Thursday, January 16, 2014

Peripatetic Country Mouse

Sadly, for the next few months I shall be away from La Chaise. In fact I shall be living out of a suitcase, only one. This is not as easy as some people might think – try predicting the weather for different areas of Europe for the next few months! It cannot even be done for the next two days. The answer is underwear that can be discarded and layers over the top that can equally be discarded au fur et a mesure.

Presently I am in northern Spain, not far from the French border where it is mostly nearly warm, until the wind comes howling in from the sea. I have been down to Javea, on the Costa Blanca, where building seems to have come to a stop, making the town a very pleasant place stay. And where it is warmer than in the north.

The choice of language in which to start conversations is another difficulty... how often have I (born Dutch) told my English speaking friends that launching themselves loudly in English is not tactful. Where I am now, the local language is basically Catalan, Castilian Spanish will be addressed to foreigners as a courtesy.

I struggle along with the few words of Spanish or Catalan that I pick up from newspapers, packaging, signs in supermarkets – and a lot of imagination. Also a lot of hand-gestures towards the items I wish to purchase – French words occasionally help, as do Italian.
Yes, I have an old Teach Yourself Spanish Book and a Modern CD with book but somehow the latter is even more embarrassing than struggling in the street. People are so kind, so helpful, if only you will try. I do not despair.

The common currency, of course, makes life a lot easier, especially for the non-numerate who, like me, have un-fond memories of trying to change guilders (dutch) into lira (italian). The Italians always gave us some small boiled sweets as well as many, many small coins..

However, Common Market, or not, few web-sites can deal with the idea of abroad. This means one has to have a MasterCard with an address in all of the countries for which one has mobile phones, for example.(It really is about time Brussels, or some organisation, did something about international mobile phone charges!) And not all on-line retailers will deliver outside the home country. As one MasterCard looks like another MasterCard, it means remembering the last four digits. Yet most cash machines have no problem – one here even offers the choice of Galician, Valencian, Catalan before any of the more usual country or world-wide languages. 
One tip: always, always travel with lots of photocopies of your most important identity documents, passport, driving licence, health card, whatever – make lots, then lots more. You never know when you will be asked to identify yourself and you really do not wish to have vital documents where they can be stolen, hand-bags, jacket pockets or other.

All of which makes me admire those reviled immigrants – whether European or sub-Saharan, who have to learn a language as well as get a job, deal with a foreign administrations, find a house, make a life. I was very young when I was an immigrant. It was not easy. It is easier now and, at least, I do not have to get a job.