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The pain in Spain PDF
Friday, 09 December 2011 09:00

This article about the effect of the recession on British ex-pats living in Spain appeared in the Observer last Sunday. Have a read and see if you recognise the Spain that Duncan Campbell is writing about: I don't.

I don't recognise the Spain that Duncan Campbell describes in his Observer piece. I believe, from what I’ve heard, read and observed, that such British ghettoes do indeed exist all along the Spanish coast, but where I live in the Ronda mountains - about an hour from the Costa del Sol - things are very different.

Campbell quotes a resident of Orihuela (Costa Blanca):

"There are two kinds of expats," says Pauline, "and there is a very clear distinction between them: there are the retired ones – they'd been teachers or local government workers, doctors – and they had come intending to stay because they'd had holidays here and liked it. But they also keep a place in the UK so that they can use the health service – get their prescription pills and have their knee done. And there are the others. They come to work and they might have got a job and it went pear-shaped."

This is stereotypical over-simplified nonsense. Of course there are other kinds of expats, or immigrants, as I prefer to describe us.

For example: I'm a retired local government worker with a pension who has emigrated here and burnt my bridges in the UK. No house, no health cover. I buy my own pills and if my knee or hip goes I'll have to pay for it myself, as things stand. Oh, and I speak fluent Spanish, by the way, so in that sense I’m probably not typical.

Several other retired folk here also have no assets in the UK.

The exchange rate has hit all us retired folk, it's true, but most of us think we're still better off in Spain, and not just financially.

Some of my younger British friends and acquaintances here came to work and it hasn't gone pear-shaped for them. They have built good, reasonably prosperous lives here, their children go/have gone to schools here and are fully integrated and they aren't planning to go back any time soon. They also don't moan constantly about Spain and the Spanish.

It’s a pity Campbell didn’t carry out research over a wider area of Spain, including inland. But I guess that didn’t suit his purposes – or his editor’s!

© Paul Whitelock

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0 #1 2011-12-10 11:25
Hi Paul, and thanks for posting the link to the article. As a journalist, I usually like Duncan Campbell, but in this piece there is a gross oversimplificat ion.

There are many, many other types of Northern Europeans (including British people, of course) who live in Southern Spain. Some of them defy description but many of them could be clumped together into roughly-shaped groups.

I have no doubt that the types of people who Duncan Campbell met really do exist, as types and as stereotypes. Some of them can be found here in the mountains where you and I live. For a start, we probably all know an alcoholic smoker, happily digging an early grave for themselves, doubtless doing what they would have done "back home" anyway.

But life really is too complex to go around forming comfortable stereotypes. And what is found along the coast is a far cry from what you find here in the mountains. Neither is superior to the other - just different.

Paul Whitelock

Paul is a Joint Honours graduate in Spanish and German, a qualified teacher (PGCE) and has a Member of the Institute of Linguists (MIL) qualification.

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