Monthly Archives: February 2015

Carnaval Cadiz

Why 60 year olds wearing costumes and singing in the street is inspiring (Carnaval)

The other day a record amount of snow (five feet plus) was covering my hometown of Boston. At the same time I was walking around the center of Cádiz and experiencing a part of the biggest Carnaval celebration in Spain. Yep, I’m an American living here in Spain and not feeling guilty about leaving my snow roots behind.

Carnaval Cadiz

Let me start by saying it was a Monday afternoon (a public holiday) and not very inviting weather (cloudy and low 50’s F – not typical south of Spain weather). Given this, I was thinking that maybe we would see a few people out and about, but I was not expecting the crowds of costume-outfitted fiesta-goers filling the streets. Aside from the fact that it’s a week-plus long celebration, what most impressed me were the musical singing acts performed on various “stages” throughout the city. (When I say “stages” I refer to not only actual stages set up for the celebrations, but also store-front steps, military-like trucks in the middle of the streets decorated with various themes, gazebos … you name it). Behind the coordinated comical costumes, makeup and wigs was well-rehearsed, funny and interesting verse. And to top it off, sung quite well with instruments!

Carnaval singersCarnaval singers 2

Costumes carnaval

carnaval singers 2

Unfortunately, even though I consider myself more or less bilingual, this was one of those moments when everyone else was laughing, while I stood there with a blank face waiting for my husband  to fill me in on the jokes later 😦  This really doesn’t happen too much to me anymore here in Spain, but I guess it would be like the equivalent of a foreigner going to an improv comedy show in Boston or trying to understand the fast talk and jokes told by a Boston Duck Tour driver with a heavy Boston accent.

Back to the Carnaval scene… just walking around the city center, on almost every corner you could literally bump into a group singing their song and dance with a crowd of people watching. You could also see groups of friends, young and old, dressed up in costumes and enjoying the festivities. This brings me to the title of this post: I saw various groups of older women dressed up and having a great time with their friends – singing, drinking, dancing, laughing. At one point I saw a group of these women singing a song (of which I only caught some words here and there) to a group of young men walking by, friendly banter I would say. Everyone just seemed to be enjoying and in good spirits.

Carnaval older women

Somehow I couldn’t picture my family doing something like this, but they really just seemed to be having such a good time. Maybe wearing a costume and wig and singing around the streets with a group of friends should be something to aspire in a few decades…why not?!

Jokes aside, everyone seemed to be having a great time and, despite seeing more than a handful of people (both old and young) walking around with an open liter bottle of beer or wine, no one seemed to be really intoxicated or falling over. Ok, granted it was only early afternoon, but I was still surprised. Now I’ve never been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but I have the feeling that large amounts of public intoxication could be a bit more frequent there.

This sort of carefree, enjoy life and have fun outside under the sun (or under the clouds in this case), young or old, is definitely one of the things that I find appealing and interesting about the Spanish culture. Of course life isn’t all about fiestas and having a good time, but it sure does take a bit away from the other not-so-fun parts of it!

A welcomed “favor” at Decathlon

Those annoying, itchy, long white tags that can be found inside a new item of clothing and that drive you crazy if you forget to take them off — DON’T do it unless you’re sure the item is a keeper. This may seem like a no-brainer, but when you’re dealing with baby clothes sometimes you just assume it’s not necessary.

The other day I went to Decathlon, a huge sports chain here in Spain, and purchased a baby swimming outfit for swimming classes, complete with little matching flip flops.


Decathlon baby swimsuit

My son’s a big boy, but not huge. Since he wasn’t even a year old yet I decided to go with the 18 month size. When we got home I cut off all 4 annoying tags inside the suit and headed out on my merry way. Unfortunately, when we got to the pool locker room for class I was surprised to find that the bathing suit was way too small. Someone looked like a sausage coming out of its casing. I could barely even pull up the zipper.

So…back I went to Decathlon a few days later not really sure what to expect even though I had kept the sales receipt and all of the little tags that I had cut off. The only thing I didn’t bring was my baby so he could make a sad face when I explained the sausage story.

The person who attended me was very nice and said it would be no problem (all I wanted was an even exchange for a 2 year old size – again he was only 11 months old) until he saw the cut off inside tag. Uh oh. At this point a supervisor had to be called over, to whom I explained again that I really would never have thought that an 18 month old size would be too small. After a small exchange of glances between the two employees I was told that they could do a “gestor comercial” and exchange the item for me, but it was made very clear that this was a big favor since they wouldn’t be able to resell the merchandise. Ok, got it. After a few too many thank you’s I went on my merry way once again with the new 2 year old suit.

Overall impression? I’m happy with Decathlon since they did the right thing and didn’t tell me I was “wrong”, but it was a little strange that it had to be made so clear that they were doing me a huge favor. In any case, I’ll take the gesture/favor and am pretty sure they won’t be going bankrupt because of this incident! The next time I need some sports items I’ll be heading back there.

Finale: Delta/KLM and the broken stroller

At the beginning of January I reported my experience traveling across the ocean with an infant alone and arriving in Amsterdam to a destroyed stroller (see: Delta/KLM and the broken stroller). At that point the customer experience with Delta/KLM was pretty good as they responded quickly to my official online claim and agreed to pay to repair the stroller or for a new one. Now, a month and a half later I can officially say that that this issue has successfully concluded, but, not without a little snafu of course.  We immediately went to the store where we had originally purchased the UppaBaby and were told that the damage was not repairable. We left our information as the distributor had to get back in touch to give the store an official cost estimate. Five days later when I still hadn’t heard anything back, I called the store and was told that the distributor was out of the office for a few days (or did they forget?). In any case, a few hours after the call I received by email the pro forma invoice totally the damage at 601€. I immediately forwarded everything to Delta/KLM, and a few days later received a pleasant email apologizing again for the damage and saying that I would be receiving 499€ in my bank account in a couple weeks. What a minute… I would have to pay the 100€ difference?! KLM email To this email I responded that this was not acceptable and again attached all documents as justification. Since Delta/KLM had been so efficient in responding to my online messages previously I was expecting a rapid response. However, two weeks later I had still not heard back and finally was forced to pick up the phone. Why hadn’t I just picked up the phone in the first place? Well, as the customer service game sometimes goes here in Spain, the number to call was not toll-free. And I was unable to find a free alternative number (See When It Doesn’t Pay to Call Customer Service). I was pretty adamant about not paying to call their customer service, but at the end of the day I had no choice as they were not responding. Fortunately, when I finally called, the customer service rep was extremely nice, apologized again, and within 5 minutes had reviewed my record, confirmed there was an error and immediately issued the processing of the remaining 100€ to my account. Phew. Final KL email Overall, there was a bit of a disconnect between the information sent to Delta/KLM and the final result, as well as the last email that didn’t receive a response…. however, in the end, I have to say that I’m pretty happy that the airline is taking responsibility and paying. Maybe they’ll be more careful in the future since, for them, they basically just paid back my plane ticket. Note: if something like this ever happens it’s very important to file the claim directly at the airline incident desk in the airport when it happens.

Stork baby

Having a baby in Spain: The good, the bad, and the confusing

The world of being a foreigner, immigrant, expat, guiri – whatever you want to call it – changes the day you bring a little Spaniard into the world. In general, everything changes when you have a baby, but having a baby in a country where the language is not your mother tongue adds an interesting twist. Plus, the fact that you’re an American and bringing a little person into the world who will speak in Spanish without your accent in the future just makes you one more step closer to total spanishization (and to the day when your son asks why mommy speaks strangely…).stork_baby I’ve only had one baby, and that happened over here in Spain, so I can’t exactly compare the experience of having a baby in Spain vs. the US, but I can share a few tidbits about how it was here. Fortunately, I have to say that the overall experience from the start with doctors, check-ups, etc. to the end, with little Nicolas’ arrival in Madrid was all great. No major issues or misunderstandings (only a few minor ones). Now I consider myself bilingual but would definitely not recommend going through this experience without someone native by your side. However, when it comes to the final moment of labor there are really just some key words that need to be understood. Translation almost isn’t necessary…

  • Hospital – slightly different pronunciation, but completely understood
  • Baby/Bebé – just point to the protruding bump and there shouldn’t be any problem
  • Drugs/drogas – technically this should be medicina, but if you say drogas they’ll get the point
  • Good/Bad (Bien/Mal) – also known as the universal thumbs up and thumbs down, so no issues there
  • Epidural – This is key! Fortunately, like hospital, completely understood in both languages even with pronunciation difference.
  • Maternidad/Maternity – close enough
  • Cesarean/Cesárea – once again, fortunately the language gods decided not to make this difficult.

Maternity Ward Spain Hospital It’s a challenge not being in your home country and having your language be spoken, but what are the good parts about this experience as told from an American in Spain? Keep reading: The good:

  • Four months maternity leave. Now, it depends on your company whether you’ll receive 100% of your salary or not, but in any case it’s a lot of time off compared to the US. In my case I was able to use my maternity leave, vacation time and breastfeeding time all together to take 5 full months off. When you realize your little one still isn’t sleeping through the night at 4 months (at least in my case) another month is welcome. Also, at least here in Madrid, you’re entitled to an economic stipend of 100€ a month if you’re a working mother.
  • Labor room/delivery room. Now I’m not sure if this is something that’s universal, but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that when the time came for the little guy to make his entrance, the “delivery room” came to me. I wasn’t taken to any other room and/or mixed with other people. It was nice to have a little “privacy”, or as much as one can expect, during this experience.
  • Spain is very breastfeeding-friendly. In general there’s a strong culture and acceptance of breastfeeding, which makes it easier to get out of the house and do things. You can find “salas de lactancia” or breastfeeding-friendly areas at almost all major shopping centers. When I did a google search for this sort of support in Boston I hardly found anything.

Sala lactancia

  • Work protection. As a mother in Spain you’re entitled to ask for a part-time schedule up until your child turns 7 (!), and the company cannot say no. Now, having said this, I have heard of several cases where mothers have gotten the “reduced schedule” and reduced pay, but end up with the same workload and end up working long hours. In my case, with my company’s massive global layoffs this didn’t happen; in general, though, I think it’s a nice working-mother benefit if it is properly executed.

The bad:

  • Most likely your closest family won’t be with you. You can never be sure really when your baby will come, so unless there’s someone who doesn’t work and wants to spend a month over in Spain, it’s a bit hard to organize.
  • There’s a lot of baby paperwork after the fact. I’m not sure how this works in the US, but here there are several things that have to be done right after the baby is born: you have to go to the public health center with the birth form the hospital gives you to officially get the maternity leave form. Then this form has to be taken to your employee to get everything in order to receive benefits while on leave. Next, your baby has to officially be “registered” at the “Registro Civil” as a little person. At this point you’ll get all his information filled out in your “libro de familia” (family book) that you were given when you got married. Another step in the process is with Social Security. Your little baby will need to get signed up for a social security card which will then allow you to get him a public health card (another step). Fortunately your husband can do this paperwork for you since the last thing you can do after having a baby is run around. Alternatively, you can actually hire someone to do it (this is what we did in our case to not waste time running around to government agencies with

Libro de familia

The confusing:

  • Middle and last names. As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, the whole “I only have one last name” thing here will never be fully understood here (See earlier post). In fact, when I had gone to the hospital a couple weeks before having my baby to pick up some medical records they couldn’t find them until they realized everything was filed under my middle name. Now, why am I bringing this up now? As soon as you have your baby there seems to be a parade of people who come into your hospital room to confirm official information, including the baby’s name and spelling. Make sure they don’t try to put your middle name as your baby’s second last name! Yes, read this sentence twice if you have to, but trust me on this one. (Spanish babies have two last names: the father’s first and the mother’s second).
  • Certain translations. I may be bilingual, but it’s not the same as being native. I realized this right after getting an epidural when the doctor was asking me questions to see if it was taking effect. He asked me if I was feeling numbness, but for some reason I thought the word meant “cement”. Totally confusing. At least there were other ways to ask around this to make sure it was working! (see my recommendation number 1. This was the one and only time when my husband wasn’t in the room with me because it was too much, and the one and only time when the doctors asked me something I didn’t understand…) 
  • Private vs. public hospital. If you give birth in a public hospital (at least here in Madrid) you don’t have to bring much at all as they’ll provide you with diapers, etc. However, if you have your baby in a private clinic you need to bring almost everything with you (diapers, baby pajamas and onesies, baby bath towel, toiletries (both for baby and you), etc. Now, I’m not exactly sure why this is the case, especially considering that if it’s private you’re the one paying in general, but that’s how it works here. My baby was born in La Milagrosa, a private clinic in the center of Madrid. As I mentioned before the overall experience and treatment was great, but as it was a private hospital I had to go prepared with all baby items.

Overall, here are a couple recommendations if you’re planning to have a baby here in Spain:

  • Whenever possible, have someone native (husband/partner obviously preferable) with you for any doctor visits or consultations. If not, something that really is nothing could get turned into a completely different meaning in your head. Or you could mistake an epidural effect for cement (see above).
  • Get first-hand recommendations for your doctor and hospital where you’ll have your baby. Talk to people and pick a doctor who makes you feel comfortable and one who actually assists with births. This way you’ll avoid going to the hospital and having any Dr. Joe deliver your baby.
  • Get everything ready beforehand and get informed about all the paperwork you’ll have to do afterwards. You never know when the baby is going to come. Of course this doesn’t have anything to do with Spain, but take this advice from someone who watched her husband hurriedly pack up his suitcase the morning of…

Good luck! Since this blog is geared toward a global audience without any real target except for those interested in hearing about Spain commentaries and customer experience tales, I haven’t gone into detail about doctors, the pre-labor doctor visits, etc., but if you’re interested in any more info please feel free to contact me.

Survey says: Customer Experience a top strategic priority for companies in 2015. Would the results be the same in Spain?

A new research study conducted by Econsultancy and Adobe has found that the customer experience is among the main strategic priorities for companies in 2015. Of the business owners and marketing professionals taking part in this study, 54% were from the US, 23% from the UK and only 21% from the rest of Europe. A couple interesting points:

  • Within small/medium businesses 90% believe that customer experience is what defines their brand.
  • 44% see customer experience as a medium-long term strategy for differentiation vs. the competition.
  • Giving customers a personalized, relevant and easy experience is key according to 33% of respondents.

I completely agree. And I also wonder… would these results have been the same had the study been conducted solely in Spain? For example, the term CEO (Chief Executive Officer) is understood without a doubt here, but what about the other CEO (Chief Experience Officer)? What do you think?

Research information:

SuperBowl 2015 Win Spain news

Fútbol y Fútbol OR Football, Basketball, Hockey and Baseball: A reflection on cultural imports

Yesterday was Super Bowl Sunday.

When I lived in the US this was a BIG day, especially if your local team made it to the final round. This involved parties with dips, drinks, people, big screen TVs and lots of shouting. Here in Spain the Super Bowl is known since it’s such a big event, but I would say it’s more popular for the commercials than the sport itself. I was very excited that my team, the New England Patriots, made it to the Super Bowl this year and was having a bit of nostalgia seeing friends’ posts on Facebook before I went to bed (and sadly missed the game since it started at almost 1am local time). However, I was very happy to wake up this morning and find out that my team had won!

And I was even happier/confused to see this image on the home page of one of the biggest Spain news portals, El Mundo (

SuperBowl 2015 Win Spain news

I had to stop and ask myself, “Since when did a Boston team winning a football game make the front page for Spanish news??” Since Black Friday became popular? Is this a case of American-isms being imported into Spain? 

Here in Spain soccer (fútbol) rules. Plain and simple. At first I just was amazed at the number of soccer games always on TV, but then I got used to it. And I actually started to like it. Spain has some fútbol teams including soccer’s Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, but it also boasts amazing athletes like the Gasol brothers (playing in the NBA), Rafa Nadal, Mireia Belmonte García and Fernando Alonso. But, soccer is still the year-round favorite. Clearly this is different from the US where we have four seasons (winter, spring, summer and fall) and four big sports (hockey, baseball, basketball and football). Both countries have very dedicated fan bases, great teams and a huge economic market with their sports.

Once again, I return to my question: “Since when did a Boston team winning a football game make the front page for Spanish news??”. Here are a few US-isms that have been gaining strength in the last 10 years since I crossed the ocean:

  • Halloween: When I studied abroad in Madrid 15 years ago Halloween didn’t exist. I remember my mother visiting during that time and expecting to see costumes. Even Planet Hollywood didn’t have anything. Now the biggest department store The Corte Ingles has entire sections dedicated to Halloween costumes and decorations.
  • Valentine’s Day: a 100% commercial holiday in my opinion and an excuse to sell candy and flowers. I thought I was leaving this behind when I moved but in the last couple of years it has slowly been creeping into the culture here.
  • Black Friday: this started this year. I started seeing ads on TV for big sales on Black Friday (but this was not just on Friday. It was being extended for entire weekends). I really had to wonder if people know that this refers to the Friday after Thanksgiving in the US when there are big sales. I didn’t see any turkeys in the ads…

I’ve just named a few, but I have a feeling there will be more in the future. I’m just waiting for the day when customer service and customer experience importance are imported!

While it put a smile on my face to see my football team on the Spanish news home page, I have to admit that one of the reasons I moved to Spain and one of the things I love about it is the difference in culture, values and attitudes. While some imports are ok, I hope this doesn’t get to be too much where any Spanish cultural event or tradition could be left behind. To put it in other words, the day the Fourth of July comes to Spain is the day I really become worried.