My old Mum, may she rest in peace, loved history. Not dinosaurs, Piltdown Man or the tombs of the Pharaohs, but the sort of costume history that the BBC does so well. Always with her nose in a Jean Plaidy or Georgette Heyer novel, she could recite England’s royal lineage, including the date of every birth, marriage and death, right back to Eldrich the Flatulent (or somebody; OK, so I wasn’t a great student). She desperately wished that she lived in Bronte’s world, not Whicker’s.
When I felt strong enough, I used to point out that life back then wasn’t like it appears on TV. It was hard, cruel and usually short. Even if she could travel back in time, she wouldn’t be able to take with her any home comforts like Tetley Tea, Swiss Roll or Breakfast With Wogan.
In any case, since we were of regular working stock she’d be, not Lady Fairfax Rochester, but the scullery maid blacking the kitchen range every morning at 5am until consumption or typhus did for her at the age of 23.
Mum wasn’t having any of that sort of talk. Not because it wasn’t true, simply because it wasn’t what she wanted to hear. This was only a fanciful dream, why did I have to hobble it with reality?
A little perturbing, then, to find myself later constructing a similar image of ‘the real Spain’, long before ever setting foot here; a laughable pastiche of sun-drenched images of bullfighting and flamenco, sangria, Don Quijote (not that I’ve read it, of course), even Una Paloma Blanca, all stirred in together and accompanied in my head by moody picados and voices from the spaghetti westerns (Spaniards are really just slightly taller Mexicans, everyone knows that, gringo). Everybody cooks paella and dances sevillanas. Flamboyant earrings are mandatory. Even for the women.
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Of course, when you move to Spain you can bring some home comforts, and I guess all novice expats do just that. It may be certain foodstuffs (PG Tips? Marmite?), conversation in the mother tongue (I often see socialising expats who I’m sure would be unlikely pals in the UK), favourite music, soap operas or whatever else can’t easily be had in this new adoptive home. In our household it’s science fiction, crime and fantasy novels, a few English-language TV channels and, of course, real ale, which we brew here at home.
And why not? The Spanish equivalents are perfectly OK, but they’ll take some getting used to. All in good time. Poquito a poco, as they say around here.
But what about that vision of Spain, the one you dreamed up and then dreamed of?
Well, it is sunny here, at least in the summer. That bit I imagine most people get right. The rest of it, maybe not so much.
Does it come as a shock that everyone drives one of the same world-brands of car as they did ‘back home’, and struggles with the monthly repayments? That they shop at Spar, argue over chores, complain about taxes, and continue to have their lives blighted by ‘Big Brother’ on TV? That morning coffee isn’t served up by a guitar-wielding toreador?
When you relocate to Spain, you’ll no doubt have plenty of baggage (literally and figuratively). By all means pack the Heinz beans and Cathedral City, but leave some extra space in your baggage allowance for your own vision of ‘the real Spain’. When you get here, you may have a little trouble finding it available locally.
The Spanish equivalent is just fine, trust me. It just takes a little getting used to.