I was in the US for a month for summer holidays. Here are a few reflections.

I love the US. How can I not? I was born and raised there and it was my life for 26 years. I also love Spain. The more time I’ve lived in Spain the more I’ve become used to the Spanish way of living… and actually become Spanish. It’s been 13 years and the most recent years of my life.

It was great to be home with family in the US, which was the main objective, and also to have my kids immersed in English for a whole month. After having spent such an extended time there, there  are some things that stood out out in my mind that I wanted to share:

  • Where do kids in the US play? I have no shame in admitting that many times we googled “playgrounds” to see if there were any decent public play areas near where we were staying as we moved around. Turns out this isn’t an easy feat. In Madrid there are so many around where we live in the suburbs that you could probably go to a different, nice playground every day for a month without repeating.  Also where we live in Majadahonda we have a large, shared pool in our apartment complex that all the kids go to every day during the summer – no invite required. We found some good parks that we visited near Boston, but they required driving 20+ minutes to get there and there weren’t too many kids. This just made me wonder “what did I do as a kid?” I remember playing out in the street in my neighborhood, but I think the big thing is the US is going to friends’ houses and having your kids play with theirs with playdates. There’s nothing wrong with this, but the plus of having great public playgrounds is that you don’t have to be social with other adults for your kids to have fun. I don’t exactly consider myself an introvert, but it’s nice to just be able to go to a big public park where no one knows you and let your kids run around and make friends or not. If they hit someone or steal a toy the consequences won’t be personal.

Here are some pictures of some typical parks in the outskirts of Madrid.

  • Drive thrus. Surprisingly (and fortunately) this hasn’t yet made its way to Spain in the same magnitude as in the US. I had forgotten how prevalent drive throughs are in the US. This first hit me one day with my sister as we pulled into Dunkin Donuts. I told her I’d be out in a second to which she replied, “but we’ll just go through the Drive Thru”. Honestly it hadn’t even occurred to me. The coffee shop, the banks, the pharmacy, the car wash – you name it. Life made easy, but is it too easy?
  • Customer service can suck in the US as well. As you may now if you’ve read my blog, Customer Service/Customer Experience is something that is important to me. I’ve written many posts about not-so-great customer experiences here in Spain, as this is still something that has a long way to go. However, I discovered during our trip that it’s not all roses in the US either. We had a wonderful experience with Rentalcars.com (Hertz being the provider for a rental car) in which we were given a pick up location for the car that no longer exists. The hotel where we went to get the car no longer has a Hertz office there. When I contacted the Hertz office they were about to close in 20 minutes and were of absolutely no help. To make a long story short they ended up hanging up on me after saying they wouldn’t do anything and left us with no way to get back home and without a rental car. The best is that Rentalcars.com had already charged us for the entire two week rental. Note: do not use Rentalcars.com! The best thing is definitely to go directly with the company, even if you end up spending a little bit more. In the end we had to pay for an uber back to our house and then having to deal with Rentalcars.com on the phone so they could refund the payment they’d already received. Then we had to reserve a new car…
  • Coffee. Once you get used to the European coffee it’s hard to go back. Punto.

Overall it was a great trip home, but I still don’t see myself moving back to the US any time soon. I don’t think I would have a full month of vacation to be writing a blog like this, to start…

 

 

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Vacation time! Spanish style.

I remember working in the US, and I remember taking vacation during the summer, but  I definitely DO NOT remember ever taking or having a full month off to disconnect and relax (that’s because I never did).

This is definitely one of the big pros of living and working here in Spain. I may not have a stellar salary like I would back in the US, and I may complain about different things from time to time, but I can’t say I had many complaints today as I closed my office door and said goodbye until September. Hasta luego!

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I’ve been translated into Spanish. And it doesn’t completely make sense.

I just found out that another local site has included an excerpt from my blog post on raising bilingual kids. While I appreciate the interest and am happy to see that this may be of interest to people, I was a little surprised to see that they only included some parts of my post. Also, it had been translated into Spanish.

The overall context about my son’s medical issues and the switch to Spanish for a limited amount of time was left out; this is a big part of the post actually and why it makes it more interesting. Without this my 3 points at the end don’t make as much sense…

https://majadahondamagazin.es/una-madre-de-boston-ee-uu-que-vive-en-majadahonda-desvela-3-secretos-para-hacer-bilingues-a-sus-hijos-140556/comment-page-1#comment-25303

So, thank you for the mention, but please ask first next time to check. Lost in translation…

My Abusive Relationship with Iberia

I’ve written how my experience moving to a foreign country with a basic level of the language was humbling and made me more accepting of circumstances (and people) and more relaxed.

However, there is one thing that can always manage to make my blood boil. No matter how long I’ve been abroad I just cannot tolerate bad customer experience. There still exists a strong mentality, at least here in Spain, that the customer is wrong. After having worked for several years in the Customer Experience research team at Forrester Research (https://www.forrester.com/Customer-Experience) back in Boston and having researched and documented the high correlation between positive CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE, consumer loyalty and positive business impact ($$), it still boggles me how there can exist this mentality and bad treatment of customers. Maybe there are still some businesses or sectors where consumers don’t have much of a choice, but with the way the world is changing so rapidly with digitalization, AI, paradigm breakers in existing sectors (think Uber, Amazon, Amazon Go, …) I don’t think this mentality will work forever.

Iberia and I have an abusive relationship. Sometimes I like being close to him to get to the end result (get from Madrid to Boston and vice versa without having to go through a layover). However, there are other times when I can’t even stand looking at him, when he disrespects me and even hangs up on me.

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Let’s be honest; people fly to get from one point to another. I’m not looking for miracles. However, I do expect to be treated with respect, especially when there are loyalty programs involved. So, what happened the other day? Well, it goes back to 6 months ago when I tried to use my frequent flyer “avios” to purchase tickets for Boston for the summer. I figured I had enough points that I could buy my ticket and one of my child’s. As it turns out it’s almost impossible to use avios to buy tickets during high travel season. Eight months prior to the planned travel dates there was only 1 seat available that could be purchase with avios (my husband called 5 minutes afer I did and there were no longer avios seats available). In the end I purchased my seat with avios and had to pay almost 200 euros in taxes. Makes you wonder to what point it’s really worth the avios…

For my two kids (ages 5 and 2) it was impossible to apply any of my avios. I purchased their tickets for almost 2000 euros, but in order to get assigned seats for them to be near me we’d have to pay another 200 euros. I said I think it would be their mistake to try to put a 2 year old screaming for his mom in a different aisle, but I think I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it in a few weeks. I’m pretty sure someone will prefer to switch with me if Iberia won’t give us seats together than suffer 8 hours of screaming…

On top of the kids’ tickets I also purchased some sort of travel insurance that wasn’t very clear at all over the phone but made to seem as though it was an essential part of the purchase. Next thing I know I had an extra 108 euro charge on my card. When I called a few days later to ask for more information about the insurance I had purchased I was told I’d receive it via email (the same email through which I received the tickets). Nothing came. Honestly out of pure laziness of having to call Iberia again and wait on hold I put it off for months.

The other day I called Iberia to ask about the insurance policy I had semi-consciously purchased. They confirmed that I had purchased a policy for both of my children with Allianz insurance, but to receive information about the coverage I would have to speak directly with Allianz. I asked what information I would need to provide to Allianz when calling (I’ve had enough experience with being bounced back and forth) and was told that with my ticket locator number that would be enough.

Next step- I called Allianz. Not surprisingly they were unable to find my information, policy, etc. They said that likely Iberia had made a mistake and that unless I had a separate payment on my account for the insurance that it was never purchased. They were unable to look up any more information with my name or personal data; I even tried repeating my email twice (another thing I’ve had enough experience with is people not understanding me on the phone with my accent) spelling out each letter like “M as in Madrid, A as in Alemania…” Nothing.

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Their solution: send an email to a generic Allianz sales email with a proof of payment from my bank account from January. That’s when I hit the table (literally) and tried to politely express my anger at their complete lack of efficiency as I had a ticket right in front of me. As I saw I was getting nowhere the conversation ended. I immediately found the information and sent an email titled “URGENT” with the information they requested. To my surprise they answered me within a couple of hours with the information I had requested and the full policy coverage. I have to say I was impressed with this part of the service, but was it really worth it for Iberia to put me through this hassle? Talk about making things not easy for the customer.

As it turns out, despite having repeated my email address twice and having the agent repeat it back to me, he somehow had managed to completely butcher it with about 3 letters and a period missing.

So, I’ll fly with Iberia in a few weeks, and maybe things will be smooth between us for a while, but at some point we’ll hit a bump and it will go back to rocky. For now I’m not going to end our relationship as I’m still getting the final results I’m looking for, but once something more attractive comes along with less hassle (and baggage) I will be first in line. My next challenge: try to understand the insurance policy.

To be continued…

Raising bilingual kids in Spain – how I’m making it work

Not too long ago at one of the local parks in my neighborhood (my favorite hangout spots since approximately 5 1/2 years ago), I was talking with my son when another parent approached me. This Spanish father wanted to know how I was able to get my son to answer me in English. How did I do it? This may sound like a strange question, but it’s actually a common issue with bilingual parents from what I’ve seen from a number of conversations. Apparently in this case the Park guy was married to a french woman, and even though she always spoke to her kids in French they would only answer in Spanish, never in French.

I thought I would share my story as it may be of interest to some other parents in similar situations. Also, it hasn’t been a typical path to bilingualism, which in itself isn’t that uncommon. When my older son was born I only spoke to him in English, naturally. What I didn’t realize, until a couple of years and many doctor appointments later, is that he wasn’t hearing me (or not very well). What I was shaking off as him being too interested in his games to turn his head when we called him or just taking longer to hopefully sing back to me or repeat things was really actually related to a medical issue. When possibilities of autism started being thrown out there it was pretty scary.

For a period of about a year, when my son was 2-3 years old, I was speaking to him only in Spanish (although not very happy about it), as recommended by doctors. My American family couldn’t communicate with him, and I was afraid he was going to learn my accent in Spanish.

Flash forward 3 years, 3 surgeries and a lot of effort later, and I’m very proud to say that fortunately both of my kids are healthy and both are (or hopefully will be) bilingual without accents in either language. Fortunately, it turns out that the problem Nico had was actually related to ENT (ears, nose and throat) issues. After getting his adenoids out, then tubes in his ears, and finally tonsils (the main thing causing him to have bad apneas and breathing/hearing issues) he was now able to hear properly. These are not uncommon surgeries, but the degree of the problem can vary from slight issues to very severe cases that can cause breathing/oxygen issues, hearing, etc. problems (this was our case). After the first surgeries things got a bit better and he started hearing and talking, but it wasn’t until the last one where he was finally healthy (and finally sleeping) and able to hear 100%.

Suddenly I was faced with the question of what to do? He was hearing only Spanish and saying quite a lot now in Spanish. Should I continue talking in Spanish until he’s a lot better or make the switch to English and see what happens? I’ll be honest; I complained a lot when I was recommended to talk to him only in Spanish. It wasn’t at all natural for me, and it hurt to not speak to my son in my native language. But I wanted to do what was best for him.

So, one day in July, about a month and a half after his last surgery and despite some doctor recommendations, I made the switch. Cold turkey. This meant I only spoke to him now in English. I can imagine this must have been confusing for him, but as he was already used to pictograms from support lessons, I kept up with pictures as support, used hand signals, pointed to things, etc. I’ll never forget one of the first days in the elevator heading to school when I was talking to him and he looked up and said sadly, “Mommy, no te entiendo” 😦 That was really hard, but I didn’t switch. Meanwhile everyone else around me was speaking to him in Spanish – at school, my husband (who is Spanish), all of his family closeby, etc. By the way, both of my kids go to public schools in Majadahonda which are primarily in Spanish. (note: don’t believe what a public school says about being “bilingual”).

Little by little, over a period of about a year Nico started saying more and more things in English and was understanding me better day by day, but he was only answering me and talking 95% of the time in Spanish. The following July, one year after I started speaking to him in English we sent him to a one-month English summer camp with native speakers. Suddenly he was immersed all day long with native American speakers. Also, I had the “jornada reducida” at work, so I was picking him up from camp and spending the rest of the afternoon with him. THAT was when there was a click. Maybe it was just a question of time, or maybe it was the fact that suddenly there were other people also speaking to him in English as well, but whatever it was it worked. Little by little he started talking more and more in English.

Now, a year later he only talks to me in English – and even tells our Google machine “to talk to mommy in English” (Google doesn’t listen). Spanish is still for sure his prominent language, but I’m convinced that every day his English will keep improving. During the school year he went to English school for 2 hours on Saturdays at the same place we sent him to summer camp (just a little reinforcement). And now, in a few days he’ll be back in summer camp with native speakers and then we’ll be in Boston for a month. It will be interesting to see how things have progressed by the end of the summer!

I would summarize how the switch to English worked for me in 3 points:

  1. Consistency. Once I decided that I was going to speak in English I did not go back to Spanish. Even though it was really hard at the beginning and my son didn’t understand me. If you switch back and forth it’ll be clear that Spanish is an option, but if you “don’t understand” in the other language and they want something, they’ll figure out how to say it. Also, in front of other people and friends, even if they don’t understand what you’re saying don’t change how you speak to your kids just because of the people who are around you. To others it’s fine to speak in another language, but don’t switch with your kids.
  2. Insistence. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve said “I don’t understand” …. For more or less a year, every single time my son said something in Spanish I would repeat it, translated in English (“oh you mean…”), and then answer in English. Every time. It was definitely tiring and would have just been easy to skip this, but I’m determined. Another thing I did was start speaking to my husband in English. When we’re alone we switch to Spanish, but since there is almost no one else who speaks English around me, I think it helped to have more of an English environment at home.
  3. Patience. This was probably one of the toughest parts, but nothing happens overnight. My second son was born a couple months before Nico’s last surgery, so for a while I was speaking to the baby in English and Nico in Spanish. Now I speak to both of them in English, but it’s actually the baby who answers in Spanish (although this is more natural with kids that hear two languages from the start). All in good time.

I know there are a ton of bilingual kids, but since I’ve had a lot of people here ask me the question I stated at the beginning I figured it could be interesting to share this, also since it hasn’t been the typical story. Hope you found it interesting/useful!

Back in NYC for a week – bringing out my American side

Every time I go back to the US for work I always feel like I get to know myself a little bit better. What I mean by that is I realize how much I’ve changed since I moved to Europe 13 years ago. And also how easy it is to fall right back into my American self when triggered…

I will admit it: when I was living in Boston I was pretty uptight. In general I walked quickly everywhere and huffed and puffed behind slow walkers, used my lunch hour to work out so I didn’t waste any time, got annoyed and impatient easily, and I definitely didn’t have much patience for poor customer service. Also, moving up at work and position/salary were my primary goals.

After living in Spain for more than a decade and adding two small kids to the equation I would say that I’ve mellowed out quite a bit. As a natural consequence of becoming a mother my priorities have changed, especially work-wise, but aside from that I’ve become more comfortable being out of the city enter and taking things slower. Life goes by too quickly.

Being back in NY for me last week was interesting. It was a big change from my normally-mellow days, especially considering the location of my hotel right next to Times Square.

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Hustle and bustle of Times Square, right next to my hotel

The weekend before my work commitment I was a total tourist with my mother, even including an I love NY t-shirt. (check out the picture below, but especially the lady’s face behind me. She’s probably thinking “another annoying tourst buying sesame balls. If only she knew I’m from Boston) …

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What is she thinking??

The first flashback to pre-Spain me came with a rude person attending us at the tourist Big Bus line. I won’t get into details except for the fact that how she spoke to me prompted me to drop the f-bomb, which I hardly ever do. Boston was back. I’ve also had people recognize my accent right away (which is not the true Boston accent I might add), which surprised me since usually people now tell me I have a weird English-Spanish accent when I speak.

There are things that are nice about being back in the US, especially in NY with the hustle and bustle of the city and so many different things to see. I’ve actually seen NY more now that I live in Europe than I ever did when I lived only four hours away in Boston. For example, I walked over the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time during this trip and loved it. So much actually that I escaped one night from work obligations and walked it again. Also shopping – I always manage to find a way to squeeze some of that in while I’m here.

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Loving the Brooklyn Bridge walk

And I’ve taken advantage of my location to run a few times in Central Park, which is amazing. And huge, for being right in the city center. It’s also amazing to me the amount of activity, people running, biking, walking, etc. at 6am. NY really does never sleep!

After a week I saw enough of my Boston side come out that I was ready to get back to Madrid and back to reality. It’s great to be back in the US, but I was happy to go back to my Spanglish accent until work brings me back across the ocean again.

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Don’t miss the caption at the bottom right