Interviewing Cat Gaa

28 September 2014 1 Comments Category: blog, Cat Gaa, Expats Interviews

Cat Gaa descrives herself as a Chicago-bred americana who left college in search of a yearlong adventure. She came to Spain seven years ago, found a vocation, a husband and a love for tapas and Real Betis Balompié.

 

THE BEGINNING

When did you move to Spain?

I moved to Spain in September of 2007, barely done with university and with a rudimentary understanding of Spanish. As I stepped off the train in Granada, I toppled over from the weight of my bags and had to pick myself up, laughing. It’s been a metaphor for my entire existence here!

Why did you move to Spain?, was it a premeditated decision or was it a coincidence?

When I studied abroad in Valladolid in 2005, I left wanting to experience more of Spain and pursue a life abroad (or, at the very least, a year). I applied to teach English through the North American Language and Culture Assistants program, and was given a position. It was a harder decision to get on the plane than I expected.

Why do you live in Seville?

I was originally gunning for a position in Granada, but the Junta de Andalucía placed me in a town just outside of Seville. The Andalusian capital won me over, and I consider it a stroke of destiny. In fact, I don’t think I’d be happier in any other Spanish city!

… I toppled over from the weight of my bags and had to pick myself up, laughing. It’s been a metaphor for my entire existence here!

INTEGRATION

Your first impression: can you remember what made most impact on you when you arrived? 

I can’t remember clearly all of those moments of culture shock and confusion, though when I was hit by a car, I thought to myself, “Well, I must be fully integrated”. I do wish shops were open on Sunday, though!

Did you have any problem with the language? 

I have been learning Spanish since I was 13. I always got good marks andreally enjoyed my coursework, so I decided to get a certificate when I was in college and then do a summer course in Valladolid. After learning a lot of Castillian Spanish and perfecting my accent, that all went out the window when I moved to Seville!

I’ve always been a perfectionist, so it was frusterating to not be able to communicate. I didn’t know anyone in the city, so doing everything on my own was difficult. I have many language slip up stories, but they’re not appropriate to share in public!

My accent is now Andalusian, and I use phrases
and words that are unique to this city.

Any other misunderstanding because of the customs and habits? 

I met my fiancé son after moving to Seville, so I had an etiquette teacher from the very beginning. I can also think on my feet and have a good sense of direction, so even the twisty roads of Barrio Santa Cruz were no match for me. I think the hardest thing to get used to was the paperwork game – where to go, what to bring, and the patience needed to get it all done. THAT is culture shock – a system that has no clear answer.

To what is it being most hard for you to adapt in your daily life in Spain, comparing to your country? 

spanish propane tanks

Propane tank. Photo: agrega.educacion.es

Now that I’ve been in Spain for so long, my life in Spain is Spanish, from the time tables to the language to the customs. One odd thing I remember was, at first, it was hard for me to get used to the propane tanks, the cleaning products and the lack of an oven. I’d have to make an extensive list of products to buy to clean the house, though my flatmate was very explicit about the brands she loved for cleaning products, which were usually the most expensive on the market!

The same went for food products. I’m not much of a cook, even though I love food, and it took me a long time to become loyal to brands in Spain. I usually buy generics, but have my favorites: Catanambu coffee, Cruzcampo beer, Kellogs cereal.

When I go to America every year or so, I struggle with adapting to an American timetable and often opt to go to bed around 10pm!

And, when you go back to your country, what do you miss most from Spain?

The longer I live here, the more different I realize my two cities are. And what’s funny is how much I miss Chicago when I’m in Seville, and viceversa! I could never have both of my feet in one bucket – I’m condemned to straddle two continents, I think!

I would of course miss the sunshine and mild winters in Seville when the cold set in in Chicago, and I would miss the cheap produce and wine in Spain! I can never have it all, but I’m ok with that.

Have you develloped any typical Spanish habits? 

My Spanish friends joke that the only thing missing to make me a full sevillana is to dress in black and attend Maudy Thursday processions during Holy Week! I sleep siestas only at the weekend, have yet to perfect the tortilla flip and am not a flamenco fan. I am, however, pretty good at dancing sevillanas, speak with expressions that are very Andalusian, and my weekend plans often include little else than being with friends and enjoying the sunshine with a beer in hand.

I think the hardest thing to get used to was the paperwork game […]
THAT is culture shock.

TIPYCAL NON SPANISH

In what way do you feel more Spanish than from your country?

When I’m in Spain, I actually feel more American! I relish in my American holidays, have many American friends and watch TV in English. The opposite happens when I go home!

img_CATHERINE-GAADo you think that there is any Spanish character that you’ll never be able to adopt, like it was genetic?

Despite my best efforts, I will always be a guiri. I’m unable to pronounce a few sounds when I speak (though my accent is decidedly trianero), am scarily punctual and can’t recall a night where I’ve stayed out until sunrise. I’m fine with being a foreigner in Spain, and know that there is safety in numbers!

What makes me feel sevillana is my appreciation for culture and tradition, my love of the language and its nuances, and my perfecting the sevillana stink face!

Do you normally support the Spanish participants in any sports event?

I’ve been a sports fan and athlete my whole life, but I tend to have more loyalties to my American sports teams, especially the Chicago Cubs and the Iowa Hawkeyes. I was once a member of Real Betis Balompié, but we turned down season tickets this year in favor of saving up for our house. I miss spending my Sundays in Estadio Benito Villamarín!

And if a Spanish team meats a team from your country?

USA in every sport but fútbol – I am all in when it comes to La Roja, and consider their 2010 World Cup win to be my best memory of my years here!

Is a Spaniard born or made???? 

I consider myself a rare hybrid because I seem to posess a combination of American and Spanish traits. I’m hard-working, yet enjoy relaxing and taking life as it comes. I’m as detail-oriented as I am spontaneous. I love American football and I love European fútbol, all-beef hot dogs and jamón ibérico. In this day and age, where cross-cultural communication and travel have made people more international, I feel that anyone can be from anywhere.

YOUR WORK

How would it be to develop your work in your country?

My job as an English teacher could be the same almost anywhere – diagraming sentences, teaching vocabulary and preparing students for exams.

I’m currently setting up an expat-friendly business for North Americans looking to move to and work in Spain called COMO Consulting. The business model came out of the realization that there was a hole in the market with regards to solid sources of information regarding paperwork, work conditions and the everyday set up of a life abroad. Returning to the US would mean a complete rebranding of my blog and considering selling COMO – I don’t think there’d be as much of a market in the US for this sort of consulting.

Why is it so special here? Did you have to adapt it to local manners and peculiarities?

At the risk of sounding like a Spain-hater… you guys don’t make it easy on us to find solid, factual and, more than anything, up-to-date information. Our services take care of that, so it’s to our advanage that the people working in government offices sometimes have no idea what they’re talking about, or that they make a split-second decision that puts you in an uncomfortable place.

you guys don’t make it easy on us to find solid, factual and, more than anything, up-to-date information.

YOUR VISION OF SPAIN

Do you agree with the stereotypes that define Spain: Sun, Siesta and Party?

What has kept me in Spain so long, I think, is the multitude of contrasts in this country. Like my own, there’s isn’t a be-all, catch-all way to describe Spain. From the geography to the food to the dialects, it’s all different. I’ve spent extensive time in Andalucía, Galicia and Castilla y León, and they’re all quite different from one another.

Yes, there’s sun, but there’s also rain. Did you know that the town with the most annual rainfall in Spain is actually in Andalucía? Or that siesta is a time when families get together to eat and be with one another, but not necessarily sleep? Or that for every party in Spain, there’s usually a historical reason that it’s celebrated? Spain’s charm comes from the fact that its history, cultural and language have shaped both this country and the world, and there’s always something left to discover.

Could you define Spain and the Spaniards with 3 or 4 words?

This is tough – there is no typical Spaniard or typical Spain. To me, this country encompasses traditon, culture and zest for life, particularly where I live. Sevillanos are fiercely adherent to their age-old traditions, are over-the-top when it comes to celebrating their culture and know how to slow life down and enjoy themselves.

What do you like most of Spain and your city?

I think I’m at my best me in Spain: I exercise more, eat better, enjoy life to the fullest. This is what I love most about this country.

And less?

The paperwork, without a doubt. But taking it in stride helps me face the long lines and the silly rules!

In what ways have your first impression of Spain and the Spaniards changed?

I think what has changed the most about my perception of Spain has to do most with the language. I’m certainly not a linguist, but I teach language and studied to be a journalist, so communication has always fascinated me. I also think that language is something that binds groups of people together, and that language and culture are intertwined.

When coming to Spain, I wrongly assumed that the Spanish language was easy and straightforward. But where else could a word have so much meaning? Where else could poetry sounds better and invoke more sentía? Among the world’s most famous and important literary figures are Spaniards – Cervantes, Béquer, los Hermanos Machado, Lorca. This land provokes language, provokes romance, provokes longing. I’ve realized that the complexity of the language is a metaphor for the complexity of Spain’s history, its people and its culture.

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