Thursday, September 27, 2007

Tourist Day

Today is the International Day of Tourism. Spain is, I think, the second tourist destination worldwide with over 55 million tourists wandering up and down the beach buying souvenirs, drinks and t-shirts. There are also a number of ex-tourists, now full-time residents in Spain who are buying houses, cars, furniture, televisions, food, clothing and coach-trips to Ronda. They pay taxes, buy gas, go to the dentist, use a plumber, see an occulist, etc, all year long. There are probably over a million and a half of them. There are foreigners here to do the ooffey jobs, the cleaners, the workers in the plastic farms, the trash collectors, the navvies and so on. Several million of them. Spain is a country with an admitted ten per cent of foreigners (probably fifteen in reality). Hotels, homes, campsites, renovated farmhouses, apartments, mansions and urbanisations built for the foreigners have brought untold wealth to this country.
Today is Tourism Day - the nearest thing we are going to get to 'Foreigners' Day'.
What's your town doing to celebrate?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Three Bites to the Cherry

There’s been quite a lot of traffic on the local Internet forums about whether or not to support British bars – or perhaps ‘British business’ in general. Some people argue that, since we are living in Spain, we should be supporting the Spanish. I wouldn’t be surprised to read somewhere that the Spanish are of the same opinion. However, we all need to make or earn or, at least, obtain enough money to keep us going, Spaniards and Brits alike.
There are, broadly speaking, three different types of Britons coming to Spain – if you consider this part of the Iberian peninsular as being ‘Spain’ since most towns around here now have more foreigners than they do locals. Three types. The first are those who live here on monies from ‘home’, perhaps a cheque in the mail from parents grateful to hear that you are ‘doing well over there’ and have no thoughts ‘of returning just yet’. More seriously, there are many of us who live comfortably on an income. They typically are retired and have time to travel around Spain, perhaps ‘Parador hopping’ or the occasional shopping trip down to Marbella or Gibraltar or maybe they prefer to spend their time at home, gardening or entertaining. This group, as far as Spain is concerned, is most welcome. They spend freely and they don’t ‘take away anyone’s jobs’. Say somewhere over half a million of them.
The second group is those who wanted to come and live here, perhaps sick of the modern society of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Sick of the dull grind where people grudgingly admit that ‘they manage’ with any apparent enthusiasm for their sad existence. They move out here, perhaps a little younger than the first group, in search of a better life. They will have to work here to live, perhaps a bar or some small business to keep them going. It is this group that attracts the attention of the forum writers. Should we support them or should we prefer the Spanish, they wonder.
I agree that this is a wonderful place to live and if – all other things being equal – a Briton opens a business then we should be glad to help and favour him with our business. Why on earth not? It’s hard enough here – Spanish clients are not generally going to come in droves, the taxes and stock are usually a bit higher and the rules can be a bit tighter. Witness the Brits who took over a bar in my pueblo. They were told they couldn’t use the terrace. A year later, now with local owners, the same bar is spread all over the terrace and halfway into the street.
Furthermore, there is always small teething problems associated with running a business in a foreign country. One evidently brand-new bar owner once asked me how to cook some sardines as his Spanish customer had evinced some interest in enjoying some with his beer. ‘Bloody hell’, I told him ‘not the foggiest’. I feel sorry now – he shut a few weeks later.
It’s a shame when people come out here, full of hope for a better life, with their children and their possessions, only to find that their plan for a small business will run up against indifference, jealousy, obstructionism or other trials. We should support them not just as ‘fellow Brits’ but as people who have made a gamble with life. They didn’t sit still.
The third group, small but always in evidence, is made up of ‘chancers’. They will be running on dry and without any thought to return to their country. They will live vicariously off the rest of us, either cadging drinks, working for a morning painting our wall, or perhaps, coming up with a small con.
However, they too are welcome. It sounds savage back there in Manchester.