THE Costa del Sol can be a funny old place.
For years, Brits and other nationalities flocked here in their thousands, desperate to get away from the homeland and start a new life, full of hope for the future.
Some brought with them the bare essentials for their new life in the sun. Others arrived in vans and lorries, packed to the rafters with everything including the kitchen sink, just in case they couldn’t find one when they got here.
Some were excited at the prospect of mixing with local Spaniards, learning the language, immersing themselves in Spanish food, culture and history. Others dreamt of owning a bar, catering to other expats, safe in the knowledge that they would never need to utter a Spanish word to understand what their customer wanted. And if they’d never run a bar before? Not to worry, they’d soon get the hang of it – once they’d got through the red tape.
Up and down the coast, expat enclaves sprung up in most towns and villages. Many were British, but there were also Irish, Scandinavian, German, Belgian and French natives who chose to live and surround themselves with their compatriots, as if wrapping themselves up in a cosy security blanket.
As a Brit, it was difficult to avoid the ghettos. They were where we found work, where we made friends, got advice from guiris who had been here for longer than us, and ensured our children had others to play with.
But recently, as times have become harder, more and more of the original advantages of the expat enclaves have begun to ebb away and the bitterness we left behind in our native lands has started to creep in. For within the coast’s network of small expat communities, the human web, or sixth degree of separation theory, rarely applies – it’s more like the second degree of separation. The ghettos have become hives of lethal gossip.
And now, it’s time to turn this around and use it to our own advantage.
Expat life on the Costa has shrunk into two areas: a) those who are employed or want to be employed and b) those who employ or don’t need to work. Some sit on the fence with one foot hovering over the employed side while the other foot attempts to take root on the small business side.
In social terms, there is always some crossover, especially with folk jumping from one side of the fence to the other when they have to. Friends can exist on the opposite side of the fence to you, and generally it’s not an issue.
Likewise, you can befriend different groups of people, perhaps even those that don’t see eye to eye with each other. It never used to be a problem as there were so many people to choose from when picking your friends. That’s no longer the case as many have abandoned ship and fled back to their homelands, leaving their pets and kitchen sinks behind.
A word of warning: As the net tightens and communities become smaller, word gets around faster than you could believe. Everyone hears what everyone else thinks and does, and no secret is safe – not with anyone. But whatever is said, since the coast is so small, you have to pick yourself up and get back out there, smile, and pretend it never happened, or you never heard it.
When I first arrived on the coast back in boom time, I was amazed by how competing businesses worked together rather than against each other. Particularly in the expat community, it wasn’t unusual to ring a competing business owner to see if they could help you to help one of your clients. I always admired this pooling of resources and since it was the customer who reaped the benefits, it could only be good news.
But as recession has taken hold, this expat spirit seems to have been pushed to the wayside. So now, it’s time for us to be clever, to once again start working together towards a better future.
And so to the changing face of the Costa del Sol. We all have something to offer that’s unique and special. By joining and working together with other individuals who have compatible skills, we can bring back a sense of pride to the expat community on the coast. Even if we have to use the tittle tattlers to promote our wares, services, products and businesses.
Remember when all those small business owners networked while watching their kids play on the swings, thereby finding those vital clients and suppliers to help their business on its way? Well those days are back, so let’s get out there and prove it.