Friday, 22 November 2013


We British are known for our love of animales. But I have to tell you that the Spanish are just as fond of their furry (as well as feathery and scaley) amigos.
So it came as no surprise to me to ver this in Valencia...

If your ojos are really sharp you might just be able to spot (and read) a very big clue as to what this is...
If you need a little help, here's a better view:

Sí señor (that's how Spaniards say, 'Yes, sir!' when they want to emphasise something), it's a dog toilet! Isn't that something you don't see in the middle of Oxford Street! Although I've been out of the UK for nearly ocho años, so, who knows?
Anyway, I think it's a nice thought. A bit of privacy for Rover or Spike or whoever. Actually, Spanish dogs can have some quite strange nombres. A vecino (neighbour) had one called Rocky. Yes, a Spanish perro called 'Rocky'. And no, it wasn't a huge great beast; many Spaniards live in flats so the majority of perros I see (including this one) are muy pequeño.
Another one I know se llama Luna, which means 'moon', even thought it isn't round or white. It's actually a skinny little brown thing. Luna? Doesn't seem right.

And did you know, perros españoles don't go, 'Woof, woof!' like British ones do? Well, so the children in my class insist. They tell me perros en España go 'Wow, wow!'
My guess is they only say that when they see their very own dog toilet. 
In fact, I think I said it myself when I spotted it. 


Thursday, 14 November 2013

Easy as Alpha, Bravo, Charile...

I often have trouble giving my name over the phone.
'Dean,' I'll say.
'Bean?' they'll respond. (At least I think that's what they've said.)
'No, Dean,' I'll repeat, stressing the 'Deee,' bit.
'Team?' they'll reply, not stressing the 'Deee,' bit.
It's at this point that I go back to my childhood, and use a nifty little method which my mates and I taught ourselves when we were about 7- or 8-years-old.
'Delta, echo, alpha, November,' I'll say with a flourish.
Job done.

It's the NATO and International Aviation Phonetic Alphabet and it's really useful to know, especially if your name has a lot of the tricky letters that all sound remarkably too similar: B, C, D, E, G, P, T, V (and Z if you're in the United States).

But what do I do here in Spain? Can I shout, 'Delta, echo, alpha, November,' down the phone and expect Pedro or María to understand. The answer is, 'probably, no.' So what do I do? Well, the real answer is I panic as I fail to think of any Spanish words starting with a 'D'. So the next obvious question is, 'Do the Spanish have their own version which I could look up and (more importantly) learn?'

And the answer is, 'Sí!'

In fact, it's not just Spain which has its own version as you can see here: Phonetic Alphabets (Selection)  But it's Spain which I'm obviously going to concentrate on. 

So what do I say if 'D-E-A-N.' is misheard on the phone?

Easy, 'Dolores-Enrique-Antonio-Navarra.'

And if I need to spell 'Jeremy'?


So, if you want to be really helpful to your parents, on your next trip to Spain, when they need an address (your hotel, a restaurant, the street that the bus to the airport departs from… in ten minutes…) have a go at learning the Spanish phonetic alphabet. Here it is, with a few notes on what all the words mean and how to pronounce them:

Antonio. (I wonder if women say Antonia?)

Chocolate. Yes, strangely, the Spanish list also has an entry for ‘ch’ which used to be a letter in its own right. I'd be tempted to use 'Carmen, historia'.
Francia. (Spanish for France).
Gerona. Town and province in the North-East, on the coast bordering France.
Historia. History. (In case you weren’t sure.)
Inés. (The Spanish version of Agnes.)
José. (Pronounced Ho-seh).
Lorenzo. (Spanish for Laurence.)
Llobregat. Again, the double ‘l’ also has its own entry, Llobregat. There is a river, near Barcelona called Llobregat, but beyond that, I’m clueless. I'd say, 'Lorenzo, Lorenzo.'

Navarra. Autonomous community in northern Spain.
Ñoño. It’s an adjective meaning insipid or spineless, used for the letter 'Ñ'.
Oviedo. Capital city of Asturias, on the North coast.
Querido. (Means ‘dear,’ at the start of a letter, but also, ‘darling’.)
Sábado. (Saturday).
Tarragona. Capital city of the province of the same name.
Ulises. Boy’s name. Spanish version of Ulysses.
Valencia. Capital city of the province of Valencia in the Autonomous Community of… Valencia! New York, New York? So good they named it twice? Hah! What about Valencia (the city), Valencia (the province), Valencia (the autonomous community)!! So good they named it three times! (With apologies to Gerard Kenny.)
Washington. Washington?! Interestingly enough (well, I thought it was interesting), Spanish doesn’t have any words beginning with the letter ‘w’. Any words you do find in a Spanish dictionary will be foreign (what are often called 'loan' words). My dictionary has ten entries: walkie-talkie, walkman (I guess there’ll be nine in the next edition), Washington, wáter (meaning toilet), waterpolo, wátman (meaning ‘cool’!?), whisky, Winchester, windsurf and WWW.
Xiquena. The name of a castle in Murcia. Pronounced Chic-en-ah.
Yegua. A mare. Pronounced Yeh-gwa.
Zaragoza. Capital of Aragon, in the North-East. Pronounced Zar-ah-goth-ah.

N.B., I've posted what is essentially the same article on primary and secondary sites this week.


Friday, 8 November 2013

¡Fiesta! Tres. He's Behind You!

What's this for?

You're all probably imagining what you'd want to do with it, and you'd be right! It's a toy, and a prized one in this area. The game you play with it is simple. You chase your mates all over the place. I see them quite often here. Some are clearly 'home made', like this one.

You'll also see them on the front of bikes or just held in the hands.

Do you know how much 25 euros is? 

It's all a lot of fun chasing your mates around the park, but every now and again things get much more interesting when a team of professional chasers come to a town's fiesta bringing their own very special friends...

But just because the professionals are in town, doesn't mean you can't bring your own...

Some of the children are remarkably big for their age, don't you think?

If you're ever in Spain, especially over the summer months, it's worth checking out in the local press or the oficina de turismo to see if one of these 'bull-runs' is on. They're called encierros infantiles and you'd be very welcome to join in...

I'll finish with a video I shot in a town called Nules near Valencia. Watch out for the 5th bull...

A sad note to end on, and a serious warning: While all this running around and screaming while being chased by a man with a bull on wheels is clearly great fun, don’t let it mask the fact that the ‘real thing’ is an extremely dangerous affair. 

Adults running with real bulls (toros) is very popular in certain parts of Spain, like here, in the Valencian community. If you look closely in the videos you’ll see the ‘cages’ (called cadafales) where people run to safety when a real bull is loose on the streets. Spectators stand inside the cages or sit in the seats on top. And sadly, every year, the local newspapers report serious injuries and deaths during these small-town bull-running fiestas. 

In fact, four days after I filmed this encierro infantil in Nules, a man was killed.  

Enjoy your holidays...

For a more in-depth piece on encierros infantiles see this post on my main Zen Kyu Maestro blog: Bull-running-for-kids

Friday, 1 November 2013

Easy as ABC...

¡Hola todos! (Hello everyone.)

Do you know your ABC? Of course you do! But do you know your ABECEDARIO? Your Spanish ABC.

It's often surprisingly useful to know your ABC in Spanish. I remember once phoning a Spanish hotel and asking them for directions. They said the name of the street, but I couldn't make sense of the word. It sounded like 'noo-way-bay-day-ok-too-bray' which is what I wrote down, ready to show to a taxi-driver. 

But I wasn't sure I'd got it right, so I asked the receptionist to spell it. Luckily I knew my ABECEDARIO as my hotel turned out to be in Plaza Nueve de Octubre. Which is Ninth of October Square. (The 9th of October is a big fiesta day in Valencia, commemorating the day in 1238 when Valencia was won back from Arab invaders.)

So, here's a neat little song from the 'Tio Spanish' (Uncle Spanish) team, which will help you learn your ABECEDARIO, all 27 letters of it.

Now, does anyone know why there are 27?