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Lovely to See You, When Are You Leaving? PDF
 

By Liam Kellehar

alt  Olive Country Life magazine, September 2009

 

 

Recently a friend arrived for a visit, bearing gifts of English newspapers, which we read to remind us of the life we had left behind. Skimming through these, I happened on an article by the doyenne of columnists and newspaper editors’ favourite, Philippa Space.

It appears that Philippa was bemoaning her purchase of a house in France. I won’t bore you with the list of easily avoidable tragedies that seem to assail the chattering classes when they set foot outside Islington. But one particular gripe did catch my eye. She detailed how, after washing, cleaning and feeding a horde of 14 staying for the weekend, she was at her wits end when a guest slopped in from the swimming pool, dripping water over her clean kitchen floor.

“What’s for tea?” He asked with unconcerned languor. Of course Philippa blamed his boorish behaviour and all her troubles on her new country of residence. France may be guilty of many ills, but a badly chosen guest-list is not one of them. But our North London heroine was lucky. Many people, living in Spain, find themselves contracted to undertake a “mine host” role to everybody they have ever met. I have heard of people having guests from early July through to late September. The airport run frequently involves waving goodbye to one contingent, only to greet the next as they clear baggage reclaim.

But it does not end there. Once in your house, instead of being grateful and respectful, your guests treat you worse than the hired help and you spend the entire day fetching and carrying for them. This is bad enough if you are at liberty but insufferable if you have to work.

We often call someone “a good host”, but when was the last time you heard of someone being referred to as “a good guest”? Probably back in the twenties and thirties when there was an art to house parties. People have lost the skill of being thoughtful guests. For this reason I have instigated the four-day rule. I will neither “stay with” nor be “stayed with” longer than this allotted period of time.

Generally, La Señora ridicules my ideas, until they are proved to be right. At which time she claims them as her own, citing that she had raised the matter in an earlier conversation that I cannot recall. But this one is admitted as mine. I can even pinpoint the experiment that proved my theory.

A few years ago, we agreed to visit friends in France, travelling up through Spain by car and stopping-off on the way. But we could not concur on the duration of the trip. I felt that the entire holiday should last about seven days, leaving only about four days for our stay in France. However La Señora insisted that travelling time was extra. Louise and her had agreed that we would be there for the week. The plans were set in stone.

My observations about our friend’s mental health and the fact she would have just completed a week’s confinement with a diffident brother and the “much-hated” sister-in-law were airily waved aside. As we got the other side of the Pyrenees, we were unaware of the maelstrom that was about to envelope us.

Two days into the holiday, the composure of our hostess was starting to crack. I should point out that we are, in fact, pretty good guests, though I must admit that La Señora surpasses myself. Although I am capable of cleaning up after myself and doing some washing up, she can organise breakfasts, the laundry and will even turn her hand to entertaining the hostess’ children. But nothing we did was right. What we saw as a helping hand, Louise saw as undermining her authority, or “not the way she wanted it done”.

Day four saw a frank exchange of views with the hostess, but an uneasy truce was cobbled together so that we could be in-situ for the arrival of Louise’s husband, Gerald, the next day. Why anybody thought that this proposal was a good idea is beyond me. But we complied and therefore must all partake of the blame for the Armageddon that was that final weekend.

Needless to say, we have never spoken to our friends since. Which is a shame. For although Louise could be high maintenance, she was also good fun and a loyal friend. Whenever the four-day rule is questioned, I point out that if we had followed it in France we would all still be friends. Knowing that we were about to leave, we could have bitten our lip and put up with our friends’ eccentricities.

When I mention the ruling to our Spanish friends they laugh. “You’re not serious?” they ask doubtfully. “What do your friends say? A Spaniard would never accept their visit being curtailed in such a way.” I truly admire the level of Spanish hospitality, which at once has its origin in the worlds of medieval and Muslim courtesy. But there are no vaciahorzas staying in an Anglo Saxon house. Our English friends just shrug and acknowledge the universal truth; after four days both fish and friends go off, o como una amiga catalana (andaluza) me dijo .

But there are other mistakes you must avoid. Once La Señora innocently invited our visitor to treat our house as his own. Over the next four days we were to gain an insight into just how badly he treated his home. Coming back for lunch after a hard morning of continuous meetings, she discovered that he had decided to make himself breakfast. This seemed to entail strewing greasy fried onion about the floor and leaving every utensil used unwashed and artfully distributed about the kitchen. Fortunately I intercepted her before she reached the knife block. I caught hold of her wrist and in my best Gary Cooper impression, stared hard into her eyes and said, “Leave it Belle. He’s not worth it!”

However, after they leave our guests prove to be an endless source of amusement. La Señora and I spend hours ridiculing their behaviour and faux pas. Perhaps this is childish, but if you live in an aldea you have to make your own fun.

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.