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"When I bought an apartment in Ronda in 2001 and a house in 2003, Paul was an invaluable help in my dealings with estate agents, lawyers, at the bank and at the notary. It’s too risky to do it all without a competent interpreter. Many do, but I would strongly advise against it."
Dr J Burgess, Warrington, UK, January 2010

The Trouble with the Spanish PDF
 

By Liam Kellehar

alt  Olive Country Life magazine, October 2009

 

 

With La Niña now embarked on her 14-week tour of the Southern Americas, my thoughts turned to the early travellers that wished to enrol Spain in the Grand Tour. How did they approach their adventure? La Niña had set off, armed only with an iPod crammed with pirated Linguaphone and the determination to learn sufficient Spanish, on the flight over, to travel the length and breadth of the continent. When I read David Mitchell’s excellent book, “Travellers in Spain”, I was surprised to discover that in comparison to some of the tourists of the past, she was relatively well prepared.

But more surprising was just how similar these very different visitors were. Their sole aim seems to have been to travel the Iberian Peninsula and to be offended by the country, the climate and everything Spanish. As Tom Burns notes in the book’s foreword: “…the travel literature tells as much about the changing prejudices and priorities of those who contribute to the opus of travel writing as it did about the evolution of the nation of Spain.”

Some, who had the misfortune to come here to fight a common external enemy, notably Wellington and Moore, bemoaned the lack of support they got from the home team. They had grossly misunderstood the Spanish psyche. For a Spaniards’ enemy of choice is another Spaniard. They will famously only take up arms against other nationals when a foe cannot be supplied from amongst their own countrymen.

Richard Ford and Joseph Baretti alone seem to find something to praise. Baretti was obviously on the Costa del Sol, when he praised Spanish sobriety compared to British sottishness. But he did not wear rose-tinted glasses and saw their faults too. But most prophetically he noted that every empire goes through a rise-and-fall cycle: “there is no reason to suppose that Spain’s successful rivals will not suffer the same fate.” It is surprising how many of those historic criticisms of Spain could relate to post-empire Britain.

Other tourists found a need to catalogue the different women they met on their travels. Most notably the German sight-seer, Augustus Fisher, and of course Lord Byron. No prizes for guessing what sort of voyage of discovery they were on. The Welsh tripper, James Howells, went one better citing what he believed to be the “compleat woman”, “French woman in dance, a Dutch woman in the kitchen, an Italian in a window, an England woman at board and the Spanish a-bed.”

No doubt he was the Club 18-30 rep of his day. But perhaps something can be read into what he says. No country is perfect; you cannot pick and choose national characteristics. We all have our faults. I have found that what people will note as problems with the country are quite often the corollary of why they came here in the first place.

  • Family life is so important here = They let their children run riot in the restaurant.
  • I like the relaxed mañana culture = The Spanish have no concept of time; you can never get anything done quickly
  • I love their easy going way of life  = They park their cars wherever they want
  • I love the Spanish impetuosity  = They never arrange an appointment, they just turn up whenever they like
  • The Spanish are so friendly and open, they don’t stand on ceremony = It takes so long to get anything done here because the first person in the bank queue is having a chat with the teller

Me. I love the way the Spanish throw themselves into life without holding back. Everything is an opportunity for celebration. You go to a meeting, Andaluz custom dictates that you must leave the office and go for a coffee first. You chat about friends, family etc., oh and eventually you might get around to discussing the business for which you originally arranged the meeting.

In my local, Bar el Ministro, at a certain hour when the montilla reaches the right level of consumption, el Cura, el Gordo and el Embujo have been known to break into a cycle of trovas, satirical ballads denigrating local politics, the Government or just their companions. The rhyming schemes and word play are complex, so far I have only been able to work out that at one time or another all of the singers will claim “…soy un hombre sencillo.” At fiestas everybody dances with no hint of self-consciousness. True there are times when it can resemble a dad’s bad-dancing convention, but how long are you going to spend perfecting your dance routine before you get involved. As an American friend told me, “you spend a long time dead.” I love the way that every Spaniard over 40 will throw themselves at the dance floor, when they hear the first strains of the pasa doble.

So at the end of the day, what have we learned? Most of the criticism from foreign nationals seems to boil down to the fact that “the Spanish are not like us.” So, what is the problem with the Spanish?

Liam Kellehar BA (Hons) Arch., RIBA, COACo no 570, is a British qualified architect registered to work in Spain.  He  lives in the Sierra Sur area of Andalucía.  He can be contacted by email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or by mobile telephone on 690 721 141.