In this latest Spanish expat interview I talk to Nick Snelling a larger than life character who lives with his wife and two children in the mountains near Valencia. Nick is an author and writer who has written three books about Spain.
Nick, I’m in the middle of reading your book, Taking The Heat, so I’ve got to know a bit about you already but can you introduce yourselves to those readers who haven’t heard of you.
Sure, well I moved to Spain six years ago with my wife, son and daughter.
Why did you move to Spain?
I’ve travelled a lot in my life and life in the United Kingdom had become sterile and boring. It was time for a new challenge. I’ve got nothing bad to say about the UK, we don’t hate it or anything it was just time to do something different.
Ok – so why Spain?
Well I said we wanted a challenge and this certainly ticks that box – and then some! I think moving to Spain is a hard step in many ways because of the cultural and language differences. If we had travelled halfway around the world to Australia it would have been so much easier because of the same language but I have to say it has been the most enriching and wonderful experience, the joys we have experienced have been tremendous.
We relocated to Spain principally because of the geography, being only an hour and a half away means we can visit family in the United Kingdom very easily which was very important to us.
As well as that we wanted a big language. Not something like Italian or Portuguese which would have limited use. Did you know that Spanish just pips English as the most widely spoken language in the world?
Having said all that I must admit that I had a panic attack shortly before our move to Spain, I suddenly had this horrible thought that we were moving to the land of cheap booze, straw hats and donkeys. What were we thinking of!
However Spain is like an onion with many, many layers, it has really surprised me. The culture is so different and has retained its purity. Take for example the fiestas. These are not performed just for tourists, they are true celebrations taken very seriously. The effort put in to the costumes and the floats is unbelievable.
The Spanish really are very kind and tolerant towards most expats. I’ve had conversations where afterwards I realised in horror that my conversation made no sense whatsoever but I still got a smile and a nod, it is like parallel conversations going on at the same time!
So many things have surprised me on the upside, the Spanish education system is fantastic and a year ahead of where kids are in the UK and the Spanish healthcare system is so much better. Infrastructure is improving all the time with new roads being built thanks to EU funding. There are so many positives.
How did your children find moving to Spain?
Good question because I’ve some important advice to anyone considering their own move to Spain. My children were 13 and 9 at the time so it was right at the very latest possible time we could possibly have considered moving to Spain. It was absolutely critical the move worked.
We didn’t feel we could put them into the Spanish state system because it would have been asking too much to keep up with the academic work as well as learning two new languages (Valenciano and Castilliano). We put them into a private Spanish school so they would receive extra attention and just be taught only in Castillian, which is what you and I know as Spanish.
The kids are doing just great, my eldest is now at Valencia University and we are very proud of them both. You do need to be careful though. I see a lot of expats who move here without much thought for their kid’s futures. They say they are concerned for them but in reality they are thrown into the deep end while the parents are out enjoying themselves and before you know it you have three feral kids wandering about loose and working on building sites.
Nick, many expat people I speak to are jaded and tired with life in Spain. The dream has become a nightmare for many. I’m not getting that from you, what’s your secret?
You’re right because I would say I’m more enthusiastic today than when we first moved to Spain. And yes I will tell you my secret!
It is a fact that 30% of people move back in the first three years of living in Spain. People buy into a dream. They buy the villa with the pool, near the sea. It is everything they have worked for and dreamt of. They come here to Spain to do less but after awhile they still have the views and the nice house but something is missing.
I think our difference is that we came to Spain to DO MORE – NOT LESS!
I’m convinced this is the secret to our success, we are swinging our fists and getting stuck in to Spanish life, we are learning the language in earnest and getting involved in local life, we are doing more outdoor activities such as horse riding and all the other activities that the Spanish climate allows.
In my opinion from observing all the successful expats we know – they have one of two things in common – either they work or they have developed a really strong social life.
I think to do anything less means life lacks depth and after awhile becomes boring, no matter what how nice the location is. I’ve noticed firsthand in people who have moved to Spain, in time they are slightly off – not quite all there anymore.
Following my own advice we actually plan to leave Spain in about four years.
Well by then we will have been here 10 years. There is a danger that we enter the comfort zone. Living in Spain has been 100% positive and enriching but over time the learning curve becomes less steep. We plan to move somewhere even more edgy and so begin a whole new learning, life experience.
What will happen then with your children?
With moving to Spain we have done something both really good and really bad. The bad part is that we have displaced them from their roots and family possibly adding to modern societies problems. The good part is that hopefully we produce children who are much more open minded and accepting of other cultures and creeds – children of the world who are international and able to adapt anywhere they choose. I think we have lit a fuse and I’m not sure what the results will be!
If I ask them do they feel Spanish they would say no, if I ask them do they feel English they would say yes but then do they really know what that is? Certainly they have ceased to be territorial. I don’t necessarily see them moving back to England.
Nick, we know you as an author, is that what you have always done?
I’ve also been a soldier, an equity trader, run a construction company and when I initially moved to Spain I became involved in the property industry. I have a wealth of experience and advice to share and my next book is about how sell to your property in a crisis which is certainly the case right now.
Right now I’m reading your latest book, Taking the Heat, they couldn’t be more different!
I know what you mean. Most authors stick to one theme but the property book comes from my professional side as a property expert, Taking the Heat is just a total gas, a giggle, it is me expressing my personality, I believe life should be FUN. The book is totally written to amuse and make people laugh out loud.
The book is a series of unrelated farcical situations I have found myself in and I’m positive every reader who lives in Spain will relate to least one of the crazy events and think that was me too!
Our thanks to Nick, read part two of this interview which is much longer and covers the Spanish property market, the credit crunch in Spain and the state of the Spanish economy then click here – interview with Nick Snelling part two.
The Spanish ex-pat interview above was recorded on the 21st of January 2009.
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