It’s hard to believe that we’ve been living in Spain for seven months.
Sometimes it feels like just yesterday that we were packing our worldly chattels into the big red van and making the exhausting 1,300 mile journey from Huddersfield to Liñeiras (twice in my case). And sometimes it feels like we’ve been here forever, settling into a relaxed lifestyle, integrating with the local community and being schooled in the ways of the country from a myriad of willing teachers.
In that seven months we’ve learnt lots of things, some the hard way, about Galician life and with building work stalled awaiting licenses it seems like a good time to share a dozen of them.
1. When driving it is mandatory (under punishment of punitive fines) to carry all sorts of things with you including; your driving license, proof that you have paid your car insurance, your vehicle registration, a pair of spare spectacles (if you wear glasses to drive), and a fluorescent yellow jacket for all occupants (inside the car and not in the boot).
2. In the spring you can literally watch the grass grow. It never really gets cold enough here for the grass to stop growing but with the warmer weather and regular rainfall of spring it just goes mental. Within the space of a fortnight our finca changed from ankle deep grass and weeds to chest deep meadow. As a result we had to invest 800€ on a ‘big boys toy’ petrol strimmer which should come with a health warning, shin pads and a cricket box.
3. The one rule of Galician driving is that if there is a line of any description painted on the road, it must be straddled. This results in cars approaching you around blind bends with at least two wheels and sometimes their entire car on your side of the road. It is up to you to take evasive action, and entirely pointless to honk your horn or make any gesture. The practice is not limited to cars, and indeed the bigger your vehicle, the more likely you are to drive on the wrong side of the road.
4. Spanish tea is undrinkable. During the ‘Liñeiras tea crisis of February 2015’ we tried several different brands, some of them with English names and English packaging, but they were all awful. Nothing can come within one hundred miles of a nice cup of PG Tips. It just goes to prove that you can take the Englishman out of England but you are never going to fully purge him of his Englishness.
5. Our neighbours eight year old son doesn’t do subtlety. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great kid and it’s nice that he feels that he can visit without invitation to practice his English, play games on our tablet computer, or simply come round for a game of football. With no other kids in the village for him to play with it seems that we are his surrogate chums, despite being forty years his senior. The issue is that despite us dropping subtle hints that it is time for him to go home; such as ‘what are you having for tea’, ‘where do your parents think you are’, ‘don’t you have homework to do’ and ‘I’m sorry, we’ve got work to do’, the only thing that seems to work is ‘Oscar, you need to go home now!’. At what age do kids get subtlety?
6. The Spanish are the largest community of self medicators in the world, a dangerous trait when they are also a nation of chronic hypercondriacs. What seems bizarre is that you can but almost anything you want over the counter at a chemist, including super strength painkillers, anti-biotics, and diabetes medication, but if you need a tablet for your cat you have to get a prescription from your vet (which is then filled at the chemists).
7. There is little to no point in having a TV aerial as there is nothing on Spanish Television that is worth watching. The Spanish are fed a diet of; news and weather with loud and often inappropriate music playing in the background; game shows which wouldn’t have looked out of place in a 1970’s sitting room while you consumed a fondue while seated on your velour sofa; and, chat shows where it seems that the only rule is that you shout louder than everyone else, usually while trying to drown out what they are shouting. The next time a lightening storm takes out our aerial I don’t think we will bother replacing it.
8. While Spain now has more draconian drink drive laws than the United Kingdom, the legal limit being under one pint, there are very few people who pay any attention to it due to the minute likelihood of getting caught. When you are socialising with the Spanish and you cite the argument that you are driving as the reason for not having ‘another’ beer/wine/chupito then you will become a laughing stock. I’ve seen people drink a full bottle of wine with lunch and drive back to work as a normal occurrence, but we do the ‘nominated driver’ thing and take it in turns, after all, you never know what will be hurtling towards you on your side of the road at the next blind bend.
9. The Spanish love a party. It doesn’t need to be a good party, or even a mediocre party, any party will do. From the middle of March you can find a fiesta somewhere within a 20km drive on any given weekend, sometimes several on the same weekend, and these can be themed on anything from; iron to cheese to tractors to trout to flowers. There is nearly always food and there is always at least one band, usually a rotund woman in a very short skirt and a guy in his forties with dyed hair on the keyboards. They churn out euro pop with every song sounding like the last and you can hear them wafting through the valleys from dusk until the early hours.
10. The simplest thing can throw a Galician neighbour off-guard, such as a radish. Our lovely neighbour Elena has helped us establish our allotment and is always at hand for advice and some manual labour, but when she saw the radishes that we’d planted she was flummoxed. We gave her a handful and explained that you should slice them thinly and use in salad. Her feedback was that they were very nice but she has declined our offers of more ever since. The radish was just a step too far. We don’t have the heart to tell her that we sometimes cook curry.
11. Galicia is not a renowned landing point for the English but it does seem that being English is a magnet for other English people. There have now been several occasions where we have been talking quite happily to one another in English and then been approached by fellow countrymen who we’ve never previously met but who are happy to have a natter and a coffee with someone of their mother tongue. It gives the impression that Galicia is wall-to-wall Brits, which it isn’t.
12. Flies serve no purpose to man or beast but to annoy….and the ones with white bums give a nasty nip!