Granada Diaries Pt. 2: How to Integrate a Finn in the Spanish Society

Hola, y como os va la vida?

This is the second instalment of my expat series where I talk about living in Spain as a Finn. For the first part, click here. For my last expat series about living in Poland, click here.

November 11, Sunday.

Step 1. Start working.

Considering the economic situation in Spain, I was lucky to find a paid job here. (Andalucia is one of the provinces in Spain that still hasn’t recuperated from the recession in 2008.) Most of my colleagues are either complaining about not being able to find enough work or working hard for little reward. Apparently especially in Granada, employers often try to take advantage of their workers, and work in the private sector is worse paid than working for the government.

Sure, I wouldn’t make a living cleaning the hostel kitchen for ten hours a week either. But with the accommodation included and a free breakfast, plus my additional translation endeavours, I’m doing just fine.

And I like the work. It’s mostly easy, and after the first week I don’t even feel bad anymore if I have to yell at people for being too loud. I’m the god damn sheriff, right? The hostel is awesome – a little run down but not dirty. It feels cozy, and it attracts a lot of good people. I get along well with my work mates, and I get a free drink at the hostel bar every Friday night.

I’m already wondering whether I could keep working in hostels for a while.

November 14, Wednesday.

Step 2. Look for more work.

By now, I feel like I have sent my CV to every Finnish translation agency I have found on Google, and I have started expanding into foreign ones. I’m sure the Brits, Scandis and Baltics could use a little help from a Finnish expert.

I’m trying not to lose hope but finding work as a translator is not nearly as easy as I thought it would be. I feel like I’ve spent days crafting introduction emails, honing my CV, looking up agencies, looking up little jobs, creating usernames on different platforms where I might find work. I don’t get a lot of replies, though. And the ones that do write me back don’t seem like ideal partners with how little money they’re offering. I actually had to turn down the first agency that actually seemed interested in contracting me because of the low payment they offered. I hesitated, though. While not accepting low salaries was the one and foremost thing we were taught at university about the translation industry, the balance of my bank account is sinking, and I am almost desperate for work.

But I continue. I work my shift at night and go to bed, sometimes get up at 3 a.m. to politely yell at people who are being loud in the lobby or answer the door after someone’s locked themselves out. I get up in the morning and have a slow breakfast, and then I sit in the empty bar or on the sunny rooftop or uncomfortably in my own room, fingers dancing across the keyboard.

It’s been almost a month, and every time someone asks me what I do and I tell them I’m a translator, I feel like a fraud.

 

November 15, Thursday.

Step 3. Nevermind, I just had an interview.

Ignore what I just wrote. I just got off the phone with a translation agency in Germany. They want to contract me!

Even after the spontaneous phone interview I did with them where my brain kept trying to make me speak Spanish instead of German. I answered every question with ‘Si! Uhh, ja!’

But it doesn’t matter. Things are looking up!

November 18, Sunday.

Step 4. Get a Spanish boyfriend.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while – actually, not even a while, like literally for a day – you know that sorting out my dating life is always my number one priority when I move to a new place. Well, after tax numbers and bank accounts and work and apartment and friends. And finding my nearest supermarket and then scouting said supermarket’s tea selection to see if they’ve got any vanilla tea. (In Spain they do!) And then going to all the viewpoints.

But, to quote the narrator of The Name of the Rose, a 500-page-book that among other things spends a) 5 pages describing a painting, b) 8 pages to discuss whether Jesus ever laughed or not and c) 10 pages of something that I skipped because I’m like 100 pages away from learning who’s been murdering all these monks so I’m not going to indulge in any more of your dull philosophy: I digress.

Before moving to Spain, I kept making jokes about meeting hot Spanish guys (to the extent that even my dad banters me about it now…). I also swore to keep off  Tinder for the first two weeks but then one night I got drunk and started swiping again.

Today was actually my first date with a Spaniard. I went out with a Turkish guy before, and once with an Argentinian, but both kind of fell through when the first couldn’t understand my English and the second one’s Spanish was incomprehensible to me. As always, I put my best foot forward: I had braided my hair the night before so it would be curly, I wore high heels, and I put on red lipstick that I knew wouldn’t smear when we met up for drinks.

Just kidding. I was hungover as hell. The bags under my eyes made me look like a vampire, and light hurt my eyes. That part about high heels was true, though.

Marc and I got along great before he needed to head home to arrange his apartment situation. He was moving up to the mountains for the winter but didn’t yet have a place to stay. We hugged at the street corner and he joked that once he found an apartment, there’d be a spot for me on the weekends.

He sent me a message just an hour later, asking for my number. Whenever I texted him, I could see those little blue ticks under my message, indicating he’d read it right away, and his response would come immediately. Until it didn’t. In the middle of the conversation he left me on read, never to be heard from again.

Boys, huh. Doesn’t matter: there are plenty of fish in the sea.

 

November 21, Wednesday.

Step 5. Find a gym.

Remembering the horrors of starting Via Dinarica last summer with minimal training beforehand, I knew I needed to start going to a gym in Granada if I wanted to walk Camino de Santiago next year. I’ve never been a big fan of weights and benches and, uh, muscle machines? Build-a-body-s? To me, they look kinda like medieval torture machines with the added fun of having a bunch of Arnold Schwarzenegger types huffing and puffing around me as I struggle to even lift my feet off the ground.

So, I found a gym that offered sports classes. I did a free test trial there on Monday, and today I returned to sign in permanently. I miss the Zumba instructor from back home, and I miss the classes where I’d get all mixed up with my own feet and I could look at my friends laughing and they’d make faces back at me to signify that they were also very much lost on whatever salsachaton was going on that day.

But I’ve conquered my own little back corner here, too, and because of a too-good-to-believe Black Friday deal, I’m only paying 25 euros until the end of January.

I also got a call from another gym I tried this week. One that refused to specify me their rates over e-mail, and then were shocked when I showed up in person and told them it was too expensive for me. It’s always fun to explain to a stranger on the phone in Spanish that you’re actually broke AF and why can’t they just take a polite ghosting?

Ugh, so needy.

 

November 26, Monday.

Step 6. Give up on a professional career forever, tear up your degree, fuck this.

So my professional life seems slightly better. I’m in cahoots with a few different agencies. There is just one tiny little minuscule problem: I don’t have a computer.

I feel like a fireman without a hose. A stripper without a pole. Indiana Jones without the whip.

It’s been nine days since the keyboard of my computer stopped working. I had to change my password through my phone because the keys I needed to sign in were no longer working. It was a Saturday night and I decided, fuck this, I’ll turn it off and deal with it tomorrow.

The classic turn-it-off-and-on-again trick didn’t work. Neither did rebooting the whole mess. So I brought it to a shop early next Monday, and they promised to get it fixed. It took them a whole week to find out that they couldn’t get a Finnish keyboard for my Acer.

So I went around and asked any computer shop in the area. Finally the third one knew how to use Google and told me he could order a new keyboard straight from the manufacturer.

This shit’s gonna cost me a lot and I’m going to lose weeks of valuable work time but it’s all I can do right now.

The worst part is that now I’m getting tons of emails back from the agencies I contacted a few weeks ago. They want me to send my information, or do test translations, or just straight-up hire me, and I gotta be like sorry, Thor’s gotta get his hammer fixed first.

God damn it.

December 4, Tuesday.

Step 7. Make friends.

If there’s one thing I’ve realized while I’ve moved around, it’s that I’m really not good at making friends.

Like how do you talk to people in non-hostel settings? How do non-travelling people ever meet anyone new? I’m completely baffled. Luckily, though, Granada hasn’t proven that hard on me. The guy who drove the Blablacar here from Sevilla is still keeping in touch – in fact I went to see his dissertation conference today, but I could barely keep up with what was being said and I nodded off halfway through the conference – and a girl that did a high school exchange at my school like ten years ago is living here. So I’ve got some basis for friendships here.

Mostly I spent time in the hostel, though, hanging out with Valeria, our half-American reception girl. Either that or working. Whenever someone’s around, I like to go out to grab a caña with them. Caña is a small baby beer but it’s cheap and it comes with free tapas, a small plate of food, a Spanish tradition that you have to pay for in most places other than Granada.

So, yeah. I think I’m doing fine. I just wish all Couchsurfing and Meetup groups didn’t always meet so late at night. Girl’s gotta work nights over here, yo.

December 8, Saturday.

Step 8. Give up on the idea of love and renounce all men forever.

I deleted Tinder this week.

Between all the half-assed messages I was getting, I couldn’t decide whether Spanish boys were boring or just couldn’t be bothered to put in an effort to communicate like humans. I’m the type of a girl who’ll say yes anytime someone on the app would ask me out – and still, even with a seemingly determined date in mind, it seemed like it was impossible to actually meet up with these guys. We knew we had a date, but when? Where? What? Only the Spanish gods of dating apps would know.

My last hope hung on this Argentinian guy. We’d been messaging back and worth for almost a week, switching form Tinder to Instagram to Whatsapp, and he seemed funny and eager to meet. (So basically he had already exceeded my expectations.) Our receptionist knows him as the guy who thought I was a man – due to my kind-of-but-not-really fluent Spanish, I sometimes mix up silly Español 101 stuff like plurals and singulars and, yes, masculine and feminine forms of words. After one such lapsus, my good Argentinian Tinder colleague got very fixated on it, asking me three whole times if I was a dude. So, that was fun.

But things picked up again a couple of days later – and came to a screeching halt when he invited me to his shower at 0.16 o’clock on a Friday night. When I explained my opposing ideals of holding hands under a starry sky while sharing one giant marshmallow – or whatever the shit people in relationships do in 2018 -, I received no reply.

Fair enough.

24 hours later, he texted me a video of himself grilling meat. No, that’s not a euphemism. I asked him what it was and he said pig. Nothing else. Resisting the urge to reply with, ‘oh, like you?’, I left it at that and decided to marry a dozen cats instead.

There are plenty of fish in the sea, but you know what else there is? Trash. There’s a lot of trash in the sea.

 

December 11, Tuesday.

Step 9. Get rich.

Tax return day!!! Last night when I went to sleep, I had less than 100 euros on my bank account, and now I’ve got both my first month’s pay and tax returns from last year.

Suddenly, life seems like 4/5. At least.

December 15, Saturday.

Step 10. Learn Spanish.

The biggest reason I wanted to move to Spain was to find a hot Spanish boyfriend. Wait, no.

The biggest reason I wanted to move to Spain was to improve my limping Spanish. I’ve been learning it on and off for almost ten years now, and somehow it’s still not fluent. (Who knew you’d need to put work into learning a skill? Shocking.) So I started looking for Workaway placements in hostels in Spain, and ended up in beautiful Granada.

But the thing is, even if you are technically surrounded by the language, it’s not enough unless you put in a conscious effort to fully immerse yourself in it.

The language I mostly noticed myself using at the hostel was English: to communicate with guests, to make friends with the reception girl, and to communicate more complex things to my manager. In addition, I read all my books and blogs in English, I mainly listen to music in English, and I write in English.

I guess I’m doing better now. I’ve started reading El Pais at breakfast, and I look up all the words I don’t know. I’ve stopped binging Arrested Development (because it got really, really bad as soon as Netflix picked it up) and returned to watching How I Met Your Mother with Spanish dubs. So at least I’m trying.

But the eternal dilemma of a language learner is this: do I prefer to practice, or do I prefer to have friends?

I went out yesterday with Mandy, an American girl who’s teaching English in Granada, and as we chatted about our experiences here, she told me she struggled with the same problem. I know I should be speaking more Spanish and insisting that people speak Spanish to me too. But there is still a language barrier that is hard to overcome: when I can communicate but can’t properly understand what I’m being told; when I can express events or feelings but can’t convey my usual witticism; when I know school Spanish but don’t understand colloquialisms.

At what point do you stop practicing and switch to English just so you can have a meaningful friendship with someone?

However, going out with Mandy was a confidence booster. She has only recently started learning Spanish, so I did most of the talking to waiters. And even if I know it’s a bit of false confidence, even if I know my Spanish seems good only because it’s put in a relative context, being able to communicate in a foreign language still makes me feel powerful.

 

Thanks for checking in this week! Life in Spain is good, my computer is good,  and especially my pile of chocolates for Christmas is very, very good. Oh yeah, that reminds me, I should go eat some more chocolate.

Join me next time when I talk about everything strange and wonderful in Spanish customs and behaviours!

 

Have you ever lived abroad? Would you want to?

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