The days and weeks until we fly south are ticking by. Christmas seems to be coming in a hectic rush for most people, but I’m feeling chilled with my Bah, Humbug! decision to celebrate the festivities elsewhere. My hope is that this year we (as a family) will avoid the frenetic, breathless explosion of:
last-minute gift-shopping … standing crammed in supermarket queues with sprouts and brandy butter spilling out of trolleys … marathon wrapping sessions late at night… quickly undone by …. the kids carelessly tearing sheets of carefully chosen glittery paper as if there is a sprint finish … recycling rubbish rising up in huge mountains of ripped sparkle and torn ribbons … GASP……cooking up a super-sized turkey…slumping around a huge table heaving with food….and finally falling full-to-the-brim in a heap by the fire at the end of Christmas Day.
Alternative vision: slowly walking Seville’s streets in late December, stopping to savour some tapas and wine. On Christmas Eve we might explore the Museo del Baile Flamenco and watch a show, perhaps do a little shopping at Zara so the children can choose some clothes (as Christmas gifts), then wander to El Cortes Inglés to select some jamón, manchego and other Spanish ingredients for a special Christmas Eve supper in our Airbnb apartment (we want to do what the Spanish do).
Yes feeling smug…but on Christmas Day there will be nothing to unwrap (the holiday is our family present), just the new outfits to don. I won’t have to rise and shine at ridiculous o’clock to start roasting the turkey. No way. We will amble out after a leisurely breakfast (perhaps including some chocolate y churros), find a table at the recommended La Azotea for some tapas, and sit and talk and enjoy. For me (and I sincerely hope this is also true for my offspring) that would be perfect.
While we wait with self-satisfied smiles, and cross off the days until we go, we’ve been enjoying travel in different ways…
Three young French students have been staying with us this week. Arriving on a cold, wet Monday evening, Guillaume, Macéo and Tanguy were clearly nervous and shy (we had never met each other before, so this was a first for us all). Which is where children come in handy. No. 2 talked with our guests for a long time, giving a deeply rambling tour of our house (including handy details like where the hot water boiler is). Speaking speedily in English (nerves?), he chucked in a few random school boy French words for good measure (ordinateur anyone?).
No. 4 (at eight years old) decided the best way forward was to stick French stickers on his chin. Thus he informed me that it was high time they were all fed. Ice broken, our guests giggled.
We started to eat (safe food – spaghetti bolognese). My husband arrived home, and welcomed the three boys into our madhouse in (fairly good) French, loudly and with a lot of gesticulation, drawing on personal past experience to demonstrate what he thought were common French gestures. Our guests’ blank faces told us how epically historic those experiences must be. So the kids lost no time in teaching our new friends those youthful British gestures adopted when parents are sooooo embarrassing.
I loved the French boys’ honesty. “Did you sleep well?” I asked them the following morning. “No!” all three replied, one by one. “Oh dear!” I responded and checked that their bedding was adequate. So different to the British way of lying your way to “politeness” so that no-one knows that a bad situation requires mending: “Yes I slept marvellously well, thank you…[shivering the night away].” That’ll be no blankets for you, then 😉
Our three brief days with our French guests gave us all a refreshing snap out of our domestic bubble. When I asked my daughter if we should repeat the experience, she gave me an unequivocal “YES!” Quite something from a girl with three brothers who constantly wishes that she had three sisters. And her mother responds by bringing three more boys to the male mix.
Impeccably polite, the boys bade us farewell at the end of their stay. My kids were delighted by their English:
“Thank you very much for your hospitality and staying with us.”
“Thank you for anything.”
No. 2 made the point that “Thank you for anything.” is technically as correct as “Thank you for everything.” He’s probably right.
I reflected on the less subtle linguistic mistakes that I have made on my own travels, and how forgiving (most) native speakers are. Once upon a lifetime ago, I spent some time in Germany. “Schwül” in German means humid. “Schwul” in German means gay. The ü sound is not easy for a native English speaker. Eventually, I learned that on a hot and humid day, I should omit one word and simply comment that “it is hot”. Not “hot and gay”. Particularly when conversing with someone of the older generation.
Before I go, let me tell you a Turkish tale of escaping Winter’s leaden skies. Last Sunday we retreated into the sunnier climes of our newly opened local Turkish restaurant: Hattusa.
Warmth that was felt even on the telephone when we felt hungry for food and yearned for sunshine:
Have you a table for six people? “Yes, of course!”
If you feel the need for the same, feast your eyes on these huge platefuls of colourful, flavoursome Mediterranean meat and veg dishes that tell a very Turkish story:
If you’re local, pay Hattusa a visit for a long, languorous lunch, and you won’t have to rely on my photos and your imagination to be able to smell and taste this delicious food.
We’re crossing off the days until ¡Vamos! and the sunshine food of the Med will keep us going, as I try out my own versions at home. We may also seek diversion by studying up to date French gestures, ready to use next time we have French guests (http://www.commeunefrancaise.com/common-french-gestures/). And perhaps I should keep on trying to master that elusive ü sound on the off-chance it’s humid when we visit Berlin in the Spring.
The lovely Stephanie Heymer runs the International Student Experiences, trading as Joujou Papillon Ltd. If you’d like to know more you can contact Stephanie here: https://www.facebook.com/MonJouJouPapillon/?ref=br_rs&pnref=lhc
Sssshhhhh don’t tell my family but I’ve booked a tapas tour with the tapas connoisseur Shawn Hennessey….word is she’s well-known in every eating establishment in Sevilla. For more on her tours see here: http://welovetapas.com