My Spanish Lovers: Gee Cassandra! What’s with the Spanish?

My Spanish Lovers - Cassandra

Cassandra (probably thinking in Spanish) at the Puerta de Alcala in Madrid

Gee! I racked my brain for hours and hours in a desperate attempt to try and figure out who would be a great next subject for My Spanish Lovers. Then I went back to that first breath of frustration, that slowly aspirated “geeeee”, and there, waving a big hello, was Cassandra, the blogger behind the funky “life in Spain” blog Gee Cassandra.

Madrid-based Cassandra has been learning Spanish for way longer than yours truly and has travelled the length and breadth of this lovely country a few times over. Here she relays a large amount of her wise experience to encourage you lot to do the same!

Hola Cassandra! Thanks so much for chatting to My Spanish Adventure. Yours is a journey I take a lot of inspiration from. Living in Madrid and working with such a high level of Spanish, I have to say I quite envy you! For those people who don’t know much about you or your blog could you give us a brief introduction?

Thanks, Will! I started documenting my own Spanish adventure in 2010 when I found out I had been accepted to an English-teaching program in Madrid. What better way to save my travel memories as well as let friends and family know what I was up to than by keeping a blog? I share stories of cultural missteps, lists of funny English translations, and how I recklessly risk my life to photograph of all the Euro-goodness.

Like minds my friend! You first travelled to Spain from the US. Why did you decide to make such a big jump? 

My Spanish Lovers - Cassandra and northern Spain

Cassandra getting all excited in Northern Spain

Like so many of my fellow English auxiliares, I studied Spanish in college and wanted to be somewhere I could actually use the language. I had gone all starry-eyed with Europe when I studied abroad in León (in northwest Spain) in 2007 and couldn’t wait to get back to paseos, cobblestone streets, tapas, and rolled r’s.

You’re keen! That ever elusive rolled r needs to go a fair way yet to “call to me”. Now tell us what were some of the initial trials you faced when you first arrived in Spain? How did you overcome them? 

We honeymooned for a while, but then Spain and I butted heads when I was reminded of what a guiri I was. From not taking a number at the post office to getting trapped in that glass box at the bank, it seemed I couldn’t get anything right. Living abroad isn’t always a vacation, and I had to become more flexible to go with the Spanish no-pasa-nada mindset. I remind myself that I am a foreigner, and I’m not only learning a language, but a culture.

My Spanish Lovers - Cassandra and the world

Cassandra's date with the world

Si! No pasa nada! So how much of the Spanish language did you know before coming out here?

My grammar, vocabulary, and listening were strong after study abroad stints in Costa Rica and Spain, but speaking was still the hardest part. If we’re talking the language of Cervantes, I’m a C1. That’s pretty advanced, but I still struggle with gracefully explaining my thoughts. This year I give classroom instructions in Spanish, and there was no better reality check than the day a deaf student told me I had an accent.

I have notebooks filled with new Spanish vocab, and, when I get discouraged and think I’m not improving, I flip back through those and am pleasantly surprised at how much I really have soaked up. To think that only 15 months ago I thought that “pares” and “impares” (even and odd sides of the road) were really long streets in Madrid!

Wow you’ve come a long way. C1 is the dream for me! It’s definitely going to take some work. Anyway, tell us what some of your favourite things are about the Spanish language? Any favourite words? 

Playing with the noun-adjective order never gets old. You simply start talking and can decide later if you want to slip in something descriptive—terrific!

I’m fascinated by words that have no tidy translation into English. This week I learned armatoste, a word which describes a colossal thing-a-ma-jig, something that pointlessly takes up lots of space.

My Spanish Lovers - Cassandra and cafe

Cassandra's tipple of choice the classic cafe con leche

Interesting word – I’ll have to add that to my list! Ok, so what have been some of the biggest, major highlights of the past two years living and working in Spain? What places would you recommend people seeing?

Coming from a tiny town in Arkansas, living in Madrid has been an incomparable highlight in itself. And traveling around Europe is so easy that any visitor must take advantage of this!

My favourite spot on the Iberian Peninsula continues to be Northern Spain— from the Cantabrian coast to mysterious Basque Country to the Picos de Europa, the so-called “Green Spain” gets my vote.

A region that I’ve yet to venture to! Not jealous much. What things should people who want to move out to Spain, to have a similar experience to you, know about potentially doing it? What advice would you give them?

When I arrived in León in 2007 I thought Spain was all sun and flamenco and bullfights, but there I was, desperately in need of long underwear as I shivered in the January wind and snow.

My advice? Read, read, read! Explore the culture, the people, and the history before you arrive. Watch movies, stalk travel blogs, and get in touch with expats who’ve hauled anchor. Also, be sure to investigate your particular city as the regions of Spain are very diverse.

I’ll second the diversity. I’ve lived in two now and they’ve both been very different! How do you sustain your travels around Spain though? Do you have any money saving tips that can help people out who are preparing for a trip or maybe even relocation to Spain?

If you are staying in Spain long-term, giving clases particulares, or private English lessons, is the way to go. While I have a steady salary from working in a high school, I also have 7 hours of private lessons to bring home extra bacon.

Follow websites and twitter accounts that can help you pick up on the free offerings cities have to offer—I follow Madrid Free, for example. Get a library card instead of buying books. Furnish your lovely piso with second-hand finds from websites like Segunda Mano, neighborhood trueques (“trades”), and stores like Ábrete Sésamo.

Challenge yourself to make paella or tortilla instead of eating out. If you do go out, here’s a handy trick for the menu del día: most restaurants will typically let you choose to order just one plato, or course. This means that you can still get a main dish, bread, dessert, and a drink, and they’ll knock off around 3 Euros.

My Spanish Lovers - Cassandra and paella

Cassandra's home-cooked paella

Super tips indeed! Sadly I still can’t make a tortilla… What are your favourite things about the culture? What is it about Spain that makes you enjoy living here most?

The Spanish are very good at living in the moment! I feel like in the States we are much more about the time-money equation, and because of this we don’t always live in the present. Here it’s much more relaxed and therefore easy to savor each day with a stroll, a cup of coffee, or a long conversation.

Agreed! Any last words for people out there interested in immersing themselves in a foreign culture, learning a language or travelling the world?

I’m going to echo what the other Spanish Loverrrrs have said and say “Go for it!”

Learning a foreign language certainly helps with travelling, but it enriches life in so many other ways. I’ve made great friends whom I’ve only ever spoken Spanish with, I enjoy literature in two languages, and now there are ideas that I can express more naturally in Spanish than English. As Frank Smith said, “One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.”

Now how’s that for advocacy of learning Spanish? Couldn’t have said that better myself! Thanks to Cassandra for being such a super interviewee. Make sure you check out her ace blog Gee Cassandra and follow her on Twitter.

Don’t forget to get in contact if you’d like to be my next Spanish lover!

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4 Responses to My Spanish Lovers: Gee Cassandra! What’s with the Spanish?

  1. Cassandra February 4, 2012 at 9:34 am #

    Gracias for the interview, Will, I enjoyed it. Hope you get the chance to bust out “trueque” and “armatoste” every few weeks or so!

    • Will February 5, 2012 at 10:14 pm #

      De nada. I’ve already busted them out. A few jaws dropped!

  2. femmefrugality February 4, 2012 at 8:30 pm #

    Fun! I’ll have to check out your blog 🙂 I love those words that have no English equivalent, too. You’d think with such a ridiculously huge vocabulary, we’d have everything covered, but we most definitely don’t. Love the “world” picture too.

    • Will February 5, 2012 at 10:14 pm #

      @Make sure you check it out! Cassandra’s got one of the most rockin’ blogs around!