Old Style Living In Spain

Published on 11/12/2008 in Expat Life

White village in SapinOpen fires and no central heating in the winter and the front doors left open on sunny days. Neighbours have chairs out the front and keep a watchful eye for anything or anyone unusual whilst they gossip over the garden fence.  You can see children walking to school and at the weekends they play hopscotch and skipping in the street with their friends.  They go home to a home cooked meal, limited in range to what the local shops stock where you are served as they weigh out your groceries.

Children take their pocket money to sweet shops that are individual units with rows and rows of jars containing loose sweets that they give to you in a paper bag. Along the high street, you find the cake and bread shop, the butchers, the hardware shop and the haberdashery. For a small fee you can have your clothes altered to fit. If you have a look in any of the bars, they are mainly full of men whilst women can be seen sweeping out the front of their houses.

You would be forgiven for thinking that I was describing a scene from sixties Britain but this is actually reality of life in Spain particularly in the villages. This is the life that many expats enjoy and possibly because in many respects it is not dissimilar from a Britain three decades ago. The same expats that lived for years behind closed doors, peeping behind netted windows as they warm their legs at the radiator, since the end of old style living in the UK. Judging from the people that I see around myself, making the transition to this lifestyle has been a breath of fresh air and they all seem relieved to be able to leave their doors open and chat to their neighbours again even if it is in pidgin Spanish.

Don't panic though, ladies, as one practice from sixties Britain that female expats haven't reverted to is sweeping the front door step. On the contrary, it is often the men that can be seen out the front enjoying some kind of DIY project in the sunshine or tending the hanging baskets whilst the women lay back on a lounger with a book! Yes, it seems that the women in particular have achieved a balance in a life which involves buying the local produce at the market but coming home to have the men prepare it for them this time round! It also seems that people rediscover the use of their legs when they come to Spain to live and whereas before they would have jumped in the car to pick up a pint of milk, it is just as easy and pleasurable to take a walk and say hello to those that they come across en route, not unlike those days in the UK when you would acknowledge people as you pass them on the street.

However, there are some drawbacks from the idyllic, old style of living which we are all so keen to adopt in Spain. The lack of central heating can lead to corn beef effect skin during the winter and we had forgotten the pleasures of living with damp. Once you have got friendly with the neighbours during the summer, it is tricky going back to incognito again when it's too cold again in the winter to be chatty. And as for the children playing in the street, as a mother myself, after three nights of them playing outside your door until beyond midnight, you just wish that their parents would put them somewhere that they could be seen and not heard or better still not seen nor heard again, ever! 

And as a woman, there comes a point when you just want to go and have a few drinks in the bars with your female friends without being stared at as though you landed from another planet, one where the women do not sweep their front doorsteps! I also wonder if we live in a false sense of security leaving our front doors open and judging by some of the fortresses that my Spanish neighbours have created outside the front of their houses, it leaves me wondering if we are just kidding ourselves.

I suppose it is all relative, the Spanish mothers that I talk to complain of yobbish, disrespectful youths running around terrorising everyone whereas we British regard the same youths as harmless and unthreatening. Spain satisfies some nostalgic yearnings that we may have for an era before central heating and shopping under one roof became the norm.  I have to admit though the weather plays a key factor in all of this.

Undercover shopping centres are preferable to getting wet walking along the high street to buy a loaf of bread or a bag of sweeties. It has been quite cold here during November and when it is cold the Spanish behave in the same way we do in the UK, they stay indoors and keep conversation on the street with the neighbours to a bare minimum. It makes me wonder how did I ever survive walking to school and no heating for all those years. I don-t think that I could do old style living in the UK so I will stick to cheating in Spain instead.

Written by: Susan Pedalino

About the author:

Women In Spain

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