Ten years ago today, on August 30th 1998, I left the UK for Spain. It was a move born to a great extent out of desperation. I was nearly 26, living in London, with no real job or income, and no reasonable plans. After making a few random applications, I had been offered a place on a TEFL course in Madrid two weeks previously, decided to go for it, and from there one thing after another just fell into place. A friend told me at the time that I was very brave, all I knew was that I was plain terrified.
Ten years later it’s fun to look back and see what Spain has given me:
A wife, new friends, a beautiful new language, endless travels and new landscapes and, through a hell of a lot of hard work, a business we love that keeps me and la wife out of an office job and covers the mortgage. I certainly couldn’t have predicted that last one!
Obviously a lot of those things could theoretically have been achieved if I’d stayed in the UK, or gone anywhere else, but it certainly feels like I was meant to come here, and that some of these things might not have happened so well had I not wound up in Spain.
An interesting part of living so long in a new country is that you become bi-cultural, but in a weird way which I’ll try to explain. I totally lost touch with the finer aspects of British popular culture years ago (who the hell is Russel Brand?), but still feel nostalgic if someone mentions British childhood favourites like the Magic Roundabout.
Conversely, I know lots about Letizia Ortiz and enough about David Bisbal, ZP, corruption in Marbella and the speed of Spain’s trains, but am completely lost when Marina laughs at jokes based on TV characters from her Spanish childhood (who the hell is el hombre de Pescanova?!)
So when I say I’m bi-cultural, I mean I’m culturally British up until the age of 26, then mildly imbued with Spanish culture from that point on. It’s a bit odd.
It means that when I’m back in the UK I get a kick out of the familiar homely tones of BBC1 or Radio 4, but am lost as to half of what they are talking about, as if I’d gone to sleep in the late 90’s and just woken up to a completely different version of the day to day UK. On the other hand, having not been born into it, much of Spanish popular culture (just about anything on daytime TV), really doesn’t ring the right bells, of hit the right spots…
None of this matters of course, it’s just a minor disconnect on both sides of Ben – English Ben, and Spanish Ben – that sometimes leaves me mildly… … Spanglish.
Other random thoughts:
Marina says that Spain has made me a worse driver, I agree. After 10 years of seeing how no one else pays complete attention to the all the rules of the road, it’s hard not to let standards slip oneself.
At home, Marina and I talk to each other in a terrible mixture of English and Spanish, often switching mid sentence, and occasionally mixing in our own made-up cross-breed words (“I’m feeling a bit agobiated”).
To my continued surprise, I really like Morcilla (blood and rice shaped into a sausage).
If England played Spain at football, I’d be with Iker’s team in a flash.
I sometimes feel at least 50% Spanish.
Spain has done me very very well, and as usual I’d encourage anyone thinking of making a similar (in fact, any) bold move in their life to go for it. Big changes need bold moves. When I made mine I was young, free and single, and that undoubtedly made it a hell of a lot easier. If you are none, or only some, of the above, you can still take a step into the unknown, just think carefully about what backups you should have in place first.
Anyway, enough of all that, here’s to another 10 years in Spain, and a whole lot more after that!
For more on my escape from London, my first three years in Spain and meeting Marina, don’t forget to read “Errant in Iberia”!