bereaved for a service somewhere along the line. So if you want that sort of delay, do try not to die in Spain.

Say you’re in Spain visiting a friend who drops dead, or falls down the stairs and breaks their neck (don’t let’s dwell but these things happen) here’s what you do and don’t do

  1. Phone the policia on 112 (the operators speak English) who will arrive pretty quickly.
  2. Normally the policia will accept the death as an unsuspicious tragedy. There is no mortuary van or private ambulance system here. They will call the nearest funeral director.
  3. He will bring a body release form. If you sign that form, you have just committed to paying all funeral expenses. He won’t take the body if you won’t. So this is definitely the point to look in your friend’s wallet for any card showing pre-planned funeral arrangements. If there is one, all is well, the funeral director will take the body and deal with the plan-holders, who will also know what arrangements were desired.
  4. The default procedure is overnight at the closest tanatorio, cremation booked for the first slot available the next day, off in a plain basic coffin to the crematorium by hearse, there’s a service for any hastily assembled friends and relatives, the funeral director may choose to add a flourish or two such as releasing a hundred white doves, and in the fullness of time an urn in handed over. All done and dusted. If you signed that body release form for your friend, and there’s no funeral plan to bail you out, that’s several thousand euros, ta very much.
  5. Autopsies are, for the main part, only required by the State for car accident victims, and while the authorities pick up that tab, they don’t pick up the tab for any storage delays. This is a hot country. Storage at a tanatorio can cost up to 1000 euros a day depending on location, time of year, demand: hence the speed, hence the expense.

Take the bloke who dropped dead on holiday in a rented cabin on a Friday night – the policia came, decided there was nothing suspicious, and called a funeral director to collect the body. The couple’s travel insurance didn’t specify what it would cover and his distracted wife couldn’t learn more, or sort out any finances, until Monday. Okay, said the funeral director, I’ll be back Monday.

And he left, leaving the bloke on the floor of the kitchen.

Or the chappie who was on holiday in another part of the country. He was covered for death expenses, had his card with all the contact numbers, and the hotel phoned the funeral planners and his next-of-kin. Quite a shock for his son, but after two days he got his head together enough to phone the funeral company to ask what happens next, when should the funeral be . . . there was an awkward pause. Um. Your dad was cremated yesterday.

This is no criticism of the Spanish system, which is sensible, efficient, and the accepted way of life death – but it isn’t something you want to learn the hard way, especially if you fall in with an unscrupulous or overly sentimental funeral director and the costs spiral higher than those doves.

The lesson here for the future customer is if you want to make specific arrangements, make them in advance, and make them easy to find. The policia  routinely notify your banco, which will freeze your account(s) instantly, so it also makes sense for any couple with a joint bank account to have separate emergency funds. If nothing else, that will also pay for the rather nice Spanish tradition, in some areas, of a street party open to all in memory of the friend gone before.

A surprisingly large number of people plan to leave their bodies to medical research – unless you have a very unusual condition, that is no longer usually an option (anywhere – supply has exceeded demand) and even when it is you will still be expected to pay those tanatorio rates.

Although I’m not planning any imminent demise I don’t want to leave my daughter, who speaks no Spanish and lives a thousand miles away, tangling with technicalities: it seemed a good idea to get that useful card from English-speaking professionals tucked into my wallet, with a copy in my car documents. Too awkward to otherwise have some hapless guest here faced with the choice of either having to sign for my lavish arrangements, or stepping over my crumpled body at the bottom of the stairs for a few days, eh? So I am now sorted.

No doves.

Ever researching on your behalf,

Elegsabiff

fuller brothers funeral home

(from internet – copyright Fuller Brothers funeral home) 

Promotion challenge – a book which makes you sound half-witted. Any suggestions? http://mybook.to/PidginSpanish #easySpanish

I’ve never mastered marketing anyway. Now I have to dazzle you into buying my book on speaking Spanish. Am I fluent? uh, no. Will the book make the reader fluent? uh, no.

I had a phrase book when I moved to Spain. I’d still have it except that it fell apart in my handbag. The pronunciation notes in it, well, it was deliberately making me sound like a tourist. And some of the strange things it thought I needed to know … so instead I started looking things up and asking and making notes and – I am a writer, after all – putting them in some kind of order and a year or two down the line they have turned into Pidgin Spanish. The Pidgins, as it happens, are my fictional family in the book but the point is, I hope, made. You’ll not step out at the end saying in flawless Spanish ‘my dear chap, I wonder if you could help me with a small problem I have, my computer’s on the blink and I need something reliable and not too expensive‘ –

You will be able to say ‘hello, help please, computer, good price.’ I have met a surprising number of English-speakers who live here (some for years)  who gave up before reaching even that dazzling level of communication. There was no way, I vowed, that I would spend my life living on the thinnest fringes of this extraordinary country but I was too busy teaching English and writing and rebuilding, then running, my odd guesthouse to put in the necessary hours and hours and hours. To learn Spanish properly is hard work, and nobody wants to teach you any way other than properly, and that, here, when you take local lessons, means starting with verbs. Let me tell you about the verb abrir, ‘to open’.  Some verbs are pretty straightforward. Some – well, verbs like abrir are why people give up on Spanish lessons. It is not only irregular, it has different forms for subjunctive, past simple, past imperfect, future, future potential, imperfect of the subjective, imperative, gerund, and past participle – even the negative form changes – for example, the Imperative ‘you’ version is abrierais, the negative of that is no abráis.

There was a definite need for a book which teaches you how to ask someone to open the wine (abre el vino). Or that a shop with the sign abierta on the door is open. I spent a year looking for it, then I gave up and wrote it. So even if nobody else needs easy basic Spanish spoken with the hectic fluency of a 5 year old child, I’ve got the book I wanted.

The paperback’s whizzing through the process now. If I were you I’d wait for that because the ebook is included as a freebie optional extra and the paperback is probably more useful.

If that hasn’t got you fired up and fumbling for your wallet, or at least clicking on the cover below, well, I’ve shot my marketing bolt for now. It might be one of those books people need to find on their own.

Amazon cover for Pidgin Spanish

 

 

 

 

Kiss Kiss, and I’m legal. #LivingInSpain  – burocracia with kisses

kisses

If I had been jumping through UK bureaucratic hoops today I am pretty sure I wouldn’t have been kissed so often.  Kiss kiss when I met my translator Chris, he who helped make the car legal a few months ago. I’ve given up waiting to see which way the Brexit farce will twist next, time to become legal.

xx

Kiss kiss Alessandro who was going to register me as self employed (autonoma), kiss kiss Paco who was called in to sort out the knotty issue of how I should be classified. (Not to be confused with the Paco who knocked giant holes through my walls, it is a very common name, although I shy nervously every time I meet one). Kisses all round again of course when we parted.

xx xx

xx xx xx

For anyone more interested in the process than counting kisses, you need your passport, NIE, and Spanish bank details. Oh, and fluent Spanish, as some of the questions are extremely complex, hence Chris’s presence.  By the time I got home the email confirming my registration was in my mailbox.

  • The authorities allow us self-employed types two years grace to get established which means for the next two years I will be paying 60 euros a month Social Security, with full health benefits and even unemployment benefits if awful things happen.
  • The full whack, because I am getting older, will be eye-wateringly high but after the 2 years grace I will get a 60% discount for 6 months, followed by a 30% discount for 6 months, and by then have to hope the house is fully booked on a frequent basis as it seems the entire house income (which goes into my Spanish bank account) will be needed to cover income taxes and my Social Security.
  • The tax-free window is small, 5500 euros a year, and full income tax is due on the whole amount once that is exceeded.

Next step will be talking to the tax authorities, since my complicated income is made up of teaching English as a second language (teaching  is VAT, or IVA, exempt) letting holiday rooms, (IVA applies but since Airbnb, for example, has me registered with their Irish office I won’t need to pay if I give them an IVA número) and my royalties, which are unlikely to pour much into the Spanish tax coffers but who knows, maybe one day. The next book could be the charm . . . that’s the one teaching basic essential Spanish as a second language, and I was fairly chuffed this morning to find I could not only make myself understood before Chris and Alessandro arrived, but could follow , hmm, nearly a quarter of the rapid-fire Spanish of the meeting!

Then there is the residency to be sorted, but I’m assured that because I am autonoma, it will be virtually automático, as simple as uno dos tres. My driving licence has to be switched no later than October. So there is lots more bureaucracy to come, I look forward to the kisses. And by the by, x in Spanish is equis, pronounced eh·kiss.

Ever researching on your behalf

 

Elegsabiff

xx

Officially amazing, haha – and legal #livinginSpain

I was thrilled to be featured in January as an Amazing Over Fifty on the LovingTheFiftySomething website – all too often when I’ve idly searched online for ‘over fifty‘ the links that come up show groups of impressively-preserved people demurely sipping tea and talking about how nice it is to be in the still waters following the white-water rapids of life. The women have abundant silvery hair in perfect chignons and the men are smiling to show their remarkable teeth and you’d be proud, honestly, to have them as grandparents but they didn’t seem people who would like or welcome scatty disorganized erratic types like me.  LovingTheFiftySomething features – well, not necessarily erratic types! – but those still riding the rapids and refusing to be relegated to the sidelines. YES.

yay

Anyway, in my scatty disorganized erratic way I’ve been taking lots and lots of advice on this whole living-in-Spain thing. It really doesn’t help that the 3 professionals I’ve spoken to had strong opinions on my only sensible route, but were touting 3 separate routes. Chris, who had sorted the car out, said firmly my best option was to become autonoma – self employed.  I would file an annual tax return, I would go instantly onto the Social so be covered by the Health service, and residency would be guaranteed trouble-free, and rubber-stamped by the local policia without a murmur.  However, he was away when it came time to do my end-of-year tax payment as a home-owner, and sent me to Ana, in a town about 40 miles away, who specializes in all things tax and legal generally. Ana was absolutely wonderful, drew up my tax document promptly and patiently answered lots of questions, but she felt autonoma was an expensive option for me. The problem was that I would have to pay all my taxes in Spain, on my international income, and while in the UK tax only applies after the first 12K, or thereabouts, in Spain the tax-free window is not only 6K, but once you cross that, you pay tax on the entire amount. Plus the Social, although for new registrations is only 50 euros a month, goes up steadily over 2 years until you are paying the whole 275 euros a month, and that’s a lot of money for someone like me who will never reap the long-term benefits of a Spanish pension –  you have to have been paying in for 15 years. Better, she said, to go for Residency. I would need to prove a stable monthly income sufficient to support me, and take out a comprehensive medical aid, and then – Bob’s your uncle.

Comprehensive medical aids are surprisingly expensive once you are no longer in the first flush of youth. At a party I asked some friends what they did, and who they used, and they recommended Nina, right here in Motril. Since I knew I had to pay tax on my rental income from the house by the end of January, I went to Nina instead of trekking the 40 miles back to Ana.  She said firmly that until we know exactly what is happening with Brexit (anyone else sick of that word?) I should remain a non-resident home-owner, pay my taxes (19%) on my rental income 4 times a year, and if Brexit brings in visa requirements which mean I have to leave the country 2 or 4 times a year, well, then we look at other options.  So I have paid my taxes and have bought a little time to think through my options.

A surprising number of ex-pats are still unregistered, some scrambling a bit nervously now to become official residents, others waiting to see what will happen.

cool

My Spanish vocabulario grows by the day – I am busy on a book with the working title Pidgin Spanish (based on a family called Pidgin who moved to Spain) which includes all the TEFL tricks of learning a second language, mini situational stories with handy dialogue, numbers for counting / telephones / the date / making appointments:  the Spanish alphabet for spelling out your name and address: the rudimentary basics for linguistically-challenged types (ie me) to get by.  I’m truly rubbish at languages – I spent 12 years in school in South Africa without ever mastering Afrikaans, which back then was the country’s second official language – but little by little the Spanish I need is being nailed into place. I can read documents, make myself understood with less wild mime, and every encounter navigated successfully is a joyful little oooh. It may never be published – how many others are there who simply can’t conjugate verbs efficiently, after all? – but it’s helping me no end.  Roll on 2019, I’m braced for impact.

laugh

The Ambition Tradition

Maybe, just maybe, growing up is knowing when you’ve reached your comfort zone?  I come from a family of strivers, raised with the stern mantra that winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. There are black sheep in every herd but generally it was try try try again, be the best you can be, put in the hours, burn the midnight oil, get out there and succeed!

hole

Oh well. Done my time in the business rat race – rush rush RUSH impossible deadlines which got met, crazy high targets which were somehow achieved and of course the prize for winning is tighter deadlines and higher targets – annnnnnnnnnnnd . . . dropped out

Breathe

Again. Deeeeeeeeeeeep breath. Nice, huh?

So – the modified ambition tradition. These promises I made to myself, and this promise to my restless ancestors – I will be the best I can be, at the various things I do, but I will not beat myself up because I’m not publicly winning at doing the various things I do.

I’ll stop every now and then, too, to smell the roses bougainvillea

dsc_0845

And tomorrow, after some unavoidable delays,  I start the fairly complicated road to formal residency.  Fingers crossed

cool

Don’t believe a WORD – not on the 28th of December #livingInSpain

I’ve kicked around the world a fair bit, one way and another, thought I knew what Christmas was about but it’s so different here in Spain. Take today – 28th – that’s the Day Of The Innocents, aka prank day. April Fool in December, if you like:  a few years ago one of the national newspapers set the bar high with a headline that the King of Spain had married Madonna . . . on the whole the foreigners are left in peace, since we can’t be expected to know, but generally take every unexpected or unlikely comment with a pinch of salt, eh?

The Spanish take Christmas at a steady pace and they need to – it lasts nearly a month. Cava flows like water throughout and it all kicks off with celebrating the Immaculate Conception on December 8th, which is a feast day and when street lights and commercial decorations in shops generally switch on.  I must have picked up some kind of subconscious trigger because I never decorate before the 16th (that being a public holiday in the country where I grew up, very handy) but was hauling out the dusty box of decorations in good time and finding new places for old favourites – fun!

Street decorations can be oddly avante garde, and not traditionally Christmas at all. The town sees to the main streets – side streets can do their own.  This one was decorated by a local school, very effectively.

Nerja street

(BTW, No pooing man or poo stick traditions for Andalucia, that is Catalan.)

Nochebuena, Christmas Eve, is a family dinner, taken very seriously, with much solid food and luxurious side dishes. The devout go on to midnight Mass, the sociable take to the bars to meet friends while they digest the enormous meal.

Sometime overnight there will be a silent visitor: not usually Santa Claus. Depending where you are in the country he is known as Papa Noel, or Olentzero, or Tió de Nadal. He’s not lavish – the main gifts come with the Kings in January, so it is usually one gift apiece. This does of course mean no Boxing Day sales! Festive shopping continues briskly up to the day of the Kings.

On the 28th, today, it is the prank-filled el Día de los Santos Inocentes and when I got a nice booking for January I did wonder if it was a tease but nope, it has been paid. Yay!

On the 31st there’s another enormous traditional dinner (if life was fair, all Spanish would be waddling, food is taken very seriously here) and a handful of grapes for midnight – bring luck for the coming year by eating 12 grapes in the last 12 seconds of the year, which is slightly harder than it sounds and requires some giggling gobbling. Some prefer a more sedate grape for every stroke of midnight.  It is considered lucky on this night to wear red underwear, so Papa Noel often brings that as a gift …

All this is merely the prelude, the build-up, for 12th night and the overnight arrival of the Tres Reyes Magos on what I always called Epiphany, the 6th of January. Ladders are propped against balconies and effigies of the kings are often added, scrambling up to deliver their gifts.

Every city and large town has a parade with at least one float on the 5th of January to welcome the Kings, who arrive by land, sea or air, throw sweets into the crowds, and are greeted with almost hysterical delight. I’ve linked in an internet pic from last year on my Facebook page –

Children have been writing to them explaining how very well behaved they have been all year, and what they would like as a reward. At bedtime, shoes are polished and set ready, one pair for everyone in the home so the Kings can see how many people there are needing gifts. On the 6th January, there’s an excited scramble to the shoes to check the booty – this is THE lavish gift day.

There is, almost inevitably, traditionally a last gigantic feast for lunch, followed by the roscon de la reyes,  and then the decorations come down and school starts the next day.

Roscon de reyes choux pastry and cream and little ceramic figures

I’ll probably do a patch-on blog with pics of the parade, I didn’t even know about it last year and missed it completely, so I am as fidgety as a child for this one!

Ever researching on your behalf

Elegsabiff