Are you from Spain?? What are you doing living here??

The question internationals get asked a lot

This is the rhetoric question that many Spaniards like myself need to hear at least 128 times in our lives, especially if they happen to live, like in my case, in a North European country.

I know sometimes it’s not easy to endure several days of rain in a row, but, do these people know that in the north of Spain it rains a lot too? If I was from Galicia I would laugh long and loud at this kind of comment, but I’m from Madrid.

The thing is that still today many people think that living in Spain is like living on a permanent holiday. As if people in Spain didn’t have to work and could spend all the time they please drinking beer sitting on a terrace or eating paella at a chiringuito on the beach.

Spain is just a country, which happens to have decent weather most of the year and where people like to hang out more often than maybe in other parts of the globe but that doesn’t mean the Iberian Peninsula is heaven on earth.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my country of origin but I also love other countries like Denmark or Montenegro for example.

I sometimes consider myself lucky of having been raised in a country like Spain where I could spend 3 months in summer swimming in the public pool and playing outside till late without major dangers.

But when I think about the time I was at Uni and needed to queue up at the only public library there was in the suburbs I grew up in, then I think that maybe I wasn’t that lucky at all.

I now live in the Netherlands and I see the level of public educational institutions they have here, the libraries, the services and how happy children seem to be. All those things make me think that some rain now and then is not really a tragedy.


Interesting enough, I miss very much the public health system in Spain, it’s certainly one of the best in the World because it’s free (well people pay it with taxes) and it works really good.

I was shocked (and still are) when I first came to Holland and realised that even if people pay lots of direct and indirect taxes they also have to pay a private health insurance which is mandatory and costs minimum 100 € per month.

But the worst thing is that on top of that you have a yearly excess of 370 €, so the direct consequence of this is that people don’t carry out the usual checks and Holland has the highest cancer death rate in Europe (only behind Slovenia). This really makes me furious, so let’s change subject…

I’ve been living abroad most of my adult life and obviously, there are certain things I still miss from Spain.

These are:

the health system, the efficient and affordable public transport, the clear skies of Madrid in winter, the lively and constant chitchatting in the streets, the busy bars and restaurants with delicious food, the free tapas with your affordable glass of Rioja, the peaks on the horizon, the diversity of interesting destinations just 3-4 hours’ drive away and the loud laughs and unashamed tears.

But there are other things I don’t miss at all and I wouldn’t be willing to go back to those.

These are:

the low salaries, the shabby work conditions, the arrogance of certain managers and politicians, the job interviews where you feel as if they were doing you a favour for hiring you, the long working hours, the difficulty to balance work and private life, the noise, the duty of hanging out with friends not to be considered a freak and the difficulty to find moments of almighty solitude in silence.

Maybe I was never very Spanish, even if I’m not sure what does being Spanish exactly mean. For me it’s my family, some of the dishes I cook and my mother tongue and surely some of the traits of my personality, but nothing else.

I can’t identify myself with a lot of the mass culture in Spain yet I get goose’s skin when I see a flamenco performance, but, who doesn’t?

I’m not going to deny that I live on a constant contradiction, on one side I can be very critical towards my country of origin but if I hear cruel comments from someone else I jump and defend it even with my teeth if necessary, whenever I believe those comments aren’t fair.

But the thing is that I would do the same for the countries I’ve lived in because I know them well and maybe I’ve loved them all.

I think my point here is that there isn’t the perfect country, there are countries with their positive and negative sides, and we are just people who happened to be born in one of them by pure chance, and developed, or not, certain common local traits.

If we think about the concept it’s not even clear, what’s a country? A territory which shares the same government that at a certain point in history some people decided where the borders were. At the same time, inside that same territory, there are so many differences and people who think differently to each other because most likely they have lived different experiences.

It’s difficult to define a country, for the simple reason that a country entails people and people are complex. We have our individual experiences and values and we cannot all be put in the same box.

This is what some political parties and corporations would like, the easier they can label us, the easier they can control us. That’s why I refuse to wear a label, I refuse to defend my nationality over my identity as a person and over the respect for other human beings.

This post is becoming more serious than I intended, so most probably you must be very confused at this moment.

I never felt I should have Spanish friends whenever I was living abroad, I don’t feel closer to another person just because we share the same language and passport. A person is a beautiful myriad of aspects and for me the nationality is a tiny one among so many important others.

It’s true that talking your mother tongue can be easier if you are not completely bilingual, and you can talk about certain experiences in childhood that other people in other countries might not understand because they haven’t lived them the same way. Still, I love to hear stories of people growing up in places different from where I did, it’s always enriching and often a lot of fun.

That’s why I don’t understand nationalism.

I do get that you can be happy of being born where you did, because you are aware that it could have been much more difficult if you were born in Afghanistan, for instance, especially if you are a female member of this planet, but I never understood that people can seriously consider themselves better for being born in a certain region of the globe.

They might have got more opportunities and an easier life, that’s true, but that’s about it.

I do understand there can be a certain pride from being from a particular place and that people from the same country can all unite against a different territory because that other country is committing crimes against your people, but still, most of the times these crimes are actually committed by armies and governments (or at least instructed) and many of the citizens of that enemy country might not even agree with what’s happening.

Oh, gosh, this post is really getting too complex…

I only wanted to talk about my experience being a Spaniard living abroad.

Let’s cool up a bit and talk about other funny stuff, after all, wars aren’t my favourite topic.

One thing that happens a lot is whenever I travel with friends from other nationalities, any time they ask us where are we from, there is always a nice exclamation whenever I say I’m from Spain. Kind of “You are from Spain!!! I love it, I’ve been to Barcelona, I had so much fun!” And then when that same person hears my companion’s place of origin there’s always something like “Ah, ok, nice” and that’s about it.

Isn’t that funny? For some reason, the world just loves Spain and, by extension, the Spaniards. And honestly, I still don’t understand why.

I mean, I know there are a lot of friendly people in Spain, but also lots of assholes. Like everywhere else, right?

I still remember how cautious I was when I first moved to Paris without speaking a word of French and people had told me how unfriendly the Parisians were, especially French people from other regions.

Port Saint Denis. Photo Elena de Francisco

So when I was there and I met such helpful and wonderful people everywhere I couldn’t believe my eyes, my ears… I honestly had a totally different experience in Paris than what had been portraited to me previously.

So when I told those same people how kind everyone was with me they replied, “yeah that’s because you are a young Spanish girl….” (I was young at the time) So, they were nice because I was Spanish? Mais non!

Anyways, I’m not going to deny that I have taken advantage of the friendliness we Spaniards provoke in others when we are abroad and I was never afraid of showing my passport.

Well, maybe only at the US border, but who isn’t?

To conclude, being Spanish is great, but at the same time, I don’t know how it feels being from somewhere else.

What I do know is that there are so many great places and amazing people on this planet and that every place where I have lived or visited had its pros and cons.

Still, I believe I won the lottery being born in a western country, of that I’m sure.

If you believe in reincarnation, be aware, next time your ticket might not get that lucky.

So let’s not judge people by their place of origin. Get to know them better and then decide for yourself.

I recently read a comment on Twitter from @fuckowski regarding nationalism that wraps up really well what I think on the topic:

Those of you who are proud of the coordinates in which you were born, the religion you have been inculcated in, the customs you have inherited and the achievements of some athletes, don’t you base even a small part of your self-esteem on something that is your own merit?

Image by thomasgitarre from Pixabay

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