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Relocation, Relocation, Relocation – “Yes, but why Spain??”

Relocation, Relocation, Relocation – “Yes, but why Spain??”

I know time flies when you are having fun but I can hardly believe it but the 4th anniversary of our arrival in Spain is fast approaching. As a consequence, I have started to reflect on my Spain, the Spain I have grown to know and love.

Please note that the information provided in this article is of a general interest nature and intended as a basic outline only. You are well advised to contact a professional for advice specific to your circumstances. Nothing contained in this article should be seen or taken as the writer or publisher providing legal or financial advice.

I know time flies when you are having fun but I can hardly believe it but the 4th anniversary of our arrival in Spain is fast approaching. As a consequence, I have started to reflect on my Spain, the Spain I have grown to know and love.

For those of you who saw the first and/or second of my notes from Spain, I set out below another half dozen of our well-learned “Lessons”.

Lesson 1 – The rain rarely falls in Spain.

When my wife, Andrea, and I decided that it would be a major improvement in our family’s lifestyle to relocate to a new country, as I had lived and work for a Law Firm in Paris in the early 80’s, France seemed an obvious candidate.

For many years a January business trip involved attending the MIDEM festival in Cannes in the South of France. It had rained stair rods for most of the years I had attended but I brushed that aside as “Well that’s January for you!” I had seen the Cote d’Azur in all its Summertime glory on many occasions, reflected in the turn of the last century works of F. Scott Fitzgerald and more recently I had been further seduced by the slightly Disneylandesque view of Main Street, France, the region called “Provence”.

I was keen to see if France would work for us. However, when friends, who had preceded us in relocating outside the UK, reported that in fact the uncertain and indifferent weather continued for much of the Spring, Autumn and Winter months with slight reprieve in May leading to a reasonable summer, it was not sufficiently reliable.

Let me be clear, I am not so shallow as to make such a crucial decision on the basis of the weather alone but the idea of the South of Spain as delivering around 300 days plus of Sun per year became a very important draw.

I am writing this in early March 2006 and daytime temperatures are cresting around 20 degree C. We are clear that by midsummer water supplies will be at a premium and we are doing all we can to sensibly conserve stocks now. This brings minor inconveniences but until the local desalination plants are working at full strength we will need to be cautious.

The advice is simple. If the weather in your home country is a major reason for your proposed relocation, and it is, for many from Northern Europe and North America, then do your research and see whether you can better Spain’s Costas and their perfect Mediterranean climate.

Lesson 2 – To add to the pleasure of Spain why not taste it!

For many the nadir of European cookery is the finest French Haute cuisine or the friendly and more rustic Italian Trattoria menu. Whilst I really do appreciate the excellence of both, Spain’s signature dishes and exceptional wines, particularly the red (vino tinto) from the Autonomous Regions  – that comprise mainland Spain – are no longer a poor third. The Mediterranean Diet with its emphasis on fresh colourful vegetables, smashing fish and meat dishes, inventive “Tapas” plates and the extensive use of fine Olive oil is not the preserve of Spain’s coastal neighbours.

Although, I am certain that there will be many who’ll bemoan my releasing this information to a wider public, but the risk of passing on the pleasure will out way the burden of disclosure. There are many excellent “Ventas” in most rural and metropolitan areas that serve the very best local specialties. These are café bar type establishments that open from early morning for coffee and toasted bread, which you may like to grate with a fresh garlic clove and spread with a light tomato puree, a sprinkling of sea salt and olive oil, serving many steaming plates until well after dark.

At lunchtime, a favourite time for most Spaniards to eat, a “Menu del Dia” (Menu of the Day), often priced as low as €7 ($8 or £5) for two or three courses and a drink is possibly the cheapest and most nourishing way to taste Spain. The starter of a classic Gazpacho soup, definitive Mediterranean cookery and basically “health in a bowl” is a must!

The extensive use of pulses, lentils (lentejas), chickpeas (garbanzos), beans (alubias) and rice (arroz) will have the advocates of the high fibre diet praising you to the hills whilst the sausages, dry cured hams (jamon) and meat dishes such as the classic Estofada (veal stew) will keep any carnivore happy.

Lesson 3 – Learn and speak as much Spanish as you can.

Unlike the usual French maxim of “it doesn’t matter what you say as long as you pronounce it correctly” most Spaniards realise that if you are from an English or Germanic language heritage the chances of “school boy” Spanish are slim. Consequently, in making the effort to acclimatise to your new home, complimenting your expat life with a decent level of spoken Spanish can only prove advantageous. In working here I have had to develop a slightly more detailed understanding of the language and it’s been easy to massively embarrass myself in formal meetings conducted in the native language. However, the encouragement that I have received has generally meant that although there’s a level of  “it’s the foreigner who’s trying” good hearted gibes it’s a small price to pay and an immense source of satisfaction when you get it approximately right.

I should point out that when I refer to “Spanish”, I am speaking of Castellano which is that form of Spanish spoken by most of the regions of Spain with the exclusion of the Catalunya region. Centred on Barcelona, the locals speak a distinct language called “Catalan”.

Thanks to the European Community, my UK legal qualifications are recognised by my local Bar – the Illustre Colegio de Abogados de Malaga – and they curiously seem keen to have me as a member.

I am convinced that although it is theoretically feasible to practice law in Spain as a non-Spaniard, the Legal System – which differs from the UK and US “Common Law” system – and is based on the Napoleonic Codified Civil Law – mitigates against playing on an even pitch with my local colleagues. As a non-Mother Tongue Spanish speaker it is clear that I may even be a hindrance to a foreign client. There is a somewhat “Civil service” mentality to the administration of “life” in Spain. It has proven much more efficient and substantially more advantageous to our clients for me to work through our legal colleagues within the context of my professional services solutions provider business, “The Rights Group SL”.

Lesson 4 – Nil desperandum

The Costa del Sol is known by many as the “California” of Europe. These two regions have much in common.

The older properties, of which there are relatively few outside the picturesque Pueblos Blanco (White Villages), share the same heritage and a distinctive look that is reminiscent of the Mission in Santa Barbara, California, USA.

Aged 20 I was taken by family friends to Los Angeles’ Century City PlayBoy Club, which was as normal for my hosts as visiting a drive thru Burger King. In addition to the blond leggy Californian girls this visit held a further special charm. The early 80’s represented a time of new experiences and one of particular potency was being in Century City surrounded by satin clad bunnies and having my first experience of Cherry Tomatoes. These little globes of freshness are, together with most of our weekly shopping basket, cultivated locally in Spain having reached the UK perhaps nearly fifteen years after I first tried them in the US. They are one of many the staple foods of Europe now produced under polythene shrouds right down to the water’s edge particularly along the Eastern Costa del Sol.

Very few meals in my house pass without some fresh local produce and the adaptable Cherry Tomato invariably appears in one course or another!

As a dictionary definition the expression “Californian” conjures up an image of sun and a bohemian lifestyle. “Laid back” or “Taking it easy”. Well Spain has the same scheme, particularly in the South and it is summed up in the expression “Mañana” (“Tomorrow”). A shrug of the shoulders and a sence of resignation that “its out of my hands” can drive the average expat mad in bewilderment and frustration.

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