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The Girl with the Daffodil Tattoo

A Welsh girl let loose in a wild world

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basque country

Bilbao: Casco Viejo Top Picks

Here’s a selection of images from my favourite bars in the Casco Viejo.

Mellila y Fez (Calle Ituribide)

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Morocan kebabs. The best tortilla I’ve ever eaten in Spain. Music. Welcoming staff. This is my favourite bar EVER. And it’s very affordable.

 

Gatz (Calle Santa Maria or Andra Maria Kalea)

Award winning pintxos. Never fails to please and really affordably priced.

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Motrikes (Calle Somera)

There are a lot of bars in Bilbao that are famous for their grilled mushrooms, but Motrikes beats the competition. According to urban legend, the recipe is a closely kept secret, and is worth a vast amount of money. All I know is that I love me some mushrooms fresh from the griddle!

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Urban Legend: Santutxu is “the most populated”/Leyanda Urbana: Santutxu “es lo más poblado”

I keep on hearing this phrase:

“Santutxu is the most densely populated neighbourhood in Europe”

and this article is going to be about my quest to improve my knowledge of stats and verifying internet info.

According to the Wikipedia article:

Santutxu is the most densely populated neighbourhood of Bilbao and Europe, at 41,430 hab/km2.

A reference is given to a random PDF, of unknown origin, with lists of statistics purporting to be from 2006. However, in this PDF, there are several neighbourhoods that have a higher population density than Santutxu, such as:

Uribarri 42.981

Iturrialde 50.108
Solokoetxe 53.055

San Frantzisko/San Francisco 43.200

I love the freedom of information the internet affords, but I feel like it leaves me with more questions about knowledge than answers. How can one verify information on the internet? What is a reliable source? How can I learn to understand statistics and their manipulation without falling asleep?

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Escucho la siguiente frase de vez en cuando:

“Santutxu es el barrio más poblado de Europa”

y este artículo es sobre mi camino para mejorar mi conocimiento de estadística y averiguar información sur la red.

Según este artículo de Wikipedia:

Santutxu is the most densely populated neighbourhood of Bilbao and Europe, at 41,430 hab/km2.

La referencia para esta información es un pdf cualquiera, de origin anónima, que dice que es estadística de 2006. Sin embargo, en este mismo PDF, hay bastantes estadísticas que dicen que hay barrios más poblados de Bilbao. Por ejemplo:

Uribarri 42.981

Iturrialde 50.108
Solokoetxe 53.055

San Frantzisko/San Francisco 43.200

Me encanta la libertad de información de internet, pero a veces me siento que me deja con más preguntas que respuestas. ¿Cómo puedo averiguar información de internet? ¿Qué es una fuente fiable? ¿Cómo puedo aprender a entender estatística y su manipulación sin quedarme dormida?

Library fines

I love books, but one of the sacrifices a nomad must make is not to buy these sweet smelling travel weights, or if you buy them, be prepared to pass them on to others (parting is sweet sorrow, indeed).

My library card is my most cherished possession. In the UK, in the US, in Spain, wherever I’m living, I’m a library geek, and I am not ashamed to say it.

I love the libraries in Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA. You can take out 99 books, you can renew online, and you can drop any book at any library within the system, and it is *returned*. You can even put it through a handy wee letter box doodad if the library is closed. How neat is that?

Spain on the other hand is a different story. I remember the first day I returned my library books a late to the library in Madrid. I tried to take out more books, and the (very impatient) woman explained to me that I couldn’t take out books for a month. It was my first month in Madrid, and I was living in a not-knowing-Spanish-nightmare, so I just couldn’t really get what she was saying, so she wrote down the date when I could next take out books, and shoved it in my face, before turning abruptly to serve another customer.

I was like “WhAt ThE fAk?” when I realised. “Que barbaridad!!!!! In Britain or the US, you just pay a little bit. But here they STOP you from taking out BOOKS? WHAAAAAAAT? Franco is actually DEAD, isn’t he? Christ on a fucking bike!”.

Maybe that was a slight overreaction on my part. Maybe it makes sense. If you want people to give back books on time, surely banning them from taking out more books for a specific amount of time makes more sense than fining them a small amount of money per item. But personally, I would much rather pay the fine (or “donation”, as I like to call it).

Unintentional Jokes

I was sat in French class, where I am the only foreigner, amidst 20 Basque people, and we were chatting about a recent piece of news, involving a woman being asked to cover her baby while breast feeding in a high end London restaurant. We then started to talk about places in Bilbao where you can breast feed, and places where you can’t.

One chap was explaining how women don’t tend to breast feed on the metro, and I asked him “Is that because you can’t eat on the metro?”.

Everyone laughed, as if I had made a joke, but it really, really wasn’t intentional. Many foreigners (in Madrid) remarked on the strict eating habits in Spain. People have at least sixty minutes for lunch, they always eat sitting down, and if you eat in public, walking along and thinking you are minding your own business, you might as well have turned on a neon sign that says “FOREIGNER!”. It’s one aspect that the anglo world has almost completely lost that really affects health of the population.

It’s experiences like that that, no matter how long you live in one country, state, or region, pull you up short, slap you in the face, and remind you that your point of view, your “normality”, is not that of those that surround you.

Integration

Integration is a word that was on my periphery when I lived in my home country. People would often mention how certain groups of immigrants all lived in one area of a city, and maybe “kept to themselves”, or “didn’t learn English”. As the issue didn’t apply to me, I ignored it, as was my privilege as being part of the majority.

When I moved to Spain to teach English and learn Spanish, I didn’t know ANY Spanish (or similar languages), which made me a target for xenophobia at the school where I worked. I absorbed the abuse like a sponge; it was my fault they hated me, if I spoke better Spanish they would treat me better, etc. I got it in to my head that “intensive” courses would help me, so I signed up to all of the Spanish classes that I could, and I struggled and struggled and struggled. I allowed my Spanish coworkers to make me feel guilty for not knowing their language, as if not having had the opportunity to study Spanish made me a “bad” person. They were insecure about their English so they took it out on me, trying to get me to pronounce words in Spanish and laughing at my attempts. The idea of being one of those “güiris” who just hung around with other English speakers and didn’t “make any effort” repulsed me, so I spent all of my time outside of work with Spanish people, at different types of events; parties, drawing clubs, dance classes, picnics, gigs, volunteering.

I spent two years miserable, and mostly alone. At best, Spanish people patronised me, gloating about how “¡internacional!” they were to have a token foreigner at their party. At worst, people screamed in my face for being different, pushing in front of me in waiting lines, full of resentment that I was “Erasmus”* (which I wasn’t. I had a degree, I had a job, I was working, I was paying my own rent), while they were unable to get a job within their own country, as if I had control over the political and economic situation.

(*Erasmus is a scholarship in Europe for people to spend a semester or full year studying at a university abroad. As with many scholarships, students use it to party their stresses away with the free wine money the government has given them. For Spanish students, who don’t leave home to study abroad, this might be the first time they have rented their own apartment, hence the nickname “orgasmus”)

And always, always, the bilingual coordinator at school spoke of “integration”. We had a meeting about it once a month, where we were chastised for “speaking English” in the dining room (when our Spanish English-speaking coworkers wanted to practice with us), but this was an atmosphere where I sat down and people (grown adults) would abruptly get up to sit somewhere else because they didn’t want to sit next to me, or people wouldn’t say “Hello” to you in the corridor (which is customary here). From these experiences, it became clear that “integration” was something that we did, while other people were allowed to use us as psychological punch bags. We had to eat fruit with knives and forks, as it was “the Spanish way”. We were told to “stop eating all the food”, as whenever the breakfast buffet ran out of something, it was our fault. When we were sick, we didn’t have a cold, we were hungover, because that was our stereotype and stereotypes are always correct. We were told to “integrate”, but we weren’t given a “way in”. Our Spanish coworkers formed a tight, sealed circle, with only one or two breaking ranks to show interest in their new, temporary colleagues, mostly motivated by practicing English with us, which made their coworkers despise us even more.

I still hear my friends in Britain, all monolingual, saying mildly xenophobic things, like commenting that someone “had lived in the UK 30 years and still didn’t speak English”, pronounced in that tone of disgust, as if “speaking English”, or any language for that matter, were an easy thing, accessible to all. If an immigrant doesn’t have a job in the native language, they don’t have an opportunity to speak it on a daily basis, because making friends is hard, especially factoring in different cultural norms.

Last week, someone chastised me for having English speaking friends. I explained to the person that without a job in Spanish, making friends here is hard, seeing as this region has a “cuadrilla” system, meaning that you make friends in primary school, and you keep that group of friends for life. My boyfriend’s cuadrilla have made it clear that they are not interested in being friends with me. They don’t bother to remember my name, they ask me no questions or show no interest in me whatsoever, they talk about me within earshot as if I can’t understand them, they criticise my Spanish, my pale skin, my choice of music, they assume that I don’t know how to play poker and suggest that I should share cards with my partner,. In short, they don’t treat me with kindness or respect, and I don’t feel comfortable with them or like spending time with them, which is a huge source of disappointment for me. I had hoped that my boyfriend’s friends could be my friends too, but I am coming to terms with the fact that that is not possible. Even after explaining all that, the person continued to imply that I “wasn’t trying hard enough”. I wanted to say: “I’ve lived in Spain almost 5 years. I’ve made one friend who is Spanish/Basque. How much harder do I need to try? I’m done with trying”.

My boyfriend is French, and is happy living here. I am now learning French, and I can see that about 40% of their language is the same as Spanish. Nouns, verbs, expressions, grammatical concepts like masculine and feminine as well as the subjunctive. They even use bread to eat dinner in the same way, tearing it off in a chunk, and using it to push food onto their fork. Integrating is easier the closer your native language and customs are to the target culture.

I’m not integrated here, because if integrating means being Spanish, or Basque, or something else, then that’s not me, and it never will be. I can’t eat my dinner with a fork in one hand and a piece of bread in the other, and I don’t want to. I drink PG Tips in the morning. I dunk biscuits in it. When I eat soup, I dunk a sandwich in it. These are things that I like to do, tiny things that go back to my earliest childhood.

I’m me. I’m from where I’m from. That’s not better, that’s not worse, it’s just different. If people here or anywhere else don’t want to accept me for that, then that is their problem, not mine.

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