What, I was asked the other evening, was it about living in Spain that you loved so much, that made you stay there for so many years. We were at a friend’s for dinner and the man sitting across the table from me clearly regretted he hadn’t done it himself some years before.
The question was just loud enough to cause one of those silences around the table that make you wish you were somewhere else. I knew that I could try and slide out of answering it but that would have led to my being pushed for a real answer. So that’s what I gave them.
The first part of the answer was that I love the Mediterranean and I have never been made to feel so welcome anywhere as I was by the Spanish. Put the two together and you’ll have the short answer. But that wasn’t enough so I went on to explain that it’s a mixture of the lifestyle, the food and drink and the extraordinary climate as well as the people.
The truth is, there’s absolutely nothing better than waking up with the sunlight making stripes across your bedroom walls. As the day peers through the shutters you can feel its warmth. Then you stroll out onto the terrace and put your toe into your pool to check the temperature. The water is heating up nicely so you have a swim.
Then you get dressed and stroll into your local village to buy fresh, hot bread, have a coffee and a pastry in the café (or a carajillo – a half and half of espresso and cognac – I’ve seen lorry drivers drinking them in a bar near the station in Granada at 4am) and then there’s a slow walk home feeling the heat of the day gathering strength.
It’s a fact that there are thousands of people living exactly that lifestyle right now because they have bought a home in the sun. And there are almost certainly as many thousands who are thinking of little else but the day they can wave goodbye to the removals van as it sets off for the ferry.
How the market has changed
Some thirty years ago, most people dreamed of a home in Spain, Portugal, France, Italy and possibly Florida. Since then, however, the market has opened up dramatically and there are expats in countries as far apart as Brazil to Thailand and Canada to Turkey.
The reality is that people are no longer as worried about the distances separating them from the UK. The brake on many couples moving to a home abroad was the fact that they would rarely see their loved ones.
By now I was being asked questions around the dinner table by other people, but the main one they wanted an answer to was: “Wouldn’t we miss our families?” It was interesting how many were actually thinking of making the move. I pointed out that the Mediterranean countries allow you easy access back to the UK by road, rail and air.
And wherever you move to now, thanks to cheaper and faster flights and the Internet, it’s so much easier to keep in touch. Using a laptop means you can listen to the BBC, watch Sky TV or listen via the internet to Expatsradio.com. With a webcam you can hold unlimited, face-to-face chats with your family back home and probably once a year, you’ll be on a plane flying home for a holiday and to stock up on tea bags and Marmite.
I explained that there are some people who make the move to another country and then fret that friends and family won’t bother to come and see them. How wrong they are. The problem won’t be that they’re forgotten; it’ll be that they don’t have enough bedrooms. Doubtless they’ll shut the front door after waving off the latest visitors, sigh and say, “It’s nice to have the place to ourselves again.”
Just before we left that evening, I was asked: “How did you get on with learning the language?” The truth was that I never minded making a fool of myself when I made mistakes. I told them about the time I went into a pharmacy, got myself completely tangled up with what I was trying to say and apologised, saying I was deeply embarrassed for my poor Spanish. The staff and the customers all collapsed into gales of laughter. I asked what I had just said and they explained I had just told them that I was heavily pregnant.
The last question that evening was would I ever do it all again. “Well,” my wife said, “We are going to France three times in the next couple of months…”