So, now it can be told: having finally escaped the Kafka-esque embrace of the Department of Work and Pensions – they owe me nothing and I owe them nothing – we have at last made the leap to full-time residency in Spain. People who know us will be aware that this move has been in the air for some time, but now that it is official I feel able to announce it publicly. (And there is nothing more public than the Internet.)
Am I ambivalent about this move? Yes, a little. Not much, to be honest, but a little. We have committed ourselves to a country – or rather a region, of which more below – where the language is foreign (languages, rather, of which also more below), and where everything is different: the money, mealtimes, the attitude to time, the attitude to work, and much more besides.
We have made the leap to a smallholding in Galicia. According to one of my favourite local graffiti, “Galicia is not Spain,” and never was a truer word spoken. Indeed, I am coming to a similar opinion about Spain as Metternich famously held about Italy, that it is only a geographical expression. Galicia goes its own way; it has contributed one recent Prime Minster to Spain, in the dubious form of Mariano Rajoy, and at the time of writing looks likely to contribute another, but for most Galicians Madrid might as well be on another planet. I suspect Brussels is in a different galaxy altogether. And of course Galicia has its own language, which is (whisper it) closer to Portuguese than it is to Castilian Spanish.
It is revealing that during Rajoy’s premiership Galicia’s biggest newspaper, La Voz de Galicia, held a poll to determine the most influential Galician. Rajoy came second. The winner was the then president of the local government, who is now the Prime Minister in waiting. Clearly Galicians know which side their bread is buttered.
So what lured us to Galicia? There are multiple reasons, as perhaps you might suspect.
- Property prices! We “downsized” from a 2/3-bedroom house in Kent with a garden about the size of a snooker table to a three-bedroom house with five-ish acres of land, its own water supply (a borehole, a well, and a spring), and an amazing view of mountains.
- Food! There are a couple of metrics here. In Kent we used to frequent our local farmer’s market. Here there are farmer’s markets everywhere – I get the impression that the Powers That Be would like to close them down, but that is some way away. You can still get unlabelled honey for about €6 a kilo, for example. Also: if you want to eat out, you can get a very good three-course lunch, including wine and coffee, for €11-12. Good luck finding that in the UK. Indeed, good luck finding just a bottle of wine in a restaurant in the UK for that price, let alone one that is more palatable than this.
- People! In the UK, the default assumption when you encounter a stranger is: “This bastard is going to try and rip me off.” Here, the default assumption is: “This person is probably OK. On the other hand, if they screw me over I will make sure everyone knows.” Example: we ordered some stuff from a local builder’s merchant, which they then delivered. The next day we went in to pay, and they were thrown into a complete panic; they had assumed that they would have plenty of time to raise the invoice, because obviously we wouldn’t be trying to pay for several weeks.
- Culture! Food is important here. Family is important here. You can get tools. You can get livestock. Nobody thinks it’s weird if you have chickens; indeed, it would be weird if you could have chickens but chose not to. Also…
- Fiestas! Every parish has its own fiesta, because every parish has a patron saint (duh!), but in addition there are lots of others, usually food-related. For example, we live in Friol, which has an annual fiesta devoted to bread and cheese – homely enough, you might think, but I bet you’d miss ’em if they weren’t there.
- Music! There is a folk-music tradition here – yes, there kind of is in in the UK, but the difference is that here everyone knows the words and is happy to sing along. Check out this guy, or these girls. But it’s at the grass-roots also. No fiesta is complete, indeed, without folk-music.
- Pride! Everywhere in Galicia distinguishes itself from everywhere else in Galicia based on some foodstuff. So for tortilla you go to Betanzos, for cocido to Lalin, for ceballos chat to Miño, and so on. This is not really a thing in the UK.
I could go on. The point is, here we are very much more insulated from a great deal of the stuff that is about to go down than we would be in the UK. Obviously there are no 100% guarantees, but there are no 100% guarantees of anything except death and taxes, and apparently even taxes are optional if you know the right people.
We will see how this turns out. It will have to turn out spectacularly badly before this rat feels the need to swim back to HMS Blighty, but never say never.
Comments are welcome, but I do pre-moderate them to make sure they comply with the house rules.