“The language was the biggest challenge. Some people are able to pick up languages very quickly but I am one of those who struggles a lot more. Even to this day I never relax fully or feel absolutely fluent in Spanish – I still make too many errors and get upset when I do.”
So explains Alastair Binns, a 42-year-old Englishman who moved to Spain in 2007. His experience is one that, no doubt, many who have taken the plunge and embarked on a new life in another country have had to deal with. But despite the linguistic difficulties, Alastair has thrived since moving here from China, driven by his and his wife’s desire to leave what they called the “Asian expat bubble,” and find a place where they could become a true part of the community and interact more freely with the locals.
My first perception was of this lovely group of people who were very smiley and open but I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about
They chose Andalusia as their destination and spent six months renovating a house in the Subbética mountains in Córdoba, turning it into a casa rural.
“I didn’t speak a word of Spanish,” he explains about his arrival in the country. “My first perception was of this lovely group of people who were very smiley and open but I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about.”
Undeterred, Alastair signed up for classes in the village, where his classmates were older Spanish ladies who were learning to read and write, while he was learning to speak. “I was the only male, and the only person under 70 in the class!” he recalls.
Once he and his wife had got their casa rural up and running, Alastair went in search of new employment. He found a position with a UK company that had recently offshored its collections and credit-control department, and was tasked with recruiting new staff and setting up the firm’s processes.
In 2010, and with a baby on the way, the couple moved to Madrid in search of new opportunities. His first job involved selling wine to fellow Britons, and then he moved to American Express, where he took on a phone sales position, convincing restaurants, hotels and other businesses to accept the company’s credit card. Six years later he is now managing a team of 30 people, with another 30 on the horizon.
The weather and lifestyle are beautiful, the people are very open, warm and welcoming, and life is built on being outside and socializing
Has anything disappointed him since he moved to Spain? “Nothing,” comes his reply. “Foreigners here are integrated with the locals, and it’s very different from expat Asia. Before moving here I didn’t know anything about Spain. The weather and lifestyle are beautiful, the people are very open, warm and welcoming, and life is built on being outside and socializing.”
What advice does he have for a person planning on living here? “The language is key, at least the basics. But in the big cities there are jobs that you can do without Spanish. The key is finding them, getting into them and then you can learn it while you are working.”
But of course, no matter how long you live in Spain, there are some things that newcomers will always struggle to get used to. “I still don’t like the timetable,” he says. “I will happily get up at 6am but if I do that I don’t see anyone for about three hours! I am also happy to go to bed at 9.30pm, but if I do that I end up having dinner alone. My body clock isn’t suited to a Spanish lifestyle, that’s for sure…”
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