10 October 2010

Horror stories about Spain

I've just sat through a highly depressing set of videos on YouTube entitled "Spain is Dying". Filmed by an embittered Britsh ex-expat on the Costa Blanca, it shows scenes of boarded-up shops and bars, apartment complexes abandoned half-finished, rows of unsold dwellings in urbanizaciones where lawns and flowerbeds are no longer maintained.

We are told how expats are seeing their dreams collapse around them and are fleeing back to Britain in droves, or living in fear of criminal gangs, while lazy Spanish postmen throw their Christmas cards into the sea because they can't be bothered to deliver them. Brits who tried to "live the dream" and run their own bar are going bankrupt because there are no customers any more, or because of excessive bureaucracy and inflexibility shown by the Spanish authorities.

The British media are reporting similar tales of doom and gloom, with people's dream homes being demolished or appropriated under the "land grab" laws, pensioners living in penury due to falling exchange and interest rates, and corrupt politicians, builders and estate agents colluding to offload illegally-built properties onto unsuspecting buyers.

The man who made the videos presumably wants to warn off British people thinking of moving to Spain; I can't think why else he has gone to so much trouble.  But the scenario he is describing does not apply to Spain as a whole, only to parts of her blighted Mediterranean coast.

The greed of speculators, construction companies and politicians over the last forty years led to invasive and often hideous overdevelopment of what were once beautiful places. People from Northern Europe were lured there in their millions, by an image of "Sunny Spain" where life was just one long holiday based around sun, sea and cheap booze, to live in ghettos of little pink villas where nobody needs or even wants to learn about Spanish language or culture.   When the coastal plain was full to bursting, the developers started eating into the mountainous hinterland, creating unsustainable demand for scarce water resources and threatening some of Spain's richest wildlife habitats.

At the other end of the social scale, the gated communities of the very rich are equally alien. The urbanizacion of Sotogrande, for example, with its millionaires' yachts sparkling in the marina and its exclusive polo club, is like an inflatable sex doll; enticing, artificial and sterile, whose sole purpose is the gratification of pleasure.  There is nothing Spanish about these places except their location.

Spain convinced itself that all this was the way to strengthen its economy. Meanwhile the farmers and fishermen who used to live in these places were packed away out of sight somewhere. Their children got jobs in bars or hotels and saw money being thrown around like water by people living a hedonistic lifestyle that they themselves could never afford - little wonder some of them turned to crime.

I have every sympathy for those people whose dreams have turned into nightmares, but I do wish they wouldn't go back to the UK and blame Spain for their misfortunes.  To quote one of the contributors to my favourite expat forum:
"There are those who seem to think Spain is a British colony. They come with a sense of entitlement, speak no Spanish and make no effort to, and regard Spain as a 'third world' country ... and the Spaniards as backward morons.  The people who settle happily here are those who have had established, happy lives in the UK. They bring their level-headedness and contentment with them, don't expect paradise and learn to cope with all the little niggles and adjustments living in a foreign country entails."
Spain is undoubtedly going through a rough time at the moment, with 20% unemployment and over a million newly-built dwellings unsold. But away from those blighted Costas, life goes on more or less as usual; the festivals and ferias, the big family lunches on Sunday afternoons, the evening paseos, the bustling street markets. The Spanish people have come through far worse situations in living history and they will, eventually, come through this one.


Tumbit.com said...

I have to agree with many of the negative observations here, but I can't help wondering just how much its in our nature as Brits to complain. Life is a gamble - nobody complained when the exchange rate was at 1.55 Euros to the Pound, or when property was offered at bargain prices. It just seems that now the exchange rate has fallen, and people can't sell the property that they previously purchased at a bargain price for price they would now like, they are running back to the UK with their tail between their legs. It is much easier for some of these people to 'blame Spain' rather than admit that they are 'fair weather expats'

Claire Lloyd said...

I guess moving to another country is a bit like marriage - if you want it to last, you have to take the rough with the smooth!