Now That's English! Part 19.

But no, really...it is English. It's British! 

I love Spain. I really do. But the drop-the-please-and-thank-yous way of talking throws me a little bit. At a cafe I want to say, "Hello, how are you? [Wait for response and potentially make small talk.] Could I please have a coffee?" when really, all the waitress wants to hear is "Ponme un café con leche," or "Dame un café con leche." Literally translated, we're looking at something like "Put a coffee in front of me," or "Give me a coffee." Most of the time, there's very little interaction after that. She returns with the coffee, and that's it--until I have to spend 10 or 15 minutes flagging someone down for the check.

It's not that Spaniards are rude, necessarily. But for an Anglo like me, especially one who has spent the past 10 years, más o menos, in the southern U.S., please and thank you are important words to throw into conversation, especially transactions in stores and restaurants. I also kind of expect that a store or restaurant is going to thank me for my business when I leave (but they do say "hasta luego" religiously here, so I'll take that!). Here it is just different: people are more direct, throw in fewer fluff words, and get to the point (for the most part). Customer service isn't top of the priority list. And if something comes out of the kitchen not exactly how you ordered it at a restaurant, you are likely to blame, and no apologies will be made. (I know this is a generalization, but it holds true in many cases.) There are so many friendly Spaniards, but sometimes it takes getting past the gruffness and hard exterior to uncover the friendliness.

Going to England this year was always a pleasant cultural surprise. "People are so friendly!" we always remarked. I was shocked when I ordered a steak pie at a pub, and was approached by the manager shortly after ordering. He crouched down, getting eye-to-eye--this was serious business--and apologized profusely: they were out of the steak pie, but would I mind very much if they brought out a chicken and leek pie? "On the house, of course," the man continued, "and once again I am so very sorry!" The frequency of "please" and "thank you," and "excuse me" when bumping into someone was music to my ears. And it felt a little bit more like home. There is such a nice attitude of helpfulness that we encountered everywhere we traveled that was so refreshing, too.

The following signs aren't all about politeness (though some of them are), but are just signs that struck me as being so British. We love England and can't wait to go back!

Always a "please." Also, "pram" is such a better word than "stroller." Say  stroller  to yourself 10 times in a row and you'll see why.

Always a "please." Also, "pram" is such a better word than "stroller." Say stroller to yourself 10 times in a row and you'll see why.

Not only does "please" seem to appear everywhere, reminders about being careful, not hitting your head, etc. abound.

In case you forget, the Brits are there to remind you.

In case you forget, the Brits are there to remind you.

I've never seen a sign in Spain that has promised to make ANYTHING easier for me. Just sayin'.

I've never seen a sign in Spain that has promised to make ANYTHING easier for me. Just sayin'.

First of all, they call pooping "fouling," which is awesome. Then they continue by adding "please" to this command.

First of all, they call pooping "fouling," which is awesome. Then they continue by adding "please" to this command.

"Lovely Lollies." This sign says it all. 

"Lovely Lollies." This sign says it all. 

The Brits apparently call crossing guards "Lollipop Ladies/Men."  So. cute.

The Brits apparently call crossing guards "Lollipop Ladies/Men." So. cute.

"No dumping. Please take your rubbish home or to the Tidy Tip located in Eaton Green Road."  So many British-isms here: 1) rubbish, 2) Tidy Tip (I feel like only Brits would call a trash dump by this name), 3) "in" instead of "on", and 4) continuing to say "please."

"No dumping. Please take your rubbish home or to the Tidy Tip located in Eaton Green Road." So many British-isms here: 1) rubbish, 2) Tidy Tip (I feel like only Brits would call a trash dump by this name), 3) "in" instead of "on", and 4) continuing to say "please."

Las Fallas: Valencia on Fire

I've never been to a traditional Spanish festival like the running of the bulls in Pamplona or celebrating Holy Week in Sevilla, and so I was very excited that our friends in Valencia mentioned visiting them during the Las Fallas festival that happens every March. Our coworkers told us that Fallas was loud (and crazy!), but it's impossible to prepare oneself for the total assault on the eardrums that takes place during this celebration. 

You might be wondering, What is Las FallasFallas is a festival that dates back to the 15th century celebration of the Spring Equinox and the onset of summer, when carpenters would burn the wooden lamp holders that gave them light during the dark fall and winter months. (Adiós, lamp posts!) Eventually, they began to put hats and rags on these posts which gave them a human quality, and sometimes even dressed them to look like people in the neighborhood. Today, elaborately constructed wood and papier-maché figurines line the city, each neighborhood having its own falla, and a massive falla sits in the center of the city, waiting for its turn to burn last of all at 1:30AM. There were upwards of 700 fallas in Valencia this year, some of them costing around six figures. (Never mind Spain's economic situation...) Some photos below show you what a few of the fallas that we passed by looked like; at the bottom of the post you can see one burning.

In addition to all of the burning, there are fireworks. I'll be honest: the fireworks celebrations I saw put many American Fourth of July fireworks displays to shame. (Come on, America! Bigger, better, louder!) At the very beginning and the very end of the festival are two enormous fireworks displays, and fireworks are also used throughout to announce which falla will be burned next. (They stagger the event so that visitors and locals can see as many as possible.) The burning of the children's size/themed fallas begins first at night, and is followed by the downfall of the massive structures throughout the city. You can watch the sky to see which falla will go up in flames next, and make your way toward that neighborhood.

The weather wasn't ideal--it rained most of the weekend. However, the rain paused for the entirety of the burning of the fallas. The wind, though, made me nervous: flames were reaching for buildings (the fire department was everywhere that night, hosing down buildings in the vicinity pre-burning, burning, and post-burning) and the wind was blowing black, billowy smoke in every direction. But even when it was raining, people were out eating deep-fried pumpkin buñuelos and churros, drinking mojitos, and dancing to the music being blasted by DJs on the streets (including the DJ directly below our apartment...). Rain was a minor setback; there's always more gasoline to pour on dampened structures that need to burn.

The city was decked out in lights and posters: FALLAS!

The city was decked out in lights and posters: FALLAS!

Every neighborhood had its own signs and lights. Many things are written in Valenciano, the local language (it is similar to Catalán).

Every neighborhood had its own signs and lights. Many things are written in Valenciano, the local language (it is similar to Catalán).

Whether you want hot chocolate, gooey buñuelos, or churros (or all three), you were never 10 feet from a stand to hook you up with the sweet stuff.

Whether you want hot chocolate, gooey buñuelos, or churros (or all three), you were never 10 feet from a stand to hook you up with the sweet stuff.

One example of a falla. Do you see how HUGE this thing is? This is no elementary school art project, people! Imagine men pouring gasoline on it and then watching it go up in flames when they light the matches. Also note how close to the apartment buildings that falla is.

One example of a falla. Do you see how HUGE this thing is? This is no elementary school art project, people! Imagine men pouring gasoline on it and then watching it go up in flames when they light the matches. Also note how close to the apartment buildings that falla is.

Another example of a falla.

Another example of a falla.

This was an incredible falla that was enormous, intricate, and beautiful, a representation of the movies.

This was an incredible falla that was enormous, intricate, and beautiful, a representation of the movies.

HOW TO BURN A FALLA IN FIVE STEPS:

1. Celebrate the impending burning with fireworks. Lots of fireworks.

2. Pour some gasoline on the structure (just in case). Heck, pour some more (for good measure). Light it on fire.

3. Watch and clap as the fire spreads. If the fire doesn't spread to all desired areas, pour some additional gasoline.

4. Consider backing away a little bit, and duck when the wind blows ash and black smoke into your already smoke-laden coat.

5. If you didn't already back away, then you definitely want to do so at this point. See that top hat? It's probably going to fall. Now, celebrate this feat of pyrotechnic genius by clapping and shouting, and make your way to the next falla!

Now That's (Actually) English! Part 12.

In Part 12 of this here-and-there, ongoing series, I'd like to pause from my typical jabs at pseudo-English and talk about some really good English: the Queen's English.

While in England a couple of weekends back, John and I laughed (OK, sometimes just giggled, if we're being honest) at some of the British-isms that we saw on signs, overheard in conversation or while walking on the street. We love England. (I'd love to live there at some point, though I'd need a powerful sun lamp and a serious stock of vitamin D.) And we love talking about the differences between American English and British English. Here are a few of the signs we saw that made us stop and say, "What?!"

No Nasties! And I love that it is "Soil Association Certified."

No Nasties! And I love that it is "Soil Association Certified."

"Whilst you watch." I should have eaten some, because they looked good...

"Whilst you watch." I should have eaten some, because they looked good...

"Stub It Out." 

"Stub It Out." 

FLU JABS. I couldn't stop laughing. Also, does it strike any other Americans how much this font looks like the one CVS uses?

FLU JABS. I couldn't stop laughing. Also, does it strike any other Americans how much this font looks like the one CVS uses?

That sign says "Proper Hamburgers." What is a  proper  hamburger? Is it one that is  substantial ?  Legitimate ? Just curious.

That sign says "Proper Hamburgers." What is a proper hamburger? Is it one that is substantialLegitimate? Just curious.

"Bollards Drop..." Someone explained this to us, and I'm still unclear of what it means. (Note the diversion in the background.)

"Bollards Drop..." Someone explained this to us, and I'm still unclear of what it means. (Note the diversion in the background.)

I like it: just chop off the end of the word when it's too long!

I like it: just chop off the end of the word when it's too long!