Lying on a Costa del Sol beach, tanning and bronzed, for a week? Bo-ring. Visiting the Louvre and spending money on high fashion? Bah humbug. Next time you – as a native English speaker – want a vacation that stretches your limits, check out what’s on offer at Pueblo Inglés, a language company based in Madrid (www.morethanenglish.com/anglos/index.asp).
Pueblo Inglés – “English Village” – is approximately twenty native-English speakers (“Anglos”) and twenty wanna-speak Englishers (“Spaniards”) thrown together into a small community where they speak, live, breathe and eat the English language for eight days; an English-immersion environment that is magically created in a small Spanish village.
At the end of the eight day program, participants can barely speak any language, as days and nights of talking, laughing, staying up late, drinking too much wine and eating too many carbs take their toll. But how sweet excess can be.
I’m not going to spoil the fun by describing the week’s activities in detail – the program organizers love to offer participants daily “surprises” – but I am happy to pass along some heart-felt advice to Anglos considering a week of speaking English at Pueblo Inglés:
Sophisticated Spanish professionals like to learn English cuss words just as much as Spanish teenagers do. During my week in the town of La Alberca, in Salamanca, many of the Spaniards came from the medical community and included pharmacists, biologists and doctors. You’d think that these folks would bring a more… er… serious tone to Pueblo Inglés, but no – they were a boatload of fun, sociable and interesting, always game for a good party and tall tale. Do the Spaniards a favor and get them straight on the difference between “b-tch” and “prostitute,” a common – and comical – Spanish misunderstanding. I made the mistake of teaching a new Spanish friend a cuss word and saying to him, “I’ll teach you this word, but you can never use it, and don’t tell anyone it came from me.” Watch your ethics go downhill as the week progresses.
It’s not all about you. Yes, you know you’re interesting, but the subjects Anglos think are sure to fascinate Spaniards may not be as interesting as we hope. Know your audience, choose subjects appropriately, and for God’s sake, let the Spaniards get a word in edgewise. Don’t dumb down your speaking, but speak clearly, and check often to see if the Spaniard you’re speaking with is following your story, especially if you use slang expressions. By the end of the week, I was amazed to realize how much slang I use – that all Anglos use – and how we took it for granted that the Spaniards were following us. They’re often not; don’t be fooled by their smiles and nods. Ask lots of questions about what you’re saying, then let them do the talking and relax with a cup of tea.
It’s tiring to talk all day, even in your native tongue. Seriously. I’m not an old woman, but eight days of talking at Pueblo Inglés wiped me out. The Spaniards hit the wall earlier in the week; as hard as it is for us, it’s much harder for them. The Anglos tended to hit the wall on Wednesday or Thursday. Mealtimes on these days can be quieter than usual; let it be. During one meal, a Spaniard said to two Anglos, “Silence is good.” We took the cue and gave the poor man a break. For two minutes.
No, they’re not flirting with you. Spaniards are a playful, light-hearted and talkative bunch, which can sometimes come across as flirting to the Anglo making assumptions (or having wishful thinking). They’re not flirting with you; well, unless of course they are. I mean it’s possible, just don’t immediately come to that conclusion. Assume you’ve just made a new Spanish friend unless it gets spelled out otherwise. Expect cultural miscues of this and other varieties. Keep an open mind, pay attention, and, if necessary, talk them through.
We need them. They need Anglos to learn English; we need Spaniards to open our hearts. I’d love to be a fly on the wall (idiom!) of a Spanish home to see how their kids grow up (phrasal verb!) to be so passionate, from the heart, and present in the moment. Spaniards have a refreshing lack of self-consciousness and a high capacity for intimacy; we need them.
The town of La Alberca
Be sure to visit La Alberca, the medieval village that is straight out of Shakespeare in Love. Don’t miss the fantastic selection of high quality jewelry at Artemisa, C/ Tablao, 43 – Bajo, especially La Alberca’s unique “charros,” a silver button design that was worn on old La Albercan garments (see photo below).
For a snack at a yummy local pastry shop, stop at El Pan Sforo Horno, C/ Tablao, 19, just down the street from Artemisa.
Perhaps best of all, you may be able to see the village pig roaming around the streets, or more likely, lying plopped on the ground in front of a storefront, waiting for a bite of food.
The village pig is a centuries-old custom, slightly modified for modern times. The pig roams freely through the town, well-taken care of by the townsfolk for a year. Each January 14, there is a lottery, and the winner gets the pig – plenty of bacon and pork chops for all. The (usually local) winner shares the booty with their fellow townsfolk, so in essence, it’s just another Spanish excuse for a party. As if they need any more.
A word on Madrid
I was standing in the plaza, at Sol, watching policemen beat back protestors – who were, ironically, protesting police brutality – when a couple of tourists approached me to ask what was going on. They were older, from San Francisco, and had a dazed look, like they weren’t quite sure what to make of Madrid. “Madrid isn’t easy at first,” I told them, “but it grows on you. Be patient.”
Here’s the only advice you need to get started in Madrid: be aware of your surroundings, and don’t get pickpocketed. Carry only what you need at any given time – 50 euros and one credit card, for example – leave the rest in your hotel room. But don’t let paranoia get the better of you; a great time is to be had in Madrid. The chances of violent crime happening are minimal, but the lose-your-wallet statistic is higher. Be smart, then go out and have fun.
Get your little butt out there!