Today I am going to start a new section in the blog called: "Impressions of Expats living in Spain", in which I'll try to collect testimonies of foreign friends and acquaintances about their experiences living in this country.
This first article has been written by a good friend of mine, he is British and he is living in Granada for twenty years, I asked him to write some article about his experience, thinking that perhaps his testimony might be very valuable and of much interest for other foreign people and he kindly wrote about his impressions on this country that I am leaving here as follows..........
"It has been nearly twenty years since I decided to try living in Spain. At the time it was increasingly fashionable: people in Britain were tired of working lives which seemed to promise nothing but continual toil in a country with a high cost of living, many retired people wanted their place in the sun, away from Britain's rainy shores, and, for young single people, Spain seemed to hold the promise of excitement, with Spanish cities appreciated for their lifestyle and vitality. How have these impressions stood the test of time, and does Spain still hold such an attraction for immigrants from northern Europe?
Undoubtedly much has changed in twenty years. The cost of living has risen since Spain joined the Euro, the economy has hit the rocks, other less costly countries - Turkey, Cyprus and Morocco to name three examples - now compete with Spain as short haul sunny destinations. More than that though, Spain's image has been affected by the unfortunate experiences many overseas immigrants have endured; from being a "grass is always greener" destination, the problems affecting Spain in regard to its society, its legal system and its economy have now been revealed.
Yet it is still a society which, for northern European immigrants, shows considerable tolerance. Retirees from northern Europe, many of whom never get to learn Spanish, can live in coastal areas where English is the second language. They are familiar with the health system and generally praise the standard of care and medical attention they receive. The banks have reciprocal arrangements with their home countries to receive their pensions, and generally retired people live off their pensions with the minimum of taxation, enjoying as residents many of the same benefits afforded to Spanish "jubilados".
Working people have less of an easy time. The system of National Insurance in Spain is costly, with benefits which are difficult to appreciate in the short term. Self employed people are supposed to fill out quarterly tax returns for both income tax and VAT, as well as the annual tax return, and for each of these tax returns foreigners, because they dont understand the system, feel obliged to pay "gestors" to act on their behalf. If immigrants learn to speak Spanish well enough to compete in the labour market, they are shocked to find how much competition there is for jobs, how low the pay is for those jobs, and how much the culture of "amiguismo" determines whether their application will even be looked at.
For younger people who come here as students or to teach English, living in a Spanish city can be a heady experience. In Madrid and Barcelona, even in the larger regional cities, there are bars, music, fiestas and concerts, in the summer around the clock. Superficially it appears easy to make friends with Spanish people their own age. Finding accommodation can be a problem, but less of a problem if you are prepared to flatshare. Getting out of the cities and enjoying the beach and the countryside is always an option: Spain is a country with the Great Outdoors, and the climate to match.
So my impressions of the Spanish after all this time? They are still a mystery to me because my Spanish is not perfect and I am not part of that great Spanish institution, the Family. Most foreigners I know who have married Spaniards here in the south tell me I am lucky, but whether you like being part of a possessive family or not, it is undoubtedly true that you will not gain much insight into how the Spanish think or behave unless you are part of one, or have a daily interaction at work with Spanish people.
If I were to have any advice for an immigrant it is to experience Spain when you are young, study here, learn the language and travel around, even work for a few years teaching English if you can. Appreciate the good things Spain has to offer when you are young, appreciate the different things Spain can offer when you are near retirement, but do not launch yourself into business in Spain in order to make your fortune, because you are likely to be beaten down by bureaucracy, taxes, employment law and the lack of purchasing power in the economy; best to wait until you are wealthy enough to live here without working!".
Thanks Tim for sharing your experience here!