I’ve just bought it to my own attention that I have not written very much about Spain, the country I live in and the place we have been calling home for nearly eight years. The country we arrived in on a mild May morning, 24 hours after leaving our life behind in Mexico, when it was just the two of us and our dog called Pancho. Then we were three, now we are six (three humans, three dogs).
Too much has happened over the years to even dare begin talking about it in this post, so perhaps I will start with where we are now, in the metaphorical sense, as much as the geographical sense. I may even start with a little controversy. Blogs are about honesty right? Well, they should be. If we can’t be honest with ourselves, then who can we be honest with? Somebody asked me not long ago if I loved Spain. I thought about it for a natural second, I actually could have done with thinking about it some more but my friend asking me the question was Spanish and so I didn’t want to appear hesitant with my answer.
‘I love living in Spain,’ I replied. ‘I love our life in Spain and all that we have here.’ My friend’s smile and response of ‘Qué chulo’ (how cool!) confirmed that she had not picked up on the subtle difference between what she had asked me and what I had replied.
Spain is an incredibly beautiful country. With the verdant green countrysides of the North such as in Asturias and Galicia, the fantastic cities of Barcelona (with its incredible beauty and architecture) and Madrid and southern cities of Seville, Malaga and Cordoba, each is so different to the next. The wonderful beaches, the stunning mountain ranges and national parks. I could go on an on. I look forward each year to our mini breaks, which see us making our way around Spain during our holidays to discover the diversity of this wonderful country and of course all the new food and wine that we can consume. But Monday to Friday, we are not tourists, we are residents and for any person who makes the brave decision to live in another country, you soon realise that your tourists’ eyes will only last for so long, which is better for you really; no one wants to live under a delusion.
The real world
As with any country, Spain has its problems. And it is only when you are living and breathing a country, do you truly know what they are. The huge unemployment in Spain, particularly in the South is quite depressing. Many families have at least one adult who is not working amongst them and the unemployment rates amongst the under 25s is staggering. Spain is also still incredibly bureaucratic, simple administrative procedures, especially for those with their own businesses can be long winded and frustrating. And it’s not to do with language barriers, as for us there are none and our Spanish friends suffer the same issues. Sometimes, it feels like the rules are being made up as they go along. Then there is the siesta, an antiquated tradition that really has no place in the modern world! It can make you want to pull your hair out having to deal with companies who are closed between 2-5pm. This is when the rest of the Europe is in business and considering the terrible economic problems here in Spain, it is a wonder why people cannot swap their three hour lunch breaks, for an hour and give themselves two more hours of trade. I have many Spanish friends that agree with this. Especially the officer workers among them. They love the idea of finishing work at five or six pm knowing that their working day is over and done with. I’m not sure about the North but here in the South, nothing but bars and cafes are open before ten am.
When we were on holiday in Vejer de la Frontera (Cadiz province) last September, we thought it would be nice to spend a day in a spa. I was heavily pregnant and was fed up of walking and the day had turned into a rainy one, so we didn’t really want to be outside. We phoned ahead to try and book some massages but all the times we enquired about, nobody was available. ‘You’re busy for a Wednesday afternoon,’ I said to the receptionist. ‘ No, it’s not that we are busy,’ she replied, ‘it’s just that between two and four the masseuses are at lunch.’ I suppressed a scream. I did’t want to harm my unborn child or the receptionist’s ears. This to me, is ludicrous on so many levels. Why do all staff need to have lunch at the same time? And two hour lunches? Think how much business they could make in those two hours, six days a week, if they staggered peoples’ lunch breaks. This is not good for an already struggling economy. And whilst I am on this theme, why do shops still shut on a Sunday? People who love the sanctity of Sundays don’t have to participate in Sunday shopping but for those of us who might only have a Sunday as a day off in a busy week, the only day to be able to do the shopping or get a much-need chore done, this ritual is medieval. And think of all the jobs that would be created by having Sunday opening times? Shame I’m not the Prime Minister.
From the moment, you become a bill payer or a tax payer in another country, that’s the moment that your eyes are wide open.
I hope what I am saying resonates with anyone who is thinking of living abroad, or who in fact already does, because my intention is not to do an injustice to Spain, but simply to highlight that in whatever country you live in, the realities of being resident in that country can be quite different to the idea of living in that country.
You may remember at the start of my post, my hesitation in telling my Spanish friend my true feelings about living here. Some of my Spanish friends will quite happily tell you what is wrong with their country but many are not often so happy to hear you say the same. I think this is wrong. I would like to think that I could have this same conversation with any number of expats who live in the UK, where I am from, and to hear their exasperations and frustrations with living abroad. I would not be in denial about what is wrong in my own country and I would be only to happy to hear about it from someone who is living and breathing in that country and trying to make a life for themselves there.
I would also hope that like me, my fellow expats in their respective countries love their lives in their country of choice and all that that their country can offer them. We could not have the house that we have here, in the UK. We could not have our three dogs missing in our garden for hours on end as there are here. Our little man would not be able to enjoy his daily swims in our swimming pool and we would not have the amazing views from our house that we get here, in the UK. So for that, we are eternally grateful for the wonderful lifestyle that we have and these make up some of the reasons for why we love living in Spain.