24/7 Valencia: Can you tell us what your book is about?
Alan Thompson: Cucarachas or Cucuruchos: An English Teacher’s Spanish Dilemma is my second book describing the experiences of a (fictional) British teacher working in the Valencian community. It’s a humorous ‘year-in-the-life’ story of Jeremy’s mishaps, all very loosely (or sometimes, not so loosely) based on my own experiences. I came to Spain in 2006 to work in an ‘immersion’ school – where children are taught in a language which isn’t their native tongue. So, the vast majority of the children are Spanish while pretty much all their teachers are native English speakers.
Not surprisingly, the six- and seven-year-olds in my class often struggle to communicate with me in English. Imagine Basil Fawlty in command of 25 very small Manuels (and Manuelas): usually I can’t understand them or they don’t understand me. I told one girl she could take her painting home tonight. ‘Tonight ees today?’ she asked in reply. Another described playing ‘high-dung-sick’ with her friends: it took a 10-minute charades session before I realised she meant ‘hide-and-seek’.
Outside school, I get an insight into what the children might be experiencing as I attempt to survive with minimal Spanish and little idea of how things work. Yes, I did expect to go for a relaxing café con leche the first time I took my car for an MOT test. A rapid-fire oral examination of auto-parts in Spanish, conducted by an angry man carrying a clipboard caught me horribly underprepared.
It didn’t take me long to realise that my new lifestyle was ideal raw material for a book, especially as nearly every staffroom conversation revealed more amusing anecdotes, accompanied by countless ‘someone should write a book about this’ comments. I pitched a few articles at the Times Educational Supplement who suggested I use a pseudonym and christened me Jeremy Dean. The articles spawned my first book (Zen Kyu Maestro, Monday Books, 2013). Cucarachas or Cucuruchos: An English Teacher’s Spanish Dilemma is the sequel.
It documents many of the linguistic and social minefields which ‘foreigners’ face when working abroad. How was I to know that you mustn’t say ‘Austria’ to young Spaniards? Apparently, it sounds remarkably like ‘Hostia’ – a Spanish swear word. And what do you do when a boy yells, ‘You’re a foca!’ while playing an animal-identification game? ‘Foca’, I know now (but didn’t know then), is Spanish for ‘seal’. At least I’ve learned some valuable life skills: like knowing what to do when a child introduces you to his kangaroo; or another writes that the money used in the UK is ‘pounds and penis…’
What are your plans for the future?
I hope to develop my writing further. I already contribute a column to Vila-real’s monthly magazine (Poble). This is aimed at locals who want to practise their English – although I fear my only readers are probably ex-pupils of mine. I also have a novel brewing on my laptop. But Jeremy Dean’s voice keeps whispering in my ear and the third volume of his adventures seems to write itself every time I step into the classroom or out onto the streets. So I’m listening out for more linguistic gaffes, like the girl who told me she was planning to ‘peel’ her dog. My rapidly-improving Spanish skills confirmed that the phrase she wanted was ‘cut its hair.’
Never a dull moment!
Cucarachas or Cucuruchos: An English Teacher’s Spanish Dilemma is available (eBook or paperback) on Amazon. Its predecessor, Zen Kyu Maestro: An English Teacher’s Spanish Adventure, can also be found there (but only as an eBook).
Interview by 24/7 Valencia
Article copyright ’24/7 Valencia’