I interviewed a Spanish woman with amazing English skills who travels around Spain visiting the ice rinks. Why is her English so good, and why has she gone to all these ice rinks? Read, or watch the video, and find out!
Maria greeted me with two kisses instead of a handshake. That’s the custom in Spain. One kiss on each cheek means hello! After greeting me, I sat down in the teacher’s lounge of the school where Maria and I work to ask her some questions.
What is your full name?
Maria: OK, I have a huge full name. My first name is María. My middle name is Ascensión. (Teacher in background: Oh! Ascensión!) And my last name. I have a first last name, Saéz, and my second last name, Delcano. So it’s quite a long name.
Leela: So you have two last names. Does one of those come from your mom and one from your dad?
Maria: Yes. My dad’s last name goes first [Saez] and my mom’s goes second [Delcano]. It used to always be like that when I was small. Now, parents can choose the order so you can have your mom’s first and your dad’s second.
Leela: Interesting. So does having your name first mean hierarchical importance?
Maria: Yeah. Or maybe if you have a very common name, like Garcia or something like that, and the mother’s last name is a nicer, not so common one, sometimes they choose that one first so the kid has a name that not everyone else has.
Leela: What does Ascensión [your middle name] mean?
Maria: It means when Jesus rose from the dead. It’s a Catholic name. It’s like rising up to heaven.
Leela: And your first name is Maria, which is also sort of a religious name. So did you grow up religious?
Maria: Yeah, I grew up religious. I come from a Catholic family.
Leela: And is the whole country [of Spain] pretty Catholic?
Maria: Well, most people my age grew up in a Catholic environment but nowadays religion is not so important anymore. It’s losing relevance.
Where do you live?
Maria: We live in the outskirts of Madrid. My town is called Mahadaonda.
Madrid: Mahadaonda. It’s a difficult name. It’s very long! But I come from Bilbao, in the north. I was raised there until I was 14. I came to Madrid to go to University. And my mother’s family is from León, a different part of Spain.
Leela: And now you live in Madrid, which is the capital of Spain.
Maria: Yes, Madrid is really big. Many people live in the capital. Right now we’re in Fuenlabrada, which is one of the little cities around Madrid. Well, I live in another of those little cities.
Leela: Kind of like suburbs–
Maria. Yeah. Well, no, actually, not suburbs because they are each independent cities.
Leela: So could you compare it maybe to Manhattan and the little cities around Manhattan like Queens and the Bronx?
Maria: Yeah, that’s right.
What is your family like?
Maria: My immediate family, I am married. I have two daughters. I have a brother and a sister. And my parents—I have only a mother and father— they never broke up, you know, because so many people are separated and they have two fathers, because they have step one. My husband has four sisters and one brother. Most of them are married and have kids. And well, with my parents, they don’t live very nearby so we don’t get together a lot. But with my in-law family we do get a lot together. We meet every weekend. We all have kids of the same ages. We have lunch together and we have picnics.
Do you have pets and what is your house like?
Maria: No! I have a degree in biology and I hate pets! I live in an apartment. In Spain it’s very common to live in an apartment. It’s not very usual to live in a house. So having pets in an apartment, I mean, you have to do a lot of cleaning and taking care of them.
Leela: People don’t usually have yards—
Maria: No. Well, many people have dogs in apartments. And children have pigeons.
Leela: Really? They own pigeons?
Maria: Yeah, I have neighbors that have them and they’re really dirty and I don’t like it. But they feed them and they fly around.
Leela: That’s really interesting. I don’t think anybody in the United States owns pigeons.
Maria: Well, my neighbors, they use them to send messages. It’s like a hobby. Something they do for fun. Yeah, they raise them and they feed them and they train them.
Leela: And they can actually use the pigeon to send a message somewhere else?
Maria: Well, when you have those pigeons you raise them in a place, then you take them to another place and you put the message on the leg of the pigeon and it flies back to where it was raised. That’s how it works.
Leela: Have you ever been sent a message by a pigeon?
Leela: Have you ever asked them?
Maria: Yeah, I asked them. And they think it’s really fun. It’s like an old-fashioned way to send messages.
What types of clothes do you like to wear? And do you like to go shopping?
Maria: I’m not very good about that. I’m not very worried about clothes.
What do you do for work?
Maria: I’m a teacher. I teach English.
Leela: That’s why your English is so amazing! Do a lot of people in Spain speak English?
Maria: No, they don’t. But we do study. Kids study—right now, since they are five or six years old until they are 18, they study but they are not able to speak and the level is not great. They don’t improve a lot and they are shy. They find that maybe if they say things the wrong way, then people will laugh at them.
What do you do in your free time? Do you travel?
Maria: I travel to Bilbao and León [other cities in Spain, where I was born and where my parents were from] quite often. And my girls play ice hockey and they do ice skating so we travel all around to all the ice rinks in Spain. Yes, the elder one does ice hockey and they are trying to set up a team of synchronized skating. And the little one does figure skating. I think little girls don’t like hockey a lot. When they get older they may like it but when they’re little they like the nice dresses.
Leela: So where is the best ice rink in all of Spain.
Maria: Well, the nicest and most beautiful one is in Haka. It’s in the north of Spain. The province is Huesca, in the north on the way to the [Pyrenees] mountains. It was built five years ago. A really nice building, round with metal and crystal. It was built hoping that Spain would get the Winter Olympics. But we never got them. We’ll never have enough snow for that. I don’t think so. For example, this year, yes, we will have enough snow, but year after year sometimes we don’t.
Leela: So it’s too variable. I see.
Is there anything else you would like to say to students in the United States?
Maria: What would I tell them? Well, learn about us. Learn about Spain. And come to visit us. If you come here and we get to come to know you better, we’ll get a better image of American people. Because I think that sometimes in Spain we have this wrong image. When you get to know people, when you get in touch with them, you see that they are like us. At first you don’t feel that they are like us, but if you get to know one of them, or two of them, or three of them, then you see that we are all the same.
Leela: So what do you do in Spain to say goodbye?
Watch the interview here! https://www.dropbox.com/sh/rtbjguhchpx0t6n/I7s2P7i2DS