Living in Real Spain
A View of Expatriate Life in the South
(I recently wrote an article about a search for a home in Spain for TransitionsAbroad.com. This follow up article shows what it is like living in a country with very different values and culture. The word “real” in Spanish is pronounced ray-al and means royal.)
The Spanish Property Explosion
Spain became a parliamentary democracy in 1978 re-instating the monarchy following the savage 40-year dictatorship of Franco. As a result it still hampered by an infuriating bureaucracy.
The explosion in foreigners wanting to live here has led to a construction frenzy with no end in sight. Cranes dominate every Spanish town. Here is some advice for living near the bourgeoning tourist haunts.
There are two major issues to be aware of when buying property and real estate people do not readily volunteer the information. The first issue is the inheritance tax whereby should you or your partner die your benefactors are personally liable to pay tax at 18% on the value of your property, to be paid within six months of your death. Furthermore, the house cannot be sold to pay the tax. Ouch!
The second is the much-publicized “Valencian land grab law,” whereby the local council can effectively “steal” some of your land for development and then have the audacity to charge you for any infrastructure that may be required. It was intended for converting rustic land to low cost housing for ordinary people but has been widely abused by developers for years. The European Union has told Spain that this law is unacceptable and must be scrapped or reformed.
Catalonia vs. Spain
Like US states, provinces in Spain are self-governing and take a dim view of any national government interference let alone outside interference, so Spain will probably drag its feet over the land grab issue. Regional rivalry is also very strong and when soccer giants Real Madrid and Barcelona play, the whole country supports one side or the other.
Barcelona is in Catalonia, a province that has always regarded itself as independent from Spain and where they speak their own language, Catalan. Speaking Spanish is not appreciated here. Even speaking in English is better. On a recent TV quiz show in Barcelona a contestant won a car. The curtains drew back to reveal a new, white Ford Mustang but far from being delighted the contestant flew into a rage, kicked over some chairs and stormed out of the studio. White is the color of Real Madrid!
Costs in the Costas
While the cost of living is considerably cheaper for most Europeans in the Costas, that is not the case for Americans. The cost of a gallon of fuel in Spain is $5.20 and in the U.K. $7.70. A large beer is $2.50 in Spain and $4.50 in the U.K. All E.U. citizens are entitled to use the national health service of any other member state but private medical insurance is advisable as English is not spoken at most public hospitals. In addition, nurses look after your medical needs only; they do not feed you, take you to the toilet or tell you bedtime stories. Members of the patient’s family generally stay to do all that.
Work or Party!
Job opportunities are limited in southern Spain unless you are a construction worker or a musician. It is tough to start your own business as well. The Spanish are a fun loving people, their fiestas are of paramount importance to them and override everything else including your blocked drain they promised to fix today. They are also very blunt, delightfully politically incorrect and do not suffer fools gladly. Go into a Spanish bar, store or restaurant and instead of “Can I help you sir/madam” you will be greeted by “Digame” (tell me). Please or thank you is rarely used. They are not being rude; it is just how they are.
The biggest, and most spectacular, festival in Spain is in Valencia and is called “Las Fallas.” (the fires). For a week, mayhem ensues throughout the province with huge 30ft high, paper mâché or wooden statues being paraded through the streets depicting politicians, public figures, and anybody else they do not particularly like. A spectacular finale involves setting fire to all of these statues in the middle of the city.
Day by Day
My wife and I, both in our late 50s, work part time. My wife looks after peoples’ villas and works in a local bar. I write for local publications, dabble with some internet ventures and play in a band. The musical cultures of Spanish and British/American music are very different. Sixties and Seventies rock leaves most Spaniards totally bemused. All this is a far cry from the high-pressure world we were used to and it has taken us two years to adapt to this pace of life and accept that things just do not get done when you expect them to. I am not even sure there is a Spanish word for punctuality. For us there is no going back. Some, however, come here to retire and end up going home within five years due either to frustration or inactivity or both.
We make a point of attending fiestas, trying to understand Spanish culture and accepting their easygoing way of living. Late nights are the norm and in an ex-pat commune, it is so easy to become cocooned, insulated and inactive. You must get out of the comfort zone and mingle with your new hosts. When you have Spanish friends, you have them for life.
For More Info
The Land Grab Law