Spain is a major destination point for expats from all over the world. Figures from the Spanish government show there were 4.5 million foreign residents in Spain in 2007 – that’s 10% of the population. So for those making the move, here are 10 ways to make the transition easier.
1) Learn the language
Understanding the native tongue will be the biggest aid to integration. Yes, you may get by in shops using hand gestures and Pidgin English, or by asking someone that can speak the lingo to help out when visiting the doctor or in phone conversations with the local electricity company. The Spanish are keen to communicate with you even if you only have a smattering of the lingo.
2) Enjoy the climate
One of Spain’s biggest attractions is its climate. So get out in the sunshine. Make the most of the outdoors lifestyle that it affords. Relish the chance to engage in your favourite pastimes or hobbies, whatever they happen to be: playing golf, cycling, sailing, or simply taking a stroll on the beach. After all, isn’t that one of the reasons you wanted to move in the first place? And why not take the opportunity to try something new, perhaps something that wasn’t feasible where you lived before. It could be as energetic as skiing or scuba-diving, or as leisurely as painting.
3) Adjust to the Spanish clock
Timekeeping is a flexible concept in Spain. Take any estimate you’re given as to when something will get done with a pinch of salt. That way if it happens on time you’ll be pleasantly surprised, and if it doesn’t you won’t be disappointed.
Also, remember when it hits two o’clock, bang, down go the shop shutters for siesta only to reopen at around fivish.
Spain is a big country, more than double the size of the United Kingdom. And it varies widely from region to region, not only in its geographic features but in its climate, its language, its traditions, its music, its architecture, its history and the outlook of the people. There’s the passion and heat of Andalucía, the dry remoteness of Extremadura, the lush forests and craggy coastline of the north. So go out, see something of the great country you’re living in.
5) Enjoy the food
Spain may not be able to boast a great culinary tradition to rival France or Italy, but it has plenty of regional delicacies to savour. So pick a restaurant and order something you’ve not tried before.
Spanish wines, meanwhile, have more of an international reputation. But again, there is much more to enjoy than just a Rioja red or a bottle of cava (however good they may be). So pick a local vintage and get tasting!
6) Support a football team
Football is by far the most popular sport. Teams – particularly in La Liga, the top division – are followed with fervid interest. And unlike in England, where spectators at games are overwhelmingly male, in Spain it is common to see women, and indeed whole families, in the stands. As with so many other aspects of Spanish life there tends to be a carnival atmosphere at the games too. So pick a team and get caught up in the excitement. If nothing else, it will give you a topic of conversation with the locals.
7) Go to the local fiestas
Every village, town and city has its own monthly schedule of saints’ days and feast days. These fiestas are special events in the local calendar, in which the community take great pride. Many hours are spent making costumes, preparing floats, organising processions. So if possible get involved, and at the very least go and watch to see what life in your new home is all about.
8) Watch Spanish TV
The quality of programming may not always be great, but watching Spanish TV shows will not only help with your language skills, it will give you great insight into the Spanish character, and how they interact.
For instance, in the daytime chat shows you’ll find everyone speaking over the top of one another, while in game shows such as ¡Allá tú! (the Spanish equivalent of Deal or No Deal) the contestants are tactile, supportive and lavish in their congratulations with one another. Meanwhile, the comedy programmes seem to involve a lot of cross-dressing!
9) Understand the social norms
There is a slightly different social etiquette in Spain. In Britain particularly there is an emphasis on politeness, manners and order. We expect people to say please and thank you, to wave an acknowledgement if we let a driver through. And God help anyone that doesn’t queue properly.
In Spain there are different norms. The language is such that the long-winded politeness of English (“would you be so kind as to …”) just doesn’t translate. There is more directness, which to us may border on the rude, but isn’t seen that way in Spanish. Queuing occurs, but is less of a rule. And it is rare for motorists to stop at pedestrian crossings.
Come to recognise such differences. Accept them. It will save a lot of frustrations.
10) Drive with caution
According to the International Road Traffic and Accident Database’s 2005 figures (www.irtad.net), Spain had almost double Britain’s rate of road fatalities. Get behind the wheel a couple of times and you’ll see why: crazy overtaking manoeuvres, sporadic use of indicators, excessive speeding … so stay alert and expect the unexpected.