Menu Close

Expats in the Making

Here are some things that I learnt in school: trigonometry, analyzing meter and rhyme in Greek poetry, and every single event leading to the fall of the Tokugawa dynasty. Here are some things that I wish I had learnt in school: dealing with taxes and investments, nailing job interviews, and becoming more aware of cultural diversity. Whether you want to be a pilot, a cook or photographer, the goal of school should be preparing future adults for real-life situations.

We did a bunch of cool things back in school, but in retrospect, I wish we had had a more well-rounded, globally-oriented education. Obviously, school can only provide some foundations, and you have to tackle life on your own and get hands-on experience. In my case however, taking a preparation class before moving abroad would have certainly helped big time. How would that hypothetical course go?

Expats in the Making: the elective high school subject for ecdemomaniacs and prospective expats. Because one can never be too prepared to deal with this wonderful yet confusing world of ours.

Expat Gone Foreign, Expat lessons, school, education, life abroad, getting a head start, Expats in the Making

 

¿Español o castellano?

Dear native Spanish speaker: if I were to ask you what your mother tongue is, would you say it’s español or castellano? Think about it for a sec. Ready? Great. If your answer is castellano, I strongly encourage you to keep reading. Unless you have a time machine and you just warped from the Middle Ages, you speak español, amigo.

If you are not a hispanohablante 1, you might be wondering what the whole fuss is all about. You see, in the Spanish-speaking community, both terms – español and castellano – are used to refer to the beautiful Spanish language. The only problem is that one of them is mistakenly overused. Here’s a visual aid to illustrate where español and castellano are spoken nowadays as official languages:

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, fun linguistics, español, castellano, nacionalismos, terminología

Let’s get into the time machine, shall we? Dialing back to the 9th century. Destination: Condado de Castilla, northwest of the Iberian Peninsula. Bleepity bloopity boop!

Castellano was one of the many Romance descendants of Latin, and it was spoken by the small population who lived in the County of Castile. This county would later on turn into a kingdom – el Reino de Castilla – by taking vast amounts of territory and annexing other kingdoms in the Iberian Peninsula. As the Kingdom of Castile expanded, so did the language of its Castilian folks.

Languages evolve throughout the years, and it’s hard to pin down the exact moment in which castellano diverged enough from Latin to be considered a language of its own. What started as the castellano of Castile in the 9th century had turned into the castellano of Spain by the 16th. Erudite King Alfonso X as well as the Golden Age litterateurs hoisted Spanish as the language of the Empire, a language that was gradually called español over castellano. By the 18th century, the first designation had taken over the latter.

So, why does a large number of hispanohablantes refer to their language as castellano? Habit, pride, politics… take your pick. The term is nowadays widely used in bilingual regions of Spain as well as some Spanish speaking-countries in Latin America 2. It has become so commonplace, that even the RAE decided to give up and include it is as a synonym for español 3. The DPD also weighs in.

Whereas the international community refers to the Spanish language as español across the board, native speakers of this language seem to disagree with the terminology. The way I see it, calling it castellano is anachronic and as preposterous as saying that Angela Merkel speaks Althochdeutsch. Still skeptical? Allow me to show you one last piece of evidence to dissuade you from labeling your language as castellano:

Facsimile of Cantar de mio Cid.
Here’s a transcription of the first eight verses:

A uos lama por sennor, e tienes por uuestro vasallo:
Mucho preçia la ondra Çid quel auedes dado.
Pocos dias ha, rey, que vna lid a arrancado,
A aquel rey de Marruecos Yuçeff por nombrado:
Con çinquenta mill arrancolos del campo:
Las ganançias que fizo mucho son sobeianas:
Ricos son venidos todos los sos vassallos:
E enbia uos dozientos cauallos, e besa uos las manos.

Do you speak THAT? I don’t think so. Let’s get into the time capsule and come back to the present, shall we?

Foreign, not deaf

Human interactions are fascinating, especially when the people involved in the linguistic exchange don’t share a common language. Picture the following scenario: a native speaker attempts to communicate with a foreigner. The native says something and the non-native looks puzzled. Then the native repeats the exact same thing in the exact same order and speed, just 30 decibels louder. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, language comics, life abroad, native speaker yelling to foreigner

My hearing works perfectly, thank you very much. I’m foreign, not deaf. Shouting is not going to magically make me speak your language or understand words that I haven’t previously learnt. Rephrase, use simpler structures, find more basic vocabulary… anything but yelling.

Two people don’t need a common language to communicate. They just need to be willing to understand each other.

British Sinks

Being abroad can be a nerve-racking adventure in which even the most common daily routines become a hilarious challenge. Take washing your hands for instance. British sinks are the place where dragon fire meets penguin tears. They have two taps: the hot one will scald your hands, whereas the cold one will shatter them into frozen pieces. So, why do British sinks have separate taps for hot and cold water? Foreigners around the world have asked themselves that question for decades.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, British sinks, cold and warm water taps, faucets

Back in the day when our grandparents were toddlers, houses didn’t have hot running water, just cold water that came from a main supply. Later on, hot water systems were added separately to each building for safety and health reasons.

British plumbers were concerned about the pressure difference between cold and warm water. The first came from a main supply with a much higher pressure than the latter, which was stored in a tank inside each house and relied on gravity. In case of an imbalance of pressures, one stream could force its way into the other and pose a number of problems.

There were also health risks involved. Old tanks were made of galvanized steel, which corrodes easily; and they didn’t usually have a proper lid, which made the tank an AquaLand for errant birds, distracted insects and sweaty rodents in need of a swim. Squatting fauna aside, hot water sitting in an attic tank was not considered safe to drink, for it created the optimal conditions for bacteria like legionella to proliferate and wreak havoc on human stomachs. So, what did the Brits do? They came up with regulations to keep them separate and prevent the hot water contaminating the cold water supply.

You might be thinking: “Sure, but that was YEEEARS ago. Why haven’t they switched to mixer taps yet?” – Well, in a word: tradition. Whereas continental Europe reinvented its water supply system after the war, Britain rebuilt its houses clinging onto the separate taps tradition. Chances are that mixer taps will take over in the future, but in the meantime, have fun flapping your hands between the two taps when washing them.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, travel and language comics, tea, United Kingdom, British problems