Today’s expat is my friend, Wendy who writes at Very Bored in Catalunya. Wendy is a UK expat now living in sunny Spain, and reading her story (yes another expat who moved for love!) I reflected on how home will always be England for this expat.
For love (shucks), I’d met my husband a couple of years earlier and we had a long distance relationship. We decided that we were each other’s ‘one’ so I badgered my boss for voluntary redundancy, sold my house and moved over to be with him.
Can you remember and recall the time before you left England, and what your concerns about moving were? What did you think your biggest challenges would be?
Initially my main concern was moving into our guest house. I’d spent the winter living with my husband in the UK and we were obviously fine, but now I throwing in his business partner and up to 7 different anglers every day. As someone who cherishes their own space, I found this the most challenging. I was very happy when we moved into our place. I was also without a car for the first year so if I wanted to leave the house that was basically in the middle of nowhere I had to get on a pushbike. Oddly enough, the language barrier isn’t as big an issue as you’d think it was. Life would obviously be better if I could speak fluent Catalan, but I doubt it would improve my quality of life that much.
What did you think you would miss most about England, apart from family?
I thought that running a guest house might not be suited to me—I’m not particularly a people person, and that I’d miss being out and about as I was in my old job. I was correct on both fronts. In the early years lots of people came to visit (from the UK), in fact during the first couple of summers there seemed to always be someone drinking and eating us out of house and home. Sadly we don’t have room for visitors anymore.
Have you been surprised by what you really have missed about England?
Female company, British shops, the sheer act of being able to converse without difficulty (obviously this is purely my own fault for not having better language skills). The weather, carpets, autumn, Bonfire night and Pork Pies! The usual stuff really, no big surprises. I guess living in Spain you know that you’re only a 2 hour flight away. I miss my kids not seeing their grandparents and cousins. Family is so important when you’re growing up and of course, they are missing from their lives most of the time.
Do you see your old age in this country or in England, and was moving a ‘for life’ decision or ‘for a while’ decision?
I would go back to England tomorrow if it were a viable option. Sadly it’s not. I could maybe see myself here for life, but only if we moved out of our matchbox apartment into a nice house with a garden & pool. Again, not particularly likely any time soon.
Aside from the weather, what positives about life in Spain can you tell us about and were the challenges the same as you envisaged or not?
I love how child friendly Spain is. Our village is actually quite large with a population of about 3000 people, but everyone seems to know each other. All the mamas at school know all the other kids names, there is a real sense of community. Generally, the people in our village are very friendly and helpful, and while there are different cliques etc there doesn’t appear to be the bitchiness that you get with the English.
What surprises have you had – good and bad – setting up your new home?
Just how badly designed modern apartments are, and how small. And how bad the plumbing is – we’ve had to replace every bit of pipework due to burst pipes and flooding in our 6 year old apartment. The paperwork and bureaucracy here is beyond annoying. Nothing is simple. That said, when it comes to banking matters, it’s all a lot more personal (if not slightly bizarre) and feels like banking used to be 20 years ago in the UK. The school hours are annoying 9-12 and then 3-5, as they mean you can never go out and get stuff done as you’re always rushing back for the school run.
Everything is so much more expensive than in the UK, with the possible exception of water. Even wine is catching up with UK prices. There seems to be a hidden tax attached to pretty much every single transaction you make. The postal system is surprising good.
If you experienced conflict between you and your spouse about moving, or aspects of resettling, how easy did you find it to resolve them?
Well, if were down to my husband we would never return to the UK. At the minute he’s winning. I don’t think it’s resolved, I guess that I accept the fact that we live here and it would be almost impossible to return home, both get jobs given how long we’ve been out of the UK job market and the recession. I live in hope though.
When you think of home, which country comes to mind now?
England. Always England.
In what ways do you think your family life, and your relationship/marriage, has become stronger after undertaking this adventure?
As a family unit, Spain suits us very well. As I said before, it is very child friendly and living in a close knit community is great. As far as my relationship with my husband goes, even if we lived in England I would find something to moan about so I accept that nothing is perfect.
I always knew what I was getting into, I lived out here with him, then we got married and had kids (well actually we had one out of wedlock…). I could have bailed out at any time, I didn’t because ultimately our relationship means more than to me than where we live.
We have a decent standard of living, the sun shines a lot, my husband has the added benefit of actually really enjoying his job and my boy loves Barcelona Football Club.
I just need some decent bars, shops and some girlfriends to make it perfect.
Reading Wendy’s story I reflected on how couple’s despite being all loved up, don’t always share the same vision of home, and how sometimes harmony is maintained by a series of compromises, punctuated by international moves. I wonder though whether this is more typical of one gender versus the other, or one nationality more than others.
Do you think it is more common for women to want to live ‘at home’ and for men to relish living abroad?
Is one nationality more likely to want to return to the motherland, more than any other?
And, if you agree with either of those questions, why?