Spain and its culture have been a real surprise to me. Now that we’ve been living here for nearly 18 months I feel that we are really starting to understand what makes this little corner of Spain tick.
Like many people, my only previous experience of Spain was as a holiday maker, and I had only been to Malaga twice before and a couple of visits to the Canaries. There was a bit of me that thought that maybe that’s how all of Spain was – a bit ‘Benidorm’ but I wasn’t worried as we had planned to live an isolated life, so we wouldn’t be in the thick of it too often.
Our actual experience has been so different to the stereotype and I think it’s mainly because we’re away from the coast and tourist areas.
Food – when we moved here we decided to make a concerted effort to learn about real Spanish cuisine. I am now an expert paella and tortilla maker (although they’re not always completely traditional!), and both have become part of our staple diet as they’re quick easy and healthy! Of course, Spain is famous for tapas, and we have become big fans over the last year. There really is a massive difference between the tapas that you get at tourist resorts and the tapas you get if you drive away from the coast – I would really recommend taking a drive and stopping in almost any village cafe to try some proper tapas. Tapas translates as ‘small dish’ and it’s so much better than a Greg’s sausage roll or a bar of chocolate, which was my go to food in the UK when I was hungry in between meals! Generally, the diet here is so much healthier than in the UK – fruit and veg at the markets tends to be seasonal, so I don’t write shopping lists any more – I go to the market and choose from what’s available, and that dictates what we eat for the next week. We use loads more olive oil now, especially as we got 31 litres of it from our olives lat year! The other dish I would recommend if you visit Spain is the toastada – a toasted baguette topped with smashed tomatoes which is traditionally eaten for breakfast – a little drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt on top makes it perfect! Meal times are quite different here – Spanish people think it’s hilarious that the English eat dinner at 6pm ish as it’s customary here to eat at 9.30pm! During the very hot weather this makes absolute sense, as it’s simply too hot to eat earlier than that, but in the winter we do tend to close the front door once it’s dark at about 5pm and revert to British mealtimes! The only thing I bring back from the UK with me now is tea and vegetable diet for dumplings – sorry, but Spanish tea just doesn’t cut it – it’s soooo weak! So whenever we visit the UK we make sure there’s some room in our case for bags of Yorkshire tea – and when it gets serious I get my parents to post a box of it over! You can buy PG over here in the bigger supermarkets, but it costs a fortune and only comes in tiny boxes – the Spanish aren’t a nation of tea drinkers! But other than tea and suet, we don’t actively seek out traditional British goods any more. We’ve found Spanish alternatives which suit our new way of eating perfectly.
Family and community here are so important; children are adored and everyone talks to them – they never seem to be an annoyance or in the way, and as a result they are generally beautifully behaved with fabulous manners. Respect towards your elders is a massive thing here.
There is one thing that has been hard to get used to though which is the staring. Men openly stare at women, and they don’t look away when you catch them! Apparently it’s purely appreciating the female form – hmmm … the jury is definitely out on this one!
Queuing is hilarious here! In the UK we are used to orderly queues, and pushing in is tantamount to treason. In Spain they just don’t queue, BUT there is a system! You go into, say, the bank, and everyone is just standing around. If you speak Spanish you then ask who is the last person in the general direction of the crowd, and once identified you know who to go after. If you don’t speak Spanish you have to memorize everyone who was in there when you arrived 😂 (the latter was us when we first arrived in Spain!). There are occasional podgers- and they get glared at and whispered about, although generally nothing is then said to them – it just seems to be accepted that they must be really busy!
Customer service – prior to moving to Spain we read loads of articles about living in Spain, and many cited terrible customer service as one of the downsides of living here. Well, that’s not our experience at all. Sometimes you go into a shop and think great, there’s only two people in front of us, and then you wait half an hour to be served! Why, you ask? Well, each person is given the time they need, and when it’s your turn, you’ll get the time and attention you need too. Nothing wrong in my book with that! Maybe the people who wrote these articles didn’t smile or speak Spanish, and if that’s the case then they can’t complain really!
Someone asked us the other week what our views were on bull fighting. Well, I said, personally I think it’s cruel and I don’t agree with it – however, I respect the fact that it’s a tradition here, and as I’m not Spanish I’m not going to pass judgement (but you wouldn’t catch me going to a bullfight). The response was, well, you have fox hunting! So we had to explain that it’s been outlawed and that ordinary people like us have never been fox hunting. Not everyone gets up on a Sunday morning and nips out on their horse with their dogs to go hunting – funny to hear how other people imagine England to be like!
Attitudes towards women here could be considered a little outdated or old fashioned in other countries – men and women really do have pink and blue jobs – a woman might come and pick some fruit at the finca, but you wouldn’t see them digging or fighting with a rotavator. It has a slight 1950’s feel to it. And do you know what, in this type of community it does actually work, and we have slipped into this way too for some things (but not everything 😂😂) – Rog does the majority of the heavy work outside and I do the washing, cooking etc. I do occasionally like to climb a few trees to prune them and grapple with the rotavator though, much to the hilarity of everyone who sees me! When you live like this each person really does have to know their strengths and weaknesses and you have to play to your strengths to get things done.
Everyone seems to own or part own a finca here for growing fruit and veg. And they all seem to help each other out – if someone is out spraying then they seem to do their neighbours finca too! One of our neighbours, Pepe, brings us potatoes and last week a huge carrier bag of peppers – he’s clearly a bit of an expert grower. He’s offered to come to our finca to help us a bit with our veg – I think he’s seen us struggling to get to grips with the very different soil, climate and timings for veg and so is going to come and teach us – how nice is that! He invited Rog over to see his finca (not me, because a woman wouldn’t be concerned with such things here!) to show him the best way to grow here, and the best way to irrigate etc. Once upon a time I would probably have been a bit miffed, but it’s actually really nice not having to prove anything to anyone anymore.
Religion is big here – the vast majority of the population is catholic and all the villages have a church in the center of the village , around which everything revolves. Holy days of obligation are observed, and they are usually public holidays. Each village has its own patron Saint – in Illar it’s Santa Ana (Mary’s mum). The annual fiesta sees an enormous statue of her being carried around the town, and everyone does the walk with the statue – it takes a good hour and there are stops on the route so that an enormous number of fireworks can be set off for her. This explains why, from the day we arrived here, I have been called Ana instead of Anita – as the name Anita is a derivative of Ana it’s much better to be Ana – actually it’s considered an honor.
The annual fiesta lasts for 4 or 5 days with Friday night being the evening dedicated to Santa Ana.
When we decided to quit the UK we cited a big part of the reason as being that we were fed up of living to work rather than working to live … and I think we have found the perfect place with like minded people and we certainly feel very much at home with the culture (except for the staring 😳).