Expat Focus blogs, Uncategorized

Interview with Expat Focus

Photo by Steve Bustin

My latest article for Expat Focus is an interview about being an expat. I was asked to answer a few questions related to my experiences living in Spain, including information about why I came here, what first surprised me, challenges of bringing up bilingual children, and advice for families wanting to move to Spain.

For a look at my previous articles for Expat Focus check out my columnist page.




Just how many different types of carnivals are there in Spain?

I wish I’d gone to the Cadiz festival before my kids were born. Now it’s going to be a few years until I join in the masses and get dressed up as a pirate, chicken, or prisoyaner and go on the lash for the weekend while trying to understand the chirigotas being sung in the streets of Cadiz.

Chirigotas in Cadiz. Photo by Canal Sur

It’s not like I’m sitting about moping that I never went, crying in my cup of tea while watching it on the TV. It’s just that I saw this interesting article on El Pais (in English) with photos and descriptions of the 15 must see Carnivals in Spain, and by the end of it realised that I’ve never seen the carnival here. Hopefully I’ll get a chance later in life. Maybe I could go with my kids (if they let their embarrassing Dad with them) when they are in their late teens.

By the look of the list in the article, I’d be most interested in seeing the one in Tenerife, and also in Cadiz. Tenerife for its Caribbean style, and Cadiz because I’ve heard so much about it and would be interested to see if I could get into the actual Gran Teatro Falla to see the Chirigotas final, which is a competition of satirical songs taking the mick out of real life, politics and culture.

Have a look at this video for an idea of what you could expect.

I have seen quite a few festivals and carnivals around the world. The biggest was in Bahia, Salvador, for the Brazilian carnival. That was 5 days of drinking, partying, dancing, and pure mayhem. It took about 15 days to get over it. Another of my favourites was Songkran in Thailand, which was a water festival welcoming the start of the summer, also an amazing atmosphere and great if you want to get to know just how mental Thais can get.

Here in Seville there isn’t really a carnival as such, but the two mains festivals are Semana Santa, around Easter as it’s a religious festival, and La Feria, which is more about dancing Sevillanas, going on the attractions, and drinking rebujito. I’m more of a Semana Santa freak, rather than a Feria one. Have a look at these previous blogs for a deeper insight.

What I will and won’t miss about Semana Santa in Sevilla

What does my head in about la Feria in Sevilla

The carnival is quite popular with Sevillanos though. My kids are both doing carnival type activities this week. My daughter’s nursery are putting on a little parade with all the kids. Last year I watched my son in it dressed up as a rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, but he wasn’t too impressed. This year he’s got a fireman outfit to wear for a school parade. My daughter’s outfit is a surprise. We bought her some beige tights and cardigan, but the nursery will dress her up. Looking forward to seeing that this Friday!

What about you? Have you been lucky enough to experience the chirigotas in Cadiz, or would you say other places in Spain have a better carnival vibe?

Culture Shock, Uncategorized

Are there really more Spanish vegetarians?

I’ve just got back from a barbecue, in February. Fair enough, what started off as a planned barbeque did actually just end up as lunch indoors because of some mean looking clouds, but the meat loving idea was there.

Slice of Jamón anyone? Photo by Ivana

That thought of meat sizzling on the hot coals as early as February was definitely a first – I normally wait until at least May. It was great getting stuck into some burgers and pork though. I actually tried fresh spinach for the first time, which might have actually been the highlight.

I could never become a vegetarian. I see the benefits and like the idea of it, but I don’t think I could get through a week without some meat sliding onto my plate, especially as I live in Spain, and my wife is a meat lover. So, I was astonished to read today on Think Spain, that nearly 1 in 13 Spaniards are now vegetarians or vegans. According to this article titled Vegetarian revolution, the number of restaurants and food stores catering exclusively for vegetarians and vegans has doubled since 2011.

The question on my meaty lips is how many of those vegetarians are hard core ones who never touch, smell or even look at meat and fish, and how many allow themselves to eat jamón. In the restaurant round the corner from where I work, I swear they had never even heard of the word ‘vegetariano’ until we had a teacher who didn’t like meat about 10 years ago. They actually suggested she eat jamón, I mean, who doesn’t eat jamón? I also know a teacher who considers herself as a vegetarian, but does have the occasionally leg of ham.

I’ve never thought about the impact of being a vegetarian in Spain, but it must be pretty hard work. The only pure vegetarian meal I’ve had out is pisto (a Spanish equivalent of ratatouille), and it’s one of my favourite dishes ever. I eat a lot of veg during the week, pisto, spinach with chickpeas, salad, and whatever else I can stomach, but when the weekend comes it is time for carne.

Eating out in Spanish restaurants is great, we don’t do it so much anymore, but meat is always on our wonky table somewhere. There’s just so many types you can have. When I was in a restaurant in Rota last summer, there was a great big chalk painted drawing of a pig on the wall, and all the parts were labelled with the specific name of the meat. One of my favourites has always been solomillo, and I found out that was the back part of the back. I also like presa, which is the front part of the back.

I can see why more and more Spaniards are becoming vegetarians though – it’s healthier, cheaper, and morally right. I also think it’s about time restaurants are catering more for those non-meat lovers. Compared to back home, I miss the option of having veggies when I go out for a meal. Whether I’ll chose them with so much lovely meat available is another thing.

What about you? Have you had any problems being a vegetarian in Spain? Do you think you are well catered for?

Expat Focus blogs, Uncategorized

Is it easy to bring up bilingual children?

Bilingual Spanish kids? How do you do it? Photo by Estrelas

Nope. At least not as easy as I thought it would be. In my latest article for Expat Focus titled Bringing up bilingual children just isn’t that easy I give examples of other parents I know and their experiences with battling with the two languages, my own situation, and also some tips for anyone in the early stages with young kids.

For a look at other articles I’ve written about life as an expat have a look at my column page.


Is the demand for English falling in Spain?

Are us English teachers doomed in Spain? Has the time come for us to hang up our board pens and become real teachers back home, and escape before we get caught up in this Brexit lark?

How many of these could us English teachers fill? Photo by Neticola

I read an interesting article in the EL Gazette titled Spain sees fall in language learning. The headline did scare me a little, but I guess it’s nothing that I didn’t already know.

I still remember having a conversation with a student a few years back who said that Spain was heading for a recession. It was just before they won the Euros in 2008, and I was quite miffed when he told me this crisis was coming our way. I didn’t actually believe him. Indeed, just a year later, things started to go a bit Pete Tong.

Demand for English has definitely fallen in some respects. A lot of people just can’t afford to send their kids to extra English classes, so they make do with the terrible level in the public schools. But, saying that, other people, mainly older teenagers, University Graduates, and public school teachers, have had to fork out and pay for English classes in order to get the required B1 or even B2 level, which they now need to graduate, or even continue in employment as is the case for public school teachers. So there has been a massive boom in people desperate to get an English qualification.

I agree with what the article says though. The bubble is definitely less bouncy than it was, but I don’t think there’s anything to worry about. Firstly, the level of English in the public schools in Spain is still very poor. It seems that most teachers just don’t do any speaking activities with their students, which I just can’t get my head round, because speaking takes up about 70% of my classes.

As long as the level of English in public schools is low, there will always be a demand in private academies. It’ll rise and fall, depending on the state of the market, and also the need in each city and region. I heard that the average level of English in Madrid and Barcelona is B2, whereas here in Sevilla the norm now is B1, but that’s getting higher each year.

So I don’t think we’re in trouble. Spanish people will always need to improve their level of English as it’s becoming more and more important. Personally, the company I work for has grown a lot over the last few years, there have been peaks and troughs, but generally the market is buzzing and there are a lot of young students still coming through in need of gaining a qualification.

Good luck to them, that’s what I say. If only it was the same back in the U.K. where all University Graduates were made to get to a decent level in another language. Open your mind people…learning another language is excellent for you!

What do you think? Do you think the bubble has burst in Spain? Should ESL teachers start fleeing on horse and carts?


Top Spain and Expat blogs: Brexit in Spain, food to try before you die, and Eurovision 2017.

Here’s this months top blogs I’ve read about life in Spain and being an expat.

Jamoncito bueno…Photo by Andrea Terzini

Food you should try before you…

Die. Or maybe just in a weekend while you’re on holiday. Check out this article on Matador Network titled 11 food experiences you should have in Spain before you die.

Brexit affecting Spain?

Not really according to this article on The Local ES which states that Brits still love Spain, and so they should!

A picture paints a thousand words

I usually browse a few pictures of Spain before I write, just for some inspiration. So, check out this post on Doran Erickson Photography which has a great selection of photos of Spain from December 2016 to January 2017.

Being an Expat

There’s an interesting post by Mariana on Life with an Italian about What no one told her about being an expat. I think every expat could relate to her experiences in one way or another.

Spain in Eurovision 2017

My god, it’s already here. Have a look at this post of you’re a Eurovision fan for the possible candidates for Spain’s song. I’m going for Mirela.

That’s all for this month. Cheers.




Poor Spanish Kids…and why you should see the Cabalgatas!

I feel sorry for Spanish kids. They break up for Christmas around about the 20th of December, and have to wait almost 3 weeks until they get their presents on the Dia de los Reyes Magos, which falls on the 6th of January.

Give us a sweet, mate! Photo by alqalat

Imagine having to wait that long during your Christmas holidays to get your presents, not to mention the minimal amount of time they have to play with them before going back to school. It’s like being off from work during the summer, but having to wait until the last day until you’re allowed in the pool.

Some years are worse than others. This year fell pretty well for Spanish kids because they got a whole weekend to play with their presents before going back. For the last four years they’ve returned the day after, on the 7th. Trust me. I’m a teacher and have seen their miserable faces in my classes on the 7th , and it’s not a pleasant sight.

On a religious side, receiving presents on the 6th of January makes sense, as this was when the three wise men gave gifts to baby Jesus. This explains why they do it like the do in Spain, and also why they have the Cabalgatas. Continue reading “Poor Spanish Kids…and why you should see the Cabalgatas!”


Until next year…

This is my last post for 2016, and there’s just a couple of things I’d like to say.

Have a good one. See you next year. Photo by Christinaesteriero

Firstly, thanks to all the new subscribers to my blog and email list. If you haven’t signed up to my newsletter already then I send one every two weeks and add links of my latest two blogs, plus details on book deals, and a short anecdote on what I’ve learnt in Spain recently.

Secondly, just to let you know that I’m working on my third and final edit of Falling for Flamenco, which should be out early next year. I’m aiming for before Easter. To get more of an idea about my novel have a look at this post title A Novel Spain is nothing without a novel.

Finally, have a great Christmas. I’m looking forward to having a break as usual. I’ll be back in January with some more posts. Have a good one!


Gas canisters don’t cry

This is quite an embarrassing story, but sod it, I’m going to tell it anyway. If you live in Spain then you’ll probably be familiar with the old-fashioned way of getting gas (and I’m not talking about eating lentils).

Maybe I should just get a van, photo by Daquella Manera

Unfortunately, we still use the traditional method of the butano. Which means we have to call up the local gas company and get a bloke to bring round a new orange, or sometimes silver, gas canister.

We probably should have changed to natural gas by now, where they come round and install a new boiler and fit in gas tubes somehow, but we haven’t got round to it. After this little episode, I think it might be time.

Anyway, the problem with my local town is that the company who deliver the gas canisters only come to where we live on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Since no one has worked out a way of putting some sort of indicator on the gas canister to tell how much gas is left, the only way you know when it’s running out is when the boiler makes an extra loud bang when it ignites, as if it’s sucking out the gas a little bit harder.

So, last weekend, confident of having a shower as I hadn’t heard much banging with the boiler recently, I jumped in before nipping off to work, on a Saturday, and found that the gas had indeed run out. As it was the weekend, I had to pop up the road and get a new canister.

Easy, for anyone with a car, but we don’t, and the petrol station is about a ten minute walk away. The canisters weigh about 15kgs, so the only way I can get an emergency one is by using an old double pram we have lying about in the patio. It’s one of those huge ones which can carry two babies. It’s perfect for propping a gas canister on. So, off I went, not the first time on a Saturday, with my orange gas canister in the pram.

I was about halfway on my journey, when I heard someone shouting behind.

Killo,” he said, in the Andalucian way. (Mate, in English).

I turned round and nodded as a skinny guy whizzed past on his bike.

Esta no llorar.

Como?” I said, confused about what he’d said.

Llorar killo, no llorar,” he added, laughing to himself. Then it clicked. “Mate, that one doesn’t cry, does it?” he’d said.

I laughed, it was about time someone made a comment about me travelling with a gas canister propped up in a pram. It didn’t stop there though.

As I got to the petrol station, and it must have been the 5th or 6th time in recent months, one of the younger guys working there greeted me.

Killo,” he said, nodding to the pram. “Where are you taking the baby?”

“Just getting some air.”

He laughed and shook my hand. I left the buggy outside the shop and walked in. Inside I stood in the queue, waiting for more comments to come. As I got to the till, I greeted an older guy I’d spoken to on several occasions. We both looked out the window and saw the younger guy pushing my pram, with the canister, over to replace it with a new one. The older guy winked at me and picked up his walkie-talkie.

Killo,” he said to his mate outside. “Be careful with the baby.”

The younger guy looked over, laughed,  and waved. I spoke with the older guy about the rise in the price of the gas canister, as usual, and watched my new baby appear outside.

Outside, I shook the younger guy’s hand.

“My house is over there if you fancy dropping it off?”

“Nah, you’re all right,” he replied. “Take care of that one, she’s quiet at the moment, don’t wake her up,” he added.

As I walked home with the new canister, I started to wonder if maybe it was time to get a car, or just sort out the boiler to get natural gas, like we used to have when we lived in the centre. But I think I’d miss those walks with the pram and chatting to the petrol station blokes. At least it gets me out of the house at the weekend, away from the real screaming babies.

Do you use gas canisters where you live? What do you do if it runs out at the weekend?


Best 10 websites for learning Spanish

Following on from my blog last week of the Best ways to learn Spanish, I thought I’d make up a blog of all the websites I’ve used over the years to improve my Spanish. So, here goes.

Photo by Maruisza

Spanish Listening

This is really useful for, you guessed it, listening in Spanish. You can click on various videos and watch and do vocabulary activities too. You can search by level and topic as well, so it narrows down your search.

Spanish Verb Forms

Nightmare, just a nightmare. Who the hell decided to change the ends of all the verbs depending on the tense? Well, this website is as good as any for a detailed definition, plus each of the verb forms.

Lingus TV

This is an entertaining way to improve you Spanish with various mini clips, soap opera style. They also have a range of levels and you can select the topic of the video. The clips are a bit of fun, and also have subtitles. Continue reading “Best 10 websites for learning Spanish”