The UK or Spain? Work holds the key to a sunshine future

8 Feb

In the misery of a cold, wet Manchester day, my daughter Lisa left a depressing message on Facebook this week.

”What are we doing in this bloody miserable country?” she asked despairingly. ”Can someone give me reasons not to move abroad, please.”

Family, friends and making a living were the most popular responses she received – and when you have three children of school age, that is a BIG, BIG consideration.

Over the weekend, my local community here in Spain said a tearful farewell to an English family as they headed back to the UK after seven happy years on the Costa Blanca.

The main reason they have returned to their roots is that their 15-year-old daughter pines for an English education and has understandably found it difficult to build a social life in the ageing expat community.

Lisa and boyfriend Rob - seeking the great escape?

But even though Mum and Dad struggled to make a living while they were here, they loved the Spanish lifestyle so much that I reckon they’ll be back once junior has passed her A-levels – and leave her to her own devices at university.

When it comes down to choosing theoretically between living in Britain or Spain, I reckon most Brits would choose the sunshine option. Until they consider the thorny question of employment, that is.

To me, Spain wins on virtually every front – but unless you have your own means or a decent pension, then my advice is to tread very carefully because there’s precious little work available in these crisis-wrecked times. Even for Spanish people.

As for missing family and friends, no problem there. They can always come out to visit. After all, it probably takes longer to drive from north London to Birmingham as to fly from Gatwick to Alicante or Malaga.

I personally reckon the best thing about modern-day Britain is that it’s 1,500 miles away. But that comes from someone who is fortunate enough to have sufficient savings to keep going without fulltime work.

So where does Spain have the edge on Britain as a place to live – and vice versa? There are, of course, two sides to every story, or in some cases any number of sides – as I discovered when I asked other exiles for their thoughts via the website.

To my surprise, the UK won ‘Britain is best’ votes in areas like the job market, midsummer weather (in other words, Spain is too hot in July and August), home healthcare, keeping homes warm in winter, tap-water quality, utility company choice and service, natural scenery, faster legal processes, broadband speed, TV, Sunday opening – and of course shopping.

Britain also scored for reliability, particularly when it comes to things like power cuts, which are part of Spanish life. I’m still cursing the electricity company for costing me a freezer-load of food back in 2008, when my kitchen was flooded following a power cut whilst I was away.

Not to mention the time they cut me off without warning because my bank was not holding sufficient funds to pay my direct debit to them. But that’s another story (which you will find elsewhere on this blog if you dig deep enough!)

I can also confirm from personal experience that the service in UK banks and stores is vastly superior to the couldn’t-care-less attitude of many clerks and shop assistants out here.

As one ExpatForum member put it: ”I hate waiting in a queue for an hour at a bank because the cashier is chatting to every Pablo, Pedro and Jose about their *abuelos/hermanos/gato/perro etc. Then it gets to your turn and. . . SIESTA TIME. Cashier is now shut!”

Whereas British business outlets invariably put the customer first, prepare for a long wait in Spain if the clerk or shop assistant’s mobile rings while you’re being served. Because the chances of the caller being told curtly ”I’ll ring you back” is virtually nil.

My local vet Julien is a lovely young man who is unusually good at multi-tasking but suffers from acute ‘mobile attached to the ear’ syndrome. When I took one of my two cats to his surgery for a checkover recently, his phone rang just as he called me into the treatment room.

”Un momento,” he said, taking the call from a pal. During the next 15 minutes, chatting throughout to his mate, he checked the cat, treated her, put her back into the cat box, ushered me out into the reception area and then signed some papers for a delivery man who walked in as I waited to discuss the bill. Ultimately, seeing my face growing increasingly crimson, he mouthed the words ”14 euros”, took my 20 euro note, rang it up on the till, gave me change and whispered a swift ”hasta luego”.

As I closed the door of the surgery behind me, Julien was ushering in the next patient and its owner…still talking on the mobile that may one day need removing surgically from his ear. Because not everyone is going to be as patient as I was.

Having said that, I have walked out of a Spanish shop more than once because a staff member has put a phone call or private chat of serving me. Unbelievably, it is often the boss who snubs you – the person with most to gain or lose. Such economic suicide is rare in the UK but so typical of the ‘mañana mañana’ Spanish mentality.

Having said all that – and factored in the menace of the myriad mosquitoes of midsummer – Spain scores highly on so many fronts that it really is no contest which country has the most going for it. Particularly if you are looking to retire out here and able to live off your pension and savings.

Obviously the sunshine and healthy air tops the lot. But then there are other aspects like the quality of life, cheap eating out (if you avoid the tourist rip-off joints), inexpensive housing, the third lowest crime rate in Europe (though you could fool me with all the handbag snatching and pickpocketing that goes on in the Costas), the fiestas, the family-orientated culture, the gentler pace of life and the golden beaches.

Oh, and I almost forgot the pharmacies, which sell prescription drugs without a prescription – something I have personally found very useful. (And no, I am not a junkie!)

Spain also got the thumbs-up for superior public transport and less-congested roads. But sadly there was no mention whatsoever of motorbikes.

Why motorbikes? Well, my Lisa’s fella Rob is a motorcycle training instructor and if they ever did come out here with the kids (I wish!) he’d be looking to open a training centre wherever they decided to settle.

And much as I would love to see them on my doorstep, I haven’t the faintest idea how he’d do that. Come to think of it, I don’t even know the Spanish word for motorcycle.


4 Responses to “The UK or Spain? Work holds the key to a sunshine future”

  1. Robert Howitt February 8, 2011 at 8:50 pm #

    Donna ¿quieres aprender a andar en moto?

  2. donna773 February 8, 2011 at 10:44 pm #

    I’m not sure that walking a motorbike would be beneficial, Rob. But if you can get me a ticket to ride, who knows?

  3. Mick February 9, 2011 at 11:30 am #

    I agree on all you have written about, but if we had all that Britain has, Spain would not be the country that it is, that so many people has fallen in love with. Thats what makes it an adventure when you move to a different country. I feel we lost our family life back in Britain when we started opening shops on a Sunday. We can`t wait to move out for all that is so different in Spain. Mick

  4. Nosoyabuela February 10, 2011 at 6:33 pm #

    I agree with Mick, shops closing on Sundays are one of the good things about Spain in my opinion! Families are still more important than making money and the three-hour Sunday lunch for the whole family is an institution no government would dare to threaten.

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