85 – The Rough with the Smooth

So, you think it’s warm all year round in Spain?  Think again.

My village house is at 2,500 feet altitude, higher than anyone in the UK lives.   And it’s cold in winter.  We sometimes get snow – only occasionally in the village but plenty on the hills around us.  We are not far from the Sierra Nevada where the ski slopes opened early this year, at the end of November.

And as everyone who moved here from Britain will tell you, the houses aren’t built to keep you warm in winter.

So round about now the expat internet forums are full of questions about wood deliveries, tips for using wood-burning stoves, and which type of radiators use the least electricity.

But there’s an extra edge to the expat discussions this year.  Because the British government, as part of the sweeping cuts which are affecting most of the poorest people in the country, is also planning to withdraw the Winter Fuel Allowance from British pensioners living in warmer countries.

85-newspapersThe English-language press in Spain has been full of this story, and in particular the letters pages.  Outraged of Tunbridge Wells has retired and become Outraged of Torrevieja, penning strongly-worded letters, the indignation in which cannot be denied.  “It’s an outrage!” he writes.  “I’ve paid my taxes” he fumes.  “I moved here assuming I’d carry on getting that money” he explains.  “They are driving a coach and horses through my human rights” he storms.

Well no.  Actually they’re not.

This “breach of our human rights” is bandied around here with depressing frequency.  It came up earlier this year when it emerged that changes to the satellites means we many well cease to receive free UK TV programmes.  That was apparently a breach of our human rights, too.  I have to say, I find this misuse of the words abhorrent.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an incredibly important document, to which we should all be eternally grateful.  In the main, most people reading this probably don’t need to be personally grateful for it.  We are fortunate that the rights it enshrines are pretty much standard in the country of our birth and in our adopted country.  But if its existence helps support people who have real struggles for shelter, education or water, or who have real struggles against slavery, hunger, arbitrary arrest or torture, then it is doing its job and I for one am relieved it is there.

And we devalue it when we wave it around inappropriately.  I remember sitting on the patio at home in Dorset during school playtime and hearing a teenage girl scream at a teacher “You can’t make me do homework, it’s against my human rights!”  It makes me no less angry when it is waved around by grown adults who have, at some point in their lives, been comfortable enough to be able to make a decision to emigrate to a warmer country to work or to retire.  “Outraged of Torrevieja” did not, I suspect, arrive on the Spanish mainland in an over-crowded boat across the Straits of Gibraltar.  He (or she) did not escape slavery or war to arrive wounded and starving in an urbanisation on the Costas.  “Outraged” had the western European assumptions of freedom of movement and the capacity to take advantage of it, and came here by choice.

Once here, “Outraged” naturally hoped nothing would change.  Life was good, the exchange rate gave him a good pension, and the sun shone.  Then his human rights were trampled on.  The £200 Winter Fuel Allowance may be withdrawn.  This, apparently, will drop “Outraged” into abject poverty.  He threatens to move back to the UK where he will still be eligible for the £200 allowance.

My view is not shared by the majority of immigrants here.  I think that things are constantly changing around us, and mostly we just have to live with it.  Because of the age I am, I first saw my state pension slip away over the horizon as my retirement age was upped from 60 to 65.  Then I was caught in the next tranche of delays, and I will get mine at 66.  Or perhaps at sixty-six and a half.  Certainly I lose over six years from what I grew up expecting – so, £42,000 or thereabouts.  Shame.  But things change.

I think immigration is a bit like a marriage.  We should take some sort of vows.  For richer, for poorer.  In sickness and in health.  In warm weather and in cold weather.  The rough with the smooth.  Yes, Spain is lovely and warm for about eight and a half months, and really very cold for about three and a half months.  Yes pensioners could do with the Winter Fuel Allowance.  Or perhaps they could just drop €10 into a piggy-bank every time they go out for a Menú del Día at €7 or €8 a head for a three-course meal including a drink (I think €10 would be about how much is saved each time compared to prices if we’d stayed in the UK).  Do that once a fortnight, or just once a month if there are two of you, and the savings give you back the Winter Fuel Allowance.

85-rightsAlternatively, we can just shrug at these administrative changes and look around us.  Where do I want to live?  If the answer is Spain, then we have to take the rough with the smooth.  And be grateful that all thirty Articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are still in place, unbreached, at least for us.  There is no “Article 31 – the inalienable right to watch EastEnders or Strictly, however far away I move”, or “Article 32 – the inalienable right to move to another country and still receive every single one of the discounts or allowances available to those in the UK (while failing to mention the benefits arising from my new country)”.  Just the 30.  Fighting for a life free of torture, slavery and hunger, where education and participation in democracy are available to all.  Those really matter.

© Tamara Essex 2013



My intercambio friend had to write a paragraph in English about the area in which he lives.  After I’d checked it for grammar (which was, as always, almost impeccable) he made me translate it into Spanish.  He’s well ahead of me on grammar so there were some difficult phrases.  But I loved it, as there were some really beautiful-sounding section.  I especially liked En invierno llueve poco, y aunque llueva, después los cielos aclaran y el sol brilla de 85-EnchantedPlacenuevo.  In winter it doesn’t rain much, and even when it does rain, afterwards the skies clear and the sun shines again.  Nice bit of subjunctive in there … “… even when it rains …”.   Es casi tan agradable como el paraíso.  It’s almost as lovely as paradise.  Very true, Jose, very true.


13 thoughts on “85 – The Rough with the Smooth

  1. Spot on! But there’s a possible flaw in your piggy bank suggestion. I wonder what percentage of ex-Pat Brits living on the Costas knows what a Menú del Día is, or has actually sampled one? To many who do know it’s probably “best avoided”, untried, on their list of “foreign muck”. After all, a menu without pictures or numbers is a huge obstacle to eating abroad. That it’s scribbled in Spanish on the back page of the waiter’s notebook and rattled off in his fluent native tongue is another!

  2. Oh, I like it. I did write a longer reply, but it’s gone missing. So, the shortened version is this…..
    Yes, ‘human rights’ is diluted like Robinson’s squash these days, when in many cases, used properly, it relates to a life and death situation.
    Yes, Mr Outraged should ask an elderly Spanish friend….if he has any…how they cope in winter. I’m sure that it won’t involve slumming on the settee, gin in hand, scrolling through 600 TV channels…sorry 599….no channel 5, whingeing. It will possibly involve sitting around a table with a brasero & a blanket.
    Yes, Mr Outraged SHOULD go back to the UK. In fact I shall throw a leaving party for him & even light the fire.
    Yes, Tamara, with plenty of newspapers printing ‘Mr Outrage’ letters, you’ll have plenty of Eco logs to keep you going 🙂

  3. So glad to read your blog today! There was a huge response in The Olive Press a few weeks ago about the winter fuel allowance and expat pensioners complaining bitterly about their rights and that they’d paid into the system and should still be entitled to get it no matter where they live! I understand that it is cold in some areas of Spain and it must be difficult for some people to afford to heat their homes, but they chose to move where they have for “a better life”. Unfortunately the current economic crisis has made life extremely difficult for lots of people and if we choose to move to another country and, in some cases, take up full residency and/or become full citizens of that country then you take on the laws and benefits of that country and forgo the benefits from your home country.

    Too many expats refuse to learn any of the language (even the basics!), they want to live with other expats instead of mixing in with the locals (funny how Brits moan about other nationalities refusing to mix in with us in the UK and then won’t join in when they move abroad!). Then they moan that their “human rights” are being infringed? Its laughable really! The Human Rights Act is in place to help those disadvantaged people who are truly having their rights to a normal life taken away (not as in the UK at the moment, foreign criminals being allowed to stay when they should be deported at the end of their sentence – but that’s another story!). People who have had to flee war torn countries, starvation and brutality, these are the people who can use the “Human Rights card” not pensioners who decided to decant from the UK to warmer climes and to live the expat life – which some who I have spoken to, think makes them superior to the locals.

    I have friends who live in Spain and the Canaries who live and work there or have retired there, and do give back to the local community and who love their adopted country and wouldn’t return to the UK unless absolutely forced to. They don’t expect to still get the benefits they would get if they lived in the UK and embrace the culture and laws of Spain, Once you emigrate from your home country, you should not expect to receive the additional benefits that people who are living there do and are continuing to pay for.

  4. I really enjoyed reading this. Both logical and eloquent.I wonder what the reaction wil be from “Outraged” and others. Could be interesting, but not likely to be logical.


  5. Nicely said Tamara. I have only ever been really really cold three times in my life…once in the UK playing rugby as a 9 year old,once fishing in the snow in Argentina and once many years ago in a shared flat in Murcia(it snowed that year in Murcia capital) and it was sooooooooooooo cold…we had no heating at all.Julia thinks I am nuts but I actually like the winters here…too hot for me in the summer .

  6. This is a nicely written piece and for once I have to totally agree with you Tamara. Well done. We chose to live here (Spain) where as most of those in the UK have no choice. The weather is colder for longer in the UK, so UK residence deserve it.

  7. Well said! All power to you and your way of thinking plus actually getting it out there.
    (From a British Span or a Spanish Brit with over 40 years underthebelt.

  8. I loved reading this post Tamara and agree wholeheartedly with your issue about devaluing the true meaning of ‘human rights’. However, I think that so long as you have paid your taxes and National Insurance contributions you should still receive the benefits that any other eligible UK national would.

    I’m many, many years from retirement and don’t mind those who have paid thousands and thousands in during their working lives getting something back in later life.

    I live in N Ireland but know how cold it gets in Spain in Winter and don’t begrudge anyone living their getting some help towards electricity bills.

  9. I’m an expat living in Oregon, which is one of the poorer (financially but not culturally) States in the Union. I would of course LOVE to receive the Fuel Allowance, but it would be inappropriate as I don’t LIVE in the UK no matter that I paid taxes: to me the extra ‘allowances’ are just that – extra. It is, however, unfair that if people have been led to believe they would receive it wherever they moved, it is now being removed and that there is a subjective element to it as to whether you have warm summers or not! However this allowance is NOT a ‘human right’ as Tamara so correctly states, but its removal is unfair.

  10. Tamara, has dado en el clavo. I agree with every word and am pleased to see that so many of your followers express similar views. I’m always infuriated by the ‘ I’ve paid in so I deserve X, Y and Z to be paid to me’ , with the sub-text that it could be for twenty years or more, with current life expectancy. There’s no fund of money to satisfy those expectations, our children and, later on, our grandchildren work to pay our pensions etc. etc. Yet we baby-boomers have had it so good that we’ve been able to make all kinds of life enhancing choices, which will never be within the reach of our off-spring.

  11. The average Brit are confused between The Court of Human Rights and The European Court of Justice. In the case of winter fuel allowance it is The European Court of Justice that has intervened in the Government decision to stop the WFA for expats.

    Tamara you may be interested in this website

    I found the Paul Lewis blog after reading your blog and found this to be more informative than some newspaper articles on the subject.

    The Daily Mail and The Telegraph are more incensed that the The European Court of Justice has had a say in the matter.

  12. Pingback: 104 – All the Language Points in One Place | A Foot in Two Campos

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