Once a Guiri, always a Guiri

9 March 2017 0 Comments Category: Barbara de Swaan, blog, Living in Spain

Though hard to believe, I just realized that it has been over 16 years since we came to live in Spain! You would think that after so many years, we would be more Spanish than Dutch, but nothing is further from the truth and now I finally know what they mean by first generation immigrants or second generation immigrants.

Our children, though blue-eyed and with white blond hair, are definitely real Spanish or Catalan children, they are second generation immigrants. They were born here and raised with the local culture, their first language is Catalan and Spanish, they refuse to eat bread with butter and they don’t go to bed before 11 pm.


We on the other hand came here when we were already adults, our roots have been laid down in the Netherlands. We use sayings as “you won’t melt from a little rain”, we still speak with an accent when we speak Spanish, we are not surprised when someone we just met shakes our hand instead of giving a kiss, we still are still the only couple going home when the party just gets started because we think that normal people sleep at 4am in the morning, but most of all, we still make awful language mistakes once in a while that are unbelievable to our Spanish friends and give the talk of the village.

So it happened the other day that a friend of mine from our local running team, told me that she found out that someone in her English class knows me. I asked her how she found out and this is what she told me. They were discussing the typical mistakes foreigners make in another language, in that case meaning the Spanish in the English language. Since nobody could mention an example because they are still at the beginners level, someone decided to share an example of a Dutch friend of hers that makes awful mistakes in the Spanish language….

She explained that many non-Latin languages don’t know the difference between male- and female nouns, they simply don’t have endings with an “a” or an “o” . Me more than anyone knows how embarrassing this seemingly innocent mistake can be. These were a few of the examples she told the group and that’s how my friend found out that she was talking about me… because during one of these mistakes, my friend was present to be a witness.

In July 1999, I was on a holiday in Barcelona, because at that time we were still living in the Netherland. I was only 25 years old and we were invited at a friend’s house to have a typical Spanish lunch with the whole family. Our Spanish wasn’t that good yet (unnecessary to say) and there we were, seated a one long table with the father of the family at one end and me on the other. It was extremely hot that day and 18 people in a 15m2 room, all talking at the same time, wine pouring happily and plates with delicious food going around the table. I felt blessed to be there and though incapable to keep up with the speed of the conversation, I wanted to ask for some chicken, that was just on the other end of the table, with the father of the family. In order to get above the loud conversations, I raised my voice and screamed” por favor, me puede pasar la polla?” (please, could you pass me your dick?). For one second there was complete silence and then everyone collapsed on the table laughing their heads off. The father didn’t move a muscle and passed me the chicken as requested. I’ll never forget from that day on, that chicken = pollo, with an “o”.

Years later, with no longer the excuse to not speak the Spanish language, I had tennis classes with my husband and a Spanish friend on a Saturday morning. Our friend knew that I had just come back from a business trip to Madrid, where I had met the Dutch Ambassador. Showing interest, he asked me how the trip had gone and if the meeting had been fruitful. Enthusiastic I answered him” Me ha encantado el embajador, mucho mejor que el consolador en Barcelona!” (I loved the ambassador, much better than the dildo in Barcelona!”) My friend first thought that I made a joke but when he saw my serious face and my husbands too, he understood that I didn’t have a clue about the huge error I had just made and we had a really good laugh. Of course, I wanted to compare the embassador with the consul, which would had been a: cónsul.

I have many more of these mistakes: I asked in McDonalds for “dos coños de helado” which are two cunts of ice-cream, when I should had asked for “conos” and in a restaurant the waiter couldn’t help laughing either when I ordered a “vino tonto” (a stupid wine) where I wanted to order a red wine (vino tinto).

So once a guiri, always a guiri and that’s ok. For the same reason we still live every day here in Spain as one big adventure, we still marvel when we wake up with a clear blue sky and sunbeams coming in through the windows. We enjoy the best of two countries and both feel like home!

If you’re still having doubts about coming to live in Spain, don’t, just do it because once you’re old you won’t regret the things you did in life but you will regret the things you didn’t do! Live the adventure and make the Spanish laugh about your personal mistakes in their beautiful but difficult language!


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