La Prostitución en España – Part Uno

This post will be about what I have learned so far while in Spain and it will provide some insight to the perspectives of Spain citizens. So let’s start with the basics by discussing the laws of prostitution in Spain, and work our way into what exactly I am trying to learn about prostitution in Spain.

Prostitución was decriminalised in 1995. Prostitution itself is not directly addressed in the Criminal Code of Spain, but exploitation, such as pimping, is illegal. Owning an establishment where prostitution takes place is in itself legal, but the brothel owner cannot derive financial gain from the prostitute or hire a person to sell sex because prostitution is not considered a job and thus has no legal recognition. Some areas have implemented fines for street prostitution. Spain has been referred to as The World Capital of Prostitution, with Brothels being common, hidden-away establishments, and with a small group of sex workers, Asociación de Profesionales del Sexo, offering a 4-hour intensive Intro to Prostitution Course in Barcelona, costing only 45 euros. With the population in Spain being a little more than 47 million in 2014 (about 46.67 million in 2011), and with the country having an estimated 300,000 sex workers in 2011, prostitution and illegal activities accounts for 9 billion Euros of Spain’s GDP.

I intend to visit different establishments (such as bars, clubs, local hangout spots, etc.) in Spain to observe. For example, maybe even a striptease club (not sure of the location yet, but I will provide updates in the future. So PLEASE stay tuned…) sometime soon. I have only been to strip clubs in the United States, where women typically have only 5-10% of clothing on (i.e. their stripper heels and g-string) during their performance. The strip clubs I have been to, some upscale and some not so, the women have come in all different shapes, sizes and shades, and have exhibited exceptional talent on the stage twerking it out and working the strip pole. They are exotic dancers…entertainers. From my understanding, here in Spain, it is not as exciting for men to visit strip clubs. In America, when observing men look at the women dance, they are serious. It is real business. The majority of them have “poker faces” and a glass of brandy/cognac. This has been my observation in most urban strip clubs. But here in Spain (and Europe from what I’ve been told), most men visit strip clubs to celebrate bachelor parties. Ultimately, my goal is to gain a comparative perspective no matter where I go.

So not only do I want to gain a comparative perspective, I want to know if any illegal activities are occurring (underage dancers, backdoor prostitution, sales of illegal substances, etc.). I am aware that this might be difficult to determine, especially from only one visit. But I hope to establish a rapor with the staff and just exhibit my down-to-earth demeanor and engage in a casual conversation about their lives. Why did they choose to become a stripper? Did they feel forced by someone else or was it a choice of their own? Did they feel like they had no other options? Is it something they are comfortable with or do they want to get out as soon as possible? Is it not so bad in Europe to be a stripper? Have they engaged in prostitution as a side job and used stripping as a way to gain clients? These are all questions I hope to answer. And I also hope to determine if the profession of stripping affects minors. Are minors (individuals under age 18) exposed to the life of strippers and how prone are they to enter the field?

I was speaking to a friend (Spain citizen) who I have had the pleasure of getting to know in Spain. He mentioned that he has gone to strip clubs several times, all for bachelor parties. And by the 2nd time, it wasn’t really too exciting. He is not the type of man to objectify a woman and her body. (Such a respectable characteristic might I point out.) He felt like “why do I need to go observe a stripper at a cost when I could most likely have a woman in my bed for free”. He mentioned that he casually engaged in a conversation with a stripper…not trying to hit on her or anything. Just a little bit of fun, drunken conversation I’d imagine (it was a bachelor party…duh!!) And he said she told him that she CHOSE to become a stripper due to a lack of funds and having to support herself and 3 children, thus moving her to resort to prostitution. His perspective was very understanding and so admirable. He exhibited a sort of compassion for strippers/prostitutes in the sense that if a woman chooses to be a prostitute, who are we to judge? While he does not necessarily support prostitution out of his pockets, he is not accustomed to frowning upon the sex worker or their client. Especially if the transaction is consensual, versus an act of forced prostitution/human trafficking.

Here in Spain, typically during Carnaval in February. There are groups of singers who compete, dressing up in full on theatrics and singing original songs. The songs are usually about politics or important issues that are likely not being addressed on a daily basis. The performances allow the groups to express themselves and the issues that are “below the radar”, such as prostitution. I was introduced to a song here in Spain, by someone I’m coming to consider as my extended family and greatest support in this beautiful country (though they probably don’t always understand who I am or what I am all about, and think I’m crazy too *wink*), called “Con el permiso” (2003) by Los Americanos. The English translation of the lyrics says something along the lines of:

With your permission, I’d like to write a poem to the woman (prostitute) in song. Do not feel challenged. It’s only a song.

My mother is not a prostitute, but if she were I would not be ashamed to be a motherfucker.

I know more whores (lacks honesty; this is not a “profession”) who have been bitches/prostitutes. But I have never known a bitch/prostitute (a lady) who has been a whore. In less than half an hour, they offer affection, tenderness and a condom.

I do not like women who take money from men who lack love. I do not like men who pay women who lack love and money. But they do not care what I have to say.

If I am younger than a virgin, and a prostitute is older than God, who am I to judge (i.e. prostitution is the oldest profession in the world)?

If love is supposed to be so expensive and deep, and a woman gives it to you for almost nothing, then the love must be the most honest in the world.

When it comes to prostitution. I would say I have to agree with my friend (and this song). I am not the one to judge. We are living in a crazy world, and sometimes people feel they have to do what they have to do to survive. And I am not perfect myself, so how could I look down upon someone for their choices? But I will say that it breaks my heart to know that people, most specifically women, feel they must resort to this profession to survive. It breaks my heart to know how easy it is for women and children to be manipulated into thinking the profession is a “glamorous” one, bringing about large amounts of money and opening the doors into different worlds and experiences. And contrary to consensual prostitution, I am wholeheartedly against forced prostitution (human trafficking) and abuse against people, most specifically women, and especially children.

Now looking back…I regret telling people about my plans and long-term goals, or asking a few colleagues to accompany me to the strip club, and other areas 30 minutes or more outside of the city we currently reside in to explore Spain more (for the purposes of supporting my research efforts). I didn’t want to go alone, as I thought it would seem a little weird and inappropriate being a woman (who doesn’t speak Spanish well might I add). And I also felt I had to divulge my intentions, especially because they (my “new friends”) didn’t seem to understand why a woman would want to visit a strip club in Europe. My thoughts were that they could enjoy visiting the strip club, have a few drinks and get in a few laughs…while I observed. A win/win situation, right? But maybe not… This task that I am trying to accomplish is a tricky one and can be a touchy subject, and sometimes I wish I hadn’t been so “ambitious” or moved to fight against this ongoing global issue, because now I feel I am obligated to go forward and contribute all that I can. It can get lonely when you are implementing an independent research project, especially when the project includes topics such as prostitution, human trafficking and child abuse. And it can be difficult for people to understand what you are trying to accomplish if they themselves are not on the same train. I am learning much about myself, and people and what exactly I am trying to do. And that I have to go about things a little more delicately. It is all a learning experience (as I have yet to begin working with the “mentors” that I have become affiliated with in other countries and I am out here living the life of the trial-and-error method…SMH).

Friendly comment/advice to others embarking on a path similar to mine: Until you have a concrete plan or are 110% sure about the people you are interacting with, do not divulge your plans. This is something that I left home feeling and promised myself I would do, and I did not fully keep to my initial intentions due to trying to establish relationships and to open my heart to others. It’s is harder than it seems (to not share) because when you are in a foreign place and trying to do something positive, you don’t want to come off as this mysterious person who isn’t allowing others to understand who you are. And also, I was not prepared to “lie” to people or travel places alone in Spain to fulfill my research efforts (this feeling mostly came from how I was being treated by men and women…both the good, bad and uncomfortable interactions). So if you are implementing a project alone, consider how you can complete all of your tasks without having to divulge too many of your plans, or just be careful about who you choose to let in. Because the reality is that, no matter how good or sincere your intentions are, people may not always understand. It is only human nature. And sometimes we all need the wake up call. You want to think the best of others…but sometimes people just can’t handle what they are not accustomed to. And I was wrong for forgetting that during my time of weakness (i.e. being alone in a foreign place with no friends, family, substantial resources, or affiliates working to accomplish similar goals).

Fighting against prostitution/human trafficking WERE NOT in my plans when I decided to travel to Spain about 8 months ago. My initial plans were to fight against child abuse, and prostitution/human trafficking were issues that were placed on my heart due to certain events that occurred during the 2 months prior to beginning my journey (I began applying for grant opportunities, leading me to learn that a prostitution ring operating in California, Nevada and other Western States was exposed in April 2014). (It’s crazy how life works and how one door leads to the opening of another. I never thought I would be a part of such a cause). So I would say I was not 110% prepared to carry out all the necessary tasks (such as visiting places where prostitution/human trafficking might occur) ALONE, needed to assess causes and preventative measures accordingly. Sometimes you have to sacrifice your own happiness (being alone, not having anyone to relate to locally, late/long work hours, tackling issues that are just heartbreaking) and safety/comfort to help others.

So as you can see, my journey has only begun and I have a long way to go in gaining more insight into abuse/prostitution/human trafficking and its affects on minors in Spain. I will also discuss pornography and how it is related to prostitution/human trafficking in the future. So look out for forthcoming posts. I am looking forward to your comments and perspectives on the items discussed in this post. What does prostitution mean to you? Have you experienced anything related to the profession (including exploitation, strippers using the strip club to gain clients, etc.) while traveling? Do Tell Nicola…

How Spain Does It: My Cultural Observations

I thought it would be a nice time to give my take on different cultural aspects of Spain. I haven’t been here for long, but have come across some comical and intriguing sights:

  • Spain hosts about 46 million citizens, which is about 6-7 times smaller than the population in the United States. So have you heard the saying “this world is too small”? When in Spain, this is SO TRUE!! Everyone seems to know one another. And while this can be a beautiful thing, making you feel more at home because you literally feel like all of the people on your street are your next-door neighbors. It can also serve you negatively if you do not make friends.
  • Don’t depend on a dryer here. It’s all about hanging your clothes on the clothing line whether inside the house or outside. I have found that most Spaniards have washers and dryers, and utilize their washers frequently. But if they are able to preserve energy by hanging their clothes out to dry, they take advantage of this process. I have been used to washer machines and dryers my entire life. And washing/drying my clothes in Spain has been something new for me, but surprisingly unbothersome. (see photos)
  • If you don’t have a pair of pearl earrings, you don’t deserve to call yourself an authentic Spaniard woman. Now I am not guaranteeing that every woman of Spain has pearls in her jewelry box, and she surely wouldn’t be ridiculed if she did not. But let me tell you. I have not seen ONE diamond here…yet. And this also leads me to say that both the men and women (of married couples) wear wedding bands (on the right hand, unlike the left in the U.S.), and the women do not wear diamond rings. It actually is kind of easing to the mind to know that a woman is not expected to flash diamonds and men are not obligated to buy them. It was nice to know that all I had to spend was 42 euros (about $55-60) on my gold plated Majorica Pearl Earrings to fit in just a little bit more than I did the day before (see photo).
  • The women are beautiful here. Yes you have your girls who dress like boys, just as others do around the world. Yes there are some who are thicker than others. You see blonde and brunettes…and burgundy (red) hair is popular also. What I mean by beautiful is their legs and tans. They seem to be toned and perfectly tanned (though I have been assured that some do resort to spray-ons). With beaches right around the corner and with walking being the primary form of transportation, it seems about right.
  • And speaking of legs…’booty shorts’ are accepted here for young and older women. When I tell you I have never seen so many booty cheeks peeking out the bottom of the Spaniard women’s shorts. Let me try to do that here…while it would be accepted, I would be stared at for days just because it is evident that I am a foreigner and of mixed-African American descent, and am constantly being stared at by both men and women. And let me try to do that back in the U.S. While it would be accepted, it would be frowned upon. I love the carefreeness of it all when it comes to fashion in Spain. And let’s not forget about the men and their legs. I saw a man today with the shortest shorts EVER. But they are a fad here in Spain. It is very common for men’s shorts to be about 4 inches above the knee. And then there are some who wear shorts the cut right below the buttocks. I spoke to one citizen and he said “I can’t have an uneven tan line” and “my grandmother joked that I might be gay”…though short shorts on men do not point to homosexuality here in Spain. In the U.S. on the other hand, based on my experiences, I cannot say the same.
  • One of my favorites. I went to a club for the 1st time in Spain with a group of friends. Everyone was having a great time. And I turned around and saw the men dancing with one another. You know…like how a few “straight” girlfriends do because they don’t need men to have fun on the dance floor all the time. And it didn’t seem homosexual whatsoever. It was just kind of baffling initially because it makes you wonder. Are they gay? Are they just close friends and it’s the common thing to do in Europe? Is that a guy that was hitting on my friend earlier today…should I mention this to her? I ultimately did not mention anything to her. But it just makes me wonder about myself. I have never knowingly been involved with a man who had sexual feelings for or encounters with other men. And I am wholeheartedly for people choosing their sexual preference and deserving not to be judged. But it made me think…would this be something I’d be willing to accept? Could I date a man that danced with and grinded on other men? Could I date a man who was bisexual? This is one of my favorites because it pushed me to think outside of my ‘comfort box’. Back home…it would be ridiculed for the manly men who claimed they were straight to have homosexual tendencies. But here in Europe, I have gained insight into another aspect. Why is it okay for straight women to grind on their girlfriends on the dance floor and not men?
  • I mentioned in item#4 about being stared at by men and women, and sometimes even children. I know that they know I am not from here. Remember, for the most part, everyone knows everyone or has probably seen residents living here in Spain at one point or another. Also, while I am not conceited or anything, I am aware that am not horrible to look at. One might say I have an exotic look, where you wouldn’t know exactly what my ethnicity mix is. But let me tell you…I have gotten mixed responses from Spaniards. The men…either they stare because they are curious and are wondering what I am and where I come from. Or they are making subtle noises to get my attention or blowing unsubtle kisses at me, probably staring at my a** as I walk by. And the women…either they are friendly and curious, open to getting to know someone from the United States who is clearly interested in learning their language and experiencing their culture. Or they are giving me dirty looks, sizing me up and down. I have even had one girl brush against me in the club because I was speaking to a guy that she was interested in. Clearly, I have experienced this at one point or another in the U.S. But here…it still feels different here in Spain. Maybe because at the end of the day, I still consider myself an outsider. Someone trying to learn and understand their lives and culture…someone trying to fit in and make a contribution. Who knows…? But for the most part. If someone stares too long in an uncomfortable way like they have a problem, I typically smile and say a nice “Hola”, so they can see that I am not the one to be intimidated or the one trying to intimidate them in their own neighborhood. When it comes to drunk girls at the club, I typically laugh at it and brush it off. From my understanding, it is not common to have physical altercations here. The fighting tends to be done in a sneaky/passive aggressive way, or verbally if it is a really heated situation. So I do my best to keep clear of any negativity, as that is not why I came here. But let me tell you…I DESPISE caddy women in the sense that if they just got to know me they’d see I was no threat to them or what they hold dear. And altogether, I do my best not to bring TOO much attention to myself, because at the end of the day, I do not want to make anyone uncomfortable or catch the eye of a married man. While the curious stares and blatant rudeness can be annoying sometimes, because you yourself are wondering “what is it?!”, I get it. And all I can hope is that I am able to observe more and continue to learn as much as I can about how Spain does it.
  • Lastly…Cats, Cats, Cats & DOGSHIT!! Often when you turn a corner you might see a family of stray cats just chillin’ like they own the sidewalk (see photo). And as for canine feces…when I tell you it’s everywhere, IT IS EVERYWHERE!! Make sure to watch your step. If you are texting while walking or enjoy looking up as you walk around, make sure to look down every couple of feet and observe the distance in front of you to make sure no dog poo lies ahead. Just a friendly thought!!

Políticas en España

So I have only been here for a couple of weeks and have already gotten acquainted with a few Spain (middle class) citizens between the ages of 35-50 years old. When you experience new countries, you come to truly realize what is happening in the world (firsthand versus watching the news) and you also come to appreciate how fortunate you are.

While I am aware that the United States is not perfect and our government has a lot to work on (as they do well at hiding much of their lack of integrity), my heart truly goes out to the people of Spain who are forced to deal with the ridiculousness of politics.

NOTE to Readers: This is not a judgement as I am still learning and am always unbiased. I still have a lot of research to do to determine all sides to the stories. My examples are mostly based on discussions I have had with Spain citizens and some of my own personal encounters in America. Please do not take my posts offensively as I am merely opening up the forum for discussion and gaining your perspective. My goal is to gain insight, not to place judgment.

Here are some political topics that I have been introduced to since visiting España:

  • CATALONIA MARCHES FOR INDEPENDENCE FROM SPAIN: So in Spain, there is an autonomous community comprised of 4 provinces including Barcelona (2nd largest city in Spain), Girona, Lleida and Tarragona. The official languages of the community are Spanish, Catalan, and Aranese. During the 1950s, Catalonia gained significant economic growth and became a vital tourist destination, making Barcelona one of Europe’s largest industrial metropolitan areas. The Catalan government announced intentions to hold a referendum on possible independence from Spain in 2014. Note: Clearly I have not discussed the entire history of the community, but you can view here: Catalonia History

The citizens of Spain that I have had the opportunity to speak to have voiced their concerns and disapproval of Catalonia’s choice to fight to become independent from Spain. I have only spoken to a very few, but one individual said (not verbatim) that they are just being greedy trying to keep the Rich rich. Here is the link for the article and video: Independence Fever Strikes Catalonia

  • THE LAWS OF ABORTION: Currently, the controversial aspects of the laws in Spain state that children as young as 16 are allowed to have an abortion without parental consent. And in 2013, a law revision was proposed suggesting that 1) mothers undergoing abortion are to be considered ‘victims’ and the practice will only be lawful in the case of rape or when there is a serious health risk to the mother or fetus. It also stated that 2) a child being born with disabilities would not be an acceptable justification for an abortion. On a positive note, a final revision was included, requesting that 3) women under age 18 should require parental consent and accompaniment during consultations. The 2013 law revisions have not been approved by parliament just yet, but it is evident that many are opposed to some of the abortion laws and revisions, including women’s groups who see these laws as an attach on women’s rights.

Based on my experience and the women I have had the opportunity to meet during my young life, I personally feel that it should be the woman’s choice. Yes, it becomes a “moral and ethical” issue when you begin discussing eliminating a life (fetus), as many believe that life begins at the moment of conception. But living in this crazy, scary world, there are so many more contributing factors. For example, if you said “woman…you are by law obligated to have this child because you made the conscious decision to have sex and place yourself in this position, so you need to take responsibility…”. But what if the woman is merely just a child who was not mature enough when interacting in a sexual act or having to make the decision to abort their child. Or what if the woman or female child lives in an abusive home where the child might be in danger. Or what if they do not have the financial means to care for the child and thus, they are subjected to ridicule for me an inadequate parent or neglectful (i.e. forcing their child to live in poverty).

Abortion is such a big deal and touchy subject. I do feel that a female under the age of 18 should be accompanied by a parent. But I still feel that it is up to the child because you do not know their situation. Their parents could be abusive. I ultimately think the issue is our society. We focus on sex and appearance and lust so much rather than doing more to focus on abstinence and the prevention of pregnancy. So many are without parents who are able to guide them accordingly. So many deal with peer pressure, and peer pressure is REAL!! So many do not value the act of sexual intercourse, and thus, they are careless and take the potential consequences for granted.

It begins with all of us educating our children and hoping that as they mature, they come to understand just how substantial the act of sex is and how much an abortion or pregnancy can affect their lives.

I have a few more topics I intend to discuss and may also elaborate some more on these topics. But what do you think? What are your experiences in your home countries? What are your thoughts about Spain? Do Tell Nicola…

Change is Imminent … You Ready Espana?!

So if you still haven’t figured it out…SPAIN, are you ready?! I have been contemplating this change for the past 12 months and preparing for this trip for the past 6, and am finally here. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MEEE!! The feelings stirring in me leading up to the trip were unexplainable. Now that I am here, I think I can express what exactly I was thinking and feeling. If you have traveled in the past and had to plan ahead (such as obtaining a visa and foreign drivers license), I know you can relate. Though this is not the first time I have traveled or obtained a visa, this time around, getting my visa was probably one of the hardest and most frustrating processes I’ve ever had to endure in my life. Not to mention that the Consulate didn’t completely shut my USPS envelope when returning my passport to me, so it could’ve fell out or USPS could’ve accessed my personal information. I’ve been told that I am not the only person who has dealt with this ridiculousness. But thank goodness I did indeed receive my passport, with my visa properly inserted, and in 3 weeks from my appointment. Check out my post “Preparing to Enter a Foreign Country” and GOOD LUCK!! Do not sleep on the visa process. And do your best not to procrastinate or try to travel with little time to prepare. You always want to make sure your business is handled at home, and you have somewhere to go when you reach your destination. And don’t forget SAFETY!! Initial fears and anxieties were also a dominant memory. First, I of course was worried that I wouldn’t be able to afford the trip. But with help from student loans and having saved up before I lost my job, I was able to make it work. I promised myself that I wouldn’t make this type of decision with less than $2000 left in my bank account AFTER I paid for all of my expenses and considered the expenses I’d have once in a new country. Secondly, I worried about not receiving my visa at the time that I expected, or at all. I just felt like, what if I am the person who gets declined. So glad that wasn’t the case. Next, my loved ones. I was so afraid to leave my family (and friends). They have been my support system and my reason for pushing myself to be something worth recognizing and celebrating. But with their unconditional love and support, they made me feel comfortable enough in my decision. Last, I had anxieties about standing out too much and not being able to fit in with a foreign culture. I worried about cultural barriers and not having too much knowledge about the Spanish language and culture. I was afraid that I’d be judged or unwanted. And I know these fears were kind of melodramatic because my research has shown me that Americans are welcomed and the Spanish are understanding to our lack of language proficiency and cultural experiences. But when you are moving somewhere, alone, and without any resources or contacts, such fears are bound to creep in. As for packing, I was able to put my life into 3 large suitcases (no more than 50 lbs). I double-checked everything, making sure I had outfits for every occasion (including for interviews/work), and ensuring that I had all of my proper identification and documentation in case any emergencies arose. Don’t forget leaving a copy of everything with a close family member (or friend) or 2 in case of emergencies. So after I handled everything I needed to get done. After I said my goodbyes to my family and friends. It was time for me to embrace the change of pace and place that was about to take place. And I surely did. After I let go of all of my worries and reservations, I was able to enjoy what was about to happen to me. Of course you get those jitters. A bit of bubble guts. But all good feelings of faith, hope, excitement, and determination. As I waited to board the plane, Iberia Airlines, I recited the prayer of serenity in my head. I asked God to surround me and all the others boarding the flight with me. I asked Him to bless the Captains and stewards. I found my seat (next to the window of course), placed my bag in the overhead, and as a tear (I’m assuming of joy) fell from my eye, I smiled. I got adjusted, popped in my ear phones on the plane, and touched down in Madrid in no time (7 hours). One of the longest, but best flights ever. And maybe one of the best because I was mentally prepared for a great start to a wonderfully new journey in my life. I am looking forward to the wonderful people I will get to meet. I am looking forward to finally learning Spanish and experiencing the Spanish culture. I am looking forward to strengthening my core both mentally and physically. But most importantly, I am looking forward to doing something positive for others. I am not exactly sure how I will fulfill these dreams and accomplish all of these goals (meaning I have not planned what places I will visit, which restaurants I will eat in, what hostels I will get to visit, which organizations I will reach out to in order to help others), but I am dedicated to making this experience one of the most empowering experiences that I have ever had the opportunity to dream of, let alone live.

Stay tuned. I will be posting pictures once I get acclimated and settled. How are your new traveling experiences going? Any main concerns before you left for your journey? Do Tell Nicola…

Preparing to Interact Socially in French

1) French Culture and Traditions:

  • La Sieste
  • Walk Like a Parisian
  • Expats in France
  • Meeting/Dining/Business Etiquette = When introduced, the common thing to do is shake hands. Once established, an air-kiss on both checks for both genders (starting with the left). You are expected to say ‘bonjour’ or ‘bonsoir’ with the honorific title Monsieur (i.e. Mr.) or Madame (i.e. Mrs.) when entering a shop and ‘au revoir’ when leaving. If you live in an apartment building, it is polite to greet your neighbors with the same appellation. Also, wait until invited to move on to the 1st name basis. If invited to an Italian’s home, arrive on time. Feel encouraged to bring the highest quality bottle of wine that you can afford. If you choose to send flowers (no chrysanthemums, red carnations, or white since they are typically used for weddings), give them in odd numbers, but never 13. If you do not want more wine, leave your glass nearly full. When doing business, if you do not speak French, learn a few key phrases, and provide an apology for not knowing their language may aid in developing a relationship. Do not try to schedule meetings during July or August, as this is a common vacation period. This can be solely a perception/opinion, but it has been said that the French do not appreciate hyperbole, so avoid exaggerated claims.

2) Useful French Words & Phrases for Travelers:

  • Thank you.
 = Merci
  • Good Morning/Good Day/Hello!
  • Good evening!
  • Fine. =Bien.
  • Very well.
 =Très bien.
  • So-so.
 =Comme ci, comme ça.
  • What’s your name?
 =Comment vous appelez-vous?
  • My name is…
 =Je m’appelle…
  • It’s nice to meet you.
  • Good bye =Au revoir.
  • See you soon.
 =A bientôt.
  • Good night =Bonne nuit.
  • Where do you live?
 =Où habitez-vous?
  • I live in…
 =J’habite à…
  • Thank you very much.
 =Merci beaucoup.
  • You’re welcome.
 =De rien.
  • Please =S’il vous plaît.
  • Yes
  • No
  • Sorry or Excuse me.
  • Pardon me.
 = Pardon
  • I don’t understand.
 =Je ne comprends pas.
  • I don’t speak French.
 =Je ne parle pas français.
  • I don’t speak French very well.
 =Je ne parle pas très bien français.
  • Do you speak English?
 =Parlez-vous anglais?
  • Could you speak more slowly, please?
 =Pourriez-vous parler plus lentement, s’il vous plaît?
  • Could you repeat (that), please?
 =Pourriez-vous répéter, s’il vous plaît?
  • What’s your name?
 =Comment vous appelez-vous?
  • How are you?
 =Comment allez-vous?
  • Where is the subway?
 =Où est le métro?
  • Is the tip included?
 =Est-ce que le service est compris?
  • How much does that cost?
 =Combien ça coûte?
  • Is there a public phone here?
 =Y a-t-il un téléphone public ici?
  • Can I get on the internet?
 =Puis-je me connecter à l’Internet?
  • Can you help me, please?
 =Pouvez-vous m’aider, s’il vous plaît?
  • Where is the bathroom?
 =Où sont les toilettes?mio amico/la mia amica.
  • Where is there a good restaurant?
 =Où y-a-t-il un bon restaurant?
  • A table for two, please.
 =Une table pour deux, s’il vous plaît.
  • The menu, please.
 =Le menu, s’il vous plaît.
  • The wine list, please.
 =La carte des vins, s’il vous plaît.
  • A glass of water, please.
 =Un verre d’eau, s’il vous plaît.
  • Do you have vegetarian dishes?
 =Avez-vous des plats végétariens?
  • That’s all.
 =C’est tout.
  • The check, please.
 =L’addition, s’il vous plaît.
  • Is the tip included?
 =Est-ce que le service est compris?
  • Enjoy the meal!
 =Bon appétit!
  • To your health!
 =A la vôtre!
  • It’s delicious!
 =C’est délicieux!
  • a bottle of wine
 =une bouteille de vin
  • I like my steak rare/medium/well-done.
 =J’aime mon steak saignant/à point/bien cuit.
  • Another, please.
 =Un autre, s’il vous plaît. (masculine)/Une autre, s’il vous plaît. (feminine)
  • More, please.
 =Encore, s’il vous plaît.
  • Pass the… please.
 =Passez-moi le…, s’il vous plaît.

Stay tuned… I will add more to this post, and will provide future posts for other countries/cultures. If you have any area preferences or questions, please ask in comment section below.

Please also see tips on entering a foreign country. Gracias!

Preparing to Interact Socially in Italian

1) Italian Culture and Traditions:

  • Riposo = Ranging between the hours of 12-4pm, Italy shuts down to allow the locals to rest after a long and hectic morning, and they prepare for the busy afternoon. Riposo takes place in a comfortable place, such as the bed or sofa, where one can take a peaceful, undisturbed nap, after having a good and long lunch with friends or family.
  • Cicchetti/Stuzzichini = These snacks, usually in the form of finger foods, (or tapas) originated in Spain, but are common in many countries. They are also known to Italian Americans as antipasti.
  • Meeting/Dining/Business Etiquette = When introduced, the proper thing to do is shake hands with direct eye contact and a smile. Italians use calling cards that exhibit name, address, title/academic honors, and telephone number, in place of the slightly smaller business cards, in social settings. Once established, an air-kiss on both checks for both genders (starting with the left), along with a pat on the back for the men. Also, wait until invited to move on to the 1st name basis. If invited to an Italian’s home, feel encouraged to bring a gift-wrapped (not in black or purple) bottle of good vintage wine or chocolates. If you choose to send flowers (not chrysanthemums, or red/yellow), have them delivered the same day. If you do not want more wine, leave your glass nearly full. When doing business, allow sufficient time for letting new colleagues get to know you (your 1st ‘business meeting’ may consist of a personal discussion before any business begins). Face-to-face contact is preferred to telephone/written communication. This can be solely a perception/opinion, but it has been said that Italians are expressive communicators, being emotional, wordy, eloquent and demonstrative.

2) Useful Italian Words & Phrases for Travelers:

  • Hello!
 = Ciao!/Salve!
  • Good morning!
 =Buon giorno!
  • Good day!
 =Buon pomeriggio!
  • Good evening!
 =Buona sera!
  • How are you?
 =Come va?
  • Fine.
  • Very well.
 =Molto bene.
  • So-so.
 =Così così.
  • What’s your name?
 =Come si chiama?
  • My name is…
 =Mi chiamo…
  • It’s nice to meet you.
 =Piacere (di conoscerla).
  • Goodbye. =Arrivederla/ci.
  • See you soon.
 =A presto!
  • Goodnight. =Buona notte!
  • Thank you.
  • Thank you very much.
 =Grazie tante.
  • You’re welcome.
  • Please. =Per favore.
  • Yes. =Sì.
  • No. =No.
  • Excuse me.
 =Mi scusi.
  • I’m sorry.
 =Mi dispiace.
  • I don’t understand.
 =Non capisco.
  • I don’t speak Italian.
 =Non parlo italiano.
  • I don’t speak Italian very well.
 =Non parlo molto bene italiano.
  • Do you speak English?
 =Parla inglese?
  • Speak slowly, please.
 =Parli piano, per favore.
  • Repeat, please.
 =Ripeta, per favore.
  • What’s your name?
 =Come si chiama?
  • How are you?
 =Come va?
  • Do you speak English?
 =Parla inglese?
  • Where is the subway?
 =Dov’è la metropolitana?
  • Is the tip included?
 =Il servizio è incluso?
  • How much does that cost? (singular-sg./plural-pl.)
 =Quanto costa/costano?
  • Is there a public phone here?
 =C’è un telefono pubblico vicino?
  • Can I get on the internet?
 =Posso collegarmi con internet?
  • Can you help me?
 =Mi può aiutare?
  • Where is the bathroom?
 =Dov’è la toilette?
  • Where do you live? (singular/plural)
 =Dove abiti/abitate?
  • I live in… = Abito a…
  • This is my friend. (masculine/feminine)
 =Ti presento il mio amico/la mia amica.
  • This is my boyfriend.
 =Questo è il mio ragazzo.
  • This is my girlfriend.
 =Questa è la mia ragazza.
  • This is my husband.
 =Questo è (il) mio marito.
  • This is my wife.
 =Questa è (la) mia moglie
  • Please visit me!
 =Vieni a trovarmi!
  • I had a wonderful time. (masculine/feminine)
 =Mi sono divertito/divertita.
  • Where is a good restaurant?
 =Dove si mangia bene?
  • A table for two, please.
 =Una tavola per due, per favore.
  • The menu, please.
 =Il menu, per favore.
  • The wine list, please.
 =La lista dei vini, per favore.
  • I would like something to drink.
 =Vorrei qualcosa da bere.
  • A glass of water, please.
 =Una bottiglia d’acqua, per favore.
  • A cup of tea, please.
 =Una tazza di tè, per favore.
  • Do you have vegetarian dishes?
 =Avete dei piatti vegetariani?
  • That’s all.
 =Basta così.
  • The check, please.
 =Il conto, per favore.
  • To your health!
  • It’s delicious!
 =È delizioso.
  • I like my steak rare/medium/well done.
 =Preferisco la bistecca al sangue/cotta al punto giusto/ben cotta.
  • Another, please.
 =Un altro, per favore.
  • More, please.
 =Ancora un po’, per favore.

There are so many beautiful places in the world. But it is something about Italy. A must visit…ASAP!! Stay tuned… I will add more to this post, and will provide future posts for other cultures. If you have any area preferences or questions, please ask in comment section below. Please also see tips on entering a foreign country. Gracias!

I dedicate this post to Indeciso on my Advice page. Buona Fortuna!!

Preparing to Interact Socially in Spanish

I am a native English speaker. I use to know more Spanish and French when I was a child, but have lost the language due to lack of use. So I thought I’d provide some useful tools for when interacting with Spanish natives.

1) Spanish Culture and Traditions:

  • La Siesta = Between the hours of 2-5pm (or 14:00 a 17:00), Spain shuts down to allow the locals to rest after a long and hectic morning, and they prepare for the busy afternoon. La Siesta takes place in a comfortable place, such as the bed or sofa, where one can take a peaceful, undisturbed nap, after having a good and hefty lunch with friends or family.
  • Las Tapas = These snacks, usually in the form of finger foods (or canapés), originated in Spain. Tapas are served day in and day out in every bar in Spain. You can also find some restaurants in the United States (Spanish influenced or american) that serve Tapas (in place of ‘appetizers’) on their menu, and many other countries throughout the world. Tapas are incorporated into the days of Spanish natives, most specifically in Spain, to accommodate their long and frequent journeys from bar to bar (and alcoholic drink to drink)
  • Meeting/Dining/Business Etiquette (I chose Spain because it seems as though most, if not all, of Spanish traditions began in Spain; but for the most part, these customs can be transferred to other countries as I have been acquainted with them in the U.S.) = When introduced, the proper thing to do is shake hands. Once established, men might embrace, and perhaps use a two-handed shake where the left hand is placed on the right forearm of the other person (i.e. pat each other on the shoulder), and women might kiss on both checks (starting with the left). If invited to a Spaniard’s home, feel encouraged to bring chocolates/pastries/cakes, wine/liqueur/brandy, or flowers to the host(ess). If you know that the host(ess) has children and will be included for the evening, a nice small gift is always appreciated. When doing business, allow sufficient time for letting new colleagues get to know you (your 1st ‘business meeting’ may be completely formal, and no business will actually be discussed). Face-to-face contacts is preferred to telephone/written communication. This can be solely a perception/opinion, but it has been said that Spaniards do not enjoy admitting when they are incorrect, so tread lightly in encouraging confrontation.

2) Useful Spanish Words & Phrases for Travelers:

    • Hi = Hola
    • Yes = Si
    • No = No
    • Please = Por favor
    • How are you? = Cómo estas?
    • Nice to meet you = Mucho gusto
    • My name is… = Me llamo…
    • What’s your name? = ¿Cómo te llamas? (informal, or when you know the person) / ¿Cómo se llama Usted? (formal, or when you are new acquaintances)
      We’re from… England/Canada/the USA = Somos de… Inglaterra/Canadá/los Estados Unidos
    • I’m from… = Soy de…
    • Thank you = Gracias
    • Thank you very much = Muchas gracias
    • No, thanks = No, gracias
    • I don’t understand = No entiendo or No comprendo
    • I don’t speak Spanish = No hablo español
    • I speak a little Spanish = Yo hablo un paquito español
    • Good morning = Buenos dias
    • Good afternoon (used after 12:00 PM) = Buenas tardes
    • Good evening/Good night = Buenas noches
    • Do you speak English? = ¿Hablas ingles? (informal) / ¿Habla Usted ingles? (formal)
    • Nice to meet you = Mucho gusto
    • Excuse me… or Forgive me = .. or Pardóname
    • Where’s the bathroom? = ¿Dónde está el baño?
    • Of course = Por supuesto
    • I (don’t) like it = (No) me gusta
    • We like it = Nos gusta
    • At what time… = ¿A qué hora…
    • When… = ¿Cuándo…?
    • Why? = ¿Por qué?
    • Here = Aquí
    • Could you write it down, please? = ¿Lo podría escribir, por favor?
    • You’re welcome = De nada
    • This is for you = Esto es para tí (informal)/ Esto es para Usted (formal)
    • There’s a mistake… = Hay un error…
    • Now = Ahora
    • Today/tomorrow/next week = Hoy/mañana/la semana próxima
    • Help!/Stop!/Go away! = ¡Socorro!/¡Pare!/¡Váyase!
    • Where is….? = ¿Dónde está…?
    • Perfect = Perfecto
    • I don’t need that = No necesito eso
    • It’s too expensive = Es demasiado caro
    • How old are you? = ¿Cuántos años tienes (informal)/tiene (formal)?
    • How much is this? = ¿Cuánto cuesta esto…?
    • And that (one)? = ¿Y ese?
    • Could you repeat that, please? = ¿Podría repetirlo, por favor?
    • Do you have anything to drink? = ¿Tiene algo a tomar?
    • Is there a cafe near here? = ¿Hay un café/una cafetería cerca de aquí?
    • Can you recommend me a good vegetarian restaurant? = ¿Me puede recomendar un buen restaurante vegetariano?
    • Where is the nearest pastry shop? = ¿Dónde está la panadería mas cercana?
    • Where can you go for a cheap food? = ¿Dónde se puede comer barato?
    • What’s the local specialty? = ¿Qué es la comida típica en este región?

It’s crazy how much of the basics I have forgotten. I feel like a child, starting from scratch, learning a language for the 1st time.

But as you can see, there are links on all of my informational posts (see La Siesta, Las Tapas, Etiquette, etc.). If you have any trouble locating the links, let me know. Stay tuned… I will add more to this post, and will provide future posts for other cultures. If you have any area preferences or questions, please ask in comment section below. Buena Suerte!!

Please also see tips on entering a foreign country. Gracias!

Preparing to Enter A Foreign Country

So, as you know, I am from the United States. I have been out of the country before, but never for too long of a period of time (no more than 4 months at a time). While I intend to visit some places, both domestically and internationally, for a short amount of time just to take in the culture and to be inspired by my new surroundings, I am thinking that for other personally special locations (such as Africa and Japan), 90 days just won’t be enough.

In order to travel to a foreign country (for 3 months or less), of course you need the obvious Passport. But if you are planning to travel for a period longer than 3 months (or 90 days), you must obtain a long-term/stay travel visa. The longer you want to stay in another country, the more difficult the process is, and the more barriers you will face when trying to obtain your visa. Now there are many types of travel visas, but I will shortly discuss the most common:

  • Residence – allows the holder to reside in place of travel without undertaking any type of work or professional activity; most commonly, applicants get married and attempt to apply for citizenship.
  • Student/Study – allows the holder to remain in place of travel in order to pursue courses, studies, research or training programs; this visa requires that you choose a foreign institution and enroll in your classes and make an advance FULL PAYMENT. Students who are studying for more than 180 days will be given a 90-day student visa to enter Spain, and once in Spain, the student must go to the nearest police station and “exchange” their 90-day visa for a residency permit.
  • Work/Professional – allows the holder to undertake work or professional activity; applicants must obtain a notification of work and residence permit approval in advance.
  • Au Pair – allows the holder to reside in place of travel with a host family, while caring for their children (in a nanny-like capacity) and being in pursuit of some sort of academic/research studies. Some countries do not recognize this visa and encourage you to consider applying for the study visa even if you choose to Au Pair for a host family.
  • Tourist/Transit/Business (typically short stay) – applicants should show proof of a round trip airline ticket PAID IN FULL, a detailed hotel reservation, most recent 3 bank statements, a major credit card and a statement exhibiting the designated card balance, and a letter from an employer exhibiting purpose of visit or an income tax return if you are self-employed.

Here are some major and useful tips:

  • Do your research. Based on your home country and the foreign country you intend to travel to, there are guidelines and regulations specific to every countries entry requirements. Do not hesitate to ask questions at the foreign countries’ consulates located in your home country. It is better to ask a question when you are unsure, than to guess and then walk into the Consulate on the day of your visa appointment and get turned away. Believe me…it’s an embarrassing and frustrating experience!!
  • For the most part, every long stay visa requires that you obtain a medical certificate (a document issued by your physician stating that you are in good health and not a threat to the public based on the 2005 World Health Organization). Here is an example for Spain:
  • Also, for long stay visas, all applicants (but don’t quote me on this as all countries have different requirements) must receive a livescan/DOJ clearance and Apostille/authentication. So you know how you get a livescan for your job in your home country? Think of applying for a visa like applying for a job. They want to know where you have been and if you are prone to stir up any trouble in THEIR country. So this step can be a stressfully long process. First, you have to go to a local facility that offers Livescan Fingerprinting. Make sure you use the correct document (Form BCIA 8016) based on the type of visa you are applying for. Then you wait about 1-2 weeks for your “results” to be mailed to you. Next, you email a copy of your results to ‘‘ (see Step#4), and wait about 1-2 weeks for them to mail you an official document with all the right signatures (from the Criminal Identification Specialist for the Attorney General). Now, you have to visit the Secretary of State (or you can mail, but I highly suggest you walk in and spare 1-2 hours of your day, versus waiting another 1-2 weeks for the document to be mailed back to you) to get your document notarized for authentication (aka an Apostille – and DO NOT remove staple as it breaks seal and makes the document invalid). And lastly, the document needs to be translated (I suggest searching for a foreign language translating notary) to the native language spoken in the country you intend to visit. So as you can see, this process can take up to 3-6 weeks, so do not procrastinate and do not sleep on how important this document is!!
  • You must also be able to prove that you can support yourself financially. So whether you have grants/scholarships/financial aid, or your host family provides you with a notarized letter stating that they will cover your room/board and any costs incurred from unforeseen emergencies that might occur, or you are able to prove the funds that are in your bank account. Either way, don’t think another country is going to welcome you with open arms as a drifter with no income and with intentions to stay longer than 90 days.
  • Visa Costs can rack up to about $255+ (depending on your home country and destination) = Livescan Fingerprint ($50) + SOS Certification/Apostille ($25) + Pre-Postage USPS Return Mailing Envelope for Passport ($20) + Visa Application Fee Money Order ($160)
  • Do exactly what it says on the visa requirements page for your chosen place of travel AND SOME!! And here is a helpful tip based on personal experience about a year ago… For some countries, it says that you cannot apply for visa more than 3-4 months before “date of departure” and no less than 1 month. But to them, “date of departure” may translate as “date that program/classes begin”. Can we all agree that “departure date” and “program date” are 2 completely different things? The reality is that everyone makes mistakes, but under these circumstances, rules are rules, and even if the Consulate does not display their information accurately, they cannot process your application and you will have to hope that another appointment is made available (which is very unlikely as appointments book up 3 months in advance). For more personal experiences, try searching for the Consulate you intend to apply on and check out reviews from other applicants.
  • Remember, you want to schedule your visa appointment 6-7 months (in advance) before you are expected to begin your work or study program. So if your job or classes begin in August, you want to schedule your April visa appointment in January.
  • Be warned that you may have all of your documentation (that you know of). But something may “go wrong” during your appointment, and you may be told that something is missing or you have “too many breaks” in your class schedule or your “employer” didn’t sign ALL the right documents. And you may go in thinking you were going to receive a 6 month visa and only get approved for 4. Keep this “worst case scenario theory” in mind before you make any life changing decisions (like renting your apartment out to someone else or spending money on expenses that are non-refundable) or make any big promises to individuals in your country of travel. But also, if the Consulate begins processing your application, they may take your payment and passport and instruct you to bring back any missing documents, and you will not need an appointment to return after they hold on to your passport. In this case, you just want to make sure you retrieve all the requested documents in time for them to mail your passport back to you in the expected 3-4 weeks. Just a heads up. Just want you to think smart and don’t set yourself up for disappointment. So just make sure you are thorough in all aspects.
  • Useful Sites for Travel Preparation:

Applying for a visa is a major process. Come on…think about it. Imagine when you are just trying to move to another state, you have to get a new I.D. and change your car plates and complete all types of documentation to show you are now a resident of another state in your own home country. So entering another country is 5 times the extreme. So do not take the process for granted. Do not underestimate how serious (some) other countries are about keeping you OUT of their country.

Set a goal. Do your research. Establish a plan. Consider your budget. And plan in advance. Change is already an overwhelming and scary thought in itself. So you want to pace yourself to ensure you are in good spirits and have high hopes (optimism) throughout the process.

If you have any visa questions please ask in the comment area below, as I have experience with multiple countries. And please share your experiences also. Unexpected experiences, such as my example in #6 above, are what people want and need to know.

Thank you for reading. I am looking forward to learning about your visa experiences.

ATENCIÓN: Por favor, utilice este enlace, Free Translation, para traducir mis posts. Una vez que usted visite el sitio traducción, se encuentra la “lengua” (con la imagen del mundo junto a él), en la parte superior derecha, para elegir el idioma que prefiera. Gracias.