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Musing on an expat’s sojourn

August 27, 2014 – 8:53 am

Like many expats – indeed, most of the ones I know, especially those with young children – I’m coming to the end of my summer sojourn in England.

As always – this is my ninth August spent here, I’ve only missed one, during my first pregnancy, and never again – my thoughts turn to what I like and miss most about the two countries, my birth home (England) and my adoptive home (Spain).

I’ve now spent as many years living in or near Seville as I did living in London. Two different cities, two different experiences – one fast-paced, stimulating, stressful but with a certain monotony; the other slower, less pressured, more varied, and infinitely more fulfilling. Nine-to-five office job (with perks of lunches, parties and press trips), versus the freedom of freelance, with its crazy, unpredictable hours. Anyone who’s been lucky enough to make the change will appreciate the variation in financial stability, but also the increased “quality of life”.

So what do I miss about Spain when I’m spending a few weeks in England? My son’s willingness to chat to strangers – people in shops, in the pub, in the street – so normal and welcome in Spain, causes some consternation here in more closed England. People with dogs will usually chat, but others look confused and embarrassed by a small boy they don’t know talking to them. The friendliness of Andalucians is priceless.

The weather, obviously – it’s one extreme (we’ve had torrential downpours, electrical storms, hail and 2 degrees at night since we’ve been here) to the other (upper 30s, 40 in Seville today). But England when it’s warm and sunny, and you’re outside in the garden, sitting on the lawn, watching your kids run around playing hide and seek – that takes some beating. The fierce heat of the summer in southern Spain is what sends adoptive Andalucians back north in July and August, but the warmth of the sun is also what draws many of us there.

The food – sheer variety, fads – is as mind-boggling as ever – the new things, after cupcakes and macaroons, seem to be flavoured popcorn and salted caramel everything – even Tesco has this fashionable savoury-sweet flavour now. Chorizo is still in everything, from squid stew to chicken casserole to paella. Spain has its food trends too: burgers are big currently, as is unusually flavoured (non-tomato) salmorejo - beetroot, strawberry, watermelon.

The anniversary of the First World War, in 1914, has filled the TV schedules and book stores, and monuments have marked the occasion – the Tower of London has an installation with thousands of blood-red poppies. I tried to explain to my kids about all the young men who sacrificed their lives in unimaginable conditions, but it’s hard for them to grasp such a foreign concept. The pictures are from another world.

I love medieval fairs in Spain, but they are usually commercial rather than educational, even if in appropriate dress and with period food. Historical recreations sound dull and ditch-water, but we went to a marvellous Tudor Day at a local Elizabethan manor, Kentwell Hall, where actors dress up in costume, speak in English of the day, and explain about their craft – fletchers, felters, alchemists. I would dearly love to go to a similar event in Spain to find out what life was like in the time of the early Bourbon empire.

Do you visit your home country in the summer? What do you enjoy most while you’re there?

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