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 Their dream of a rural life of peace and harmony faded and they now feel isolated and withdrawn from the local people.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.