We are already well into October and we haven’t really had time to mark the fact that, as of the 1st October, we have been living in Spain for two years! This past twelve months has absolutely flown by, so it is probably time that the fleeting weeks just started to take things a little more calmly.
Now is a good time to take stock and consider what we have achieved since we moved here, and how life has changed for us both. We meet a lot of people as we go about our business, and there are questions we often get asked, so as a 2 Year Anniversary blog post we thought we’d answer a few of these questions and make a few observations to remind us of our own place in Andalucia.
Question/Assumption 1: You must be fluent in Spanish by now.
We wish! How we would love to be fluent in Spanish, as there are times when we do get frustrated at not being able to converse fully with all of our neighbours in the way that we could chat and gossip in our native tongues. However…..there are times when we surprise ourselves at how well we can hold a conversation. Yesterday, meeting up with friends for a coffee, we found that we could talk about builders, the progress of our house, the new business, future ideas and shared experiences. When we are out and about in Granada, we can catch up with our favourite bar owners and no longer feel petrified if the Spanish phone rings. It has been important for us to remind ourselves that we have made significant progress where the language is concerned, and that we should not be too self-critical when we stumble over words, or feel inadequate. There are some days, more than others, when our brains engage more successfully; there are days when we both feel like gibbering idiots. Our confidence is growing by the day, helped by the fact that most of our dealings here in the village have to be conducted in Spanish. When we take a step back, we can both see the strides we have made and will continue to make.
Question 2: How easy has it been to find work?
Life happens. We couldn’t afford to live here if we didn’t have an income, so working is as important to us here as it was back in the UK. That said, the pressure to earn a certain income is of much less importance, as the quality of life and the low cost of living play a much greater part in the equation. When we look back on our time in London, we remember stress, the unappealing nature of public transport, the pressure to earn a salary that would support the elements of London life worth living there - theatre, eating out, escaping to the countryside every so often. London is a great city, but it costs money to enjoy it to the full, even if you are resourceful. In Spain, that pressure is far less evident and the weather is much more conducive to spending time outdoors with little cost attached - walking, lying on a beach, sitting for an age over a coffee.
We have both had ups and downs with work, but the downs are short-lived. Only the other day, I was having a down having to make decisions around a commitment to run a teaching academy in Granada which would mean taking an eye off other projects. At least this was a positive position, having to decide between more than one option. The very next day, two more opportunities arose that make the decision easier and creative ideas bubbled up once again. Having plans is all well and good, but juggling to ensure that the income matches the effort is always a challenge. Andrew has been swamped with book design work which is great on the one hand, but again it has meant that his own design work has had to be put on the back burner. This may all sound as though we are really fortunate, having choice, but it is worth bearing in mind that salaries here tend to be a fraction of what we would earn in London. That said, we are not here to earn a fortune; we are here because we adore the lifestyle and if we can make a living doing those things we love doing, then that was always the aim. Everything takes on a different perspective here, and to have escaped the relentless nature of life in London has been one of the greatest benefits for us.
Question 3: How will Brexit affect you?
On the tapas tours I take around Granada, one of the first questions I get asked relates to Brexit. We are both so thankful that we are one-step removed from the UK at this uncertain time. Whilst we can understand why some of the older generation in the UK voted to leave (Common Market versus Political Union), we both feel completely European and would hate to see the UK go some ill-gotten alternative, and isolated, route. It has caused us a great deal of emotional angst to see the rise in bitterness and acrimony over this drawn-out divorce and acrimonious divorces have long-lasting repercussions. From our personal perspectives, we have done everything possible to secure our statuses here in our adoptive country. We are both self-employed here, pay tax and social security here and have private health insurance to cover any eventuality. We have maintained this health insurance, despite being eligible for state healthcare, simply because the lower cost here makes it easier to afford. We have residency and we are doing everything we can to ensure that we become an integral part of the community in which we live. Our plans for next year involve tourism-related projects that should provide employment for local people, should they wish to get involved. Our projects are aimed at generating sustainable tourism for the area, and encouraging visitors to stay in and around Granada for longer, away from the often over-stretched Costas. This all sounds very altruistic, but we are just doing the things we want to do, and where we see any opportunity. It costs less to take risks here in Spain, so an entrepreneurial approach is slightly easier to cultivate.
We still hope that, by some miracle, Brexit will not happen but, if it does, we hope that we are in as strong a place as possible to ensure that we remain here in our own home. Still, we would not want to see the UK turn its back on its EU neighbours with whom they have shared some very good times.
Living here has been far easier than we ever imagined. When I interview guests for my radio programme (shows are now available to listen as an iTunes podcast), one of the most common observations is that the people are so friendly and welcoming. That said, it came as no surprise the other evening when friends of ours were honest enough to state that, now their understanding of Spanish is improving they are realising that their villagers may not be as friendly to them as they first thought. People are people, and you will always meet people who may not see eye to eye with you. It would be a fool’s paradise to expect that everyone you meet, wherever you go, will love you unconditionally. You only need to take a glimpse at the reaction to the increase in Airbnb tourism and unlicensed accommodation in Barcelona to understand that tensions can arise. The Spanish people are warm, welcoming and generous. It has been interesting for us to note that reactions differ when locals know that you are a permanent resident as opposed to the owner of a holiday home. When we had our pop-up gallery during the Cristo del Paño Fiestas, we encountered many non-Spanish people who own houses here and whom we had never seen before. These small communities depend on the people who live here, and their families, to continue traditions, generate income and contribute in some way. It has been said to us so much that integrating is of paramount importance, and we can see why. Our continued efforts to learn the language and give something back to the beautiful village in which we are making our home is our most important and valuable project.
We look back over the past two years, and so many of the things we set out to achieve have been successfully ticked off, although they are by no means finished! We see our friends and family for the quality time we hoped for, and it is an unmitigated joy to share our experiences with these people we love. We have made some amazing friends who are supportive, generous and life-affirming, and we have met so many more interesting and inspirational people along the way. The landscapes here never fail to excite and evoke a feeling of awe. Yesterday, driving back from Granada, we witnessed the most spectacular sunset - a graded indigo sky streaked with stunning reds, oranges and pinks and the black silhouettes of olives trees in the foreground. Tucked into the valley between mountains, the lights illuminating Moclín Castle were just beginning to cast a warm glow and the jagged outline of crenelations and towers stood stark against a flush of rose sky. A waxing crescent moon cut a bright slit in the sky and the scene would not have looked out of place in a Disney animation, such was its beauty and surreal colour palette.
We are building a house; we are putting down roots - we even got married here! Fundamentally, we feel that this is our home and our adventures continue. Even the ghastly drudgery of taxation, invoices and bills are better faced when you can stride up a hill, absorb the breathtaking view and just think, “No pasa nada”.