Preguntas Ardientes: Should I open a bank account in my home country?

Six years ago, I was facing the uncertainty of up and leaving for Spain and starting a new life in Seville. Even with the visa and job sorted out for me, I spent hours scouring the Internet for information about renting a flat, getting a mobile phone and setting up a bank account, perhaps the most important factor to take care of before leaving Chicago. Tripping between local banking institutions, I spoke with countless tellers to see whether it was worth my while to keep an account open at home.

In short: it was, and it continues to be.

While I did open a resident bank account in Spain to receive my paychecks and be able to take out money while around Iberia, having a separate savings and checking account at home has allowed me to keep my money matters at bay and makes my mom to have her own card for any transactions she needs to complete for me! I cannot stress enough how at ease I feel knowing that I have an emergency stash of cash in the United States.

What’s more, it’s far easier for me to save for other trips or big expenses when my money is not staring at me in my Spanish bank account!

What should you look for in a bank account back home? To be able to compare bank accounts effectively, there are several criteria to keep in mind:

Online Banking: This is perhaps the deal-breaker for many expats and digital nomads today. I was adamant on having free online banking to be able to make transfers, pay my credit card, and have a handle on how much money I had. And online banks don’t bow down to time zones, anyway. This should be at the top of your list if you’re planning on living abroad.

Card and Account Fees: If you’re trying to maximize your savings, the last thing you want to do is pay exorbitant fees for just maintaining an account. Check with your branch to see if there are discounts for young adults or recent grads, and you could have a few years’ fees in your pocket, rather than in a banker’s.

Interest Charges and Money Back: You should also take into account if your bank gives you anything back if you’re using it for bill pay. This is, after all, more dinerito for you!

ATM availability: Spain is a country that is not without bars, bulls or banks – it’s rare to go even three blocks without seeing one! When choosing a bank, be sure that there are cash points available throughout the world, especially if you want to travel.

Partnerships with other banks: Thankfully, my bank had a few branches in my home base of Seville, and this made taking out small quantities of money for everyday expenses not only easy, but also far less dangerous. They also have partnerships with other internationally banks, thus cutting down on pesky ATM fees, so ask about this possibility.

I don’t go home more than once a year, but when I do, I can roll up to the branch knowing that I’ve got money already, and that the same tellers who helped me open a account six years ago will greet me with an, ‘Hola!’ and know just how to help me. And the lines are far shorter!

Got any other burning questions about banking or moving to Spain? Get in touch with COMO Consulting Spain, a relocation company dedicated to helping you move to Spain.

 

Capture the Color: My favorite colorful shots of Spain

My mother recently asked me why I no longer had any hobbies. Um, sorry Nance, but doesn’t toting my trusty Canon, Camarón, around everywhere, eating my fill of tapas and following my favorite fútbol team count?

Spain is a country known for its natural beauty, colorful folklore and creative food scene, and it’s easy to feel inspired living here. As my friend Hayley said, ‘I’d sooner break my neck’ than leave my camera at home. What’s more, the colors I most associate with Spain – the pueblos blancos, the red jamón ibérico, the clear blue sky – are featured in seemingly every shot.

Last year I participated in Travel Supermarket’s Capture the Color contest, even going as far as to have an editor at Marie Claire Magazine send me a personal email about how much she liked my selection for my blue photograph. The premise is simple: you choose a personal photo in each of the colors selected, upload them to your personal blog and nominate five other bloggers. Winning is a longshot, but when you have this much fun looking for photos, who cares?

Amarillo // Yellow

Seville is immortalized in the song ‘Sevilla tiene un color especial.’ If Seville had a color, it would be the golden yellowish-orange. The sun sets over Triana to the west, sending a burning goodbye to the world.

Read more: Seville’s Golden Hour.

Rojo // Red

A loud, EeeeeeeeeH! erupts through the silent stadium, a life teeters on the fine line of death. Torera Conchi Ríos aims a curved saber at a one-ton bull, hoping her accuracy will result in a swift death for her opponent. The blood-red cape swishes, the toro lunges forward, and his artery is pierced.

The red in Southern Spain is characteristic of life and passion and death, represented by the capa and the crimson rings around the yellow albero of the plaza de toros.

Read more: Death in the Afternoon.

Verde // Green

The descent into Mondeñedo was difficult – the trail was muddy, causing my bad knee to slip around and cause problems. For the first time in 150 kilometers, I felt like I needed to take the bus to the next albergue. The pain was excruciating, and once we’d entered the small village, famous for its seminary and cathedral, I was showing signs of tendonitis. We walked along the perimeter of the pueblo, next to the rows of corn stalks and I remembered that physical pain was part of the experience and part of my Camino for Kelsey, a deceased friend. After a strong coffee, I walked up mountains, literally.

And the corn stalks reminded me of being back home in Illinois and Iowa.

Read more: Why I Walked the Camino de Santiago.

Blanco // White

Alright, I cheated – this one’s not about Spain or set in Iberia. In fact, this lichen-stained church is in the central plaza of Kotor, Montenegro, a UNESCO World Heritage city framed by bay and mountains. We visited Kotor on a road trip around the bay of the same night, marveling at the natural beauty of Europe’s youngest country and how amazingly friendly the locals are – we drank free beer all the time! One of the most memorable was at a smoky bar in the alleyway behind the church, out from a sudden rain storm and relishing in free wi-fi and strong shots of Rakia.

Read more: Road tripping through the Bay of Kotor.

Azul // Blue 

Walking through small hamlets helped mark our days on the Camino de Santiago, even if they did give us the false hope that we’d find an open bar before sunrise. While the scallop shells that mark the way are further between on the coastal route, townspeople often painted yellow arrows on their homes or taped small images of Saint James on their mailboxes to help us along. On our way to Sobrado dos Monxes, where we’d sleep in a 10th century monastery, this blue-eyed kitten stood atop an unofficial road marker.

Read more: Waymarkers Along the Camino de Santiago

I’d love to see your spin on the rainbow, expat blogging friends!

Kaley of Y Mucho Más

Trevor of A Texan in Spain

Christine of Christine in Spain

Kara of Standby to Somewhere

Alex of Ifs, Ands & Butts

Show me what you’ve got!

Meredith’s Camino: Clarity and Accpetance on the Way

I’m touched that several of you have reached out about my journey on the Camino de Santiago to honor my late friend Kelsey and raise money for the University of Iowa Dance Marathon. By far one of the biggest draws of walking the Way is the time it gives you to think and to work out issues, and Meredith Spivey’s month on the Camino Francés two years ago was all about accepting and moving forward. Want to share your story? Email me!

Two years ago today I wrote this in my diary:

This morning I woke up at 5:30 and stretched a while. My right knee is killing me and my calves are obviously not strong like they used to be. I got operated on this morning by a friend to treat my ampolla – apparently the key to prevent them is just cover your feet in vaseline.

I am now sitting on a curb in Pamplona trying to see if a pharmacy will open, but moreso thinking I just can’t go on today. Maybe if I had different shoes or different feet…

This was a rocky point in my life. I had graduated from college during the highest point of US unemployment, had a terrible break-up, saw most of my steady college life crumble in front of my eyes… In short, the only thing that could turn me around was moving somewhere and getting a job. Starting up as we good Americans are taught. So luckily the program that originally told me “don’t hold your breath!” wrote back and said to move to sunny Murcia, part of Spain’s sunny Mediterranean coast.

I moved there and fell in love with Spain again. I had studied previously in the students’ haven of Sevilla and got back into the slow pace of life. I could go for coffee, spending every day with my friends having thoughtful conversations or gossiping because we were relaxed (and everything else is closed till 5 in Murcia anyway).

But then I had decided to get a change of pace and I moved to the big city. Madrid! I had been before with my mom on vacation and at that point had decided that it was just “OK.” But I packed my bags and moved to Spain’s buzzing and sprawling capital.

And it was terrible!

My job and workmates were wonderful, but different. Otherwise, the city was immense, packed with tourists, three times more pricey than my previous southern Spanish locales had been, and lonely. I spent the first year in Madrid literally running to catch the metro, bussing between work and nannying and tutoring, trying to find a decent supermarket, escaping each weekend to the mountains or back to Murcia to get out of the busy hum I had become such a foreigner to by living in my college town and then in Murcia. One of my friends who had continued on at the coast commented that my Spanish was worsening since I was surrounding myself with American friends and I thought it couldn’t get much worse.

When the end of the year came I decided to finally do the Camino de Santiago. I had spent years at university trying to plan out a perfect time to go, with different friends or via different routes, but it was now. I had to go. I had to go alone.

I started out fine. Shucks, I started out amazingly fine – my Spanish pilgrim friends said later, estabas corriendo, and it was true. I had been running, trying to do everything new and differently at once. And I ran up the Pyrenees the first day from France down into Spain on a steep decline. And bummed my knee and hurt my pride in the process.

When I wrote about needing new feet while sitting on the curb in Pamplona, I wasn’t kidding. I was in so much pain. I called my mom crying that old German couples were buzzing by me – how was I in such terrible shape?! I felt like I couldn’t continue – the Camino or maybe another restless year in Madrid. But later that day, a friend I had met along the Way two days prior was having a slow day, too. She convinced and inspired me to walk up and down a big mountain that day in sweltering heat, but we made it to our destination. And I finally decided to listen to myself.

I sat it out. I could not walk for a few days. All my years of dance training told me that I needed to listen to my own body and when I finally did, I could walk within the next 5 days. Eventually, with a new pair of shoes, I walked every step with my pack and without excuses from León the 400km to the end of the world: Finisterre.

I listened to a lot of people share their wisdom and advice along the Camino, including one Spanish pilgrim who promised me that Madrid wasn’t so bad and that I could have a really wonderful time there. I conceptualized what I needed from living in Madrid and how I should change my life and add my own little yellow arrows along the way. I knew the best advice would come from my own mind if I just stopped long enough to think it through. Luckily the Camino leaves a lot of time for thought!

On my birthday I arrived to Santiago and later that month I figured everything out. I registered for Spanish class at one of the Official Language Schools, found an amazing apartment with a great flatmate, made new friends and continued to visit my pilgrim friends I had made, I worked more normal hours and picked up new classes that really made me enjoy planning the lessons, I didn’t try to escape every weekend and instead, kept up with my friends and chose to visit them instead of fled to them. In fact, I didn’t even leave Spain that entire year other than a trip home for Christmas with my family. I finally got it. And I was so, so happy.

I still keep up with my pilgrim friends and the one who got me on my feet that toughest day is going to have a baby come December. And my Spanish friend that promised me Madrid would improve was there in the pouring rain to take me to dinner when I arrived back to Madrid this April. The Beatles were always right when they said that we get by with a little help from our friends. And I am so glad for that, and being able to change a few things (sometimes as simple as your shoes!) to get back on the right foot and find your way; your own camino.

Meredith Spivey has spent nearly fourteen seasons in Spain and will be returning soon to her beloved Madrid to begin another year of teaching English. She is a self-proclaimed “happy wanderer” and this past year spent some months in Italy eating pasta, sailing, and talking like the Pope (they both speak Italian with a Spanish accent!). Meredith prides herself on her prize-winning apple pie recipe!

A Por Ellos: What to Know Before Attending a Spanish Soccer Game

My first true sports love was the Green Bay Packers. Growing up along the border of Wisconsin-Illinois, my classmates were divided between Cheesehead lovers and the Monsters of Midway, making the Bears-Packers games something of legend. Nevermind the fact that I was born the year Ditka took Da Bears to Da Superbowl – Brett Favre and Vince Lombardi were my childhood heroes, along with Nadia Comaneci.

I soon took up a profound love for my university team, the Iowa Hawkeyes, as well as the Chicago Cubs, both perennial underdogs in their leagues. Then I up and moved to Spain, where no pigskins or baseballs are readily sold. I’d have to choose between tennis, synchronized swimming or fútbol to satisfy my sports cravings.

Thankfully, fútbol is sacred in Spain, and I was soon watching games every week with friends around the city. I learned the names of all the players on the Spanish national team and followed them earnestly (I even jumped into the Cantábrico when they won the World Cup in 2010, one of my fondest memories of my time in Spain). But I never answered the question so many students posed: ¿Sevilla ó Betis?

Thanks to some earnest friends and invitations to Estadio Benito Villamarin, I have become bética, which is Seville’s lesser-known team and home to one of Spain’s biggest fan bases (true story: there’s a Peña Bética club in NYC). Friends like JM, the Novio, Manuel, Pedro and even my former boss sold me on the idea of the underdog, the verdiblancos whose reputation took a beating in 2009 when they descended from the top Division Primera of La Liga into Segunda, where they spent two seasons. I attended the match late in the 2011 season los de la Palmera secured enough points to ascend back to Primera, and my heart swelled. That was all it took – living on the borde of a victory or a terrible defeat, the colorful ways the fans would insult the refs, the other team, even their own players and coach. If Barcelona Futbol Club is “Mes que un Club,” Betis is more than a feeling.

Note to self: it’s a fútbol team, no need to wax poetic. Besides, this post is about the matches and not my team.

Towards the end of the 2012-13 season, I went to the Derbi Sevillano, a pre-Feria tradition where Seville’s two teams square off. Season records are broken in attendance, and police forces swell to accommodate the botellones before kickoff. Tickets are a hot commodity, but the Novio’s business trip meant Emilio and I would be squished together in Gol Norte, cheering on our afición.

Attending a match with socios is a lot like attending a reunion – everyone knows one another, passing around packs of sunflower seeds and glasses of wine. Everything is debated and criticized, from calls to inability to stop goals. People go hoarse slinging insults at the other team (or even their own), hugging and giving slaps on the back when the team scores or has a good rebote. The two halves pass by quickly when you’re up, or excruciatingly slow when you’re down.

For my birthday last week, the Novio bought Emilio’s season passes off him, so we’re in for another season of debilitating defeats! The season started last week and will last until June, then it’s World Cup time again! Move over, Cubbies, attending a Spanish fútbol match is a whoooole new ballgame:

Understand the Organigrama of the Liga BBVA

The BBVA Spanish soccer league is composed of 20 teams in the top tier, called La Liga in Spanish and is one of the most-watched leagues in the World (duh, Spain has won the 2008 and 2012 Euro Cups and the 2010 World Cup). Each team plays a schedule of two rounds against the other teams, once home and once away, for 38 weeks, each called a jornada. Depending on match outcome, the teams earn up to three points, and they accumulate points throughout the season.

The team with the highest amount of points is crowned Campeón de Liga, and often clinches the playoff title, too, and the three lowest scoring teams are automatically moved down to Segunda División. Teams at the top of the second tier are welcomed back into the Primera División, and there is a playoff to determine the last spot. You’ll often see people at games who are also following other matched with their mobile phones or radios, jotting down points scored during the week and configuring where their team stands at the end of the jornada.

Not that you’re interested, but there’s also Segunda B and a Tercera División (an American friend of mine played for Albacete, who is in Primera B, thus making himself way cooler than anyone else I know).

But what about Fernando Torres and Jesús Navas, who play for the Selección Española national team? Many Spanish soccer stars opt to go to the Premiere League in the UK for their salaries and prestige. The same goes for Lionel Messi, who plays in La Liga for Barcelona, but also for the Argentinian National Team.

The bocata is sacred

After you’ve suffered through 45 minutes of tiki-taka, or the juggling between players that is characteristic of fútbol in Spain, the field suddenly empties and fans grab their bocata and can of pop. This, of course, after they’ve had an aperativo of pipas, or sunflower seeds.

Make sure you bring yourself a sandwich for halftime, and make sure it’s big enough to share. It may be a good idea to bring wet wipes for when you’re done, too (or maybe that’s just me).

Know your curse words

On my second day in Seville, my grandmother and I attended a Sevilla Fútbol Club match against Recreativo de Huelva. My grandmother is a demure woman, but fun-loving and open to new adventures. We climb up to the far reaches of the Sánchez Pizjuan stadium, and I settled in between a concrete wall and a man whose stomach stuck out as if to catch all of the pipas falling out of his mouth. Not knowing enough Spanish, my abuelita sat in the empty seat in front of me. I’m pretty sure she got pipas in her hair, too.

Whenever Sevilla lost posession of the ball, the man next to me would shout, JOOOOOOOOOder. joDER. JODER.

Naturally, my grandma thought it was a victory cry, even though the club was up 3-0. She began chanting it, too, and I couldn’t find the heart to tell her that it was a strong explicative because she looked so happy feeling integrated into a very Spanish part of life. Now that I’ve been to several more fútbol matches, I sling insults at players (often from my own team) and the refs with a well-crafted swear word or two. Try it, you’ll love it.

It’s expected to use strong adjectives

It has to be said: Andaluces are exceptionally good at exaggerating, and football is no exception. A well-deserved goal becomes a golazo, a blocked goal, a paradón. When discussing plays with your neighbor, be sure to add -azo, -ón, -ote to the end of nouns, and súper- and híper- to both nouns and adjectives.

And don’t be alarmed when you see grown men cry, either.

People throw things. Often.

As the Himno del Betis rings throughout Estadio Benito Villamarín, los béticos tend to release millions of paper stars, toilet paper rolls and even paper airplanes fashioned out of the lineup towards the field. Since the Novio and I sit in the first amphitheater, we get everything from the second and third, plus splashes of wine from the guy who sits directly behind us. Rare is the day where I shake my head and only a few sunflower seed shells don’t fall out.

But don’t worry, it’s all in good fun, and it sure beats the time where some Florida Gator fans poured a beer on my head at the Outback Bowl.

Who’s your afición? Have you ever been to a Spanish soccer match?

 

Seville Snapshots: Waymarkers on the Camino de Santiago

My flashlight bounces off the ground, searching fanatically for a spray painted yellow arrow on anything – a rock, a tree trunk, an abadoned church. It isn’t even 6am yet, and the rain drives down steadily as we pad silently down the N-634 towards Miraz, where we’d spend the night.

Hayley spots the road marker up ahead, just off the highway. The stone obelisk is worn, and the plaque the kilometers to Santiago, long stolen. The mythic 100-kilometers-to-Santiago mark (the minimum distance to get the Compostela) is barely visible between the rain drops and the darkness, but it takes us off the highway and into a dense ecualyptus forrest.

These road markers – but way of yellow arrow, blue and yellow tiles adorned with a scallop shell or even sticks stuck together whenever the former lacked – lead us all the way from Avilés to Santiago de Compostela, 326 kilometers along the Northern coast of Spain. Sometimes we’d had to use our gut, keeping the ocean always on our right, and the relief of coming upon the next one flooded our consciousness more than once a day. The ancient pilgrims used stars, but we got to use the fabled way markers to make our way to the Obradoiro.

Between Asturias and Galicia, the two autonomous communities we passed through, the road markers changed. In Asturias, where we found the markers to be further and further apart, the ridges of the seashells converged at a point, and this was the way to turn. In Galicia, the opposite was true, and the kilometers were marked near the bottom of the base. This was both motivating and discouraging.

Within cities, the waymarkers sometimes became gold-plated shells on buildings and the sidewalk, or even stickers, such as in the town of Figueras. Still, we only got lost twice, arriving to Santiago on August 11th with enough time to pose in front of the monstrous cathedral, bask in the late morning sunlight and get to pilgrims mass to really rid ourselves of sin (it lasted about five minutes, after which we needed a glass of wine).

Does the Camino de Santiago pass thru your city or town? What are the waymarkers like? To see more pictures, direct yourself to my flickr page.

Eating Coruña: The City’s Best Restaurants

Galician food makes my heart flutter – the piping hot pimientos del padrón, raxo smothered in roquefort sauce, fresh-caught shellfish displayed  in every window of every bar on every street.

There are two reasons I spend my summers in Coruña, crossing my fingers that there will be little rain: one is because it’s way cooler, and the other because the food is incredible.

Even though I spend the majority of time eating in the camp cafeteria, the other teachers and I get the chance to actually go out and get some good food in our bellies. Before I tell you where, you need a primer in typical coruñés fare:

polbo a la feira – boiled octopus served over boiled potatoes with olive oil and paprika

navajas – razor clams that are pan seared and often served with lemon

pimientos del padrón – flash-fried green peppers. As the saying goes, some are spicy, others are not

empanada gallega – a pasty, most often stuffed with tuna or ground beef with peppers and onions

percebes – goose barnacles. I didn’t like them on my first run and now love them!

raxo – marinated pork loin, typically served with potatoes

zorza – spicy ground pork, treated with paprika and marinated in other spices

queso tetilla con membrillo – creamy ‘tit cheese’ served with a quince paste for dessert.

La Bombilla

Javi picked us up from the airport high above Coruña’s city center and promised us a surprise. We elbowed our way up to the counter, toasted to new friendships and chose tapas of off the short menu – tortilla, milanesa and croquetas the size of a baseball. La Bombilla, with its turn-of-the-century-esque bar and cheap thrills (aka tapas for just a euro apiece), is a staple in Coruña and one of my favorites. Locals sidle up to the bar at seemingly all hours of the day, so be sure to arrive early for lunch or dinner, or you’ll be forced to grab a plastic plate and find a place to sit on the ground outside. Calle de la Galera, 7

update: I read the sad news that La Bomilla will be closing on December 30th. Rumor is that it will re-open, but likely without the same encanto. Really bummed I didn’t get one last giant croqueta.

O Renchucho de Mayte

Far and away my favorite in Coruña, this little corner bar is always packed for its cheap, home-cooked food and exceptional service. You can’t miss the raxo con roque or the crispy calamares, and the bar now features takeout, too. I am a sucker for their croquetas and cheese, and the tapas are generous and inexpensive. The bar is closed Sundays. Portico Andrés, s/n

The cafeteria at the Yacht Club with no name

Oftentimes, a menú del día, the Spanish equivalent of a three-course meal, is too much for me to eat. But everytime I’m in Coruña, I’ll skip breakfast in favor of the views of the port and across the bay to Santa Cristina beach from the yacht club. While the food is often billed as generic (think caldo gallego or a mixed salad for firsts), it’s served fresh and in heaping portions. What really makes the meal is the atmosphere, with the sea breeze ruffling your napkin and the sun peeking around the enormous glass building. Located in the Club Náutico on Avda. del Puerto.

Parillada Alcume

After all those rounds of pulpo and empanada, I need meat. When it comes down to it, I am a corn- and beef-fed Midwesterner, so I can’t pass up on a parrillada, or a restaurant where meats are grilled over open coals. I’d passed Alcume loads of times, as it’s just off the shopping district, but it wasn’t until a camp vegetarian suggested its mixed plate of meaty good that we decided to try it.

You know it’s good when even the veggie-lover wants to go. We often have to wait to sit down, particularly at the wooden tables outside, but filling ourselves to the brim with sausages and flank steaks makes it worth it. And it’s a lot easier to identify the parts than it is in the camp cafeteria. Calle Galera, 44-46

Pan de Lino

I heard a rumor that there were bagels in Coruña. I gasped, horrified that there would be a place that sells my favorite breakfast food in a small port city before my beloved Seville.

As it turns out, this was merely a rumor (though I did have a bagel sandwich in Cafetería Vecchio, near the Casino), but Pan de Lino’s inviting bakery counter, beautifully mismatched furniture and organic menu is a nice change from the old man bars I usually frequent. The service is terrible, but as long as you’re accompanied with friends and something delicious, you can let it go. Calle Rosalia de Castro, 7

O Mesón Galego

The cream of Galicia’s crop is, without a doubt, its shellfish. As has become tradition, we take our camp cash to the nearest marisquería for a mariscada, or a seafood smorgasboard. I’m sure there are places that are much better (and thus more expensive!), but we group into three and split a 46€ heap of shellfish with a bottle of crisp albariño wine. The kitchen is open, and you can watch the robust cook hack away at crab legs like it ain’t no thang. I’ve also had their pimientos and empanada and approve. Calle de la Franja, 56.

Asiayu Japanese Restaurant

I thankfully have a few friends in Coruña who are always quick to point out new finds and tear me away from Mayte and Bombilla. When Julie and Forrest discovered an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet next to the beach, half of the teaching staff went down to pig out on something other than carbs. The dinner menuú runs 13,95 plus a drink, and you can choose two hot plates in addition to everything that comes around the belt. The sushi was hand rolled right in front of us, but I was too busy pouting about sitting at the end of the loop and not being able to grab the fried sushi or the dumplings before the greedy hands of the other Ts got them (though this did distract them from my terrible chopstick skills). Calle Buenos Aires, 7 Bajo

There are loads of other places I’ve tried – a hidden Mexican joint with great margaritas, an Indian place with an affordable menú, nondescript holes-in-the-wall whose names I’ve long forgotten. Then there are the places I’d love to try, like Spoom’s creative cuisine. But, somehow, the appeal of one euro tapas, a sushi conveyer belt and the tried and true always win out. But really, I’ll go anywhere I see an upturned octopus in the window.

Have you ever been to La Coruña and have any places to recommend? 

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