I Wanted a Sandwich, but Asked for a Sangwich Instead

As a language and phonetics nerd, I am really curious to observe how people talk, how they pronounce certain words and what sort of language they use. My brain also has fun making mental associations between people who speak in a similar way. Sometimes I’d love for them to meet up!

I’ve been living in the UK for four years now and would like to share with you one of the many pronunciation struggles I’ve had as a non-native English speaker.

Sangwich vs Sandwich

I’ve pronounced the word “sandwich” wrong ever since I can remember. I only realised it last year, when a friend mentioned it to me. I was embarrassed and fascinated. Since it’s quite a subtle mistake, I have successfully managed to hide it for many years. Like a language ninja. But now that I know I am mispronouncing the word, I try to pay extra attention while talking about those two slices of bread with some cheese in between.

The British pronunciation of the word is /ˈsæn(d)wɪtʃ/. Instead, I pronounce /ˈsæŋwɪtʃ/ (‘sangwich’). Please don’t kill me. Here’s the thing: if I try to pronounce ‘sandwich’ including the ‘d’, I find it quite challenging. I have to slow down to make sure I am doing it properly. My tongue feels clumsy. If I choose to ignore the ‘d’, as many people do, and go for “sanwich”, I still struggle. Sad times.

Our vocal organs always try to make things easier for us while pronouncing words. This mechanism is loaded with an inventory of phonemes (sounds) which varies depending on our native language. This video by A Way with Words sheds some light on this topic:

Sangwich speakers: assemble!

They explain that the cluster of consonants ‘ndw’ is quite difficult to pronounce by people who aren’t English native speakers, as our original inventory of sounds doesn’t include those sounds. Turns out I’m not alone! There are many people around the world happily saying ‘sangwich’ instead of ‘sandwich’ too. Apparently, it’s a common mispronunciation within the Italian-American community in New Jersey, New York, Canada and also some Spanish speakers. This makes a lot of sense. I’m a Catalan native speaker and Italian and Spanish share a lot of linguistic traits with Catalan.

I still would like to dig a bit deeper though. Why do I find ‘ngw’ easier to pronounce than ‘ndw’? I can’t seem to find any Catalan words with the cluster ‘ndw’. I found one with ‘ngw’: “pingüí” (penguin). Somehow I find it easier to transition from the velar /ŋ/ to the bilabial /w/, and that’s why my tongue has been making these little adjustments to make speech smoother for me.

What about you? How do you pronounce “sandwich”? Apparently, there are at least four different ways. Let me know in the comments! 😉

The Unexpected Home I Found in Edinburgh, 1,897 km Away

Commendator’s House Museum (Melrose, Scotland)

I’ve been living away from home for almost four years. To be precise, I live 1,897 km away from my hometown (Sabadell, Spain). It would take me at least 358 hours if I attempted to walk there. If I cycled, “only” 108 hours.

It’s funny how when you have lived living abroad for a while, the term ‘home’ gets a whole new meaning. As now Edinburgh is also my home, I usually refer to my hometown as ‘home home’, for some reason. I also use the term ‘back home’, but this often creates misunderstandings.

There are certainly a lot of things that I miss from Sabadell, but today I would like to think about what makes me feel at home here in Edinburgh. Casually running into people I know in the street is one of them.

When I moved to Edinburgh, I didn’t know that would be possible. Edinburgh is a fairly big city but small enough to come across a friend while you’re out shopping.

It might seem like something very trivial. It’s a mere coincidental encounter. Being at the right time at the right place. Am I overthinking it? I don’t believe in coincidences, though. I like to think that everything happens for a reason, even when you can’t pinpoint what it is. Therefore, this magical crossing of paths brings some warmth to my heart. The bliss of the unexpected. The ultimate reassurance that no, you are not alone in what initially was unexplored territory. Now you can finally call it home.

The Shore (Edinburgh)

Another thing that makes me feel at home is that Scottish people are really friendly. They helped me on countless occasions when I was confused about my bus journey. If you ever take part in a Ceilidh dance, you’ll be able to taste that exquisite friendliness. You’ll probably be clueless and randomly jumping around trying to pretend you know what you’re doing. You’ll most likely bump into someone or who knows, slip and fall. Good news is that it doesn’t matter if you make a mistake, you won’t see any grumpy faces. They will just smile and happily get you back on track.

Last but not least, there’s ham. I know it might sound superficial, but it’s not. One can actually taste a country with their food. I miss eating dry-cured ham that wakes me up at night begging for water. It’s worth it, please take my word. I don’t need the fancy stuff (even though I would happily accept donations of Jamón Ibérico), just a Serrano does the trick. It’s a bit hard to find, but I promise you that it takes the homesickness away. At least for a few minutes.

If you’re living abroad too, what makes you feel at home?

Unofficial Olympic Sports

Before digging deeper into the so-called unofficial Olympic sports, let’s do a bit of background work.

Unfortunately, the Olympic Games which were meant to be celebrated in Tokyo next month, have been postponed to next year due to the coronavirus crisis.

However, there’s no reason to worry. Life challenges us every single day so that every one of us has the chance to take part in their own Olympic Games, a totally personalised experience.

Yes, you’ve read it properly. Forget about pole vaulting or synchronised swimming. Think about yawning with your eyes open or putting your contact lenses on with your eyes closed.

There are small daily victories that, unfortunately, are still labelled as unofficial Olympic sports.

  • Blowing your nose when it’s windy.
  • Typing on your phone at high speed with extremely long fake nails.
  • Holding a child in your arms for an extended period of time.
  • 200 metres sprint with obstacles (optional) towards the bus stop.
  • Sprinting to reach the first available seat before the bus starts again.
  • Trying not to lose balance in the underground or bus while standing up and when you have nowhere to hold on to.
  • Changing nappies in 15 seconds.
  • Changing the duvet cover.
  • Bring the washing inside when it rains.
  • Freestyle artistic sliding (falling is optional) on wet or icy pavement.
  • Stacking your grocery in the bag in 15 seconds, placing the heaviest and sturdiest items at the bottom and working from there, leaving the lightest and more delicate items for the top.
  • Juggling tangerines.
  • Slaloming on a Saturday afternoon on the busy Princes Street, zigzagging any obstacles.
  • Playing Twister.

Visible Fictions Keeps Creativity Alive During Lockdown

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Over 100 people joined the Visible Fictions online event Phone Fictions Watch Party that took place on Tuesday the 28th of April at 3 pm on Facebook.

Dougie Irvine, Artistic Director of Visible Fictions, gave some background on the project.

“The premise was really simple. We asked artists from all over Scotland to pitch ideas to us for short stories that could be filmed from the comfort of their own home using their mobile phones.”

“All we asked is that they would be entertaining and uplifting.”

Irvine said they aimed to commission 10 films but ended up choosing 15: “The quality of the pitches from artists across the nation were so fantastic that we knew we had to make more.”

The family-friendly online event showcased diverse art forms such as stop motion animation, original music, sketches, and monologues.

Halfway through the show, Sophie Ochojna, Marketing and Development Manager for Visible Fictions, talked about the prospects of the company.

“If the restrictions are lifted and we’re allowed to, we’re going to be touring a new production this autumn around Scotland.-

“It’s by playwriter Morna Young and it’s called The Squawk Talk Secrets, suitable for families with children over seven and up.”

Ochojna said the tour would include community venues, theatres, and schools.

During the watch party, viewers could post real-time comments.

In the comical piece “Clover Light Field” by James Beagon, food and toilet paper mysteriously disappeared in a flat.

Darrel Williams commented: “Excellent – just how I’m feeling.”Laura Kwiatkowski said “Wow what amazing creativity with an avocado!” after watching Elspeth Chapman‘s piece. It was a stop motion animation of some hands carving faces out of avocado seeds.

Cooking Disasters Brighten your Life

Today I would like to honour my cooking disasters. I feel like they deserve a post on my blog. Yes. Cooking disasters brighten your life. They also provide a really good opportunity for that long and liberating crying session that you’ve been postponing for months. How boring my life would be if every time that I tried to cook something it turned out amazing!

Burnt NYE Pizza

Yes, I’m not afraid to admit it. Burning a pizza on New Year’s Eve is starting to feel like a tradition. Bear in mind that when I say burn I mean burn. I am not talking about a gently toasted or lightly browned pizza. Just picture a black circle. Then add your favourite topics: black pepperoni, black mozzarella, black and crispy bacon… As you might know, in Spain, we eat twelve grapes at midnight on NYE. If you don’t,  you can expect bad luck for the rest of your life. Maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea. I’m starting to think my calling is burning pizzas instead.

It’s not pizza but it’s close enough. Source: GIPHY

Easter Cake Fail

Like many other people, I felt like baking during lockdown. Unfortunately, my first baking experience didn’t go as expected. Easter was around the corner, so I thought it would be nice to try to bake a very special cake that we eat on Easter Monday. When I say we, I am referring to the Spanish regions of Catalonia, Murcia, and Valencia.

This delicious sponge cake (we call it “Mona de Pasqua”) will try to steal your heart with its apricot jam, candied fruit, and chopped almonds.Getting the ingredients was already a challenge. I couldn’t find any flour, baking powder, or candied fruit. Instead of giving up, I decided to innovate. After some Google research on a very slow 4G, I bought some cornflour, cream of tartar, and really cute tiny icing carrots.

Back home, I assembled all the ingredients on the kitchen counter. While I was casually reading the cream of tartar label, I found out something horrifying: if I wanted to use it as a substitute for baking powder, I had to mix it with bicarbonate of soda. Spoiler alert: I didn’t have bicarbonate of soda. The supermarket neither.

I decided to proceed regardless. I added some egg whites to the dough in a desperate attempt to increase the volume. It just went worse and worse from there. I messed up while pouring the dough into the cake tin and some of it ended up all over my jeans. I oven-baked what was left of the dough. You can see the result below… Even after baking it in the oven for what seemed like an eternity, it was still kind of raw inside. The taste was atrocious, believe me…

Scrambled Zombie Pancakes

I woke up late, feeling like a zombie with a creepy hoarse voice and craving pancakes. I didn’t have enough flour according to the recipe. I’m sure you know that zombies don’t like going to the supermarket so that wasn’t an option. My flatmate kindly lent me some of her exotic coconut flour. There was some light at the end of the tunnel. But no. The pancakes kept breaking after turning them. I kept the momentum going and instead of crying, I listened. The coconut pancakes didn’t want to be normal pancakes. They were born to be scrambled.

Truth is those pancakes had a strange flavour and texture… I ate them anyway, though. There is nothing that lactose-free chocolate and hazelnut spread can’t fix.

By the way, I also use the scrambled trick on other occasions. For example, it’s quite useful when you’re initially going for an omelette but you observe too much resistance. Give it a try ;).

Lightly Salted Cake

What a fancy name for a cake. Well, it’s not. It’s just the name of another of my cooking disasters. It’s the result of not labelling containers. You can already guess what this is about: I was happily baking a cake. I added 260 grams of “sugar”. Later, I realised it was salt. I took the block of concrete out of the oven, waited for it to cool down, and ate a slice binned it.  Life’s too short. Be gentle with your arteries :).

What about you? Do your cooking disasters brighten your life as well? Feel free to share them on the comments below. Happy cooking and crying!

First Day with Contact Lenses

A colored abstract eye in purple, green and pinnk
Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash

The first day of wearing contact lenses is big, exciting and scary at the same time. No one is ready for that, to be honest. You assemble a mirror, tie your hair up in a ponytail and wear your most comfortable clothes to allow freedom of movement. You do some arm stretches, followed by some wrist and finger stretches and tapping exercises. Fine motor skills need to be at their best today. 

You take a deep breath. 

The contact lenses are happily floating in their solution. Yes, it feels kind of cruel. You will take them outside of their natural habitat and place them in some strange and uncharted territory (aka your eyes). And drumroll please… they might not like it there. They might get annoyed and dry your eyes so much until you give up and remove them. Or they might feel all cosy and just let you be, and see, most importantly. 

Gathering strength from God knows where you carefully grab one and place it on your index finger. You inspect it carefully to check if the shape is correct (if it’s not a perfect circle, it might be inside out, as your optician warned you). Everything seems fine. In slow-motion, you bring the contact lens closer and closer to your right eye. Your terrifying look is undeniable (Thank God no one is around to immortalize the moment). You are almost there, and your eye is wide open, ready to embrace his new friend. 

Plot twist. Your eyelid closes. Again, again and again. It’s like there’s a switch somewhere: as soon as the enemy is too close, it’s time to close the curtains. And then you sort of wish you were in that A Clockwork Orange scene where the eyes are clamped open… But then you think again, realise it might be a bit painful and forget about it. 

After several failed attempts, somehow you succeed. You are now wearing one contact lens on your right eye. WOW! It’s a whole new world out there, you think, keeping your left eye closed. Fuelled with adrenaline, you rush and manage to put the contact lens on your left eye on your first strike. Oh boy, does it feel good… 

It’s like seeing for the first time. The frame of your glasses is gone. Your eyes are wild and free to look wherever they want. Everything is clear and focused. It’s better than a dream! Every once in a while, your hand reaches up in an attempt to readjust your glasses (which are no longer there). It will take a while to get rid of this automated action… Later on, you’re chilling on the sofa and decide to read a book and out of force of habit, you reach for your glasses and put them on*. 

*All memories of what happened afterwards have been meticulously erased. Thank you, brain, I owe you one. 

Thank you, Writers’ HQ for this lovely exercise on day#1 of 14 Days of Self Write-solation :).

P.S.: Aliens struggle with eyesight too. Find evidence on that here.

Guess what, I’m immune to coronavirus -I mean, an alien!- (Chapter 8)

8th of April, 2020

Ladies and gentlemen, I can finally say goodbye to those sleepless nights staring at the ceiling… I’m officially immune. Take that, COVID-19! When Dr. Crownie told me over the phone, my three-eyed-glasses almost crashed on the floor from the excitement. I got so pumped that I immediately created an event on Facebook to celebrate my immunity. I invited Dave, Dr. Crownie and his lab assistant, and his weird four-legged creature with a tail and a big tongue. Shortly after everyone started rejecting my invitation: “Sorry mate, can’t make it”. “Hopefully next time”. “Quite busy at the moment”. “Unfortunately I got my online shiatsu massage scheduled at that time”.

How silly of me. Obviously, no one would be able to come to my party. Sometimes I feel like I’m from another planet. Do you ever feel this way?

So here’s the thing. (DISCLAIMER: I’m not 100% sure this is true, but hey, who is?) Right now, I might be the only living creature who can break the rules and get away with it.

I could go out for a run 15 times a day. Eat mindfully in empty restaurants (cooking my food and quickly refilling my cup of water after drinking). I could travel around Europe in a private jet (It’s not actually a private jet, but I would be the only passenger anyway, so it would be super cool) and go sightseeing in ghost cities. I could even buy one banana in every single supermarket in town (for market research purposes, you got me).

There’re so many things I could do that I don’t know where to start… Truth is, it might eventually get boring -and potentially quite depressing-. I need to start thinking of ways I could clone myself or just anyone really… But someone COVID-19-proof. And then we could travel the world, less than two meters apart, holding each other’s hands… And it would feel like a dream. These are just my humble ideas. What would YOU do if you were immune too? 😉

Guess what, I’m an alien! (Chapter 7)

Easter 2020 in a nutshell. Yes, I know it’s not a egg. Photo by Brunno Tozzo

2nd of April, 2020

I feel like it has been Sunday for ten days in a row but I have the impression this might not be possible. At least, here on Earth.

Anyway, somehow I forgot to write in my diary… Luckily I didn’t forget about my virtual appointment with my GP several days ago. Dr Crownie, still wearing his SpongeBob pyjamas, seemed to be fascinated with my case. He was also deeply concerned in case coronavirus caused unexpected symptoms in my body. Then he went on about his long career and how he had never encountered a similar situation and asked for permission to write a report about me. If I could blush, I could have… But aliens don’t blush. My mum would be so proud of me! I would be famous! Right you, back to the important bits.

So yeah, basically Dr Crownie told me that I have to collect and send some samples for him to perform a “thorough and compendious” analysis. No idea what he meant, but I agreed anyway. He needed blood, breath, urine and hair. HAIR! What on Mars is that? Ah right, that fluffy thing some humans have to keep their head nice and warm… Well, I don’t have (or need) any of that, thank you very much.

So yeah, unfortunately I still don’t know if I can get coronavirus. I have to wait for the results… I feel cool as a cucumber, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. And no, of course I didn’t manage to get those COVID-19 positive human samples from the hospital because Dr Crownie told me to self-isolate at home until he has more information on how to proceed. Yes, I am a disappointment to my family. I might not be allowed in my hometown ever again. And no, my aunt won’t send me chocolate eggs for Easter… Not even a card.

Ready for the next chapter?

Guess what, I’m an alien! (Chapter 6)

24th of March, 2020

I have to admit that when Dave first mentioned it, I was about to bake a cake because I thought they had discovered a new asteroid. Turns out it’s not exactly that. And it’s not good news. But I was kind of close. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sure you know there’s a new virus going around. What you might not know is that there’s an astrobiologist called Chandra Wickramasinghe that claimed that COVID-19 came from space, travelling through a meteor.

Offended? A LOT. Puzzled? That too. I wish I had paid more attention at school… I feel too embarrassed to email my teacher about this. Luckily, my aunt is a police officer, so I thought it was appropriate to send her a link with the article so she can properly investigate the issue. She told me that she needs proof ASAP. Guess who will have to sneak into the hospital and “borrow” some positive swab samples COVID-19 positive… Not sure exactly how am I going to send them over to her. But I’ll sort out the logistics tomorrow.

But still, there are too many unanswered questions. My poor four brains can’t cope. Here’s my question: can I, since everyone keeps claiming I am an “alien” (no comments…), get infected with the virus as well? Should I expect the same symptoms as humans? Do I need to wear a mask? Where do I find a mask that doesn’t irritate my slimy skin? Are the space borders closed as well or can I go and “briefly” visit my mum to tell her I’m OK?

I phoned 007 and when I explained I was an alien they hung up and blocked my number. SHOCKING. No one seems to take me seriously here, except for Dave. Because look, if it turns out I am immune to COVID-19, I could go and help at the hospitals, do the grocery for elderly people, walk people’s dogs… But instead, here I am, stuck in my flat, refreshing teenager memories by watching Venus Shore for the fifth time… And I can’t even meet Dave for a cup of tea.

Tomorrow at 2.59pm I have a videocall with my GP. Let’s see what he has to say… Stay safe everyone…

Hungry for more? 😉

Mind-blowing moments of 2019

  • Washine-machine safe tissues (Read again. Yes. Funny spelling mistakes)
  • Realising that I’ve been pronouncing the word ‘sandwich’ wrong all my life (and feeling comforted by knowing that it’s a common mistake amongst Spanish and Italian speakers)
  • Realising that ‘tanga’ means the same in Catalan and Hungarian
  • Period-proof panties
  • Some buses in Edinburgh finally have separate doors for getting on and off (Respect for the people who shout ‘THANK YOU” to the driver while exiting through the middle door).
  • Tallest man on earth might not be the tallest, but his guitar skills are highly remarkable
  • A webster is not someone with a high level of computer literacy but someone who weaves cloth