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Differently done in Spain; Life abroad is different - and fascinating. Expat BRIAN HAYHURST, who has lived 12 years with his wife Elaine on the Costa del Sol, southern Spain, explains how, in the first of two exposs on the culture, traditions and attitudes of Costa folk.


AFTER a dozen or so years living here on the Costa del Sol, Elaine and I have tried to become part of the Spanish way of life.

Like many other pioneer expats 20 years ago, we used to clomp around in sandals or flip-flops, wearing bright clothing and take in copious amounts of cheap alcohol, whilst sitting on the beach for hours. Not now; we rarely hit the beach except with visiting family and friends.

We could never understand why Spaniards wore woollies and shaded their faces with papers, or sat in darkened rooms at midday. We soon learned. The sun plays havoc with your skin.

Known for flamenco, sangria and bull fighting, Spain has been a centre of European culture for thousands of years. Famous artists such as Goya, Picasso, Dali and many more, led the world with their own distinctively creative skills. The Spanish guitar was invented in this region - Andaluca, in the 1870s, when a sixth string was added to the Moorish lute, devised from gypsies. Spanish opera and pop singers are well known worldwide.

There are many brilliant universities and they are keeping abreast with technology, although the mountain of paperwork for the simplest transaction can regularly be tiresome.

More down to earth, we often ask why do the Spanish often serve tea in a glass which you cannot touch for ages? And then add hot milk!

Ask for a pint of lager, and you frequently get three quarters - in a hot glass! Try offering that in one of our local UK pubs and there will be trouble.

Food and drink here are a very important part of life. Eating is usually informal and relaxed and they will sit talking relentlessly for hours, often well past midnight.

We English will be leaving a restaurant at, say, 10.30pm, when the local, often with youngsters, are just sitting down to a meal.

Cultural differences are nowhere more marked than in the celebration of Christmas, which starts on December 22 when the Spanish lottery, El Gordo - The Fat One - is called, as it has every year since 1812.

The main family meal is on Christmas Eve. Children often stay up late to receive usually one present. No Father Christmas! Christmas Day is a lazy day, often involving the whole family on a walk. Boxing Day isn't celebrated, and it's back to work for most Spaniards.

December 28 is 'Innocent Saints Day'. Families and friends regularly play jokes on each other.

On New Year's Eve the Spanish bid farewell to the past while eating one grape for each chime of the church bell. We have seen many almost choke trying to get that last grape down! Luckily the tradition allows Cava to be taken with the grapes. Then they party right through the night ... and I mean party!

Festivities come to an end on January 6 as 'Three Wise Kings' come to give children their main gifts. Before going to bed prior to the visit, youngsters put out their shoes. Sometimes Kings will leave some black charcoal in them, which tells them they haven't been good all the time!

For breakfast 'Roscon de Reys' is eaten - a spicy bread cake with dried fruits to represent jewels. Find one of the hidden dough figures and be crowned King. Among the 12 public holidays and two regional days they celebrate things like Constitution Day - Post Franco, 1978 when the democratic constitution was introduced.

A day when the entire country comes to a standstill is All Saints Day, November 1 - and often 2. Families flock to the cemeteries to pay respect to the dead. They will take flowers, have a picnic and sit for hours alongside the sealed hole in the wall (which they rent for 10 years), where the coffin containing their loved one is kept. Most expats choose to be cremated, but Spaniards use the hundreds of filing cabinet style units. After ten years the cask is opened in the presence of a family member. The body is removed, cleaned, and the remains placed in an urn. School life differs a little to the UK. There are generally no uniforms. Classes are loud and friendly but very disciplined when the teacher requests it.

Teachers, head teachers and pupils dress casually. Children must provide their own exercise books. No laboratory experiments are undertaken, and teachers are known by their Christian names.

Our friends Chris and Avril, who have worked for many years in Spanish schools, speak highly of the standard of teaching methods.

Bull fighting is slowly becoming extinct in cities and towns with attitudes to the 'sport' changing. Even in holiday resorts bull rings are up for sale or lease. These events were the life blood of many towns but over the past decade the centuries' old tradition has become seen and considered as barbaric.

Next time I will look at some of the unusual religious festivals; alcohol and young people, attitudes towards expats, siestas etc.


* FRIENDS AND FAMILY: Brian and Elaine Hayhurst (above, left) with friends Alan Conroy, Elaine Conroy, Christine Parkin and her husband Jeff at a New Year's celebration in 2009. RIGHT: Brian and Elaine (left and right) with youngest son Jason Armitage, grand-daughter Liberty and Jason's wife Jeanette.
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Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Mar 21, 2012
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