06 Feb Spanglish
There are two communities here, the Spanish and non-Spanish (of whom 95% are British) and they don’t really mix. At least that’s the impression we get from looking around and from conversations I have over a cafe solo at El Cortijo or the Miramar after a Pilates class. There is no antagonism but equally there is no real integration.
The caricature of Brits living in Spain is a retired couple in their 60s or 70s, wizened by the sun, pickled by the gin and with scarcely a word of Spanish. Think Benidorm. Certainly, there are some older couples here with none of the lingo and a bit of wizening. Gin is popular but the extent of pickling is hard to discern without intrusive questioning (which would be very bad manners) or an autopsy (which would, obviously, be difficult to arrange). Like any caricature, this one is an extravagant blend of fact and fiction. In fact, there’s a cross-section of Brits here and they don’t all conform to the stereotype.
Quite a few are younger families intending to put down roots; several of them work; their children have been born here; they have an investment in the place. Mostly they live slightly apart, in the bigger houses on the edge of the village or in the campo. But these new younger immigrants are making an effort to contribute to the community whilst recognising that the prospect of integrating is remote. For their children, being educated in the Spanish system, that prospect is real. These people have anxieties about what Brexit will mean for them, though, for the majority, the referendum result has made them more certain that their decision to leave the UK was a good one.
I get their motivation and like their honesty and eagerness to embrace and connect with the resident community. You sense a respect for that community and its traditions even if you see little evidence of dialogue day-to-day in the street. I’ve met a British woman who’s active in the school’s PTA; she may even stand for the local council. The mayor is championing initiatives to reach out to Spanish women in the community and encourage them to participate. So, there’s change afoot from both directions. A community choir has members from both groups. I must remember to ask in what language they sing – English is, as ever, the language of pop and ubiquitous on radio stations so maybe it’s the lingua cantabile.
Yes, I get it that you might come out here, bring or start a family and get stuck into making it home. Coming later – that whole retiring to Spain thing? I don’t get that at all. You can only take so much sun after all and learning the lingo gets harder as you get older, especially when you hear English spoken most of the time. But maybe you make a routine that fills and satisfies with some interludes back to see the grandchildren: coffee down the village of a morning, afternoons of sport on the TV, evenings now and again with the other Brits. Still don’t get it but, to coin a quintessentially English phrase: “Takes all sorts”.