Expat Voices: Nicholas Snelling on living in Valencia
British expat Nick Snelling gets his feet wet and his hands dirty living in Spain. He's definitely not just here just to sample the sangria and paella.
Name: Nicholas Snelling
City of residence: Gandia, Valencia Province
Date of birth: 05.10.59
Civil status: Married with two children
Occupation: Writer of How to Sell your Spanish Property in a Crisis and Taking the Heat
Reason for moving to Spain: Work
Lived in Spain since: 2003
What was your first impression of Spain?
I have known Spain since 1973 when Franco was in power and I have seen it develop steadily since then to what it is now – a first world, firmly democratic country with a superb infrastructure and a way of life that is, day to day, not disimilar on the face of it to any modern state. However, I believe that a combination of the glorious climate, the charming Spanish people and their still working nuclear communities makes it a better place to live than other developed countries.
What do you think of Spanish food?
I am no gourmet and like plain food. So, Spain suits me as I doubt that the country will ever be famous for its cuisine – good and healthy but not for the epicure!
What do you think of shopping in Spain?
I loath shopping with a passion that has not diminished through the years – which is in direct contrast to my wife who loves shopping, particularly in Valencia city.
What do you appreciate most about living in Spain?
The Spanish people and their sense of community, toleration and traditional values. The Spanish are very open, warm and welcoming. They can certainly appear abrupt at times but their charm and sense of fun is completely seductive.
What do you find most frustrating about living in Spain?
Business. It is amazingly difficult to ‘nail deals down’ despite some incredibly impressive initial talk. There is also an absolute lack of understanding of marketing and the cold, brutal reality behind many situations.
What puzzles you about Spanish culture and what do you miss since you’ve moved here?
The more articles and investigations I do about Spain and Spanish culture the more fascinating and complex I find the country. Spain is under huge social pressure as can be seen from the explosive divorce rate, the underlying domestic violence problem, the high drugs usage, sharp drop in religious faith, and the pressures of the recent sudden and massive influx of immigrants. An interesting future lies ahead - made all the more potentially volatile by the present economic crisis...
I miss very little about the UK – perhaps only reading the British Sunday papers, playing squash and hearing Radio 4.
How does the quality of life in Spain compare to the quality of life in other countries that you’ve lived in?
Spain offers a superb compromise. There are more exciting countries, places with more dramatic scenery and areas in which it is easier to live. However, Spain wins on compromise. It is close to the UK, user-friendly, has low crime, a benign climate, no dangerous creatures and a tolerant, kindly population. The education is very good, outdoor activities cheap and accessible and the healthcare excellent. In other words – a fine place to raise a family or settle into a safe and pleasant retirement.
As a dedicated rock climber – I am, of course, in Heaven!
If you could change anything about Spain, what would it be?
The housing. Sadly, for the most part building over the past 20 years has been irredeemably ill-planned, ugly and often poorly constructed.
What advice would you give to a newcomer?
Come here with the right philosophy – to do more here than you ever did in the UK. Everyone I know who has settled here happily over the long time, irrespective of age, is busy and lives an energetic life. Be passive and come here to do as little as possible - and you will quickly find yourself bored and within a ‘gilded cage’.
Any additional comments?
I think the conumdrum of Spain for the relocating Britain is that it can deliver a terrific way of life - but rarely does so in the medium term for most people. This is borne out by sketchy evidence that seems to suggest that some 30 percent of relocating Britons return to the UK after three years. My own practical experience would confirm this and I can only imagine the scale of returnees after five years.
For the most part, I think people are too ‘reductive’ in their thinking when they come here. All too often they become seduced by the thought of buying their dream house at the cost of properly working out the best long term location that wil provide an enriching lifestyle. To my mind, it is bizarre that Britons choose to live on vast estates (often with few or no amenities) alongside...other Britons.
Certainly, sitting by the pool all day, drinking with fellow expats, the odd game of golf or lying on the beach may seem a dream - but can, after a year or two, become stunningly boring. In contrast, trying to get to grips with the language whilst also getting involved in the Spanish community -and perhaps some form of work (voluntary or otherwise) - can make all the difference. Facing challenges, being bold and taking advantage of the wonderful life inherent in a linguistically and culturally different country is what makes one’s time here enriching and fulfilling. Hiding away, meekly, along with your countryfolk is rarely satisfactory in the long run.
Living in Spain can be a stunningly wonderful experience with so much to play for, irrespective of age or wealth. It saddens me that all too often us Britons do not grasp firmly the opportunities that exist - and thereby thrill to all the fun and the spectacularly fine lifestyle on offer here.
23 June 2009
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