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The Challenges Facing an English Couple Whose Dream of Spanish Life has Faded

By Richard Harvey

Summary: Psychotherapist Richard Harvey looks at an English couple living in rural Spain and the challenges they face in their post-honeymoon period.

Living Abroad - The Challenges Facing an English Couple Whose Dream of Spanish Life has Faded

Psychotherapist Richard Harvey looks at the challenges facing an English couple whose dream of Spanish life has faded

Maya and Jonathan, a young English couple, sold up and relocated to a rural finca with a partly-ruined cortijo in Andalucia, because they were disillusioned with English life. At first their experience of Spanish life was overwhelmingly positive. The locals were friendly and accommodating, bringing them gifts of plants, trees, produce, and advising them on renovating their property. They were invited to family parties and weddings. Their expectations of a bright new life came true. Then everything seemed to go wrong. They became outraged at the way Spanish people treated their animals. A neighbour insisted that he had right of way through the middle of their property and started dumping building supplies and hay for his animals within the boundaries of their land. Disputes arose over their acequia rights and they found their water was being interfered with. On their walks local people came onto their land and seemed disrespectful of their land boundaries. When they spoke out against these injustices people took offence and they began to make enemies. Their dream of a rural life of peace and harmony faded and they now feel isolated and withdrawn from the local people.

Moving to a foreign country fills us with the promise of fulfillment and the excitement of newness. We begin with the 'honeymoon period', enchanted by the freshness and unfamiliarity of the people, the surroundings and the customs. Away from our usual surroundings, we experience a vivid sense of being alive.

But as time passes this freshness and newness wears off and we begin to see things in a more balanced way. We realize that not all Spanish people are as charming as others and not all Spanish customs are fascinating. The 'settling-in period' follows when the same fundamental needs and activities that filled our time in our native country return to remind us that we haven't truly 'escaped' and many things are the same as ever.

Sometimes this leads to disillusionment. People return to their native countries and close a daring chapter in their lives. For others it remains a learning experience that has enriched them. Maya and Jonathan have been through the 'honeymoon period' and the 'settling-in period' and they now feel disillusioned.

Their experience highlights a basic human need: as individuals, we need to feel welcomed, included and accepted in our community; we need to live with others in mutual consideration, cooperation and understanding.

To take the trouble to understand, to see who and what we are living amongst, is necessary if we want to invite relationship and understanding from our neighbours. We need to ask ourselves important questions like: Do we want to live their way of life? Do we want to live our accustomed life in a foreign culture? How far will we go in adapting to the foreign life style and values of the land we live in? We all need to come to our own understanding of these matters and set the boundaries that are right for us.

We should not assume that people in another country will feel the same as us. Maya and Jonathan have discovered that Spanish people have different attitudes, values and habits, based on life experiences and the history of their culture and their people. In England a home may be a castle. But it is not the same in Spain where families have shared in the hardships of rural living and fincas have been passed down through generations. Here, cooperation and helping each other has been more important than land boundaries. English people are used to keeping animals as pets. But in Andalucia, where extreme poverty exists in the memory of much of the population and animals were principally kept for food, the luxury of keeping pets has taken second place to physical survival.

When we move to a foreign country, we enter into a new relationship, consciously or unconsciously. We need to take the time to get to know our new country's character and heart, its foibles and its charms. Like people, a country has a soul and as our relationship deepens we may be privileged to meet it. Without this relationship, we eventually become isolated, alienated and apart - like strangers in a strange land.

We, the ones who come here to live, need to remember that we are guests in somebody else's country. Maya and Jonathan have experienced the positive and negative sides of living in southern Spain. The next challenge for them is to deepen in their relationship – this is their Spanish reality and it is the reality of living anywhere. It is always a mix, but we can learn and enrich ourselves, however well, and however badly, things may appear on the surface. If they can rise to the challenges, they could find that the enchantment that has gone gives way to a deeper, more grounded re-enchantment with their new life.

About the Author

AS Therapy and SpiritualityRichard Harvey is a psychotherapist, author and spiritual teacher with 34 years experience, offering training and support to those who want to achieve deeper personal change and spiritual growth.

His organization 'Therapy and Spirituality' provides workshops, personal and spiritual growth retreats and psycho-spiritual training at his personal growth centre and family home set high on the beautiful southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains in Spain.

He is the author of The Flight of Consciousness: A Contemporary Map for the Spiritual Journey (Ashgrove 2002), several other books and many articles aimed at both inspiring and offering practical guidance on the process of realizing our true selves.

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Comments about this Article

Mar 7, 2011 17:59

When in Rome, do as Romans do.

Mar 7, 2011 21:59

Richard, Thank you, I couldn't have said it better. Sure it looks good when we are busy grousing about whatever we don't like at we go someplace else and it becomes hell. I spent a short time in Spain and found too many people smoke, are arrogant and pushy, and really prejudiced against South American Spanish speakers (as my traveling partner's experience showed). I spent enough time in Thailand to see that the air quality is awful and everyone smiles when you are giving them money and so on. Bottom line, at home it may be a mess but it's YOUR mess and familiar so at least you know what to do. Think twice and do the 3 week, 3 month, year stay before deciding that you really like a country, it's people and their "ways."

Mar 7, 2011 22:24

They went to Spain. They can go back to England. As simple as that. It also could be that not enough care has been taken in finding out the precise property rights attached to that particular piece of reasl estate. In general, private property also exists in Spain and is respected there and Spain is not a medievel country any more with subsistance farmers and poor peasants struggling for survival. One mistake to be avoided when going abroad is that all will be the same as at home. People are going abroad precicely because they want a change but then somehow asume that all will still remain the same. Paradox but often to be seen.

Mar 7, 2011 22:34

I'd have to say this is the first I've read about this phenomenon. I would have fallen into the honeymoon stage...hoping it lasted forever...that the newness would never diminish. It is this 'ultimate balance' that makes a marriage work...sometimes still it is not quite balanced. At every stage a new common ground is achieved...or our comfort levels have adjusted to our new surroundings. Every stage a mile marker so to speak. As some point as in a marriage there are differences that can not be overcome and the decision is made to separate. You want a fulfilled life and the excitement but your surroundings become too difficult to adjust to. Adjustment is not possible any more. So exiting the scene helps 'some'. For others they keep adjusting to the new culture at every stage. Soon they have changed to such an extent it is impossible to think of ever going back. To make the observations of the different stages is very interesting. The deep-rooted cultural aspects of the newly adopted society in which one choses to live is very deep and thought provoking. One will have to be very prepared for the move and for the ensuing cultural one needs to be choosing a life's partner! Thank you for this article.

Mar 8, 2011 02:06

All you read was that Jonathan and Maya's Spanish neighbors gave them just about everything to make them feel welcome, but there was no mention of reciprocity. Maybe that was one problem. After the big welcome, life goes on, and if you are not emotionally or mentally equipped to live your own life you will never feel at home, no matter where you go. Another point. I must presume that Jonathan and Maya are a White couple. White people are accustomed to having things their way, being favored, courted, and catered to in one way or another. Few of them have had the experience of being a real, and possibly unfavored outsider as people of darker races have traditionally been. I have seen over and over how Whites arrive in a foreign country and think all is so wonderful, until they've been there for a little while and suddenly realize that they are not the dominant ones. They often lapse into "tribal" behaviour and get depressed. From this point they can either adjust, or stay in a funk indefinitely.

Jul 1, 2012 03:59

A very perceptive article. I have lived in Spain for nine years now and can relate in some way to these experiences. I too live in (very) rural southern Spain. As anywhere, I have good and bad neighbours; there are people of the local town who embrace us and others who resent us; some people I care for, others I don't. The whole issue is underpinned by the need to communicate. I have had issues with boundaries - our land was unused for some eight years following the death of the previous owner, and neighbours had in that time taken liberties. This required some gentle negotiation, carried out under the umbrella of hospitality. I also have a very tiresome neighbour who tried to extort money from us when we first arrived and who takes every opportunity to cause us grief because I refused to play ball. It's an ongoing nuisance with which I have to deal. I find the treatment of animals unpalatable, too, but I do say so. My neighbours know not to kill a rabbit for arroz con conejo in my presence, and they are more aware now of their dogs' need for shade and water! We can agree to disagree, just as people need to do wherever they live side by side.

Nov 29, 2013 07:55

Thought provoking and probably quite correct in his assessment.

Nov 29, 2013 07:59

Thought provoking and probably quite correct in his assessment.

First Published: Mar 07, 2011

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