About Ham

“the face” at a young age

So at the ripe old age of almost 30, I decided to move to Madrid, Spain. Almost 6 years later, it seems as if I’ve managed to carve out quite a good life for myself here. I’m happily married and I love Madrid, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t find some knots in the string here and there. For one, the language. A sound once so beautiful to my ears is now just a thorn in my ham-enhanced side.

The truth is that I’ve studied Spanish for quite some time now and if you don’t speak it well, you’d probably think I’m pretty fluent. I can get by okay. I can even make some jokes here and there. But you know what? After 6 years of living here, I still get massively tongue-twisted and I can get super nervous when confronted with “the face”.

What’s “the face”, you ask? Well, it’s that smushy, wrinkled-brow face that just refuses to understand you. This look is very natural for Spaniards. I know, because my husband is Spanish, but he does not have “the face”. He has more of a “brows-up, sweet-brown- eyed, ready-to-listen-with-all-his-heart face”.

“The face” isn’t native to bad or impatient people necessarily. Even family (in-laws) can be overcome with a case of “the face” even after years of knowing you. This is the essence of Pass the Ham.

Although “the face” can pop up anywhere, the face usually shows itself at the dinner table. After the hundreds of required besos and the que tal‘s, I realize that the person, cousin, aunt, uncle, in-law I’m talking to doesn’t quite get what I’m saying. It does take a while, and bless their sweet hearts, they are trying to understand me, but they almost always come down with “the face”; it’s usually full-on and full-force within 5 minutes of talking to each other.

So, how can one combat “the face”, you ask? I really don’t want to be rude and just stop talking to anyone.  So I have developed a plan that gently ends the conversation without the abruptness of saying, “You just dont freakin’ understand what I’m saying, do you?”. So, mid converstation, I say, “Could you pass the ham, please?” It works everytime. I manage to interrupt myself with a ham request and, subsequently, give them a pass so they can relax a bit. A distraction for them and a relief for me. I kind of hate to share it with you, but maybe if I help just one foreigner in the same situation, my work will be worth it

Yes, I know what you’re thinking – Hamatha, you’re pure genius!

Anyway, this blog is my story. Basically, it’s a two parter – the past and the present – so I hope it’s not too confusing to follow. But if you do get a little confused … well, welcome to my world.

34 Responses to About Ham

  1. Christine says:

    I wish I’d read this sooner! I could have used the “pass the ham” line with my Spanish in-laws! You are hilarious!

  2. Mo says:

    Fantastic strategy since ham is God in Spain. As for the Spanish bit, I wonder if you´ve actually had any really formal, well-planned lessons? I´m not one of those people who says Spanish is an easy language but it is learnable! 6 years isn´t really that much time. You´d faint if I told you how long I´ve been learning Spanish – OK, so now I don´t bother learning much – but I still miss things. When I do I just say, ¿Qué? No me he enterado de ná. And with the repetition I usually get it. Good luck, but I think you´re doing fine!

    • Hamatha says:

      Hi there and thank you for your encouragement! I have had formal lessons here and there for the first years I was in Spain and my husband helps me out a lot, but I think its more of a nervous reaction that just blocks me when I’m around a lot of Spanish speakers. I could give a prepared speech in Spanish no problemo, but if I have to strike up a conversation with a group of 4 or 5 Spaniards, my voice drops, I start mumbling, etc. – it’s awful!!
      I think I’ll just stick with my ham distraction method for now, if not out of pure laziness, just to eat some ham!

  3. Heather says:

    OMG the face! I thought I was alone on this one. I’ve discussed its existence endlessly with my Spanish husband, who immediately makes the face and feigns ignorance. After 11 years of speaking Spanish, most everyone assumes I’m fluent. Every trip back to Spain for holidays, however, I get the face at least once. Thanks for confirming I am not crazy.

    I’m really enjoying your blog and laughing a lot. Thanks to Erin of the Tortuga Viajera for the link!

    • Hamatha says:

      Haha! Yes! I love it when people admit to seeing The Face! I really think we should start a support group for sufferers of The Face. So, no – you’re not crazy at all. The Face exists and its getting stronger every day!!
      Thanks for your kind words!

  4. Why hello! Actually, I should probably say hola! I just discovered your blog and am excited to start reading about your time in Madrid — especially since you hail from Atlanta, where my husband is from (I also have family there). I took a bit of Spanish before I traveled to Spain one year, and I got the squishy-face look often. Happy to know I’m not the only one! :)


  5. robin says:

    Oh dear. I’m just starting out on my second year here and was hoping to have all this stuff well and truly wrapped up by year six. If I’m honest I was hoping to have it wrapped up by year two but then I’ve never been known for realism. Already well acquainted with the face!

    • Hamatha says:

      Oh, please dont let my slow boat to fluency affect your dreams! I’m probably just a little too lazy to make myself understood, and really , I’m just happy when someone actually passes me the ham, with the face or without the face!

  6. lara dunston says:

    Love it! That’s the best About page I’ve ever read. Thanks for following us at @gran_tourismo on Twitter. I’m so glad I followed you back and discovered Hamatha. I do have a love of the pig. And I do know that feeling too. I studied Spanish for years and by the end of a year of university study, got great grades and thought I was pretty good at it. I got to South America and was on the receiving end of ‘the face’ countless times. Fortunately I was doing Masters research and all the academics and filmmakers I was interviewing spoke English almost as good as I did, so I was often saved. That was a long time ago and I’ve forgotten so much now. Would love to return to a Spanish-speaking country one day to live a while and try and learn the language all over again. In the meantime, I shall enjoy your blog.

    • Hamatha says:

      Hi Lara!
      Thanks for being here! I’m glad you can relate to “the face” situation. It just happened to me yesterday when I was trying to change my cell provider – just when I think I’ve made it here in Madrid, The Face sneaks up once again!!

      I’m loving your blog too! It gives me a ton of inspiration, and jealousy!

  7. Erin says:

    Oh goodness. I’m going to be living in Madrid for a year in 2013, and now I’m terrified of the face.
    I don’t even know how to say pass the ham.

    • Hamatha says:

      Don’t worry, you normally don’t even have to tell anyone to pass the ham. They just pass it…its automatic!
      What brings you to Madrid?

      • Erin says:

        My reply is only about a month late but…
        My husband is in the US Air Force, but has been given the opportunity to attend a Spanish military college in Madrid for a year.
        We are leaving for the defense language school in California soon, and then the Madrid school starts in the summer of 2013.
        We’re super excited!

  8. Amy says:

    In my family we call that the “QUE?!” face as the half-raised eyebrow and quasi grimace is usually accompanied by that one maddening word. It is far and away THE most annoying thing my husband does (it annoys me when the rest of the world does it, too, but somehow not quite as much… el roce hace el cariño?). I told me family back home about it on one of our trips and my sister recently informed me that my brother-in-law has adopted it as his own. Perhaps that’s even worse? Knowing the power of the “que” face and using it explicitly to annoy…

    • Hamatha says:

      Yes, using the “que” face or sometimes what’s referred to as the “COMO?” face on purpose should be a punishable by law! This crime is serious. Don’t give your BIL anymore ham, okay?

  9. Christina says:

    Hey! I am an American working as an Au Pair in Barcelona and I was hoping you could offer me a little advice. I want to try to find work and stay in Barcelona after I am done with the family. Basically I want to move here permanently. But I don’t know what to do about the whole visa thing. What did you do?! I am currently illegal, as my au pair agency told me there was no way to do it legally and basically “no pasa nada” as long as I don’t get myself in trouble. Now the only thing I can figure out to do if I want to become legal is either find a job that offers me a contract and go hang out in the US for a month or so again while I wait for visa processing, or find a Spanish guy to marry. Neither of these things seem likely!

    Also I don’t meant to leave this as a comment but it was the only way I could figure out to contact you. If you have a response you could send it to my e-mail.

    Hope all is well in Madrid!

  10. meredyth says:

    Hamatha your blog has been so useful for preparing my own big change to come live in Madrid. It’s given me an insight to what life is really like. And some of your posts are hilarious! Anyway, thanks for telling it like it is and sharing your story.

    • Hamatha says:

      Hi Meredyth,
      Well, that’s so kind of you to say – thank you. And good luck on your move to Madrid. I love living here and I hope you do to! Let me know if I can help you with anything beofore the big move…


  11. Kate says:

    What a brilliant idea! I’m also familiar with ‘the face’, but I mind it less than being asked if I speak Spanish. While I’m speaking Spanish. I wish I wasn’t a vegetarian now, so that I could borrow this winning strategy…

  12. So, I have this little tweak on the “Face” problem when speaking Spanish. When I was nine, my parents took us to live in Mexico for a year (1963-1964). http://www.boomeresque.com/mexico-1963/ When one is exposed to a foreign language under age 12, it is much easier to pick up a convincing native accent. After the year, we returned to the U.S. and pretty much my next exposure to Spanish was 9th grade high school Spanish class. I continued to study Spanish to the extent one could in the Philadelphia public schools and I was a double major in history and Spanish in college. I even lived for a semester with a Colombian family in Bogota in 1974 while studying at the University of the Andes. So, my problem is that the authenticity of my Spanish accent far exceeds my actual command of the language. When I meet native Spanish speakers, they think I am from a Spanish-speaking country—but not theirs. But, I feel as though I’m missing so much of what they are saying. When I get the “face” it’s because they think I’m stupid—rather than that I don’t understand because they are speaking a “foreign” language.

    • Hamatha says:

      Hi Suzanne,

      Thanks for your comment and I know exactly what you’re talking about! Sometimes, when I simply just do not hear someone correctly and I ask them to repeat what they’ve just said, instead of repeating it, they’ll break into a long explanation as if I just didn’t understand what they were saying. It drives me crazy! And what really gets me is that most times, its something so obvious and silly, that nobody with half a brain would need an explanation. One time, my neighbor explained what a blueberry was to me! What do you do with that? ;)

  13. Chris says:

    Haha, love this, its SO true! have you ever seen the French ‘Face’? Its a belter, looks like they’re sucking on a really nasty olive.

  14. Erin says:

    Now that we’ve been in Madrid for a whole 3 and a half weeks, I’m practically a native. Ha.
    I remembered your blog when I was almost run off the street by women who don’t move over an inch. You were right! And I get crazy tongue tied trying to have the simplest interactions. I find that when I drink most of the bottle of vino tinto at the menu del dia, then I’m not quite as nervous to interact with the waiter.
    Other than getting drunk, do you have any tips on how to learn the language here? Would you recommend a language exchange? It’s too late for me to marry a Spaniard….

    • Hamatha says:

      Nope, I think getting drunk is probably your best bet. :)

      In all seriousness, as far as doing a language exchange, I think it depends on your level. If you’ve never studied Spanish before, I’d enroll in a class to get the basics down and maybe compliment that with a language exchange if you have the time. There are a ton of places to take classes and most of them are pretty cheap.

      I did a few language exchanges when I got here and I had good luck, but also keep in mind that a lot of language exchanges are just covers for blind dates, guys looking for a woman, etc. When I figured that out, I tried to keep it to just language exchanges with other women, but the first lady I met broke down crying and had me trapped in a cafe for hours talking about her divorce and her horrid mother-in-law. So, it was kind of a buzz kill.

      There are quite a few language exhange nights at places like Carmencitas, but I’ve always had the idea that it was for a younger crowd, so I’ve never gone.

      So, best bet, enroll in a class and have a few drinks beforehand! If you need anything, let me know. I’d be happy to meet up for a coffee or drink if you’d like. I know its kind of hard to meet people in a new city. :)

      Good luck!

      • Erin says:

        Thanks for the reply!
        When we found out we were coming here, I studied quite a bit. I’m fairly decent at getting my point across, but struggle with understanding what other people are saying. La gente aqui habla tan rapida!
        I would love to get together for coffee sometime if your schedule isn’t too busy.

  15. Mike Booth says:

    Hi Ham,
    I loved “The Face,” and a lot of your other stuff, too. Before I forget I want to remind you of another phenomenon all of us guiris face. I don’t have a name for it but it’s when you walk into an establishment and the dependienta looks at you and you can see her saying to herself, “there’s no way I’m going to understand what this guiri is going to say.” And, sure enough, she doesn’t.
    P.S. Do you ever freelance any articles about Spain?

    • Hamatha says:

      Hi Mike,

      Thanks for the comment and YES on that one split second moment when you come face to face with someone and you know they’re thinking, “damn it – do I have to make an attempt with this damn guiri?” It’s a weird moment that one b/c you know that they’ve already pegged you as a stupid guiri without even opening your mouth.

      Lately when I’m feeling adventurous, I’ve started using what I call “The Face Block”, which is when I just mimic their face with my own confused, wrinkled stare even if I understand what they are saying. So if they give me The Face, and say, “cómo?”, I wrinkle up my face and repeat, “cómo?” and then just nothing else. It’s weird, but entertaining. Of course, I get nothing in return and it’s a complete waste of time, but sometimes the person knows I’m mimicking them and that makes me happy.

      Anyway, to answer your question, yes, I do quite a bit of freelancing when I get the opportunity. I write architectural articles about Spanish projects every month and I’ve written a few travel articles here and there. Why do you ask?

  16. con jamon says:

    Someone else that talks about ham – brilliant!

    (and thank you).

  17. Graciella says:

    Ha ha, that’s hilarious and soooooo true :)

    I think I have it even worse than you though as, because I split my time between Spain and Thailand, I get the face from two different nationalities but, yep, it pretty much looks the same :)

    Great website, btw. Have you bookmarked.

  18. Sophie says:

    I know the face! My version of “could you pass the ham, please?” is ¡Que ventoso! or similar. As a Brit living up a Spanish mountain talking about the weather is a natural fallback.

    • Hamatha says:

      Yes, talking complaining about the weather is always a good way to get some people going and give yourself a break. I don’t think a day has passed that my MIL doesn’t say, “hace frio, no?” Even in the dead heat of summer, if there is a tad of air conditioning blowing, she’s not gonna like it…

  19. Amy says:

    I wish I read this blog sooner!I just visited Madrid this past week and LOVED it! I returned yesterday and cannot cease to think about the wonders of Madrid and how beautiful it is. Not to mention my Spanish has never been better. While in Madrid, I shopped and ate more ham than I could have imagined. I also saw in a souvenir shop a pillow in the shape of a Jamon Iberico leg…which would give a whole new meaning to “Pass the Ham” for me. I wanted so badly to buy it, but I hadn’t the slightest clue how I would be able to bring it home with the amount of belongings I had. I can’t remember which shop I found it in either, but I believe it was near Teatro Real. Any idea how I might be able to get my hands on one!?

    ~ Your newest follower :)

    • Hamatha says:

      Hi Amy,

      So sorry for my delay in getting back to you! Thank you so much for the nice comments and I’m so glad that you liked Madrid. It’s a wonderful city and those who love it are wonderful as well….;)

      Hope you can come back soon!

      Also, in regards to your ham pillow, found this and pretty sure you can order it online: http://www.foodiggity.com/ham-pillow/

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