OK I admit it. I’m judgemental. I try not to be, but I am. And sometimes at British airports in the queues for the Spanish Costas, I judge. There are hen parties / stag parties heading for Benidorm, There are screeching families heading for Torremolinos. There are football fans heading for Barcelona. And there are overly-tanned ex-pats with rather too much bling, loudly and pointedly announcing how they had enjoyed their visit to the UK but were relieved to be getting back to their villa, pool, and Little England community in the sun.
So it was with a degree of trepidation that I set out to meet two different sets of Brits in the Colmenar area.
Firstly, the English-run bar in town – Bar CO2 run by John & Karen, on the square outside the Ayuntamiento, the town hall. Now for all I know they are typical of the Brits around Colmenar. I can’t say yet. But I do know that they are not typical of the image I had unfairly brought with me. My image was of the “We don’t need to learn Spanish – everyone here speaks English” type, who shop only in English shops, drink only in English bars, and eat only at establishments such as “Fryer Tuck’s Fish’n’Chips” (and yes, I’m afraid it does exist). No, John & Karen have bucked that image completely. I was careful not to describe Bar CO2 as an English bar. It is English-run, but serves as many Spanish as English clients, along with a good smattering of Dutch, German, Canadian and several other nationalities. They speak Spanish to Spanish customers, and English to all the rest. And when I have gone there asking for advice, they know and recommend local Spanish tradespeople.
Secondly, with even greater trepidation, I set off to the Wednesday gathering of the Colmenar Social Club, To be honest, I was more tempted by the venue than the people, that first time. They meet at the Hotel Restaurant Arco del Sol, and many people had recommended the ceramics and furniture in the large showroom downstairs from the bar. So I had a good chat with Antonio, the owner, bought a rocking chair and a couple of small pots, and then nervously approached the English-speaking group out on the patio. Again, my assumptions were unfounded. I had expected an inward-looking group, sharing tips on English plumbers and pool-cleaners, complaining about Spanish bureaucracy, healthcare, and – well – everything really. Instead I found a lively, intelligent and friendly bunch, a mixture of pensioners, early retired, some working in Spain and others travelling regularly between Spain and the UK. They were open and welcoming, and generous with advice about internet providers and the care of lemon trees.
In Colmenar there are very few English people living right in the town itself – less than ten, probably, plus a few Dutch and Canadian. Most prefer to live outside in the campo in order to have a bit of land and a pool. These are not people living on English-speaking urbanisations with their own supermarkets and bars. Quite a few had spent much of their adult life living and working in a variety of other countries, so were British by birth and nationality but not so much by residence. Most of the Colmenar Social Club members live scattered across the campo, as many around Riogordo and Comares as in the immediate surroundings of Colmenar. Perhaps that very scatteredness is what makes this loose but supportive group so important to each other once a week. Someone to talk to who has a similar problem with the town hall or the electric company. Someone to lend a bit of scaffolding or a pressure washer when you need it. Someone to put the word out if you need a second-hand fridge, camera or bicycle.
So, time for me to rethink my stereotypes. I know the Brits of my assumptions are out there, because I’ve seen them on the coast outside Fryer Tuck’s Fish’n’Chips and waiting for the Allday Big Breakfast to eat during the Man United football match on the Sky big screen. But there are other types of ex-pats too. And they’re not all reinforcing the unfortunate common image of “Brits Abroad”.
© Tamara Essex 2012