Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Happy Veteran’s Day

It’s days like these that make me realize it’s been a while since I moved to Spain.

I admit I didn’t realize it was Veteran’s Day until I saw some posts on Facebook. Not even cnn.com which I log onto faithfully every morning gave me any hints.

I need to start putting the US holidays on my work calendar!

Meeting the Queen of Spain

Thirteen years ago when I was still living in the US I never would have imagined that one day I would be M.C.ing an event with the Queen of Spain and then taking a close-up photo together. Back at that stage I probably would have assumed the Queen of Spain would be older and wearing a crown as well. Not the case.

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That’s me with Queen Letizia of Spain

A few weeks ago I was approached at work to ask if I would be willing to act as M.C. at an awards ceremony where I work, The International Friendship Awards, an event that recognizes distinguished Chinese and African citizens, I didn’t really think twice about it. I said I’d be happy to help, assuming that the majority of the content would be in English. (if not there would be no reason for the Queen to have to suffer through a Spanishized accent). I think they asked me for two simple reasons: international female = showcasing our modernity and internationality. To make a long story short I had to put together a short script based upon the prior year’s awards ceremony, and this script (text, language (90% English, with some Spanish mixed in)) along with my profile was sent off to the Royal Palace for approval. I was approved.

Fast forward to last week. Generally I don’t get very nervous speaking in public, but the day before the event when I started to see all of the protocol and security issues going into place, this changed a bit. To give an idea I had a detailed conversation with a coworker to decide how we were going to communicate that the Queen had arrived (as I’d be presenting in front of the auditorium with about 200 people at that time) and to indicate that she was coming down the stairs to tell everyone to stand up before she came. Hand signals? Head nod? Phone call? In the end it was a combination, but I had the vibrating phone as the final sign.

The event itself went quite well. Some nerves right at the beginning, but then it was fine. My part was a brief introduction to the audience before the Queen’s entrance and then another short speech after everyone’s arrival. Then I basically was up at the podium between different speakers, to read off the prize winners’ names and to close the event. What I found funny was when I learned later that I was translated simultaneously into Spanish (go figure). As there were too many people attending to fit into the auditorium, the event was broadcast in two other classrooms.

Here are some event pictures:

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View of the auditorium center (other two sides of the room aren’t visible) from where I was. That’s the queen in the middle. Don’t miss the camera crews behind.

 

 

Here’s the official event report from the Royal Palace web site (surprisingly my name made it there): http://www.casareal.es/ES/Actividades/Paginas/actividades_actividades_detalle.aspx?data=14176

After the event there was a brief cocktail with her majesty at the center. It was a bit of madness. Despite the fact that the event audience was very senior-level, educated, etc., it was crazy to see so many people almost on top of her and trying to get pictures. I managed to get mine as well; this was the one thing I had on my list as a prize for my role in the event – plus I knew my mother-in-law was waiting with bated breath to see it.

The main question I’ve gotten afterwards is what was she like up close? Was she nice? What was she wearing? Despite some things you read in the news, at least from my very very brief experience, she was quite nice and pleasant. Of course this is being judged on speaking with her for about 30 seconds and then taking a photo, but I guess it’s better than nothing. She congratulated me on my MC role, asked where I was from (I guess the Boston accent is hard to hide) and asked if I wanted a picture (yes). I really can’t complain from my brief interaction. And yes, she’s very pretty up close. As for the clothes, well there were already news reports immediately after with the brand of every item she was wearing, so better to read that than listen to me. (more info here from Hola!: https://www.hola.com/realeza/casa_espanola/20191030152854/reina-letizia-international-friendship-award/)

What I can say is that I can’t imagine having her life and having to play that role every single day. I don’t think she even got to enjoy one cocktail during the cocktail…

Definitely a cool experience though to be in a formal event with the Queen of Spain and being able to direct my speech directly to her and receive feedback! I guess I can check this off my bucket list 🙂

 

Where to get good Halloween pumpkins in Madrid (and also rotisserie chicken aka pollo asado)

In my 13 years here I’ve found one place with decent Halloween pumpkins – Costco. If you’re like me and love Halloween and pumpkin carving, then you’ll probably be disappointed with the pumpkins you find at the local supermarkets. Even the “large” calabazas that some of them sell (compared to the small ones that look like overgrown apples) still aren’t that great; you’re lucky if you can even get a decent pumpkin face on one of the ones from Mercadona or Carrefour.

The best place I’ve seen so far is Costco, the American wholesaler. There are only two locations in Spain so far (one in Madrid (Getafe), fortunately, and the other in Seville).

To give you an idea of the size, here’s my almost 3-year old sons with one:

pumpkin size

For me going to Costco is like walking into the US – with all the American brands, everything in bulk like at Sam’s Club or BJs (or Costco) back in the US, and usually some scattered American accents around the store. I could spend hours there just browsing around. The only issue is that you need to be a paying “socio” to go into the store. It costs 36€ a year just to be able to go to the store and buy. The prices aren’t at all cheap, and you can usually expect to spend at least 100€ every time you go, but the quality is great.

Aside from pumpkins, there are two other great things at Costco:

  1. Cheap gasoline prices. With gas prices through the roof here (almost 1,3€ a liter), you can pay approx 20 cents less a liter, so it’s worth it to wait in the lines and fill up there.
  2. Rotiserrie chicken. Costco has great, inexpensive pollo asado at 4,99€. It seems this isn’t exactly a profit-generator for the store, but for now at least they’re maintaining this business, and it draws customers for sure

Here’s an image of the pollo asado factory and lines to get them today at Costco:

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Roast chicken lines @ Costco

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Rotisserie chicken factory @ Costco

And a recent article in CNN :

https://edition.cnn.com/2019/10/11/business/costco-5-dollar-chicken/index.html?utm_source=CNN+Five+Things&utm_campaign=a5be3cf6ad-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_10_08_10_22&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_6da287d761-a5be3cf6ad-105047417

Who knew the Costco rotisserie chicken was a cult item in the US even with its own facebook page – yes, I’m now a fan.

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Costco Rotisserie Chicken Cult Fan Facebook page

Happy pumpkin/chicken/US brands shopping!

Another Saudi Arabian law change

I’m starting to wonder if it’s because I’m more aware of this and noticing things more since my recent trip to Riyadh or really because Arabia is making headway and news headlines recently (I think it’s the latter).

Here’s another change moving toward modernity:

https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/saudi-arabia-unmarried-couples-female-travelers/index.html

Although this specific news won’t affect my next trip to the kingdom (likely in a few months), it will still be interesting to see if I notice any changes vs. the last trip (See more about my trip to Saudi Arabia here: My experience as a female traveling to Saudi Arabia for work)

 

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…

 

 

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…