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Wednesday September 4, 2013

A culture shock awaits Spaniards swapping their homeland for the UK

According to a recent report issued by the Work & Pensions Department (DWP), the number of Spaniards relocating to the UK has risen by nearly 50 per cent in the last year, making it the fastest growing migrant group in the country.

While many of the 45,530 Spaniards newly arrived in the UK in the last year might be thrilled to experience the British way of life, others could well find themselves desperately homesick and longing for a bit of sun, spontaneity, jamon Serrano and an al fresco lifestyle.

Marga, a Majorcan chum, who recently returned from an eighteen-month stint in London told me that she was shocked to find that most Britons were mono-lingual. She’d heard that French was studied in every school and naively assumed that many locals would be fluent. Instead during her stay she discovered that it was only other foreigners that were able to converse in several languages. Her other big surprise was that the majority of her work colleagues, all in their late twenties, didn’t cook and bought takeaways after work or ready meals from supermarkets. She told me that their idea of a good night out was drinking heavily into the early hours.

I was thinking about other aspects of life in the UK that might stall the average Spaniard in his tracks. In Majorca it is customary to chatter loudly on trains and buses – often butting in on other passengers’ conversations- and queuing is just an abstract concept. In the UK, queue jumping is heavily frowned upon and the idea of engaging with one’s fellow man on public transport is frankly bizarre.

When I return to London each month I’m always fazed by the long faces and silence of other passengers on underground trains and buses. On my local bus here in Majorca all we’re missing is a case of vino to create a full-scale fiesta. Last week I sat next to an elderly woman who pointed to my carrier bag from the El Corte Inglés store and asked to see what I’d bought. She then proceeded to show my electrical goods purchases to the two ladies opposite. The couple sitting behind joined in and soon there was a mass debate about the pros and cons of buying such items in the capital of Palma as opposed to one’s local neighbourhood. By the time I’d reached my mountain town some thirty minutes later the conversation was flowing and my new friends and I had exchanged oranges, boiled sweets and slices of homemade almond cake.

One of my Spanish friends who adores life in Manchester and has no intention of returning to Spain anytime soon, told me that he loves the northern accent, the silly young women who wear miniskirts in the dead of night in sub zero temperatures, the British obsession with time-keeping and the daily vernacular of cheers, alright, mate, no worries, no way, bring it on and nice one. He said that once he’d learnt these important phrases, he didn’t really have need of further vocabulary for a night on the town, although he said that copious use of the words sorry, please and thanks, came in handy.

It is estimated that there are nearly 75,000 Spaniards registered as residents in the UK although there’s a view that doubling that figure would be more accurate. Meanwhile in Spain there are almost a million British expats who’ve made the country their home. As all expats know, leaving one country for another has its ups and downs but most important of all is to live and learn and embrace the new experience. Judging by their increased footfall to the UK, it seems as if the Spanish are doing just that.

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