A move to Spain has become something of an idealised dream for British people from all walks of life. So why does the country continue to draw hundreds of us to its sun-drenched shores?
Not the cliché you might expect
The many people who would answer along the lines of sun, sea and sand would be close. I think the attraction runs deeper than that though. Pursuit of la buena vida, or the good life, is as much a part of living in Spain as the sunny beaches and warm seas. Indeed, it forms a core part of the Spanish culture that has always been attractive to us. The popular old clichés of lazy mornings and sun-soaked siestas don’t quite hit the nail on the head now though.
As cliches go, ‘work hard, play hard’ would better sum up life in modern Spain than the siesta stereotype. Despite popular beliefs, the Spanish work longer hours than us Brits, but (and this is a big but) they are much happier with their work-life balance and social lives than we are. This is true of British expats, too.
This could have something to do with the fact that Spanish life is arranged to make plenty of room for enjoyment and socialising. You can see the difference in the streets and plazas full of friends meeting merrily over a generous lunch break and making the most of long, sunny evenings after work. Spain’s towns and cities seem built from the ground up for living a full life out and about with friends. That’s why social satisfaction and meals out are much more common than in England, while depression and cramped lunches at the desk are rare.
Something better than a siesta
The siesta is no longer a big thing in much of Spain. In big cities especially, long lunch breaks have transformed from a time to go home and rest, into a time to meet friends, eat tapas and enjoy a coffee or cheeky wine in the sun. Lunch breaks are generally a little shorter now, but full of enjoyment as well. Either way, they still put our measly 30-to-60-minute midday pauses to shame.
Healthy in body and mind
A move to Spain is good for both the body and mind, with studies showing that physical and mental health can be boosted. In fact, all citizens of cold countries who move to warmer climes can expect a boost in positive endorphins – the chemicals that make us happy – thanks to increased time in the sun. This has become so well recognised that health experts have begun advising people who suffer from seasonally affected depression to holiday in sunny climes in the winter.
While a medical expert would never advise someone to move home, some people have benefitted so much from winter sun that they have decided to make the move abroad. Spain is a favourite destination for Brits seeking a happier, sunnier life. Being able to get out and about in the sun more frequently is good for physical health too. There is more opportunity to exercise fully outdoors and all that vitamin D from sunlight is great for skin, bones and circulation.
It’s not just the sun that makes Spain healthy, either. Fresher fruit, vegetables, meat and fish are much more easily accessible in the country, where tropical fruit grows alongside apples and the nation’s famous oranges. In most supermarkets you can watch as employees prepare your food in front of you – not recommended at the butchers, but still an option.
Perhaps it’s not surprising then that health, like work balance, is another area where Spain beats England hands-down in terms of life satisfaction, according to the OECD.
Everything changes. Everything stays the same
In many ways, those moving to Spain from the UK will have the same things on their mind now that they always did when they opt for Spain. Dreams of relaxing in the sun, swimming in the sea and eating tapas in the plaza will always have a certain pull. Now though, we can add these old dreams to a newer, more active search for a happy life in Spain. It’s a big part of the Spanish mindset and it deserves to be a bigger part of hours too. Remote and flexible working practices have given many of us a new taste for a balanced life built more around pleasure and less around work, and Spain is a wonderful place in which to satisfy that desire.
Jetting off to enjoy this rarefied life once a year may be a nice panacea but being able to indulge in it all year round is surely a big part of the dream that brings British expats to Spain by the thousand. As our governments introduce new visa regulations to make moving to Spain after brexit easier, that dream looks set to be realised for many more in the future.