Monday, 5 November 2012

Episode 9: Anger and reconciliation

There's nothing quite like swiftly kicking a motorbike or hissing "puta" under your breath to get rid of the xenophobia and frustration of dealing with certain bureaucratic entities in Madrid. These weak acts of rebellion, or "little victories" as my friend Emmanuel so brilliantly called them, allow me to experience anger on a daily basis, as I fail to summon up the courage to scream so loudly in people's faces and put them in their place. I am a very angry person with unrealistic expectations. Like a bruised puppy, I am often found cursing under my breath at not only how idiotic the people I encounter are, and even more frustratingly, the cowardly manner in which I deal with them.

Take last week, for instance. I innocently ventured into H & M with my father dearest (adoring epithet- clearly buying me something) to purchase a much-needed cardigan, thus ending my denial of Madrid's fridge-like temperatures. We were served by a gangly, brace adorning woman who snatched my Dad's passport out of his hand as proof of ID. As well as sniggering at the photo without a word of thanks coming out of her metallic mouth (I had braces too, LET ME INSULT WHO I LIKE), she managed to mutter not-so-loudly to her colleague "you didn't tell me they were English". He laughed and continued to nicely place items in his brilliant-because-she's-Spanish customer's bag. I gritted my teeth and walked out, consequently ruining the next hour by hissing that I should have told her to shove it. In reconciliation, I would like to offer this to you as the conversation I wish I would have had:

Bitchy assistant: You didn't tell me they were English.
Me: You didn't tell me you were a racist bitch. I live in Madrid. I am fluent in Spanish. You are disgusting. Get me your boss now. I am also a top human rights lawyer and super police commissioner of life, and I am taking you DOWN.
(Miraculously pulls out police badge as fantasies allow).
I punch her in the face.

Perhaps I have lived in blissful ignorance for the past two and a half months. Perhaps I never accumulated enough Spanish to realise what people were doing. Or perhaps, just perhaps, the person in the bakery down the road from my work has always been a massive xenophobe. A few days ago, I entered to find a new assistant babbling in Spanish to one of the customers- surprise surprise. This is pretty daily fare, so I took my alloted place in the queue whilst they spoke about unemployment. Five minutes later, I was wondering how much longer the assistant would stay employed if she didn't do her job. Brushing all malevolent thoughts aside as I ordered my desired spinach pastry, the assistant refused to greet me and nearly squashed the pasty in half with her rhino touch. And that's coming from one of her herd. I handed her a two euro coin, and waited, expectant for change.

"I need change", I uttered, five minutes later.

"TWO EUROS!" She barked, offering no explanation. I frowned, fully aware that last week, the exact same item had been a euro. But money is talk when you speak to every other customer in the shop for ten minutes. Bewildered and frustrated, I left the shop and saw the assistant's face light up as a customer responded to her question about how their day had been.

Result: I kick a motorbike, and feel massively ripped off.

And, for the replay...

Me: I've given you two euros. That was one euro last week.
Bitchy assistant: TWO EUROS!
Me: I am not leaving the shop until you give me my change. I will irritatingly speak other anyone else you wish to talk to until I get my money. I AM ON AN INTERNSHIP FOR CRYING OUT LOUD. I AM FROM HULL. I AM ONE OF YOUR SEMI-UNEMPLOYED BRETHREN. WE ENGLISH ARE DECENT PEOPLE WHO ALSO MAKE EXCELLENT BAKED GOODS.
Bitchy assistant: My friend, I never realised your plight. No matter how many miles we travel, or how many different tongues we speak, we are united by the cause of bread. Let them eat cake, I used to say. To you, I say, I am no longer a racist bitch. Come back any time. By the way, your skin is fantastic.
Me: Thank you for listening. I hope to get a free pastry next time you enter the shop.
Bitchy assistant: No no, for the rest of your life, sister. Oh, and I'll give you free Spanish lessons because the ones down your road are ridiculously overpriced.
We hug. All is forgiven.

However, once I noticed what was going on around me, the 95% of people who have been brilliant have started to pale into insignificance, especially over the past few days. Having been without my pay for the past three months, I had never been so excited to nearly trip over a cash machine step in my life. As I stumbled to place my attractive international flag card into the machine, I eagerly anticipated the tiny white piece of joy that would confess my tiny bit of wealth in uneven black letters. When I saw a four instead of a four hundred, however, a tear fell down my cheek. I was in poverty city- population, 1. I was Pauline Mole without her giro. I would be ringing the bank and work every day until my phone would be cut off. I would shave my head in frustration. I would be interviewed by the nearest publication, because, well, I am a very loud journalist. I would have to send my son to Swingin' Dave's for his school trousers- or to translate, I would continue to have a hole in my one very pair of jeans for a long time. How was your weekend, I hear you cry? I spent it eating boiled pasta with someone else's butter, knitting a lurid scarf with the last five euros I had in my purse. Do not blame the stitch holes, they know not what they do.

Reaching desperation point today, I approached the bank that knew me so well to try and take the fast route and line up for the cashier. She refused to give me more than three seconds to conjugate my verbs and conclude my sentence before she barked at me to move.

"Move!" she said. "Just go to a cash machine!"

"I have been! I need to know!"

"Go to a table." When I went to respond, she actually decided to shout at me. "GO TO A TABLE!"

Watching her embrace her colleagues as she walked out of her glass cage, I wondered how people can instantaneously dislike someone for trying to speak their language. Experiencing my third discriminatory attack of the week, I wondered what it must be like to have this on a constant basis. You're going to find out, I reminded myself. You are living here for another eight months.

I didn't even leave the bank angry. I left incredibly disheartened, still with just four euros to my name.

Perhaps the gamesmaker had decided enough was enough, and if I was to ever attempt living again, he or she perhaps had to cut me a break. As soon as I saw my money leap into my account tonight, I started to think of how spicy my pasta would be tonight.

So, for all of those who never have the courage to stand up for what you believe in, I salute you. My inner coward now says screw you to all of the cashiers that sneer when you stumble as you try to roll your r's, the boys who think it's okay to invade your personal space every morning to comment on your level of attractiveness, the people who take your Beyonce moves for granted and laugh at your inability to shake your ring finger, your partner's persistent ex who refuses to let go, the salamander faced landladies who refuse to fix your household appliances and the bloody people who think a three euros is an acceptable price for a bag of boiled pasta.


My creative writing professor once told me not to use writing as therapy. No wonder I dropped the class.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Episode 8: Jasmine vs The Spanish Banking System

To anyone who has purveyed this blog, it will be clear to see that I talk about three things- food, my bed, and my failures within my limited realm of function. Today, I have decided to bring all of these blissful things together in one handy post- for your convenience and for my complete lack of pleasure.

The bank manager at the Santander branch two streets away from my work knows my first name. As well as being one of the more distinctive looking people parading myself on Spanish streets (pale, blue eyed, carry my coat  rather than wear it because fifteen degrees is STILL warm), I have become rather memorable amongst staff members around Madrid because of my interesting Spanglish hybrid. Recently, I have become accustomed to tell my Spanish/Asian shopkeeper that my penny sweets "should be around one euro worth, mate" and then end up cursing myself as I say "see you later, have a nice noche". My first trip to the bank all in all ended up in me being sent to another one after nearly singeing one man's hair nostrils after I insisted "I work! I need a working account!" like a strangled flamingo. After being trapped in Madrid's ridiculous trap doors that bark at me to remove my "metallicos", I entered the bank disheartened and angsty,  with my headphone cord strangling me in protest for abandoning my iPod in the worryingly vulnerable lockers that were afore me. In short, I determined to throw a tampon at the next person who insisted my documentation was incorrect.

"She works for Hola magazine, she works for Hola magazine!" shouted the bank manager in front of me. Rather than bothering to correct her, I waited to accept her kind words, when her colleague other the next desk politely informed her that he knew someone there and it wasn't that impressive. Fortunately I knew enough Spanish and still possessed enough restraint to not nip him over the desk, but wryly raise an eyebrow, the universal look of nonchalant comprehension.

Seventy five documents later with RSI after signing seventy five different pieces of paper, I exited the bank, aware that a neat little card with adorned with some international flags would arrive into my tin of a postbox.

It did, and I lost it two days later.

I should have perhaps apologised to my boyfriend, the second victim of my invalidity that week. It was just too hard. The card had vanished into thin air, like 80% of my belongings, and I was yet again lost in translation on the phone to a Spanish call centre advisor.

Me: "Someone has stolen my card. It actually has some money on it. Please save it, I don't know where it is and I don't know any Spanish."
Assistant: (too fast for comprehension) "Number...card...potatoes" (I think).
Me: Sorry, I can't understand you. (My favourite phrase at the moment)
Assistant: Sorry.
Me: Well, my card has been stolen.
Assistant: This is the Spanish line for lost cards.
Me: I know. I live in Spain. I just can't speak Spanish.
*assistant garbles*
Me: (under breath) It is possible to live in Spain and not speak Spanish.
*phone disconnects*
This happened several times before I walked into my local Santander, google translate in hand. Please picture the scene ahead:

Manager is missing from scene. I locate the unimpressed assistant who mocked my job previously. He smiles, unaware of what he is about to encounter.

Me: I can't speak Spanish. But I am going to try.
Assistant: Si. (I refuse to translate that).
Me: My card has been been robbed.
Assistant: Your card has been been robbed? Where from?
Me: I do not have a card. I need a card.
Assistant: What is your address?
Me: (blah blah)
Assistant: Here are your transactions.
Me: Yes! I haven't been robbed!
Assistant: Err, what else do you want?
Me: I need a new card. My card has been been robbed!
Assistant: (laughs-?!) Oh, cool. I'll send you a new one. Give it five days. Bye.

In intermingling confusion and relief, I left the bank and got on with my work. Rejoicing with hordes of food shopping as I went to the door, it took me to scramble around my empty bag to realise the lockers at the bank were much sharper than I.

"I've left my key in those metallic lockers. Those stupid bloody metallic lockers. The lockers of shame," I said to my flatmate.

"I might go and cry in my room."

Christine was quicker to the mark than I.

"But you won't be able to get into your room," she helpfully explained.

Oh, the tears. In retrospect I feel incredibly sorry for what I put anyone in contact with me through that night. Many a profanity, wail and aggressive snarl came out of my mouth in the hour it took me to finally recover and make a move to return to the bank. In desperation, I even asked my friend to google maps whether the lockers were in or outside of the building.

"Is that even possible?" She asked.

"JUST TRY!" were my words, helpfully capped to express my frustration.

In an unsuccessful walk to and from the bank, I noticed a pack of cigarettes in my bag. As a non-smoker, for once I felt highly tempted to have a puff and be done with it all and my asthmatic lungs. I looked at the packet.

The cigarettes were called Fortuna.

The question is, have I yet learnt any lessons? The answer is no. I just watch irony filter in through cigarette packets, my non-existent wage packet and the immeasurably more comfortable sofa bed in our living room.