Posted in Expat Life

Things I wish I’d known before I moved to Spain

There are plenty of articles out there about things the author wishes they’d known before moving to Spain (the bureaucracy generally being top of the list!) but this is going to be a light-hearted post based on my almost two years here.

So what do I wish I’d known? 

It gets REALLY cold in the winter

Yes, the skies may be blue and the sun may be shining but it’s still flipping cold! In October the duvet goes back on the bed after a summer of sleeping under just a sheet (or nothing at all). By November, it becomes vital to head to the nearest Chinese supermarket (a mecca for everything you never knew you wanted or needed) to find a hot water bottle.

When I left the Isle of Man I had a good clear out of my wardrobe and, although I brought some of my favourite winter woolies with me (everyone needs a Christmas jumper after all), a lot of my winter clothes went to the charity shop. Big mistake. 

Houses are built to stay cool in the summer with the drawback that they’re freezing in the winter. Until the sun disappears from our balcony in the late afternoon we’re better off sitting outside.

Not only that but, as we live on the coast, it’s a humid cold so, while it may be 20c plus according to the thermometer, it actually feels like being in the Arctic.

Chatting to Kim from Travelling Around Spain it seems I’m not alone. “I was surprised (rather shocked actually) by how cold I always was inside the houses during the winter months – especially in Andalucia. I have been in friend’s homes and have seen them sit down for their evening dinner in a ski jacket. Later they take off their jacket to go for a stroll outside as it’s warmer outside their house than inside”.

It gets REALLY hot in the summer 

Okay, so I knew it would be hot but, trust me, ‘two weeks in the sun on holiday’ hot is totally different to ‘trying to get on with daily life when the mercury is rising rapidly’ hot. Finding acceptable work outfits is a trial when all you want to do is put on shorts and a vest (or lounge around in swimwear). Even getting to work is an ordeal – there’s not much point wearing make up as it’s generally halfway down my face by the time I reach the office. Don’t feel too sorry for me though as I only work part-time so, come 1pm, I’m out of work and ready to hit the beach!  

When it rains, it really rains 

Who knew I’d have to buy a waterproof jacket and a pair of waterproof trousers just to keep me dry on my way to work? So far I’ve not had to buy wellies but, not long ago, it looked likely. Not that I’m complaining – with over 320 sunny days per year on the Costa del Sol, weather wise the good definitely outweighs the bad.

Getting used to the Spanish way of eating takes time

They eat late here. Really late. Used to the very British way of eating my evening meal around 6pm it took a while to realise that, if we went to a restaurant at that time, we’d generally be the only ones in the place.

Kim says she spent her first two or three years in Spain in a permanent state of low blood sugar as she could never manager to adapt to Spanish eating times. “If I wasn’t in a state of low blood sugar I was looking for every opportunity to eat and seemed to be eating about seven meals a day always worried that I might not make it through until the next meal time. Lunch is normally around 3pm (how does one survive from breakfast until 3pm??) and dinner is after 9pm but usually closer to 10pm or 11pm. I still rebel against this eating schedule in my own home but have to adjust when eating with friends”.

Learning a language is so much harder when you’re older

I thought that, because languages were always my favourite subjects at school, I’d take to Spanish like a duck to water. Not so. I took an intensive language course with Blah Blah Blah and then, shamefully, once the course was over lapsed somewhat in my practice. I can understand more than I can speak and have been getting by with a lot of mime and a smattering of Spanglish (not to mention Spench and Spitalian). Fortunately, since starting work I’ve been able to improve slightly (I now have a considerable vocabulary of swear words to choose from if nothing else)!

Finding nice greetings cards feels like mission impossible

I get the impression that the Spanish don’t do greetings cards the way the Brits do. Maybe the fact that my sister manages a card shop means I’m usually spoilt for choice but trying to find nice cards whether it’s for a birthday or Christmas is like searching for the Holy Grail. I guess I’m lucky that I work in Gibraltar so can pick up cards as and when I need them but, to be honest, it’s a limited selection and some are pretty pricey.

It’s not all doom and gloom though.

I haven’t actually missed as much as I thought I would 

Friends and family aside,there’s very little that I’ve really missed. Randomly, I do miss a good mooch around Boots the Chemist and TK Maxx in my lunch hour (so far, nothing I’ve found in Spain comes close) and, much as I love sitting in a chiringuito sipping a café con leche, nothing will ever match the cappuccino from my favourite coffee shop back on the Isle of Man (Spill the Beans in case you’re interested).  

What an adventure it was going to be

If I’d known just how much I was going to love it here I’d have made the move years ago. And, I have to say, I’ve adapted exceptionally well to siesta time! On the subject of siestas, over to Kim. “In small towns it took me a long time to accept that one couldn’t shop from 2pm to 5pm as all the stores are closed for lunch and siesta. They open up for the ‘afternoon’ at 5pm or 5.30pm and stay open until around 9pm”.

Shops also close on Sundays so I’ve had to be more organised than before I moved – if I use the last of the milk on Saturday night then it’s black coffee until the shops open again on Monday.  

If you’ve made the move to Spain what do you wish you’d known beforehand?

Special thanks to Kim for her contributions. If you want to read more from her you can find her website here, or follow her on Facebook and Pinterest.