Blogs in this series

Life in Culebrón is a disconnected series of pieces about the banal and ordinary of everyday life in an inland Alicante village seen from my very British perspective.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Interview for Expat Blog

The people from Expat Blog asked me if I would answer a few questions. I said yes. Here are the questions and answers

Why did you choose to expatriate to Spain?

We'd been to Spain lots of times on holiday and we were taken by the country, with its habits, customs and with its people. Life in the UK had become one huge round of work with almost no private life and with the sale of our house we were in a position to up sticks and give it a go.

What were the procedures to follow for a British national to move there?

As European citizens all we needed to do to move to Spain was to cross the border and settle here. Obviously we also needed to go through all the usual processes like getting an NIE and later a “residencia”, signing up to the local padrón, registering with the health services, doing all the things associated with buying or renting a house. We'd brought a car with us which also needed re-registering but as to the actual move that was as easy as deciding to do it. No paperwork at all.

How long have you been in the country? What is your current family situation?

We came as a couple in autumn of 2004 and we brought a cat with us too.  No children. So we've been in Spain for going on eleven years as I write.

Are you currently working? What are the local labor market's specificities?

My partner had taken a job as a teacher in a bilingual private school before we arrived. The job had been advertised in the UK and she had also done the interview there.  She went on to have a series of teaching positions through a project organised by the British Council which meant that she worked in state schools after the private one. She also spent a year out of the country. She is now registered as self employed and has a small business organising bodega tours called Secret Wine Spain. She also has some private English classes and does some part time work with a local estate agency. 

I did not have a job when I first arrived but I found work with a local furniture shop. When we moved to a different part of Spain I found work as an English teacher in a private academy. We have changed location twice since then and I have found work as an English teacher in both cases without too much difficulty. Finding jobs in Spain is not easy. Unemployment is a huge problem.

Was it difficult to find accommodation there? What are the types of accommodation which are available?

We bought a house almost immediately. There are now thousands of properties at very reasonable prices in Spain as a result of the bursting of the building bubble a few years ago. Whilst we have continued to own the house we have also moved, for work reasons, something like six times and we have never had the least difficulty in renting a property. We have always used an estate agency to help us find a place and although this is, perhaps, the most expensive way to do it we have also found it quick and safe.

How do you find the Spanish lifestyle?

Living in Spain is the same as living anywhere. You have to go to the supermarket, watch the telly, listen to the radio, cook, clean, do the laundry and suchlike so a lot of the lifestyle is to your own making. 

We have nearly always had work which means that our hours have become quite Spanish,  I would never think of having lunch before 2pm. for instance. Our Spanish is good enough to be able to say what we need to so that we are not lost on an island of foreignness. We know lots of Britons who live in a bubble almost isolated from Spain. It's quite easy to listen to British radio, watch British TV, buy British newspapers, visit British websites etc. At home your mealtimes can be British ones and your food British style. Here in Alicante there are thousands of us so we can also use British plumbers, British builders etc. if we want. 

I still find Spain interesting and exciting. I like the events that start at 10pm at night or at least are billed to but actually start at midnight. I like the heat of Alicante and Murcia and the slightly anarchic nature of lots of the leisure activities. There is always something going on, culture is strongly valued and people are generally pretty open in social situations so that it is easy to make superficial friendships. 

Have you been able to adapt yourself to the country and to its society?

The country is European. It works well. In basis it is very similar to the UK. People complain about the bureaucracy for instance but bureaucracy here is simply different to the UK rather than being excessive. It is a safe country, it's a law abiding country, it's a democratic country so, as I said, in all the basic things it is very similar to the UK. Obviously there are thousands of differences but it's all in the detail. Food is a good example – it is quite different but only at the level of recipes – it's not a vegan society or one where animals have to be killed in specific ways or where religion prohibits or limits certain foods. 

The one thing I cannot stress too much is the difference in language. Here, as everywhere, you can get by with English but without Spanish your life will be harder, your social contacts fewer, your isolation greater and your potential for being happy reduced. Think about the number of times that you need to use language to explain or understand things – when you ring the mobile phone company to complain about the bill, when you need a plumber to staunch the flood in your kitchen, when your car breaks down at the side of the road, when you're with the doctor. If you do not have Spanish those things become hard and a daily problem.

What does your every day life look like in Spain?

Just like the UK. Work, cooking, telly, internet, radio, driving around, doing the garden. The difference is when you venture out of home and even then you will usually be with other Britons (or at least other English speakers) so that although you may be surrounded by Spain you are actually in a little British bubble.

What has surprised you the most at your arrival?

How cold our house is in winter. We'd been in Spain several times in the winter but if hotels are warm then houses aren't. It's perishing. The houses in Alicante and Murcia have next to no insulation. Central heating, carpets and curtains are a bit unusual – the houses here are set up for warm weather not the cold. Winter is purgatory. I should stress that this is not the same if you head for Salamanca or Galicia – anywhere that has colder winters – because there the houses are equipped for the colder weather.

Any particular experience you would like to share with us?

There would be hundreds but the one that came to mind straight away was of the village meal. We live in a village that has about a hundred residents. We are members of the local neighbourhood association.  Each July, as part of the local fiestas, we have a meal for members of the association. The tables are set up under the trees outside the local social centre and fifty or sixty of us sit down to eat. It's always warm, the conversation and drink flow, the bulbs hung in the pine trees twinkle, the air is alive with the sound of crickets. It is just lovely.

What is your opinion on the cost of living in Spain? Is it easy for an expat to live in there?

I think it is probably cheaper to live in Spain than the UK but then again incomes here are derisory. Although he obviously has lots of other sources of income the salary of the Country's President for instance is about 80,000€. Members of my family earn that much in the UK for perfectly ordinary jobs.

Housing is generally cheaper, transport is cheaper, clothes are about the same, food is about the same, eating out is cheaper, alcohol is cheaper, furniture is expensive, second hand cars are ludicrously expensive, electric is a bit more expensive, water varies but is generally cheaper, car tax is less, “rates” are less, income tax is about the same, fuel is a bit cheaper, banking is expensive etc.

How do you spend your leisure time? What are the activities which are accessible to expatriates?

I do anything I want to do in my leisure time that I would have done in the UK. Sports facilities are good, theatre is everywhere (though it's in Spanish), I go to the cinema a lot though all the films are dubbed into Spanish unless you have specialist cinemas to hand as in Madrid or Barcelona. Eating out is something all we rich foreigners do (rich in the sense that we are not usually economic migrants) Going to local fiestas is also a common pastime. If you want to para-glide then you can, if you want to dance you can, if you want to join a classic car club or the local chess club you can. The list is as endless and as limited as it would be in the UK.

What are the differences between life in Spain and in England?

I think I've answered that in lots of the other questions. 

What do you like the most about the country?

Another question that I can't answer simply. I like the things I like and they may not be the same as someone else. I liked the rivers and hills over in the North West when I lived there, I like the sweltering heat of Murcia City in summer, I like rice with rabbit and snails, I like Spanish radio and the colour of the Med is something to behold. I like the crisp blue winter sun, I like having a brandy with my coffee sometimes in the morning, I enjoy the conversations with my students, I like having figs trees in my garden. 

What do you miss the most about your home country?

Nothing really. I occasionally think nostalgically of the outdoor Shakespeare season at Tolethorpe and the Ely Folk Festival and, every now and again, I get a craving for a pork pie or Stilton.

Probably the thing that is most different and I miss most is being able to express myself precisely. I was trying to explain myself to a Spaniard the other day, who had corrected my Spanish, when I had used a particular construction. I had said what I meant to say and I have subsequently checked that the grammar was correct. The difference was between the thought that I wanted to express and the thing that the Spaniard thought I wanted to express. It wasn't an important difference but the gap was unbridgeable. The difference was between wonder and think – “we wondered about” was what I wanted to say, “we thought about” was what the Spaniard was sure I wanted to say. 

If I ask for a beer in a bar in Spain and the barman goes huh? I presume I have said something wrongly. If I ask for a beer in the UK and the barman goes huh? I presume he has not heard.

Would you like to give any advice to soon-to-be expatriates?

Learn Spanish.  Number one without a doubt.

If I were choosing my main home again I would not have chosen to live where I am. We are a bit isolated from Spain. There's no bar in our village and no shops so we have to drive. Another few years and that may be a problem. If I were doing it again I would choose a village, town or city that offered me the facilities I was looking for and then find a house that I liked.

What are your plans for the future? 

Well I should be cooking the lunch now but otherwise just to get on with the day to day I suppose.

1 comment:

Pascal said...

What a nice and very thorough interview! I love Spain also and it's beautiful country. Thanks for sharing your experience in this post:)