FIFTEEN YEARS ago today I was living in sleepysville Extremadura and Rafa Nadal was the new national hero. 

The Spaniard won his second French Open in 2006 and he’s taken home The Musketeers’ Trophy 11 more times since.

Cristina Hodgson With Rafael Nadal

Almost as impressive as Nadal’s serving has been the improvement in the nation’s driving. An eye-watering 4,101 lives were lost on Spanish roads in 2006, compared to 870 last year.

Back in the day, before better roads and speed cameras, it seemed that every hot-blooded Spaniard was a frustrated F1 driver … or maybe it was just me getting used to driving on the right hand side.

The queuing etiquette also took some getting used to. No one forms an orderly one here, everyone mills around. Either you take a numbered ticket or you have to memorise the face of the person who arrived before you. It’s a time-honoured tradition that has served generations of Spaniards perfectly well and finally I know my place. Like everyone else when joining a queue I now dutifully utter the sacred words: ‘Quien es el ultimo?’

But if we think that’s weird, it’s nothing compared to how the meat-living Spanish saw vegetarianism. When I first arrived no one seemed to understand the concept of the word as I was invariably offered jamon.  Jamon is a source of great pride among Spaniards. Not to eat it is practically a criminal offense. But we vegetarians have been liberated. Today most supermarkets stock a good range of plant-based foods and no one bats an eyelid when I pass on the pata negra.

Cristina Hodgson Loves A Bit Of Brown Sauce

In fact my only regret after 15 years in the sunny land of Ole Ole is that HP Sauce hasn’t made it to local shops inland yet. That and the super-helpful nature of Spanish shopkeepers as they embark on an entire stock audit in search of this magical condiment, refusing to let me leave til they’ve finished!

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