How many times have you wondered just what Spanish people think of the invasion of Brits and other foreigners into their home territory?
All too often, especially in touristic areas like Torrevieja, contact with the local Spanish people is limited to ordering a meal or speaking sign language with the plumber, and even when we do smile and say "buenos días" to a Spanish neighbour, we are unable to really know what he or she is thinking, or thinks of us. Most of us find that once we've made an initial effort to break the ice and communicate a bit more, the response is generally very positive. If you apologise for your poor Spanish, you will often be told "¡No, no, no, hablas muy bien!" "No, no you speak very well!" Perhaps it's relief on their part that we're making the effort at all, but certainly on our part we suspect they're being a little over-generous to say the least. I'm sure you've also been in a situation like this – you manage to say "Hablo un poco de español" and are just about to work yourself up to "Dame un kilo de manzanas por favor" when you discover that the lady in the fruit shop thinks you have suddenly become completely fluent and proceeds to tell us her entire life story in what you can only suppose is some sort of defunct variation of an ancient rural dialect.
And what about the young people? Spanish youth often seem more mature and self-assured than their English counterparts, but what are they really like? And just what is that young waiter or barman thinking behind his pleasant smile? Well, nothing better than to go along and ask, and that was my mission when I went to talk to David Elvira who runs a family pub in the La Siesta area of Torrevieja. Without putting too fine a point on it, I asked David who he was, what he's doing here, what kind of life he leads, and what he thinks about the great mixture of people from whom he makes his living.
David was born in France to Spanish parents and moved back with them to Spain when he was quite small. He spent his childhood in San Sebastian in the Basque country on the north coast of Spain and moved to Torrevieja when he was 14 years of age.
What was it like moving to this part of Spain after living in the North?
Absolutely everything was different, the people, the climate, the food, the countryside, even the way people speak. Up there it is mountainous and green, not a bit like this area. Moving down here when I was still at secondary school was incredible, it was like walking into an international language school. At my school there were kids who spoke all sorts of different languages. If you don't learn English in a situation like that it's because you don't want to. But take it from me, you don't learn English by studying it in books, you learn it from hearing people speak it.
What kind of customers do you get in the bar?
Here it's all English, well nearly all. We get a few Germans, and Irish of course, but basically it's all English speaking. Personally I treat everyone the same, I don't make any distinction between people from different countries. We stock things in that English people like, but also things that the Spanish or other nationalities like as well. There's a big difference between the people who are here on holiday and the people who live here all the time. The ones who are here on holiday want to make the most of it and spend a lot of time in the pub drinking. I don't blame them, I'd do the same thing if I was them! I very rarely have any problems with them though, they're just here to enjoy themselves and have a good time. They don't speak a word of Spanish, but I speak English so it's never a problem. I'm completely used to it, but sometimes when people are here from other parts of Spain they are surprised to see how much the English drink. But for me it's normal because I've been brought up round here.
What about English people who live in the area?
Oh, they're fine. Most of them speak a bit of Spanish, some more than others. It depends a bit on the age. I mean if you're over 80 you're not going to start learning, are you? The young people all speak Spanish though because they learn it at school. Also the people who are actually working here have to speak Spanish, but I think that retired people don't really need to. Some people try very hard, one man comes in every single day with his Spanish book and says "David, translate this for me …" Also they correct my English and try and teach me some more. Sometimes we have a good laugh, especially with the typical mistakes like the way to say "fork" or "sheet". I've learnt a lot and don't make those mistakes any more! When they laugh at me I don't take it personally, I take it positively.
Do you live a typical Spanish way of life?
I don't really know what is typical! My neighbour on one side is Norwegian and on the other side is German, so it's a bit hard to say. My timetable is totally Spanish, I have supper late and then go out at night. I'm a normal person of my age! For two weeks a year I go on holiday to my parents' village near Salamanca. I don't go for the fiesta because that's in August and I'm working, so I go at Christmas time. My grandparents' house is there and my parents have now retired there as well. The village is very isolated and it's so small that everyone knows your business. Most of the young people have left to find work so there's nothing to do there. It's good to have a break, but two weeks a year is enough!
Is there a big difference between Spaniards from different parts of Spain?
Yes, in Spain you are from your region first and Spanish second. A lot of the people who live in this area or come here on holiday are from other places and they'll always tell you straight away: "I'm Asturian or I'm Galician". Even down the road in Murcia the people are very different. They are more like people from Castilla La Mancha in the interior of Spain. The Valencians are more open-minded like the Catalans. But there's no trouble at all here between people from different regions. Local people are extremely welcoming to outsiders.
Where do you consider yourself from?
Me? I consider myself from Torrevieja. I feel at home here and want to stay. I like the Mediterranean life-style and it's good to do lots of different things and meet all sorts of people. It's different here – and I like it!
This article is published courtesy of CB Friday in association with thinkspain.com