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Monday, September 08, 2014

Yes, I Speak English

“Do you speak English?” Without a doubt these are the four most terrifying words for many Spaniards. What would inspire more fear in the hearts of people in Spain: a group of armed, hooded terrorists or the sight of a young Swedish family looking alternately at a tourist map and at the multitude in the desperate hope that someone will give them directions? Even after years of studying English grammar most of you would rather face the terrorists head on instead of trying to help the nice Nordic family find the train station as you cross the street in panic.

"Do you speak English?" Even with this simple question so many people in Spain misunderstand its true meaning. What most Spanish people think this question means is “Are you William Shakespeare?” when what it really means is “Can I buy a pack of cigarettes around here?” Instead of answering “Yes, I speak English” almost everyone I have observed will begin with a string of apologies. “I speak it only a little” or “My English isn’t very good and I regret that I’ve only been able to translate some of the minor works of Charles Dickens” or some other exasperatingly modest reply.

Spain’s inferiority complex when it comes to speaking English has left a deep scar. People here are constantly reminded at how remiss they are in their language studies and if they don’t try harder they won’t get any dessert and they won't be able to play with the cool kids in the European Union. The Spanish are told that they should be more like the Dutch or the Finnish or the Norwegians or everyone else in the entire world who supposedly all speak perfect English. Let me begin by saying that no one speaks English perfectly because it’s a nightmare of a language. Most of the people who speak it well are either native speakers or people whose language isn’t widely spoken. If your native tongue is spoken by fewer people than watch a Saturday football match between Alcorcón and Albacete you have a much greater need to learn English than someone who speaks a language shared by 500 million people in 22 countries on several continents.

Americans are also criticized for only speaking one language but what should someone study who lives in the middle of such a big country? In many areas in Northern Europe people may cross one or two national borders only an hour from home. In Spain people have to drive farther than that just to go to IKEA. Even in the United States, the country most responsible for English being so widely spoken worldwide, a person could easily live their entire life speaking only Spanish. Por Dios, last year’s Superbowl was broadcast in Spanish for the first time in history. What is a worldly and sophisticated Spanish speaker to do?

First of all people should stop apologizing because they don’t speak English perfectly. If I have learned a single thing it’s that there's no finish line when it comes to learning languages; it’s a life-long process. I always joke that on my deathbed I’ll probably have a Spanish novel in one hand and a Spanish-English dictionary in the other. This isn’t saying that learning Spanish will be my undoing but it certainly seems that at times. One important aspect of language learning seldom taught in Spain is the value of confidence and attitude, so everyone repeat after me: Yes, I speak English!

(any advice on this translation is very welcome)

Yes, I Speak English

"Do you speak English?" Sin duda estas son las cuatro palabras más aterradoras para muchos españoles. ¿Qué inspiraría más miedo en el corazon de la gente en España: un grupo de encapuchados terroristas armados o la visión de una joven familia sueca mirando alternativamente un mapa turístico y a la multitud con la esperanza desesperada de que alguien les dé instrucciones? Incluso después de años de estudio de la gramática inglesa la mayoría de vosotros preferiríais enfrentaros a los terroristas y en vez de ayudar a la bonita familia nórdica encontrar la estación de tren mientras cruzaís la calle en pánico.

"Do you speak English?" Incluso con esta pregunta sencilla muchas personas en España no entienden su verdadero significado. La mayoría de los españoles piensan que esto significa ¿Eres William Shakespeare?" cuando lo que realmente significa es "¿Puedo comprar un paquete de cigarrillos por aquí?" En lugar de responder "Yes, I speak English" casi todos los que he observado comienzan con una serie de disculpas. "Hablo sólo un poco…" o "Mi inglés no es muy bueno y lamento que sólo he sido capaz de traducir algunas de las obras menores de Charles Dickens" u otra respuesta tan modesta que exaspera.

Este complejo de inferioridad español en cuanto el inglés ha dejado una profunda cicatriz. Aquí se hace recordar a la gente constantemente lo negligente está en sus estudios de la lengua y si no se esfuerza más no va a recibir su postre y no puede jugar con los chicos populares en la Unión Europea. Se dice que los españoles deben ser más como los holandeses o el finlandeses o los noruegos o todos los demás en todo el mundo que, supuestamente hablan perfecto el inglés. Permitidme comenzar diciendo que nadie habla inglés perfectamente porque es un idioma de pesadilla. La mayoría de las personas que lo hablan bien son o hablantes nativos o personas cuya lengua materna se habla por pocos. Si tu lengua nativa se habla por menos personas que se ve un partido de fútbol los sábados entre Alcorcón y Albacete tienes una mayor necesidad de aprender inglés que alguien que habla un idioma compartido por 500 millones de personas en 22 países de varios continentes.

Nos critican también a los americanos porque solo hablamos nuestro idioma. ¿Qué lengua debería estudiar alguien que vive en medio de un país tan grande? En muchas zonas del norte de Europa la gente puede cruzar una o dos las fronteras nacionales a sólo una hora de casa. En España la gente tiene que conducir más lejos solamente para ir a IKEA. Incluso en los Estados Unidos, el país más responsable de que el inglés se habla tan ampliamente en todo el mundo, una persona puede vivir fácilmente toda su vida hablando sólo español. For God’s sake, el Superbowl del año pasado fue transmitido en español por primera vez en la historia. ¿Qué debería hacer un español sofisticado?

En primer lugar, la gente debería dejar de pedir disculpas porque no habla inglés perfectamente. Si he aprendido una sola cosa es que no hay una meta en el aprendizaje de idiomas; es un proceso de toda la vida. Siempre digo en broma que en mi lecho de muerte probablemente tendré una novela española en una mano y un diccionario Español-Inglés en la otra. Esto no quiere decir que el aprendizaje de español va a ser mi perdición pero ciertamente lo parece que a veces. Un aspecto importante del aprendizaje de idiomas que rara vez se enseña en España es el valor de la confianza y la actitud, por lo que todo el mundo repetid conmigo: Yes, I speak English!

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Parking Is Hell

This audio is from Freakanomics. Listen to the podcast here:

There was a TV commercial years ago that showed a luxury sedan careening down a winding country road with the tagline: Either live closer to work or own the road in between. I chose door #1 and that has made all the difference. I haven’t driven a car in eight years (even before that I drove little) and if I never drive again that would suit me fine. If you have to drive to effect every aspect of daily living (shopping, work, school, entertainment, etc.) your life has some major flaws. If you disagree with this imagine if everyone on the planet shared your opinion and decided to drive everywhere every single day.

Many people will read this and blow a blood vessel in their brain but all I am saying is that if everyone on the planet drove every day the world would find itself in peril. We can’t all buy the road to work but many of us can live closer to where we need to be every day.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

A Hot Saturday

My pathetic and amateur attempts at photography don’t begin to do justice to the humbling majesty of the Albufera of Valencia, the vast wetlands directly south of my fair city where most of Valencia rice is cultivated. Valencia isn’t the birthplace of paella for nothing. This beautiful area is also a veritable Disneyland for cyclists with hundreds of kilometers of deserted roads that crisscross the rice patties, lonely farm houses, and small villages of this area. Granted, on this day with early morning humidity at 86% and temperatures over 34 degrees it wasn’t the best day for a 60 kilometer hard and fast ride but what the hell else do I have to do on a Saturday morning?

Monday, September 01, 2014


I was looking through my photos file and was going to delete this bunch of random video clips but decided to throw it into the YouTube trash instead. I just cleared over one gig of space on my hard drive.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Family Affair

While investigating my ancestors I found this quote from my great uncle, Friedhelm Maximilian Reinhold Scheck (“Corky” or "The Corkmeister" to his friends), before he was chased out of Germany in 1938. “Somewhere on this planet a piano is falling ten floors to the street below. The challenge all humanity faces is to find a way to put Adolf Hitler between it and the sidewalk.”

Perhaps I should make my ficticious great uncle a regular feature here.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Graffiti in the Digital Age

In an era where a successful YouTube video can receive hundreds of thousands and even millions of viewings it’s a wonder that teenagers still bother to buy cans of spray paint to defile any and all public surfaces.

In all of my years here in graffiti-plagued Spain I’ve never actually seen someone out tagging. I’ve seen a few graffiti artists at work but these two groups are completely different. A good 90% of the graffiti can simply be classified as vandalism without any artistic pretense. Most of this form of destructive graffiti is simply tags, spray-painted signatures of the idiot committing the offense. As crude as these tags may be they must be thought of as communication in some form, quasi-literate as it may be.

Don’t these kids have cell phones? Why don’t they upgrade to Twitter? It’s the new graffiti and although it's just as stupid as tagging you don’t have to buy paint. If you need more characters than those alloted on Twitter then may I suggest getting a blog? It’s free and you don’t have to go out at 04:00 to do your dirty work like with graffiti.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Miracle Street

If you really believed in miracles would you have bars on your windows? I may be mistaken but I think the miracle in question is the so called “virgin birth” so if they are trying to avoid that again I think that steel bars make for a pretty poor prophylactic. I like how in Valenciano they don’t even call Mary a virgin; she’s just God’s mom. It’s like they’re saying, “Sure, we’re Christians but a virgin? Let’s not go overboard.”

People here aren’t too religious but I think we can all agree that the water into wine stunt would be pretty cool.