Category Archives: Spanish

Language of the Hand Fan

If you’re uninformed, you might just think this is a boring portrait of a lady fanning herself.

But she’s actually a subtle coquette whispering to you in fan language. There is a long history of a silent hand fan language that women use to attract lovers when out in public. Spanish women used to have pretty confined circumstances and in homosocial (restricted to one’s sex) high society they rarely had time alone to themselves to consort with other men.

So, they had to talk via the fan when they were out at events, like the bullring or the opera.

Of course, the men knew this too, as did the servants, so it was not very easy to get away with. But in those times in the Latin world, affairs were quite the norm, though monogamy was not openly flouted.

These little fans are called “abanicos” in Spanish. Here’s an article in Spanish which has some more information on the way one spoke with the hand fan.


El mundo pijo

Pijo is an interesting Spanish word, which translates to mean something like “posh” but with its own Spanish connotations. It’s both an adjective and a noun, so a person or thing can be pijo or pija and people can be pijos (male) or pijas (female). It can unfortunately be confused with another word in the feminine form.

We don’t really have a landed aristocracy or strict class system in the United States so the closest thing I can thing to translate posh or pijo to is prep or preppy, although it’s actually a lot simpler than that. In Europe, things are much simpler; the rules of society are laid out from a young age. Rich people are born rich and in the right class. They’re usually conformist twats who know their place and fill it well. Same with the middle class, working class and poor.

The main reason there isn’t a lot of tension is because the differences aren’t all that large in income, compared to the US, and because they’re so separated. And most people don’t care for social climbing in Europe, which reduces tension and kills the rat race desire. If you’re posh you’re totally okay with it, just like if you’re working class you like to show it off in the way you dress and talk. In the US, on the other hand, there is the weirdness of dressing up and down between classes, and the use of subtle indicators that only people of your class can notice.

Also, in Europe, opinions, work and schooling are of secondary importance (as opposed to primary in the states), which makes the whole thing quite innocent and easy to fathom, since how you dress and talk who you’re parents are is pretty much everything. In the US, good luck being upper middle without having gone to an Ivy league school or close to it or holding the “right opinions.”

So, what is a pijo? Well, here are some pictures.

The pijos tend to inhabit the major cities, mainly Madrid and Barcelona, and only in the central or northern barrios of Madrid as far as I can tell, ranging from Chamberi to Salmanca to Opera/Sol. The pijo is decidedly non-Bohemian, which is oh-so bourgeoisie these days. The pijo is posh, which means that they do not wear t-shirts, but rather artfully layer their clothing. The more articles the better. I won’t go too much into the clothing, but to put it simply, it’s usually of the prep brand name, simple, classy stuff, like Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren and co.

Usually they have a lot of mom & pa’s money, sometimes a car, they prefer to take the metro, they play golf and tennis, they use a lot of anglicisms in their speech, have super straight hair (females) or the clean-messy gel look (males). As for politics, they’re supposedly more for the PP (center-right) but are very pro-Europe and free-market and hope to see Spain become more like the northern Europe.

But probably more important than than all that is their mode of speech, which uses a lot of foreign words and sort of has its own accent and ways of expression.


(More) English Newspapers in Spain

I was gladdened to find an English version of El País in English. El País is one of the two main newspapers in Spain, the other being their rival, El Mundo. El Mundo, as far as I can tell, doesn’t have an English translation yet. Maybe they should hire me to get that started.

In addition, I found there are in fact quite a few more English newspapers in Spain, though most are small and focused solely on regional happenings. The few Spain-centric ones include Expatica, ThinkSpain and Typically Spanish, all of which cover the variety of issues you’d find in any major newspaper. Given that there are so many British expats in Spain (some estimates say it’s almost 1 million), I’m actually surprised there aren’t more.

Some more sites for people living abroad include SpainExpat, Transitions Abroad and EasyExpat, though there are numerous more.


“Intercambios de idiomas” in Madrid

Intercambio roughly translates to “exchange.” An intercambio de lenguas is a language exchange, a meeting of people who speak diverse languages. Usually these events take place at bars (alcohol always facilitates language speaking), and usually are centered around English-Spanish conversation, although a good number of German, French and Chinese speakers tend to show up.

While they’re marketed toward foreigners, the majority of people I meet at intercambios are Spanish, and a good portion of the time they end up speaking in Spanish to foreigners wanting to learn Spanish. They’re usually a lot of fun and are a great way to meet people if you’re new to Madrid. Think of it is a bar where everyone is open to talk to everyone else in whichever language they feel like speaking at the moment. Oh yeah, it’s totally free, too.

I’ve compiled a small list of intercambios below, sorted by day. I’ll update them as I hear about more. Don’t fail to let me know if you know of more.

O’Neill’s, 22:00; Bacchus, 21:00


Beer Station, 22:00; J&J Books and coffee, 21:00

4D, 22:00; J&J Books and coffee (quiz night), 21:00


And apart from going out, there’s also the option of looking on loquo to meet one-on-one. Though I’d be careful with that. I’ve heard most people on there want to exchange more than languages.


Easy, legal way for Americans to teach in Spain

Americans in post-2000 Europe find themselves hard-pressed to find legal work. Moreover, Europe has no worker program for young Americans, like it does for Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians. Americans, therefore, have few options when it comes to working on the continent.

Fortunately Spain, of all nations, has a teach-abroad program targeted mostly at Americans, but also for any other Anglophone nations. There are some other possibilities, especially the Fullbright program, but the requirements are often higher, the time frame is longer and the planning is more extensive.

Spain’s program is called Auxiliares de conversacion.  Technically speaking, it’s an academic grant, but it’s pretty clearly teaching work. You are a teacher’s aide in Spanish classrooms, mostly primary, and work about 15 hours a week for a monthly stipend. The stipend is 700 Euros outside of Madrid and 1000 in Madrid. (They don’t tell you this at the outset, mainly to dissuade too many people from choosing Madrid. In case you’re wondering, 1000 is enough to survive, and with a little knowhow you can easily take in 500 more a month through private classes.)

The program’s duration is 9 months, from October to the end of June. You are permitted to renew one year and one year only. You have government covered health insurance and the position is secure. The application deadline is usually in February or March, so you should begin planning around Christmastime the preceding year, because you will need a letter or recommendation, health certificate and a Spanish motivational letter.

Personal, I recommend Madrid. It’s the seat of Castilian Spanish, so you needn’t worry about one of Spain’s many dialects and languages, and it’s right in the center of the country, making it easy to travel throughout Spain and to catch flights abroad. You also make more money and the city is not nearly as expensive as most European capitals. You can actually go out and have fun without having to worry about it very much. Also, if you’re looking for another job for the coming year, it’s a good way to start out, make contacts and find work at an ESL institute.

Any questions about this position or how to apply, post them in the comments.

1 Comment

Posted by on March 10, 2011 in ESL, Madrid, Spain, Spanish


Madriz… Peculiarities of the Spanish Tongue

If you spend enough time in Madrid’s malasaña district, you might see on the walls of one of the popular bars the front cover of a artsy magazine called Madriz. This art- and culture-magazine was popularized during the movida mardileña post-Franco when years of pent up repression came out in a full-on youth rebellion equivalent to the US hippie movement. Malasaña was the center of this movement, as is evidenced today by its alternative and theme bars.

Note the spelling of "juventud" at the bottom

What’s curious is the colloquial spelling of Madrid, which madrileños tend to pronounce with a strong th-sound at the end. This is usually spelled in Castilian Spanish with a “z”. Now, I was in a pizza restaurant in Lisbon, Portugal, where another Californian who was living and working in Madrid as well, made the claim that the madrileños spoke bad Spanish. John, we’ll call him, had been hacking and complaining in loud English about the smoke from a quiet newspaper-reading man’s cigarette, when he began a long-winded tirade about how he had been so annoyed with the silly way madrileños talk, with their palatalization of final d’s, that he’d emailed his former Spanish professor back in the US to ask whether or not this was correct Spanish, and the professor had replied that it wasn’t, just as he’d suspected.

I didn’t want to get into an argument about prescriptive or descriptive grammar at the moment so I argued, based on what I was hearing, that the th-sound at the end of the word was not only colloquially correct, but academically correct. After all, they live in the capital of Spain, the seat of the Spanish language, so how could so many people be wrong? It might that was just my tendency to think that language functions as people use it, that if everybody is saying something one way, then that’s the way it’s said, no matter what the stiff academicians and language czars prescribe, but I also thought it was the “correct” way to pronounce the word, just based on what I’d heard on the streets. Moreover, I’m not the type to correct native speakers’ speech. I’ve had far too many Germans tell me I couldn’t call a person or an event “fun,” and that I had to say “funny,” even though it has an entirely different meaning.

Well, in the end John moved on to the topic of how bad and slow the European waiters are, but I made a note of our conversation and decided to do some research once I returned to Spain. I read up a bit on the Internet, but I also talked to some people, who gave me a much deeper insight into what the pronunciation meant.

Well, it turns out, I was partially wrong. Apparently, in strict academic speech, Madrid would be pronounced with a ‘d’ at the end, fulfilling Spanish’s perfection of matching sounds to letters. Still, the ‘z’ is a more common, in fact widespread, pronunciation. Regionally, there are some differences of note: in the Andalusia the final ‘d’ is often droppe, meaning Madrid would warble out like Madrí, whereas in Cataluña it sounds almost Germanic: Madritt. As for the speech of central Spain, the final ending ‘z’ is so widespread however, that if you do pronounce it as a ‘d’—instead of making commands “escuchaz” and “paraz”—your speech will sound so super-posh and clean-cut as to attract stares from the working-class-spirited Madrid populace. In other words, you’ll be a “pijo” or “pija” (or you can use the adjective, calling someone “un poco pijo”), which is like the British “posh” but without the ironically positive aspect.

Hence, the artsy, left-wing, post-fascist groove generation magazine, proudly showing its solidarity with the local people, against the man, by naming itself Madriz. (Not dissimilar to how hip kids in the US drink Pabst Blue Ribbon, even though the working class no longer likes it for that very reason.) Now, that doesn’t mean all pronunciation of the ‘th’ at the end of the word is some demonstration of class solidarity. Rather it’s more the proud, staunch regionalism that characterizes Spain, the preference for the local autonomous communities over the centralized, standardized regime—something which not always manifests itself in the most practical ways in Spanish politics, but which will always be a part of Spaniards’ innate character, that chest-beating pride of the pueblo. Also, this simply the way people learn to talk, and they’re not going to change it just because the books tell them to, even if it makes the language even more serpentine and lispy.

So the next time you, a second-language speaker of Spanish, want to impress your Madrileño friends with your newfound local pride and love of the language “as it is spoke,” pull out a tongue-twisting little sentence like this: “Oíz, chicos, paraz. Estamos zerca de la plaza mayor, aquí en el zentro de Madriz, verdaz?”

It makes the English ‘th’ sound mild and tame, even though it’s the hardest sound for foreigners to learn. I wonder why it never caught on in Latin America.

1 Comment

Posted by on March 6, 2011 in Madrid, Spanish