Before leaving England to move to Spain, I was a city girl. With that as my background, I decided to buy a house in Lanjarón – a spa town with around 3,500 inhabitants that has the world’s highest life expectancy because of its mountain water, which is bottled and sold throughout France and Spain.
I selected a townhouse situated in a side street, nestled amongst several other townhouses. In reflection, a property that afforded greater distance from the neighbours might have been a good plan…
I recall a book by Toby Young, ‘How to Lose Friends and Alienate People’. This was written in 2001, but I read it some years afterwards. Since then, the concept has stuck in my mind – and with good cause.
I moved into my townhouse with a baby, toddler and zero attempt to understand the social mores of rural Spain or learn any Spanish. This was a mistake on both fronts. A single mother with noisy children and an extorvert disposition who likes bars (“a scandal”) and has male friends popping round for tea, wine or odd jobs (“too many boyfriends”) is sure to go down like… well, like Toby Young attached to a lead balloon with a red light inside.
Fatally, I failed to abide by the old adage “don’t sh*t on your own doorstep”. If you enjoy loud parties and have noisy friends, I suggest visiting a different town or somewhere off the beaten track, such as a rural ‘cortijo’. I sometimes reminded myself of the sitcom, ‘Shameless’.
There were some unfortunate incidents. One time, a Spanish friend tethered my horse to my metal security gate at 11pm on a school night. The horse pulled it off with an extremely noisy “clang”, as well as depositing a pile of dung in the street, which is always kept scrupulously clean by the neighbours. The Guardia Civil appeared and took photos of the debacle, before thankfully exiting after suggesting I return the horse to its field.
I’ll never forget the time when a female friend, who was staying overnight for a town fiesta, “entertained” a visitor with the bedroom window open and the downstairs neighbours outside on their patio. They tuned their radio to full volume to drown out the noise, and I felt awkward talking to them for years afterwards.
I could continue with similar tales. After all, they are numerous. However, I won’t bother. These days, it is easier to hide on a mountainside.
My advice to anyone who is moving to a small Spanish town:
- Learn Spanish!
- If you’re female, you’ll be expected to stay at home mopping and ironing. Remember that the only acceptable drinks for “respectable” ladies in public are ‘refrescos’ (soft drinks, such as Fanta), a small beer or a ‘tinto de verano’ (red wine combined with lemon Fanta). Fanta, clearly, is your best friend.
- If you’re female and single, and you talk to men in bars, you will attract gossip. Take care that the men are also single.
- Until school closes in June, never commit the following sartorial errors in public: flip flops, skirts with bare legs, shorts (unless for the gym), belly out, too much flesh of any nature. Take note that many Spanish ladies wear nude tights until San Juan (June 23).
- Never send children to school in the same clothes two days running or wearing creased garments.
- Nits would be considered unspeakable (I have to say I agree there!).
- Try to participate in the local cultural events and celebrations. However, try not to make a spectacle of yourself at these events.
- A dirty or cluttered house will be considered disgusting by your neighbours. If it looks like that, avoid inviting people inside until you’ve tidied.
- Avoid muddling your words. For example, “tengo calor” is fine on a hot day but “estoy caliente” is not. When visiting the butcher’s shop, a chicken is always masculine – “un pollo”. Never request “una polla”. I’ll not bother explaining.
- Don’t insult Spanish traditions, such as bullfighting or noisy daytime fireworks on ‘puentes’ (bank holidays), when you’re new in town.
- Remember that “women don’t raise their voices to men” or follow their male partner into bars to drag them out again. Your place is in the home keeping it presentable and preparing food. More on this will be coming soon…