Back to the UK, a hard facts, no nonsense look at why we’re leaving Spain for good.
Most people leave eventually, we’ve seen it time and time again always knowing that it was never beyond the realms of possibility that one day it might be us. I remember our viewing trip back in 2004 looking at cave houses and being inspired to move, to create a new life and begin an adventure.
For a while we were living the dream, renovating an old property while living in an old caravan we’d brought down with us full of what was essentially everything we had. We immersed ourselves in the culture, learned the language, integrated well and other than the agent landing us into a property dispute from the moment we arrived all was good – “you need a thick skin to live here” we were told as a lawyer was employed to pick apart what would eventually turn out to be 11 years in and out of court.
We were still in our late twenties, our two year old son in tow and needed to work. Back then Spain was cheap but certainly not free and our savings dwindled quickly. Our online business launched in 2006 an ecommerce idea inspired by the Spanish ‘jamon’, within a year we’d outgrown the back room of the cave which was our office and we had to move into premises in the village eventually investing in a new warehouse. Everything was good, we were living the dream…
Living in Spain however is not without it’s problems, rural Spain is backwards in many respects, for example the gestor [accountant] that came recommended to us did not have any idea about online business never mind international export and by the time we realised he had cost us thousands it was too late.
Running a business in Spain is a real challenge, the language, the system, extortionate costs, taxes, bureaucracy, trust… As a foreigner some see you as an easy target, foolishly assuming you’re stupid. As an expat if all you have to worry about is the exchange rate on your pension payments and the odd airport run to pick up family then Spain is a great place to be. However when you have kids and need to earn a living then it’s a different ball game altogether.
Small village mentality. Continuing to immerse ourselves in the village made little difference to the level of acceptance we received. If there is one thing to know about rural Spain it is that you will never be accepted, we even know people from the north of Spain who, even after years of living here are still treated like outsiders, so as a foreigner you have no chance at all.
Getting involved in the community offering free photography sessions and classes, teaching, promoting local businesses through our own, publishing articles and promoting the village, free music classes at the local school, pitching ideas to clean up the environment etc etc etc all went unnoticed. We were English, different and if it wasn’t the village way then that was that.
Cleaners would easily get €9.00 per hour whereas anything over a fiver for teaching would result in the classic ‘whooh’ accompanied by a rapid shake of the hand.
Gayle taught English in the village for a while and offered private tutoring before realising that the locals valued a house cleaner more than the opportunity for their offspring to learn another language. Cleaners would easily get €9.00 per hour whereas anything over a fiver for teaching would result in the classic ‘whooh’ accompanied by a rapid shake of the hand.
That ‘mañana’ thing
Yeah, it’s a thing, you can always tell a newbie when they tell a story about mañana and they think it’s funny. Give it a few months.
There were also quite a few other things that were beginning to niggle at us, I can’t possibly list nearly twenty years worth here but they are all very subtle and when put together they do amount into something quite significant. The novelty at this stage had worn off years previously and Spain was becoming hard work. I do mean this in a literal way too, Spain is hard work, you are constantly up against it and you’re a foreigner…
This is something that really
does did my head in. The standard of workmanship, at least in our local village, was so low it was hard to believe. We had our warehouse built in 2010, not only were the interior build plans not followed but the roof leaked every time it rained – all the warehouses as part of the new expansion were the same, sub standard yet no-one would say anything as the guy who built them was from the village and you’re not allowed to upset anyone.
We had no less than six interior doors fitted by the local carpenter and by the end of five months every door handle had come off.
The post woman would sling post out of her car window onto the pavement or leave packages at the door not having the forsight to realise that it was about to rain.
The town hall would consistently do jobs by half. Half the strimming would be done, no clean up which made the area look rough and unkempt. The local tip, once the hours were reduced from open all the time to two hours on a Thursday [providing there was no holiday] became the biggest eyesore in the area with gitanos coming from nearby towns to rifle through the waste looking for anything worth money. A great impression of the village seeing as it was the first thing you saw when entering from the main trunk road.
not only were the interior build plans not followed but the roof leaked every time it rained – all the warehouses as part of the new expansion were the same
The contenders to be the next mayor think it’s acceptable to have election posters written by hand on the back of crisp boxes from the local shop tied to lamp posts with baler twine. I mean c’mon.
There is a huge difference between a relaxed attitude and giving a sh**. The bare minimum is all that is aimed for but when the bar drops, which it inevitably does you end up with work not being carried out properly and acceptance adjusted accordingly when it’s obvious the bare minimum [or below it] will do. Going the extra mile is something I have never seen, not once during my time in Spain.
Education is something that we were not impressed with at all, if you have kids in a rural Andalucian school then you will no doubt know what I mean. For starters the kids are hardly at school, three month long summer holidays plus Easter etc and then approx 28+ days for virgins and saints. It is also illegal to home school in Spain, you will be reported if you pull your kids out of school and accused/charged with child neglect by social services… errr, my kids, my choice.
The teaching standard is simply not good and most foreign teachers working in the system themselves agree.
Speaking of education [or lack of it] – Covid 19. People getting diagnosed and still going to work and wandering around the village. Yeah, it happened. The whole Spanish kissing thing too, at the end of August during the first big wave  and after everyone had gone home Covid cases went through the roof in the village, there was no social distancing, nobody took any notice. People died.
The health service – don’t believe the hype
The Spanish health service may rank highly in the official world health figures but at ground level the story is very different. Yes, the treatment is fair to good but that is where it ends and the sheer incompetence takes over. I have experienced missed appointments because of paperwork errors, cancelled follow ups, misinformation about admission and left alone in an MRI machine after suffering a stroke as well as no physio whatsoever.
The health service in Spain is very different to that of the UK for sure, don’t expect any bedside manner, more ‘in and out’ mentality, rough and very, very loud. [Read my full story of having a stroke in Spain.]
I can understand when expats say the health system is better in Spain compared to the NHS as you don’t have to wait very long in A&E for example, the fact is that you will generally get seen to much quicker as there are nowhere near as many people in rural Spain. That unfortunately is where the ‘better’ bit tends to end. It’s worth reading some reviews of Spanish hospitals from both Spaniards and expats as it’s a very mixed bag indeed.
Beginning of the end
Skip forward to 2016 and we decided to close our business and with the Brexit vote in we knew it was time to begin something different. Our courier could no longer physically deliver orders to any country without smashing the contents to pieces and UK customers would not wait for the multitude of Spanish holidays that delayed pretty much everything.
There were a lot of things mounting up that were making it incredibly challenging to be positively engaged with the village and Spain in general.
We were becoming disillusioned with Spain quite rapidly at this point and thoughts were creeping in about leaving and starting again somewhere else, going back to the UK was also on the table.
By 2018 we were building Gayle’s coaching business which meant we could work remotely from anywhere. I felt that my interest in having a life here was no longer strong enough to justify staying so began thoroughly investigating other options. Unfortunately finances were proving a big issue, we’d been well and truly priced out of the UK as far as property and rental was concerned so that left us with some other interesting options like canal boats, motorhome/van life or simply travelling.
and then it happened…
Our son took his own life
[Read the full post here] When something like this happens it changes you forever. The behaviour of the Spanish people in our village was disgusting, vile, unwarranted and demonstrated such a stark absence of humanity and compassion we made our minds up there and then that this was not the place for us. More disappointingly it made us realise that it probably never had been.
People who we had known for nearly 20 years turned without explanation, we’d never felt so isolated, singled out and hated. To this day we have no idea what we’ve done or why people have reacted the way they have, even the mayor put it down to ‘small village mentality’.
After the somewhat ruthless nature of the Spanish funeral procedure and a catalogue of errors in paperwork during the six months that followed we began making plans to go back to the UK for good. Our time in Spain and around the people in the village had come to an abrupt end and we could not wait to get away from what had become a toxic atmosphere and very uncomfortable place to be.
Do I regret moving to rural Spain? No I don’t. What I do regret is not leaving ten years earlier, I am convinced my son would still be alive and life would be very different. It’s difficult to be positive after such loss, at the time of writing it has only been six months since we lost Joshua and the pain remains indescribable.
For young people, rural Spain is not the best place to be. There are few opportunities and most end up leaving hence the decline in small rural villages. The alternative is to find bits and pieces of work when it comes up, get paid in black money and stay in the area with no prospects. We moved to Spain to offer a better life for our kids never thinking we would lose our eldest son to suicide to which the choices we made by coming here and/or not leaving earlier had to have had some influence on his decision. Maybe.
People may ask why we stayed as long as we did and believe me I ask myself the same question too. The thing is when we moved here we’d made the concious decision that it was going to work, failure was not an option. When you’re in that mindset and running a business in a foreign country you aim for success, you have to. But, we’d forgotten to pause, take stock and observe what was going on around us.
no matter what you do in Spain it is always met with an element of resistance
This may read like a Spain bashing post and in some respects it is but it is also the bare truth. Our life in this country was forged by us, no-one else and nobody is responsible for the decisions we made except ourselves. Spain is a complicated country to live in and attitudes are different. A fellow expat once said something that is very true and that is no matter what you do in Spain it is always met with an element of resistance.
The picturesque white-washed village we lived in was/is too afraid to move forward, change appeared to be held as something bad, if it was different then it was no good and the old way was always upheld. Even the town hall had the same mayor for nearly 30 years such was the attitude toward change.
The thing is these villages are shrinking in population, the older generation pass and the youngsters leave as there is no work. Eventually you end up with shops closing as there is not enough people to warrant businesses staying open and the snowball effect begins as more people leave to areas where there are services etc. The village then hits the media as one of those places where you can buy a home for a euro or they pay you a few grand to move there [if you meet the stringent criteria of course]. The reason this happens is lack of forsight and inability to change and act upon current and forthcoming issues.
To those who will ask “Why did you come back to the UK? Are you mad?” I will reply “when was the last time you lived in Spain for 20 years?”
Our family of four is now three and we have our youngest son to think about, remaining would not offer him the opportunities that the UK would so for that reason alone we are going.
It’s a hard one to describe, living in a rural Spanish village where even the other villages that surround it think that the inhabitants are a bit odd. There are things you see, hear and feel as a near two decade full timer that tourists or those with holiday homes don’t notice [or point blank refuse to accept].
Not all bad
Not all of our time in Spain has been bad, you take the rough with the smooth right? Every country has it’s flaws, speak to those who live there and they ‘hate it’, [except perhaps if they’re from Scandinavia] it’s easy to say without any experience of the other side. As mentioned above you really need to live it not ‘tourist’ it to get the genuine, cultural vibe of a place and in many respects Spain was great.
I’m going to miss the overlanding that’s for sure. I saw Spain described as like ‘a small USA in Europe’, freedom to drive the countryside trails through olive groves, pine laden mountains and pretty much everything we’ve written about on this site I will miss. Spain has delivered in buckets when it comes to overlanding. The thing is you get to know the place, rules, road signs, hunting seasons and all that stuff to the extent you are confident to get out there are explore – not like a cautious first timer.
The early years were bags of fun, living in a cave, snowy winters and big log fires, watching the kids grow up in a safe environment with no crime and a different pace of life compared to what we were used to back in England. The cave was unique and a joy to renovate as well as a learning curve in all respects!
I’m going to miss driving to our favourite places just to have breakfast or a coffee. You never get tired of the views, the clear night sky and the silence of sitting in the hills watching the sun go down. Going back to the UK is going to be very, very different.
And for all the warehouse leaks I will miss it too, working on the Shogun undercover has just been super convenient.
We’ve educated ourselves in many aspects of Spanish food, learned photography, picked up instruments, become fitter, gained qualifications in therapy/meditation/life coaching/finance and begun to appreciate the important things in life. All of these these things happened during our time here.
We’ve met some great people too, started a cool hobby and been to places we would not otherwise have been fortunate to have seen. We’ve been through all the ups and downs that life tends to throw at you and we’ve done it all in Spain. It’s been an adventure for sure, different and a real opener.
Would I do it all again? No, not a chance, not here, perhaps somewhere across an ocean next time if there is a next time. For now though this chapter is closed and this has been my last post from Spain.
Are you moving to Spain, specifically rural Spain in Andlaucia? Have a question? Pop it in the comments below and I will do my best to answer.