Irish expat Carol Byrne gives us the lowdown on the ten commandments thou shalt follow if you want to settle into expat life in Spain.
Thinking of a move to sunny Spain and wondering where to start? Once you have all the travel arrangements and new home sorted out, and have finally unpacked, you should then find out how best to fit in. Confused? Then follow some simple rules, and feel more at home in Spain.
After a decade here in the Alpujarra region of southern Spain, we have fallen foul of at least a few of these ‘rules’ – so be prepared!
1. Thou shalt give blood, sweat, tears – and another photocopy
When you go to finalize paperwork (a bit of an oxymoron as there is always more, and never a ‘final’ ream of paper to get through) always remember to bring many, many copies of absolutely everything that pertains to the subject at hand. A vial of blood may also be handy. Add approx one ton of patience and you’re almost there.
2. Thou shalt punish the liver – an evil organ
Party Etiquette. Your child – settled in school and lisping like a local – has been invited to a friend’s birthday. Yay – a couple of free hours. Wrong. Forget pinning the tail on the burro, or birthday games of any sort. You will also be expected to attend. The kids will be kicked into the street to play (whatever the weather) while the adults eat Russian Salad and get completely sloshed on home-made wine. There will be many of these – prepare your liver now.
3. Thou shalt not poison thy neighbour’s wife
Foreign food. Never bring a non-Spanish dish to a party. It may as well be labelled “radioactive polonium”. Everyone will ask you to explain what it is, what’s in it, how did you make it – but NO-ONE will eat it. You’ll be encouraged to take it home again, where it can sit in the fridge looking reproachfully at you for three days before being slung in the bin. As for curry – ha.
4. Thou shalt not get frustrated
Never assume a free morning is an ideal time for popping to the bank, the doctor and the Town Hall. One thing at a time. Always. Listen to everyone’s aches and pains in line at the bank, their marital troubles in the doctor’s, and prepare to be surprised at the Town Hall – Ayuntamiento – where you’ll be presented with another bill or ten you hadn’t known about.
5. Thou shalt not arrange anything in August
Never attempt to get anything at all done in August. Spain is closed. The roofer, gynaecologist and lawyer you desperately need to speak with are all at the beach.
6. Thou shalt stay pale and interesting
Oh no. Never go to the beach in August. In addition to it being packed out with all of the above – see Commandment Five – you’ll feel hopeless, pathetically underqualified when you take out your sandwiches. Mama and extended family next to you will have salad, wood fire cooked paella and cold beers, coffee and cakes, and a tablecloth on a table to seat 20.
7. Thou shalt be assertive
STOP being so polite. “Please” and “thank you” gets you nowhere. If you want another drink, bang your glass hard on the counter. Shout louder, harder, stronger.
No, we still can’t do it either.
8. Thou shalt become a supergrass
Be prepared to tell everyone in a room how much you earn, how much you owe to the bank, how much you weigh, and the details of your sex life. In detail. Ya está…
9. Thou shalt honour the little people
Never expect to find somewhere to eat a quiet, romantic meal, with all kids tucked up in bed. Noooo, kids stay up as late as everyone else, and are happily ignored as they scream and run in close proximity to your plate of prawns. Grin and bear it. Tell one off at your peril. That might be a hanging offence, I’ll have to check…
10. Thou shalt remain smug
Enjoy yourself, turn your face to the sun, and your back on stress and worry. Never worriedly say “but what if…” instead wait until it might happen. Have a healthy respect for football and local fiestas, take the generous gifts of fruit and vegetables with gratitude, and you’ll soon settle into your new life in Spain.
Good choice, by the way
Originally from Dublin, Carol Byrne has lived in Murtas, in the Alpujarra mountains for ten years with her family and the collection of four-legged creatures that find their way to her door.