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Donna Gee - Spain's Grumpy Old Gran


Thoughts on the UK brigade who put bingo before lingo
02 December 2010 @ 23:12



How sad that most of the world equates Brits in Spain not with class and culture, but with Benidorm, beer and builder’s bums.

I doubt if 10 per cent of UK citizens who move to Spain learn the language to even a modest level, let alone fluently. Yet isn’t it bizarre that in Britain so many people resent the concept of immigrants who don’t or won’t speak OUR language?

It’s hypocrisy to the extreme, of course – but typical of a nation which rates as just about the least linguistically talented in the world (or perhaps just the laziest).

How many times have you heard people complain about the preponderance of Asian immigrants to the UK who have a smattering of English at best, and seemingly neither the ability or desire to master our tongue?

Yet the reality is that we ourselves behave exactly the same way when we venture abroad to greener (or rather, sunnier) pastures.

Many of the expats I meet seem to think that learning Spanish equates to an unnecessary waste of time. After all, most of us live in communities which are either predominantly English-speaking or where most of the locals speak our language, anyway.

Of course, if you live in some tiny pueblo up in the mountains, you have no choice but to learn the lingo. That’s how it should be - but when it comes to the British mentality, it takes a very special sort of family to take on such a demanding challenge.

For most of us, it’s plonk ourselves into a British urbanization (OK, we don’t mind a few Scandinavians too, as long as they speak good English), spend our social lives in the British bars playing bingo, on the beach and gawking at Corrie and East Enders.

Muy español!


I popped in to a local bar in El Raso for a coffee the other day – only the weather was so nice I decided to sit outside in the sunshine. I picked up the menu and was about to order some lunch when a middle-aged English couple plonked themselves down on the next table and promptly lit up a couple of Benson and Hedges.

Within seconds I was inhaling as much nicotine as they were – and these particular ciggies were just the first of four each that these two unfortunate drug addicts poisoned themselves with in the next hour or so.

Fortunately, I wasn’t there to share the joy of passively permeating my lungs and clothes with the fumes of their cancer sticks. I had long since upped myself and moved to another area of the bar where no one was polluting the air.

OK, 30 years after giving up my own 20-a-day habit, I accept that I’m a boring, sanctimonious old ex-smoker.

But where’s the justice when an innocuous woman having a quiet coffee has to move in order to accommodate people indulging in an unhealthy, unsocial, even life-threatening habit?

Surely it’s the smokers who should be banished. Preferably to a suitably-title Cancer Corner that might help them realise just how much damage they are doing to themselves and everyone else.

Published by Euro Weekly News, 2010

Like 0


praguepix said:
03 December 2010 @ 18:03

I agree with everything you say....but just one small point.....
Why do you refer to Asians etc. in the UK as 'immigrants' but Brits in Spain as 'expats'?
I am a British immigrant in Spain, not an 'expat'.
At least not until Asians, Poles in the UK are routinely referred to as 'expats'.

Donna Gee said:
03 December 2010 @ 22:39

I'm delighted that Praguepix feels the same way as I do (almost!). He or she seems to regard the word 'expat' as a derogatory term, but I don’t see it that way. Wikipedia describes an expatriate as ''a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person's upbringing or legal residence''. Nothing nasty in that. There are good expats and bad expats - and this article is aimed at those I regard as the bad ones.

Ted said:
03 December 2010 @ 23:08

I think 'expat' and 'immigrant'. Are used correctly. Asians and others in the UK have come for good and intend to bring their children up in the UK. Most British Expats are spending the active part of their old age in the sun, they have no ties to Spain in the way that an immigrant has to his new country. When you'r older it becomes more difficult to learn a new language and, when everyone around you speaks yours, your chances of becoming proficient are slim.

Having said all that I do believe that anyone living in a country should try to learn at least the rudiments. I have spent part of the winter in Spain for most of the last 11 years. I've done 4 years of evening classes in the UK and odd lessons in Spain. But I cannot communicate. Still, intensive course in February, maybe that will knit the brain full of Spanish I have together.


Donna Gee said:
03 December 2010 @ 23:45

We're on the same wavelength, Ted. I've also been learning Spanish for several years but am still some way from being fluent. I blame my withering brain cells - if they're not all dead, that is.

Irene&Alan said:
05 December 2010 @ 07:28

Our intention when we came to Spain was to integrate as much as possible, get involved with a children´s charity and learn the lingo. We´re a good way to achieving all three: we live in a village where, although there are a lot of Brits, it is predominantly Spanish. We found our childrens´charity and now spend a great deal of time working with and for that charity. They don´t speak English so our Spanish has improved tremendously. We only go to Spanish bars and chat to the owners and staff, albeit in pidgin Spanish, but we do communicate. My message to those of you who say you are too old to learn the lingo: its all in the mind: if you think old you are old. Believe you are able and you suceed.
Re Smoking: The comments exactly mirror my feelings

James said:
06 December 2010 @ 11:13

Agree with the lingo thing.In Murcia while having lunch in the summer there were two retired ladies trying to order lunch in English. When the waitress left their comment was "you would have thought that if they want the English to holiday here they would at least learn the language".
Also agree about the smoking, there is nothing worse when trying to eat than someone pumping out smoke....and I smoke myself.
Course you did miss something off.....what about the bloody old people that think its fine to moan about anything and everything especially all things legal yet go out have a few beers or glasses of wine and then think it's fine to drive home. More old than young do this in Spain and half of them have trouble driving and parking when sober.

scribblerbill said:
22 December 2010 @ 10:00

Hi Donna, from an old colleuague on the Daily Star.
I'm retired too.I visit Spain once a year on my motorbike. I speak Spanish.Can I offer a great tip to the ex-pats who are struggling with the language? This was given to me by our daughter who arrived in Spain without a word and in a year was fluent:
read Harry Potter in's written for kids;
the first book for 7 year-olds, second book for 9 year-olds - and so on.Your vocabulary builds with the stories.Don't look up EVERY word.Write the English in pencil in the margin.The first book will take you at least a month,maybe two.After that it gets easier because many of the words you will have seen already.Personally, I moved on to spy novels after the third book.And then on from there.
Buena suerte

Donna Gee said:
22 December 2010 @ 12:02

Scribbler Bill? Muy misterioso. Quien es? Por favor, mandame un mensaje privado!

dave said:
09 January 2011 @ 16:19

i so agree on the spanish thing i live here and have spoken fluent spanish all my adult life i just dont understand how people who live here can avoid learning it
we have only been here a couple of months and my partner is learning spanish and doing well can cetainly manage shopping on her own
there is a very good book caled SPANISH MADE SIMPLE, THAT IS HOW I TAUGHT MYSELF cost about 14 quid.
we live in an area where there are no english people

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