Following on from my recent post, smugly listing the positives of my Spanish lifestyle (https://geordieunsure.com/2017/09/14/living-abroad-the-good-the-bad-and-the-indifferent/), I now want to share some of the pitfalls of my version of #livingthedream. Some may be obvious, but I will give an honest perspective on the realities of those negatives and also perhaps some less expected problems.
Again, for anyone that didn’t read my previous post, a lot of points that I make will be subjective to Malaga, so may not be applicable to living abroad in general. Anyway, as I sit looking out of my window at glorious sunshine, the quicker that I can reel off some negatives, the quicker I can get down to the beach and go bird-watching….
The Weather – People at home love to make small talk about the weather, I’m pretty sure my dad has become a meteorologist in his retirement such is the level of detail and frequency in his weather updates. Well in Malaga, where the weather is almost always hot, sunny and dry, absolutely no conversation at all can be derived from the weather leading to a lot of awkward silences in lifts and at checkouts.
On a more sincere note, in the summer the weather does become challenging when working and if you cycle to private classes around the city you will end up smelling like a sack of old, wet potatoes with a sprinkling of Brussel sprouts. Perhaps the smell is specific to me, but it is definitely hot.
And, for anyone who was on the receiving end of this comment during summer holidays as a child, ‘What are you doing indoors, it’s beautiful outside?’, your brain will say this to you at all times when you are not working or outdoors.
Family and Friends – This is the most obvious factor and probably the most important. Having a relatively young nephew has highlighted the permanence of living abroad for me personally and once you leave your early to mid-twenties this becomes a likely difficulty. Living abroad can lead to being ‘out of sync’ with people at home in terms of contact, in that you’re not in touch with them as frequently as you would be living at home as well as obviously seeing them in person less. Thankfully, WhatsApp and other messaging services provide an excellent outlet for family group chats etc. and if you’re unlike me and enjoy talking on the phone/Skype regularly this can greatly reduce any negativity to do with living abroad. A lot more could be written on this but I also feel it’s not exclusive to living abroad, and I can’t make it funny so I’ll leave it there.
Missing Events – Closely following on from the above points, when you are 25 and older your Facebook feed will start to be primarily filled with engagement/baby scan/wedding/christening photographs. There are some events that you will miss due to being away (weigh up which have the best meals included), and others that the organisers have to make a big effort to accommodate you in terms of timing. Don’t feel too bad though, as some mates will still get married on a Thursday in an obvious effort to avoid your awkward and unfunny best man speech.
Finding Accommodation – Whether you plan to rent or buy this can be a problematic area. Unlike at home where you’ll likely have various options to base yourself during the search for accommodation, the chances are that upon moving abroad you will be in short-term, and therefore expensive, accommodation whilst looking for longer-term options. This can lead to slightly impulsive agreements and perhaps settling on somewhere that isn’t ideal. This happened during my first year in Spain, in Bilbao, where I ended up living quite a distance away from the centre, the beach and the ground.
Language Barrier – As noted previously my Spanish is a work in progress, and although I have reached a level that would have amazed my 22-year-old self, I still encounter frequent problems. I have been made to feel like a misbehaving child by an overly aggressive landlord, lost numerous disagreements with drivers at zebra crossings and I have avoided complaining about the bank stealing money off me each month all due to the intimidating language barrier. As many readers will testify, not being able to express yourself at certain critical times in another language is so frustrating, kind of like having an adult brain and a child’s brain and only having full use of the latter.
Lonely Summers – Although this sounds like a porn star, it refers to the fact that Malaga ‘closes down’ in the summer, in that local people go away on holiday and tourists flock to the Costa del Sol and Malaga. This means that a lot of friends we have made, particularly in the teaching industry, are not here in the summer and our sporting activities are put on hold.
Expensive Holidays – Earning a living in Spain is great, if you live in Spain. Although I love being able to experience Newcastle (and Ireland) as a holiday location, it can be painfully expensive when you no longer have €1 pints on your street and you ‘holiday’ there a few times a year.
Guinness – It isn’t nice in Spain. That is all.
Less Exploring – Paradoxically, you may find that once you move abroad you travel less. In my case the high number of visitors coming to see me, combined with a lot of my holidays being in England/Ireland, means that I have had fewer opportunities to travel to new countries since moving to Spain. I have, however, visited a lot of new places in my local region and throughout Spain when I could.
Free-time Guilt – Despite the stereotype that Spanish people, and Andalusians in particular, are not as industrious as Northern Europeans, my experience since living here is that they have relatively filled schedules; often they work full-time, study English and also participate in sports or other events. For this reason, and perhaps due to the time at which my free time falls, I feel guilty when lying on the beach and reading a book. Like I should be utilising the time to develop my Spanish (I really should) or writing a boring blog. Whereas if I still lived in the UK, I feel like after finishing work and exercising, I would feel no guilt at all sitting watching television and keeping my free time free. To summarise, the motivation of local people is highlighting my lack of motivation and I am not sure I like that.
Spanish people walk so weirdly on footpaths. There seems to be a national unspoken agreement whereby you occupy the whole pavement and participate in constant games of chicken. Or they walk in a diagonal group positioned strategically like a perfect defence in a game of draughts. I’m still not sure what they are defending though.
In all honesty, I had to spend a lot more time thinking about the negatives for this post than the positives for the previous post, as they are less pertinent on a day-to-day basis. It is definitely not all perfect and easy once moving abroad, but the positives outweigh the negatives for me currently and that’s why I am still here. I do fully appreciate how lucky I am to have been able to experience living abroad to the degree that I have. If it has led to me having occasional rose-tinted-glasses moments about home, then that is essentially a positive too. I have lots of people who are happy to remind me I have done the right thing.
I haven’t touched too deeply on cultural and emotional issues, as it’s not my style, in writing or in person, but for anyone who has any questions at all related to living abroad, please feel free to comment below. Have you been inspired to move abroad after reading my post? Or to stay at home? Or to stop reading lengthy blog posts?
Thanks for reading,