I’ve just returned from a short stay in the UK with my four year old twins. I don’t return often but whenever I do, I learn a bit more about my native culture having lived in Spain for a couple of years.
The British Intolerance of Children
It is true that the Spanish are a very child loving nation and this is evident when you walk down the street and children are acknowledged by adults. I discovered on the flight just how intolerant the British actually are of children and I was much more stressed than I usually am, conscious of the fact that I had to keep the children quiet and still to conform to cultural expectations.
The British oblivion to children became even more apparent as grown adults walking behind us became frustrated with our meandering trek to collect the luggage. Instead of offering to help they persisted to stumble over the girls’ wheelie cases whilst trampling on their coats which were now carpeting Luton Airport.
I was relieved when we finally arrived at my dad’s house and the girls slumped in front of the TV. I admit that when I first arrived in Spain, I really missed the UK soaps that I had grown up on, as well as the more informative documentaries that are becoming rare. For a while, I longed for a day when satellite television would be installed in my urbanisation but now I feel that the cold turkey treatment (apart from a kind friend recording Corrie for us in the early ‘rehabilitation’ days) has done me good. I can, hand on heart, say that I no longer want to watch UK television.
On reflection, I cringe at the amount of hours I wasted in front of ‘the box’. That’s not to say that I am completely anti-television. On the contrary, watching Spanish television has really assisted my mastery of the Spanish language. However, I feel that use of the television is easily abused and it is easily watched out of habit. I knew that when after an hour of Cbeebies, the girls had a glazed, zombie glare; it was time to switch off and get the crayons out. I am not discrediting Cbeebies, every programme has enormous educational value but the television can never replace learning through play and use of the imagination.
Now this is where the UK really scores points with regards to child friendliness. With children’s menus, crayons and highchairs, chains such as the Beefeater have been accommodating families for years. In Spain, high chairs in restaurants are a luxury and children are expected to eat from the same menu as the adults. In fact, there is no such thing as ‘children’s food’. One might argue that this is good preparation to encourage good eating habits but the crayons and colouring in material certainly do make for a more pleasant dining experience.
Food in General
The supermarket, well where do you start? I had forgotten how overwhelming it had all become and how unrecognisable food was becoming having undergone such major transformations from its original state. I am sure instead of dressing everything up and giving it exotic or space age names, it would be much less of a task to present us with the raw ingredients and let us use our imaginations. Talk about ‘spoon fed’, Asda will be sending home members of staff to place the meals in the microwave soon. In Spain, you are lazy if you use a bag of lettuce which has been chopped and prepared, and contrary to common belief, in most families both partners work.
I understand that the government is trying to raise awareness of healthy eating but there is this feeling that instead of going back to basics, the matter is being complicated. There is such a thing as trying too hard. In Spain, children eat sweets but this is generally off set by the balanced, Mediterranean diet in the home. British people are often appalled at Spanish children eating a sponge ‘magdalena’ cake for breakfast. But that same child will then walk to school, play football outside at break time and eat a balanced home cooked lunch, either at home or school which is nothing unlike what their parents would eat.
Britain has always been a nation which has prided itself on its efficiency. From my recent experience, it has to be said that UK standards are definitely slipping and the service industry is increasingly becoming ‘slap dash’. In defence of the slow pace of the Spanish service industry, it is linked to the culture’s more relaxed approach to every day life whereas in the UK, customer disappointment is usually a direct result of staff’s low morale. Personally, I have been disappointed by the bank that I have used for more than fifteen years. Not only did they send me a new switch card without my name printed on it, having forgotten to post it twice before when I had ordered it, they failed to call me when they couldn’t process my request for a money transfer to my Spanish account.
This ‘slap dashness’ has resulted in my wasting hundreds of euros in flights and phone calls chasing their mistakes. It seems that if you do not constantly remind people and keep one step ahead, they forget to do their job. Perhaps this is a consequence of that zombie state induced by excessive exposure to television!
This brings me back to being indoors with the television on. We can all change our eating habits and perhaps even do a bit more exercise. However, what we can’t change is the restrictive weather. Sometimes you just can’t bear the thought of taking the children to the park when you know that the only way you will survive it is to drive there and watch their frost bitten faces spin on the roundabout from the warmth of the car.
Don’t get me started on the state of the parks. It’s not surprising the kids would rather veg with an UnHappy Meal in front of the box, if the parks are anything to go by. When visiting my mum, who lives in the suburbs on a new housing development, we decided to take the girls to the park. Hyper and ready to burn off some of their excited travel energy we couldn’t believe it when the park consisted of no more than a springless horse, a non slippery slide and a burnt out roundabout. This was a far cry from what they had become used to.
Here on the Costa del Sol, children are spoilt with the choice of parks, many of which are on the seafront. You can spend literally hours, especially at Estepona Park which runs along a considerable length of the promenade with every type of apparatus imaginable. And, best of all it’s all free. You could end up bankrupt trying to keep your children entertained in the UK, mainly because people must resort to expensive, indoor leisure pursuits e.g. cinema, bowling etc because of the weather.
You have to return
Having been a bit cynical up until now, I should point out that the UK also offers so much that sometimes you just have to return to enjoy the London theatre and well, London in general, breathtaking landscape, castles, museums and endless historical sites to visit. It is relatively a small country which makes it easy to visit as a tourist and see a lot in a short space of time. When you move to Spain, the proximity to your cultural heritage is one of the sacrifices that you make.
The ideal is to lead a double life enjoying the best that both countries have to offer flying backwards and forwards, depending on what you fancy!