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Living in Spain as an Expat

However much you prepare for moving to Spain, when you are living in Spain as an expat you find out new facts about Spanish life and culture every day. This blog is about our experiences as expats. The ups and downs, good and bad of living in our own little 'place in the sun'.

Heath Fires In Southern Spain
23 July 2008

I haven't been living in Spain for a few weeks.  I had some very sad family business to attend to back in the UK.  But now I'm back here, at home in our little Spanish village... and it's so darned hot!

I arrived back in Spain, at Malaga Airport, early in the morning.  When I left the UK, the weather had been mild (the usual 'British Summer' in fact).  My husband had told me that the temperature in Spain had taken a few leaps upwards, so I was well prepared for the blast of hot air which hit me as I soon as we got outside the airport.

But even being away from Spain for a little while requires 're-aclimatization' when you get back here.  For the first few days, even a short trip uphill to our little Spanish village shop felt exhausting.  Nevertheless, I love the sunshine here in Spain,  so I am definitely not complaining.  Especially when we can 'chill out' just a little under the air con in our village bar, drinking a long cool cerveza...

However, the heat in Spain (and particularly in more central areas) has caused serious problems of heath fires.  When I watched the fires raging in a couple of Spanish tourist areas, it brought home to me how difficult it is for the Spanish fire services to cope with fires in remote regions.  I was also glad that our little Spanish village is relatively free of trees to catch fire.  There are some pine trees, but they are on the edge of the village and not that close.  Or so I thought...

But a few days ago we had a heath fire on the borders of our little Spanish village and, as we watched the fires rage (and accumulate across the scrubland at the mountain top), we realised just how scary it can be when the main thing you rely upon to put the heath fires out are Spanish helicopters (one in this case), which can only 'bomb' the fire with gallons of water at a time... and then have to fly away to pick more water up.

Watching a Spanish Heath Fire burn and grow, while you wait for the helicopter to return can be a little unnerving...

Here is a picture of one of the heath fires which raged close to our village.  It got a little too close for comfort...

Spanish Heath Fire Raging
I've posted a few more pictures of the heath fire which threatened our little Spanish village on my other Life In Spain blog.  They show the fire progessing and the eventual (happy, thank goodness!) outcome.

I love living in Spain, but sometimes life here can get a little too hot!

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Walking the Prom in Rural Spain
15 June 2008

We have a type of 'promenade' at the bottom of our little Spanish village.  It runs from far beyond the south of the village to the pine trees in the north.  On first view, it makes the village look a little like a seaside town.  However, in this case, standing on 'the prom' and looking down you do not see the sea, but a valley full of olive trees and farm land, with the mountains beyond.

The prom glows white in the sunshine.  It is swept regularly by the village 'maintenance crew', who have recently planted young trees at the prom's northern end, possibly to separate it from the road which runs alongside.

The prom gives our little Spanish village a unique charm and provides the ideal location for a village 'meeting place'.  Every evening, except for when it's raining, many of the locals gather in groups on the prom.  They sit with their legs dangling over the edge onto the road while sharing a joke or two and the latest village gossip.

Teenagers use the prom to meet and put the world to rights.  Mothers sit with their chidren, carefully watching to make sure they do not  fall over the edge into the valley below.  And dog walkers and ramblers begin their treck on the prom before they take a more energetic path up and down the undulating fields beyond the village.

As well as sitting and chatting, many of the locals take an evening stroll along the prom.  If the weather is hot, they will rest a while in the shade of the pines at the northern end, before making their way back again, stopping and chatting to new groups of 'promenaders' as they go.

A visitor to our little Spanish village will probably remark that the promenade adds great charm to the place.  Many stop and take pictures of 'this charming rural Spanish scene'.  Perhaps they will wonder why more villages in Spain do not have a promendade of this nature...

Truth be told, the prom is actually a safety measure, set up to protect unsuspecting walkers and car drivers from falling into the canal which flows beneath, making its way from a large lake 30 or so kilometres south, to a filtration plant in the north.

The white 'walkway' is built from concrete slabs, many of which have handles built in for engineer's cranes to grasp if they need to remove a slab to do major work on the canal below.  It was never designed to be a walkway, although its structure makes it ideal for that.

When you walk along the prom you will find the occasional small hole, where the concrete has crumbled away.  One hole is so large you can see the canal water far below.  When you see this, you just hope that the slabs you are walking on are well-inspected and are not going to crumble the same way any time soon!

The 'prom', like so many other things about life in Spain, is there for a purpose, pure and simple.  It may look charming to travellers searching for 'the real Spain'.  To expat eyes, it may even remind them of the seaside towns of their youth.

But like so many aspects of living in Spain as an expat, if you look deeper you will find something else...

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Living in Spain With Stray Dogs
07 June 2008

Living in Spain as an expat can be tough if you are a dog lover.  As you drive through Spain you can see dogs wandering the streets.  Many will be well cared for pets, just 'let outside for the day', but there are also an awful lot of stray dogs in Spain.

When we moved to Spain we brought our two hounds with us.  Our Spanish village house is quite small and two large dogs in the place was quite enough.  We didn't bargain for taking in any more.

On our travels we saw many stray Spanish dogs and we felt sorry for them, particularly the ones who looked ill and underfed.  We have even taken to carrying a tin of dog food in our car in case this helps.  But we also knew that once we gave in and took in one of these Spanish strays, it could be like opening the floodgates to every stray dog in Spain.

And we kept our resolve... until one dark and stormy night...

Spanish 'tormentas' are well named.  Until we lived in Spain we had never exerienced quite the same fury that storms reach here, especially when you live in a fully exposed Spanish mountain village.

On the night in question, the wind howled, rain lashed down flooding the village streets, lightning flashed and thunder roared.  But something howled even louder than the noise of that Spanish tormenta; it was the pitiful cry of a little stray dog.

This little Spanish stray had been following my husband around for a while.  Each time he took our hounds for a walk she was there, padding along as if she was part of the pack.  But once back at our house, my husband had shooed her away (although sometimes he had given her a drink of water...), knowing the repercussions of inviting her in.

But on that particular night, in the midst of a full blown Spanish tormenta, what else could he do?  He opened the door and in dashed the little Spanish stray, soaked to the skin and shivering with cold and fear.  Needless to say, after a good rub down with a warm towell, she soon made herself at home.

Over a year has passed since we took in our little Spanish stray.  She has made herself an integral part of the pack and made it clear that this is her home.  In that time, she has cost us mucho dinero in vets bills because, being a stray for so long, she had quite a few health problems which had to be cleared up.

Nowadays our little Spanish stray is a little bit the plump side because she wolfs down every meal (and anything else she can find to eat) as if it will be her last.  I guess this is part of her heritage as a stray.

Life without our littleSpanish stray would be dull now.  Even our other two hounds miss her when she has to make one of her visits to the vet.

The neighbours in our Spanish village obviously think we are mad taking in a stray, but when there are other strays in the villlage, the local children often knock on our door and ask if we would like to take them in.  We politely decline and try to avert our eyes from the appealing little dogs they place in front of us.  It's hard, but our tiny Spanish house is simply not big enough to become a refuge for stray pets.

Living in Spain as an expat means being part of the village culture, but when it comes to stray dogs it can tug at your heart...

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Things I miss when living in Spain
30 May 2008

Living in Spain as an expat is great.  The sun shines (at some point) most days of the year.  Even when it's cold, you can usually go for a walk and find a nice sunny spot to stand in for a while.

And the sky is brighter in Spain.  Each time I come back to my home here in Spain after a trip to the UK, it never ceases to amaze me how much lighter and brighter everything is here.  I like that; it cheers me up when I am missing my family back in the UK.

The pace of life in Spain is so much more relaxed too.  Ok, sometimes the Spanish way of life can be a little too slow, especially if you want something done in a hurry, but overall it seems to me that the flow of life in Spain is much better for your health, once you get used to it.

And the people in Spain seem happier too.  The Spanish way of talking is often loud and very expressive.  Get a room full of Spaniards and they all tend to talk at once, which can get confusing for an expat!  But I feel the Spanish way is so much more open than the 'stiff upper lip' British way of communicating.

There are many other reasons why I like living in Spain as an expat.  Nevertheless, there are some things I do miss.

As I live in Spain most of the year, I miss my family and friends left behind in the UK.

I miss working with people who speak the same language as me and sharing a joke with them.  The Spanish sense of humour can be great, but by the time my head has translated the joke, the conversation has moved on to something else!

I miss listening to Radio One when it first goes out.  Yes, I know that's sad, but I used to enjoy listening to Chris Moyles while I was getting ready for work.  Here in Spain, I have yet to find a radio station I like.  Spanish radio seems to consist of the same 'pop' songs played over and over again, and stations set up with expats in mind seem to think we all prefer listening to music from the 60s and 70s.  Why?

So, basically, I find Spanish radio to be utter crud.  But if anyone has found a good Spanish radio station I can tune in to in the Granada region of Southern Spain, then please let me know.  I really would appreciate it!

And I miss watching TV, without having to translate every word.  We haven't got around to installing a big enough satelite dish here in Spain to get English TV yet, and by the time we do, I guess we will be used to watching Spanish TV anyway, even though, like Spanish radio, a lot of it is utter crud.

But really, that's all I miss about the UK.  I still much prefer to live here in Spain.  Living in Spain as an expat can be frustrating at times, but overall I think it's great.

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Understanding the Local Spanish Language
28 May 2008

When we planned our move to Spain, we decided to live in rural Analucia, rather than on the coast.  We knew it would be cheaper to live here and we also wanted to be a part of Spanish life, rather than live in an expat community.

We chose to live in a small village in rural Granada.  No one here speaks English other than another couple of expats.  In fact, Granada as a province doesn't appear to have that many people who speak English, and why should they?  We chose to live in Spain, so we should learn the Spanish language.

In preparation for our move we took Spanish lessons on a regular basis and read all the Spanish language books we could find. 

They say it gets harder to learn another language once you are out of your teens and I guess they are right.  Nevertheless, we thought we had learned enough Spanish to get by.  After all, once we were living in our Spanish village, we would soon pick up more of the language by chatting with the neighbours...

We were already prepared for the rapidity of Spanish speech, but we thought we could get by at first by picking out the odd word and trying to make sense of the rest.  After all, that's what the language books taught.  Of course, they hadn't allowed for the Spanish dialect.

The first few times we spoke to our neighbours, our carefully pronounced Spanish words were often met with blank stares and the replies we received, well, we could hardly understand a word.  Requests of "Por favor, puede usted hablar mas despacio?"  were met with confusion in many cases.  Our neighbours are used to talking fast.  Their language and dialect enables them to do this.  "Mas despacio" most often became the slightly slower version of a speeding train.

It wasn't until I was talking to one of the other 'non-locals', a woman who had moved to our little village from a more urban area of Spain, that I realised that it wasn't necessarily because we were expats that we hardly understood a word.  She explained that she had trouble understanding the local dialect also.

Of course, this makes perfect sense.  When you think about all the different dialects in the UK and how difficult it sometimes is for people there to understand each other, why should living in Spain with all the many different regions and cultures here be any different?

After that, our language task became more about re-learning Spanish, so that we would understand our neighbours.

Today we can just about get by speaking Spanish (as long as we are face to face with the person we are talking to - telephone Spanish still gives us nightmares!).  We have a long way to go before we understand the local dialect (or many of the jokes), but we are getting there.  However, in the unlikely event we moved to another part of Spain, some of our 'language skills' would have to be learned all over again.

But of course it's all part of the rich culture of living as an expat in rural Spain and we wouldn't wish to give that up.

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Living in Spain as an expat is not always easy!
28 May 2008

We moved out here to Southern Spain two years ago.  We had researched articles, forums, websites and books all about Spain and we had spent a great deal of time looking at different parts of Spain to choose where we wanted to live.  We had all the correct paperwork, had done all we thought we needed to do to make our move as painless as possible, but of course we had not!

When you move to Spain you can never be prepared for all the little things that can happen: or the problems you may have to face and perhaps that's as well, or else you may never make your move to this lovely country, and that would be a shame.

This blog is about our life in Spain as expats and some of the 'adventures' that have happened to us, even those we would best forget.

It's also about the many good things we have discovered about Spanish life and why we would never want to stop being expats.

Well, that's the introduction over to Living in Spain as an Expat.  So it's very soon on with the next post!

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