It was what alcoholics refer to as a moment of clarity. We were appropriately enough drinking a cubata, local Arehucas rum and imported coke, at the time. Hold on a darn minute, we thought to ourselves, this cubata‘s missing something.
And missing something it was, the lemon. For a cubata needs that citric edge, to counterbalance the sugary rum and coke. But what struck us perhaps more significantly was that we’re the guiri, the foreigner, yet we were the first to ask the barman for a slice to accompany our ice.
So, we’d like to help you to similarly acquire native status when you’re next in Gran Canaria. Whether your stay’s long or short. Here are our four top tips:
1. Marry into a (Gran Canaria) mob
The most extreme measure. And the one we took ourselves. Yes, marry a Canarian and become wedded to their family too.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you’ll end up relocating to Gran Canaria like we did. Indeed, the first seven years of married life we spent in our native UK. Although, we appreciated the opportunity of free lodging when we stayed with our in-laws on holiday.
But when the move over came about, for reasons we outline more fully in, ahem, Going Local in Gran Canaria: how to turn a holiday destination into a home, we initially felt outnumbered. For Anglo-Saxon lone wolves like us, the living in each other pockets was a bit overpowering. Before we discovered that there’s strength, and indeed safety, in numbers.
Now we’re happy wherever we’re seated. Even if we’re sandwiched between two non-English speakers in Momo and Victor, as we were on Sunday. Although, we were less content with the table settings.
Elena had drawn illustrations for each of the guests. You had to go round the table and guess. Our picture, however, resembled Pierluigi Collina sporting Denis Healey’s eyebrows. The only reason we guessed correctly was that the bushy-browed Collina was reading a book with a plate of greens in front of him. Yes, we’re a vegetarian lover of literature.
2. Learn the lingo
Before we moved to our place in the sun on Gran Canaria, we were already taking Spanish lessons. Our teacher was an Andalucia-sceptic actress from Catalonia. Because of our work timetable, we always left her Wood Street house to return to our base in Loughton cold. Even in summer, we found ourselves warming up by the bus stop with a miniature from a convenient corner shop.
We continued our Spanish lessons in the altogether warmer climes of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. At the Gran Canaria School of Languages. This was immersion Spanish, we didn’t realize our teacher Ana spoke English until she let slip that she’d taught in the US. Although we were resident on the island at the time, we were joined by students who were visiting the island and staying in the school’s self-catering hostel.
Another great way to improve your Spanish language skills is by getting involved with Theresa Coe’s wonderful Intercambio group. They organize regular get-togethers on Gran Canaria, plus Theresa will hook you up with natives near your temporary or permanent base if you’re after a one-on-one session. Where you meet for a beer or coffee, chatting for a set period in English and then in Spanish or vice versa.
Or if you’re Will Peach, you just collar a random stranger and ask them to have a coffee with you so you can perfect your Spanish. We’ve organized Intercambio sessions ourselves with newly-acquired friends. Like the one we recently enjoyed with La Asomadita‘s Miriam and hubby Pepe in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria’s Casa Suecia.
Our Spanish-language skills are sufficiently advanced to avoid a bullying from the communion’s musical entertainer, Guicho. Although we’re pretty lightweight on that front, having been picked on by clowns back in the UK. Who altered their child-friendly voice by switching into a menacing Papa-Lazarou whisper when they’d coerced us into joining them on stage.
3. Join a club
There is an alternative to being blinded by the bright lights of a Playa del Inglés disco. And that alternative is by joining a club. You might imagine Las Palmas de Gran Canaria’s British Club as some sort of Little Britain, which it is in a way. But there are many native Canarian members. And you can practise your Spanish with the local bar staff.
Many long-term Gran Canaria residents do join but non-members are welcome. Indeed, take your pick from a packed events calendar. As a guest, you’ll have to pay to attend the likes of the Poetry Evening, although for that you get a complimentary glass of whatever your poison happens to be.
If you want to mingle with locals more than expats, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria’s a great base. We’re struggling to think of more than two fellow Brits we know, hello Helen and Joe, in our barrio, Arenales. And you can join a sports club too, which is as much about socializing as keeping fit.
As keen footballers, we plumped for Hoya de la Plata. It’s with these reprobates that we now risk our soft English skin on the astroturf pitches of San Jose every Thursday night. On the same ground that our boys play on for CD Vegueta Arbol Bonito.
You pay 2€ for pitch fees and you get a sense of community in return. Our brother and other visiting friends have played. In the following weeks, we’re inevitably deluged with “Where’s your bro/mate?”.
4. Tuck into Canarian cuisine
Sure, you can pick up an English breakfast at the greasy-spoons lining the boulevards of the resorts in the south of Gran Canaria. Hell, we even introduced the concept to our local eatery, El Buen Comer, when we were moving house and wanted something substantial for a brekky we were unable to make ourselves. But to become Canarian is to take a bite out of their cuisine.
As veggies, we’ve long been converts to the likes of papas arrugadas. They’re new potatoes boiled in a saline water that you wash down with Tropical, the beer of choice on the island. Especially, as they’re accompanied with mojo, a fiery sauce that would even give a Mexican a kick.
And there’s there’s gofio. Most visitors fall in love with papas arrugadas quicker than gofio. Not us, we love this cornmeal in croquettes, ice cream, and as the star ingredient in our favourite breakfast cereal. Go, go, Gofitos.
One dish we haven’t tried yet, however, is potaje de jaramago (wild rocket stew). This green grows in abundance in Tejeda. Imagine our excitement than that when we visited the municipality for their Fiestas de Almendros en Flor, celebrating the arrival of the almond blossom, and saw this stew on the menu of a street food stall.
Then picture our despair when we discovered this stew contained meat. We’re not the kind of veggies content to pick out bits of bone and gristle, so we missed out. Looks like we’ll have to try preparing a meat-free version at home.
But the Finca El Despertar did us proud. We knew they’d prepared us something special. But that didn’t stop our neighbours topping up our plates with veggie delights whilst we waited. To the extent, we were well and truly stuffed. Which was one way of soaking up all the alcohol.
Disclaimer: We were guests at Elena’s first communion. We’re family, after all. And whilst we were treated with as much food we could stuff our happy faces with and with as much drink as we could guzzle, we did chip in on the present front. Including the video we all sat down to watch as a family.