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From Blackpool to the Canary Islands: IslandMomma

22 April, 2013 09:40  Erin Erin

island momma linda Hi. My name is Linda, but I’m known to some as islandmomma (or madreislena in Spanish). It’s a nickname from when my kids were in their teens – long story. I come from Blackpool, a holiday town, on the north west coast of England, and I’ve now lived for over 25 years in Spain’s Canary Islands.

1. Why did you move abroad?

I’d always dreamed of living abroad. Unlikely as it must have seemed to friends by the time I was, say 25, I always knew that I would.

I was in a long-term relationship (we eventually married), and we had our first son in 1981, and I think for my partner that was what made him think about it too. We went to southern Spain a couple of times a year back then, and always talked about moving there, but for one reason or another never quite made the decision. In early 1987 it all began to happen quickly, our second son was diagnosed with asthma and we were advised that a drier climate might be better for him. At the same time my husband, who was in real estate, was asked by a group who were looking at investing in property in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, to accompany them to advise on structure, return on investment etc – but he ended up selling himself on the idea. He came home, and said he’d found “the right place” at last, and I agreed without even having been to the Canary Islands! I would have moved just about anywhere for the experience alone. I did, of course, make a trip before the final move, to check out schools etc, and the feedback was good, so I didn’t hesitate.

2. How do you make a living?
When I first arrived in July of 1987 I couldn’t get a work permit. My partner was self-employed, which was allowed if you were investing in a business, though, if I recall correctly, he had to have a Spanish partner on paper for some years. My sons were 3 and 5, and it didn’t bother me at all that I didn’t have a career, it was on hold anyway. I’d met my husband through work, so I did work “behind the scenes”, meeting and greeting, entertaining etc. Commissions here were far higher than in the UK, and it was a challenge to keep prospective purchasers, who flew in to buy, occupied and out of the clutches of the competition! I divorced when my kids were in their mid/late teens and went back to work in real estate, but I hated it. I realized it wasn’t ‘me’ any more….another long story.

I went off traveling for a few months, once my nest emptied, but it took me a while to break free because I’d almost always worked in that business. I’d gotten involved in some volunteer work, which was very satisfying and absorbing, so I took a dead-end job in customer service, mainly because I didn’t have any thinking to do, and could concentrate on my volunteer work, but it paid the bills! My idea was to stick at it until retirement age, and then follow my dreams. However, the company changed hands, and I lost my job two years short of pension age, which was a huge problem.

Youngsters can’t even get work, Spain has 26% unemployment, so at 60+ and a foreigner I had no hope. Yet it’s never occurred to me to back to England. Through a friend, who knew I’d done an ESL course for my volunteer work, I began to get enquiries about private lessons, and that’s a part of what I do now. It’s all come from word of mouth, and I love it. It’s one of the things I things I’d been planning to do anyway – although not here! I also do some writing. I don’t make any direct money from my blog, but it serves as my “c.v.” and it’s brought me work. And I am on the cusp of upgrading and improving it any day now, in fact. Of course now I wish I’d done all of this years ago. I’m no nearer my pension as yet, but it’s so great to do things I enjoy every day, and to be my own boss. Given the climate here I can sneak beach time or go hiking, and catch up with the work at night, unless it’s the actual classroom work.

3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
Well, after all this time I’m not at all sure where ‘home’ is! I speak with my dad, in England, a couple of times a week, and my sons roughly once a week. Right now one of them is in London and the other is in Mallorca, in the Ballearic Islands. They’ve both lived and worked in other countries (that is neither UK nor Spain), and I’m not sure how they feel about their nationality! I use SKYPE, mostly computer to computer, but I have a package which gives me unlimited calls to European fixed lines for €10 a month, much cheaper than telephone lines. I also text (Mostly WhatsApp), FB, Twitter, and the occasional email. I don’t much like emails except for work. Very occasionally, I write a real, old-fashioned letter. I love the feeling of sitting there, writing, knowing the other person will take time to sit and read it, will touch the same paper I wrote on. I absolutely love modern communications. I’d hate to go back, but I do like to preserve the tradition of letter writing too.

4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in the Canary Islands ?
I have to say the climate, not because I want to go to the beach every day, but because of the lifestyle it allows (being able to eat outdoors, picnic whenever you want, hike without having to have Plan B etc). It also means no vitamin D supplements necessary! I have cervical arthrosis so I would definitely need those if I lived somewhere less sunny!  It’s also the climate which leads to the laid-back lifestyle, which often puts things in perspective.

5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in the Canary Islands?
Here’s where I contradict myself because I have to say that same, laid-back lifestyle can be extremely irritating and obstructive at times. Overall (I hate to generalize but it’s unavoidable) the work ethic suffers because of this. Customer care is almost non-existent in most businesses, which leads to frustrations and exactly the opposite of what you expect. You expect to have left the stress behind in the mainland world, but you haven’t, unless you learn to shrug your shoulders a lot, and if you’ve been brought up to respect a customer’s rights and quality of service then life can be very annoying. I hasten to add that it doesn’t apply to every, single business, but to sufficient to make the comment valid.

6. What do you miss most?
I would describe what I miss as “the common cultural identity,” speaking with people on a regular basis who have the same cultural references I have, who instantly know who said, “To be or not to be, that is the question….” or who know who I’m talking about if I say “Rachel and Ross,” without me having to explain myself. You might say I’d find that among expats here, but it’s also rare. Brits here are not the same sort of people I knew back in England, overall – generalizing again.

7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
At the beginning it was through school and my partner’s work. I got involved in the PTA, and slowly worked out who I had things in common with. One of the problems in being an expat in this, paticular type of community is that people come and go a lot, but I’ve stayed friends with people who left here years ago, and are now spread around the world in fact, which makes the internet such a wonderful resource. After my divorce it was the same as it is everywhere, figuring out which friends ‘belong’ to each party. There was a kind of plateau for a while, but I was intent on trying to steer my kids through the complexity of the situation, and I didn’t bother too much. I made new friends through work then, and especially after I began the volunteer work, because, obviously, I met folk with common interests that way. I did some courses too, which helped confirm those interests.

8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?

Having done a lot of entertaining at home and being invited to friends’ homes in the UK, it was odd that this didn’t happen so much here. Certainly it isn’t a Spanish habit, and even the English people didn’t do it much. Perhaps because of the climate again, I’m not sure. I’ve always stuck, more or less, to English meal times too. I’m an early riser, so eating dinner as late as is the Spanish custom isn’t good for me, and for the same reason siestas don’t work.  

I’m very happy that bullfighting was banned in the Canary Islands years ago, because it horrifies me to see it on tv, and I don’t think I could live anywhere where it was popular. I’d open my mouth and get into fights I think!

9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
Can I tell you what is a myth about the Canary Islands, rather than Spain? The common perception of the Canary Islands, throughout Europe, is that they are desert islands and that tourists come here only to burn on the beach all day and drink vast quantities of alcohol all night. Undeniably, there are places here like that, but there is so much more that it often makes me angry that people dismiss the archipelago without giving it a try. On this one island we have, for instance, the 3rd highest volcano in the world; lush temperate forests; quaint villages; two World Heritage sites and amazing volcanic landscapes. You can come here to hike, swim, trail run, bike (Olympic teams train here), surf, windsurf, kiteboard, paraglide, dive, golf (there were 9 courses last time I counted) and play tennis, just off the top of my head. There are banks of telescopes on the peaks of both Tenerife and La Palma which belong to international observatories, which study the night skies because they are some of the clearest on earth – that means it’s heaven for photographers too. There’s more, but I’m aware I sound like an advert, and I really don’t want to get involved in tourism as such!

10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
I can’t make an informed comment on that because I’ve been here so long now. I was told the other day that gas is considerably cheaper, which, of course, affects the cost of transportation and therefore foodstuffs I guess. What I can say is that the living is cheaper because you need no heating, unless you live considerably higher in the mountains than most folk do. You don’t need so many clothes, for women no pantyhose, although it still amuses me in winter to see Canarian women wearing the latest fashion as if they were in Madrid or London. You can eat out very cheaply in the areas away from the tourist resorts. Since less entertaining is done in the home, eating out is much more a part of everyday life here, and not such a treat, unless you choose to go to an expensive restaurant. Lots of expats congregate in tourist areas and use English supermarkets, which means that they don’t live any cheaper than they do in their own countries. Rents are high in tourist areas, and English and German food is mostly imported, so that makes it more expensive, but if you avoid those areas and foods the living is much more reasonable.

11. What advice would you give other expats?
First : learn the language. There are huge numbers of expats here from other European countries, particularly British, who can’t be bothered learning Spanish. It’s an attitude I despise. I’m embarrassed that I don’t speak better Spanish myself, but I do think it’s a sign of respect to the people with whom you must deal, shopkeepers, bank staff, post office staff etc that you can do the simple stuff in the language of the country in which you live.

Second: get out of the expat ghettos and learn about local life and customs. It enriches your life, brings new friends and why, on earth, live abroad if you don’t do that? I just don’t get it! No-one, but no-one, will ever make fun of you for being a stranger if you are eager to learn about their country. They will laugh if you don’t!

Third: try everything at least once. At least if there is something about the country you don’t like you can speak with authority about why and not out of prejudice or timidity.

12. When and why did you start your blog?
LOL. The usual story – to keep up with friends. As I mentioned, for some reason I’m not fond of emails, especially those “group” ones we used to do. Oddly a blog seemed more personal than a group email. After I lost my job I began to play around with it. I’d always wanted to write, planned to give it a go after retiring anyway. So it began in 2008, became adolescent, you could say, in 2010, and is, now coming of age. I got a lot of advice about what I should do with it, making it commercial etc, but it didn’t feel right. I didn’t want to become a “guide to Tenerife” and I certainly didn’t want to support links or advertising to anything I didn’t much like. Granted I could use the money, but also I’m at an age where I feel it necessary to stand by what I island mommabelieve in 100%. I don’t want to have to compromise any more. But I do have a new domain name, and I am working on upgrading it, making it more interesting, reaching further. Hopefully, that will happen at the end of March.

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