The ultimate April Fools’ jokes

In Spain, the equivalent of April Fools’ Day is known as the Massacre of the Innocents.  Yes, you did read that correctly; rather than the British day for “plonkers” the Spanish have named their funniest day of the year after Herod’s massacre of infants – perhaps it’s a cultural difference, but it doesn’t sound quite so funny to me! 

Unlike the Spanish tradition, the origins of April Fools’ Day, celebrated in the UK, and many other countries, are less clear.  Some say the origins are in poetry, some say fishing traditions and some say a Roman custom where servants controlled their masters for a day.  It doesn’t really matter though as the day of jokes is brilliant regardless.  Here are some of my favourite April Fool’s pranks

1. Spaghetti grows on trees

In 1957, the BBC broadcast a news segment on the troubles facing the spaghetti harvest.  The footage showed a Swiss family carefully picking strands of spaghetti from a tree and drying them in the sun.  The programme was watched and believed by millions – some viewers even called the BBC, wanting to buy spaghetti bushes.

2. Talk with your pet hamster with Google’s app

In 2009, Google released an app enabling you to record and translate all kinds of moos, baas and quacks.  Google stated that they had worked alongside senior fellows of Oxford University to remove the “language barriers between the species”.

3. Volcano erupts!

In Sitka, Alaska, thousands awoke to the sight of black smoke billowing from the long dormant volcano.  A Coast Guard helicopter went to investigate.  The pilot nervously approached the crater, only to find a huge pile of burning car tyres and a spray painted ‘April fool’ sign. I’m not sure everyone would see the funny side of this!

4. Update your black and white TV for free … using nylon stockings

In 1962, thousands of Swedish parents stripped off their nylon stockings and carefully stretched them over the screens of their TVs.  When their TV screens failed to update from black and white to colour (this technology wouldn’t be available for another 8 years), they wondered if the stockings were the wrong denier.  What they should have been questioning was the technology “expert” of the national TV channel, SVT, which had broadcast an April Fools hoax earlier that day.

5. Iceberg in Australia

Australians were shocked to find an iceberg floating past the Sydney Opera House in 1978.  Radio stations at the time provided a blow by blow account as the iceberg hit national news.  Only when it began to rain did the truth come out: the shaving foam melted revealing the plastic structure.  N-ice prank!

Girona: What’s on in April

Check out this selection of the top things to do this month:

1. Don’t miss Easter!

Easter is filled with performances of palm leaves, romans and crucifixes, telling the story of Jesus’ last days.   On 9th April (Palm Sunday), head to the Ramblas at midday for the celebration of Christ entering Jerusalem.  On Friday 14th April, starting at 9pm on the cathedral steps, follow Christ’s story in the ‘Holy Burial Procession’.  The procession will be hard to miss: it is headed by Romans, followed by costumed church groups and statues.

  • Sunday 9th and Friday 14th April
  • Central Girona

2. Head to a music concert

Last Saturday, a concert held by Pont de Pedra officially opened Strenes music festival.  The festival runs from 25th March to the end of April.  The line-up of predominantly Catalan artists will perform across the city in both indoor and outdoor venues, including Pont de Pedra and the cathedral steps.

3. Wander a local art market

Mercat de La Volta is a small-scale art held on the second Saturday of every month.   It features stalls by 28 small-scale artists and artesans in the Plaça de l’Assumpció de Sant Narcís.  The vibe is chilled with a mix of live music, mini workshops and friendly stalls.  A lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

4. Watch live theatre

If you are looking to practise your English or you just love the theatre, check out the performance of ‘No Man’s Land’ at Cinema Truffaut.  London’s National Theatre broadcasts the performance live allowing you to experience it here in Girona.

5. Take part in a tradition of love

Head to the streets on Sunday 23rd April in search of love!  The streets will be lined with book stalls and flower sellers, celebrating the Catalan tradition of giving roses and books to loved ones.  More detail to follow on this.

  • Sunday 23rd April
  • Central Girona

 

Catalan Easter Food

My sister has given up chocolate and all things sweet for 40 days and 40 nights.  Why?  For Lent. In the UK, people traditionally eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday) and then they give up a sweet food in the run up to Easter.

In Spain and Catalonia, people party day and night for carnival and then they eat traditional Lent sweets in the run up to Easter; I know which country I prefer!

Here is your guide to Catalonia’s top foods for Lent and Easter:

  1. Buñuelos (Eating only 1 buñol is simply not possible)

These mini doughnuts, known as Lent fritters (buñuelos de Cuaresma), are eaten throughout Lent.  (To be fair, buñyols were traditionally used as a way of getting through the traditional forty days of giving up meat).  There are a number of variations to try: buñyols de crema (cream-filled), buñyols de vent (literally wind fritters: air-filled), buñyols del Empordà  (a bit denser and common in Girona).

  1. Tortell de Rams

This ring-shaped marzipan cake, decorated with candied fruit, is traditionally eaten on Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter).  Godparents give the cakes to their godchildren.

  1. Mona de Pascua

On Easter Sunday, godparents once again give a traditional cake to their godchildren: the mona de Pascua (Easter cake).  In the past, these round cakes were topped with the same number of hard-boiled eggs as the age of the child.  Now, they are chocolate masterpieces: chocolate palaces, topped with chocolate eggs, chocolate spidermen, chocolate princesses, chocolate spongebobs…

Once again, you have to give it to Spain, these chocolate masterpieces go above and beyond the chocolate eggs we give at home in the UK.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking Spanish in Catalonia

“No hablo catala.  Puedamos hablar en español?”  Many times this request for Catalans to speak Spanish is met by a couple of minutes of Spanish followed by a couple of hours of incomprehensible Catalan or occasionally by an outright Catalan “no”.  This can leave Spanish-speaking foreigners, isolated, unable to understand, first, the conversation and, second, why Spanish speakers won’t speak Spanish.

For many international people, explaining that they can’t speak in Catalan but could instead speak in Spanish, seems a completely reasonable suggestion.  To start with, Catalan is spoken by an estimated 9 million people whereas 350 million speak Spanish as their first language: naturally, more people can speak Spanish as a second language. Secondly, from a foreigner’s perspective at least, Girona is in Spain and therefore it doesn’t seem wrong to ask a Spaniard if they could speak Spanish.  But having lived in Girona for over six months now, I’m beginning to understand why some Catalans are reluctant to speak Spanish.

It’s political

First, the choice to speak Catalan or Castilian (Spanish) is political.  Throughout history, the Catalan language has come under attack time and again and consequently many Catalans feel a strong need to protect their language.  Most recently, under Franco’s dictatorship (ending just 42 years ago), the Catalan language was banned in all public spaces.  This means that all Catalans aged 50 or over are likely to remember a time when Catalan was banned, Catalonia was marginalised and children were beaten at school simply for using their mother tongue.  When you look at it like this, my request that someone speak Spanish to me no longer seems quite so innocent.

It’s super political now

Indeed, many Catalans would argue that this attack on the Catalan language continues today.  In particular, the strong Catalan Independence movement considers protecting the Catalan language as crucial to protecting and strengthening Catalan identity.  On top of this, the central Spanish government continues to put pressure on Catalonia to invest more education time on Spanish rather than Catalan: a linguistic attack which feels hauntingly familiar to many Catalans.

Not everyone is bilingual

In fact, it is said that by the time Catalans leave school, education data shows that their Spanish equals that of students elsewhere in Spain.  However, this is not to say that all Catalans are comfortable or even fluent in Castilian.  One reason that I think some Catalans won’t speak Spanish to you is simply that they feel unable.  (However, this is normally only the case with those from extremely rural areas).

It’s confusing

Conversely, having lived in a mix-pot of Catalan and Castilian, some Catalans are so comfortable with both languages that they are almost unaware of the difference.  This is because Catalan-speakers are used to communicating perfectly through speaking Catalan and listening to Spanish replies.  This is true in cafés, shops and, most importantly, families with Spanish immigrants.  A child might grow up at a bilingual dinner table where the mother speaks Catalan, the father replies in Spanish and everyone understands.  This means that Catalans often don’t realise how hard it is for Castilian-speaking foreigners to understand Catalan and also that Catalans may switch between the two without realising.  Catalan – Castilian – Castilian – Catalan… You can see how the languages could begin to blur.

Bearing all of this in mind, asking a Catalan to speak in Spanish to me no longer seems so simple.  I mean, imagine if a Catalan friend asked me to speak in American English because they had studied American English.  (And y’all imagine that I was capable of speaking in an American accent and lingo too!)  Firstly, I wouldn’t want to: I’m not American!  The British define themselves as different to Americans just like some Catalans define themselves as different to Spaniards.  Secondly, I would quickly switch back to the language I am most familiar with.  And finally, I would forget how difficult British accents are if you’re not familiar with them.  Or imagine, you asked a Kiwi to speak in an Australian accent.  Or an Austrian to speak with a German accent… The list goes on.  When you look at it this way, it seems completely normal and reasonable for a Catalan to speak in Catalan to foreigners.

Note: Please note that this article includes lots of generalisations and stereotypes.  I have no wish to offend anyone but it is very difficult to talk about differences between people without generalising.  Many Catalan people that I meet and many Catalan friends are incredibly patient with my poor Castilian, … or my English.  It is as a result of conversations with many Catalans that I now understand the complexities of the Catalan-Castilian dynamic: I’m certainly still no expert.

Questions for a Brit abroad:

Being a foreigner sometimes feels like you’re on a bizarre quiz show.  Round 1: Royalty, Round 2: Languages, Round 3: Tea… The questions range from the curious to the hilarious and reveal some of the cultural differences between the UK and Spain.  Here are my top most frequently asked questions:

  1. You want milk with your tea? Are you sure?

Yep, I’m quite sure!  For me, nothing beats a normal cup of tea with milk and sugar.  But as I have discovered, it’s not a “normal” cup of tea here… it turns out it’s an English Breakfast with milk.  Who knew?

2. Why do you love the Queen?

Because, she’s epic – and because she doesn’t choose to go shooting elephants for $25,000 dollars a day in the middle of a recession, like the Spanish monarch did.  Enough said!

3. Which foreign languages do you speak?

(Ashamed pause).  I always feel slightly embarrassed by this question, particularly because, normally, the person speaking is asking in English: in a foreign language.  However, I tend to respond by noting that I learnt French and German at school. (I also tend to neglect to mention that this education doesn’t mean I can actually speak the languages).

4. But I don’t understand… Don’t you love your family?

Yes, I do love my family (but being British, declaring this in public makes me squirm).  And being British, I don’t feel the need to live close to them.  Catalans, who often live just around the corner or just upstairs from their parents, seem to find this bewildering.  In fact, they often seem to see it as a possible indication that I am somehow inhuman or emotionally malfunctioning.

5. So … BREXIT?

Out here, when someone breaches this topic, they don’t even need to form a sentence: the word ‘BREXIT’ sounds like a big ass question mark and joke all on its own.  To be fair, there doesn’t seem to be much need to ask whether I voted to remain or leave, as let’s face it, right now, I’m living in Spain.

6. Why don’t you wear more clothes?

Don’t worry, Mum, I am wearing enough clothes; it’s just a lot warmer here.  A cold day for a Catalan is like a short-donning, suncream smearing summer’s day for the British.

7. When do you eat dinner? … Don’t you get hungry in the night?

As with many nationalities, the Catalans, who eat at 9 or 10 pm, find our eating times baffling.  Likewise, I still haven’t fully adjusted to their custom of eating late at night and have found myself trying to enter empty or closed restaurants at 7 pm on more than one occasion.

8. What?

This is the response that a lot of my jumbled Catalan / Castilian attempts get… Fair enough, I did once confidently ask a shop assistant to bring me a church (rather than an ankle boot).

The 10 Funniest Spanish Insults

I’m beginning to understand why people call the British polite.  It turns out that when it comes to insults we have nothing – literally nothing – on the people of Spain.  You can try “Plonker”, “Minger” or even “Tosser” but let’s face, a Spaniard is just going to laugh! Our insults just can’t compete with the pure creative genius of the Spanish.

No doubt you are now quaking in your boots at the thought of an argument with your flatmate or an encounter with a driving nutcase.  But do not fear: whatever your nationality, I have got 10 fantastic Spanish insults lined up for you:

  1. Hijo de las mil putas = Son of a thousand whores

    In English, ‘you son of a bitch’ is a pretty forceful insult.  But, as I have said, the Spanish really do go above and beyond: this Spanish insult means son of, not 1, not 10 but 1000 prostitutes.

  2. Que te folle un pez = I hope you get fucked by a fish

    To be exact, I am reliably informed that this threat is to be performed by a swordfish.  My initial reaction to this was “Hahaha .. ha … ewww!”  I mean when you stop to think about it … well, it’s not a pleasant thought.

  3. Cap de suro (Catalan) = Head of a cork (Meaning “dimwit”)

  4. Hijo de un hyena = Son of a hyena

  5. Que ta la pique un pollo = I hope a chicken pecks your dick

    This insult was the one where I reconsidered drawing visual images of the insults…

  6. Pollas en vinagre = Dicks in vinegar (Meaning bullshit)

    … And this insult was the point at which I put the colouring pencils down.

  7. Te voy a dar una galleta = I’m going to give you a cookie (Meaning “I’m going to hit you”)

    Don’t underestimate this one!  For fellow bakery lovers, this one can be very misleading.

  8. Pintamonas = One who draws monkeys

  9. Me cago en la leche que te han dado = I shit in the milk they gave you

    Yep, the Catalan and Spanish celebration of poo doesn’t end with Caga Tio (the pooing log which replaces Father Christmas in Catalonia).  In fact, there are a few more along these lines … “Mitja-merda” (“Half-shit” in Catalan), “Me cago en tu puta madre” (“I shit on your whore of a mother”) and just to really make sure you’ve got it covered: “Me cago en todo lo que se menea” (“I shit on everything that moves”).

  10. Vete a freίr espárragos = Go fry asparagus

    And last but not least, my absolute favourite Spanish insult, because just why?

(Note: I have come across some Catalan phrases but more commonly Castillian phrases or versions of insults.  The majority of the above are therefore Castilian phrases and I have highlighted the Catalan ones).

What’s on in March: Girona

Girona can sometimes seem a little sleepy but this definitely isn’t true for the month of March!  Whether you’re into music, art or cars, there is something for you…

1) Black Music Festival

Featuring 20 concerts in 20 days, Girona’s annual Black Music Festival returns to venues across the city.  The diverse line-up ranges from Gloria Gaynor to The Chinese Man – whose act actually is called “The Chinese Man” – it’s not a racist mistake on behalf of the festival organisers! – I checked).  Tickets are affordable at €6-18.

2) Vermuts d’art

Feeling cultural and sophisticated? Look no further than the Art Museu’s Vermut d’Art event: take a guided stroll around three of Girona’s most impressive buildings and then enjoy a well-deserved aperitif of cheese and wine.  The tour will take you through the Basilica of Sant Feliu, the cathedral, the Girona Art Museum and end in the gardens of the Palacio Episcopal.  Tickets are just €4.50 and it’s recommended that you reserve on 972 20 38 34.

3) Rally Costa Brava

The oldest rally in Spain, Rally Costa Brava, will celebrate its 65th year.  The weekend event will centre in Girona, with races starting and leaving close to the podium on Ramon Folch Avenue, (outside Correos, next to Placa Independència).

4) International Language Exchange

Get your weekend off to a good start, meeting new people and practising languages in the warmth of La Fabrica.  The stone-walled cycle café-come-bar always buzzes with that Friday night feeling and the laughter of language mishaps.  Last month, I arrived, late and nervous, to be welcomed within seconds by the first group I tumbled into.  The group featured a Catalan, two Italians and a French guy and proceeded to invite me onto a meal. Definitely recommend!