Hola! It’s been a while and yes, I missed last week in order to bring you some racy photos of myself. Yet I’m back now. And I’m not alone. This new episode of My Spanish Lovers? One of the best yet! I’m joined by Fiona Flores Watson, the excellent writer, journalist and sexy Spanish lover behind the blog Scribbler in Seville.
Fiona’s on hand to breathe some new life into My Spanish Adventure and offer you all some great advice on learning Spanish, living in Spain and getting to know the culture. Vamos!
Hey Fiona! Thanks so much for speaking with My Spanish Adventure, I love following your blog and learning about your experiences living in Spain. For people who don’t know about you, could you give us a brief introduction?
I’m a freelance journalist (and blogger at www.scribberinseville.com). I’ve been here for eight and a half years and I’m married to a Spaniard with two (bilingual) children – we live in a town just outside Seville. I write for websites and magazines about the ups and downs of living in, and visiting, Andalucia, with varying degrees of honesty, from gentle diplomacy to brutal frankness.
That balance seems the right way forward! Now, you travelled to Spain after living in the UK, and then Ecuador. Why did you initially decide to make such a big leap? What was it about Spain that called to you?
I lived and worked in London for 10 years as a magazine editor, and dreamed of getting out – I loathed the treadmill of stressful and boring job, gloomy weather, commuting on the tube, friends too tired to go out, having to trek over the other side of the city to visit people. Life wasn’t fun any more. I gave up my job, sold my house and went travelling in South America. After living in Ecuador for a year, I decided to move closer to home – having learned Spanish by then, Spain was the obvious option. I already knew Madrid and Bilbao, but wanted a smaller city with a warmer climate, where people wanted to go out and enjoy themselves.
Smaller Spanish city life can appeal for sure! So what were some of the initial trials and tribulations that you faced when you first arrived here?
No trials at all – I met both my now-husband, and also my best friend (who was my flatmate), within weeks of arriving in Seville. I had Spanish lessons for a while, and did an intercambio – until I met my boyfriend, who did the job perfectly. I have several friends who met their (Sevillano) partners as either their students, teachers or flatmates. They do say it’s the best way to learn a language! The challenges for me now include finding easily available and not-stupidly-expensive British print media. It probably sounds stupid, but as I’ve always worked as a journalist, I miss buying magazines and newspapers – out here, they are just an occasional treat.
I imagine they’re hard to come by in the smaller places! So, OK, how much of the Spanish language did you know before coming out here? What things did you do to improve and where do you see your level now?
I already had a reasonable level of Spanish when I arrived, after a year living in Ecuador where I had free lessons – a perk of teaching English. I found the Sevillano accent very difficult to understand at first (they talk very fast and swallow the last syllable or consonant), but luckily my boyfriend and most of my students spoke clearly. I eavesdropped on listened to people talking all the time (on the bus, doing the shopping, in the bar) to get my head round local lingo (“madruga” for “madrugada”, “que pesa” for “que pesada”, “que pes-owww” for “que pesado”) and missing final “s” (Betee=Betis). In general, try to listen to the radio, and watch TV, especially current affairs programmes like 75 Minutos, Callejeros and Comando Actualidad. And of course go for coffee and tapas with Spanish friends, or find an intercambio. I scraped through the DELE intermediate exam in my first year here, and I am fluent now, but still nowhere near bilingual – my vocabulary in Spanish is much more limited than in English – I need to read more books!
Books are definitely helping me! But anyway, what are your favourite things about the Spanish language? Any favourite words?
It’s fairly logical, with similar tenses, and fewer auxiliaries than English, which must be hell to learn – am, is, are, do, does, did, would etc. I find it very pleasing to being able to talk fast – for example, when you get angry and you can send out a stream of invective in Spanish. Incredibly satisfying. A fellow blogger just introduced me to “desmadre” (chaos, mess; literally, without a mother), which, as a mother of two frequently out-of-control children, made me laugh; also “tengo ganas de” (I fancy doing…) is a favourite. Yes I’ll use Spanish for the foreseeable future, since I have no plans to leave. If I did ever have to go back to the UK, I hope would be able to carry on practising it.
Desmadre? I like that! So what have been some of the biggest, major highlights of the past eight years living and working in Spain? What places would you recommend people seeing?
Going to major local events to write about: the Feria de Abril here in Seville is always fab. I got a real kick out of being outside the Duquesa de Alba’s palace on day she got married – I interviewed her a few years ago and was won over by her charm and friendliness. On that day, there was incredible atmosphere of warmth and affection in the crowd for this old lady who’s stinking rich, but has the people wrapped around her little finger. I loved feeling part of Sevillano life that day. There is so much to recommend here in Andalucia, and I haven’t even seen half of it! I love the wild west town of El Rocio, where they have the huge pilgrimage every year; the Doñana Park visitor centres with their (litter-free) lakes, forests and wooden walkways – ideal for kids; the many national parks with tree-covered mountains where my kids can run around in nature, as I did when growing up, with wonderfully scenic picnic and barbeque spots – the Sierra de Huelva is near us, and we recently visited the Parque Nacional de los Alcornocales (in Malaga province); and the Costa de la Luz, which has the best beaches in Spain, another winner for families.
Andalucia gets a lot of love from me! But let’s move on. What things should people who want to move out to Spain, to have a similar experience to you, know about doing this based on your experiences? What advice would you give them?
Research your job market, remember things are really tough right now (my husband, an engineer with 20 years of experience, has been out of work for over two years). Most people here believe that life – household bills, the job market, health service cuts – is going to get worse before it gets better. Having said that, English teachers are in more demand than ever, because people know they need a good level to have any chance of competing for vacancies.
Teaching English is how I recommend most people get started in Spain. As for other options, tell us, how do you sustain your travels around Spain? Do you have any money saving tips whether it’s with travel, food, living or anything else that can help people out who are preparing for a trip or relocation?
I earn money writing and teaching some private English classes, but I don’t travel that far afield as I have two small children and a tight budget – we limit our trips to a few days in Andalucia or the Algarve at the moment. Share a flat to keep your costs down – electricity bills are going up 7% this year. Travel by bus or train when you can, rather than hiring a car, as they’re both cheap and reliable means of transport.
Some great advice there! As for some of your favourite things about the culture? What is it about Spain that makes you enjoy living here the most?
Friendly, welcoming locals are the mainstay of Spanish culture – always up for a good time, and they love telling you about their customs. Eating is a social event – the food, the conversation, children running about – time and care are taken over both the cooking and consuming. And talking of food, the variety is staggering. Any small town will have at least 10 bars offering about 20 different dishes, so Seville is culinary paradise. As a fishetarian, I’m spoilt for choice – my favourites are coquinas (little clams) and puntillitas (little squid), and I tried sea urchin the other day. What I like most? The weather. Sunshine and blue skies for most of the time here in Sevilla.
Any last words for people out there interested in immersing themselves in a foreign culture, learning a language and travelling the world?
Yes: just do it! Book the flight, take the course, accept the job abroad. Whatever happens, even if you don’t stay for as long as you planned, you won’t regret it – it’s an experience.
Wow! Some fantastic advice there and great story. Thanks Fiona!
Don’t forget to get in contact if you’d like to be my next Spanish lover!