We Brits love hierarchy. I have to say, I like to feel a
little special myself – a life less ordinary is certainly the way forward.
do we really need to create our own Little Britain here in Spain?
Even after travelling to new countries and new cultures,
we still love to create a class system, based on memories of our highly refined and
polished one back in England.However Thatherism & Globalism showed people they
were allowed to be whatever they wanted to be, irrespective of their past or
background. So now we escape to our new homes on in France, Italy or Spain,
where we can be privileged outsiders, immune to the subtleties of the host
country’s own hierarchy social structure. Instead, we can sip a fine Rioja or a
G & T and comment on how England “has gone to the dogs”.
So now in Southern Spain, and on the Costa
del Sol in particular, there is a strong ex-pat, English hierarchical structure in place. It
goes something like this:
First of all “west” is perceived as better than “east”.
So Benalmadena and Fuengirola are not nearly as posh as Marbella –
and of course Sotogrande makes Marbella look like a bunch of uneducated "new
In turn, “inland” is better than “coast”. Here, no
subtlety is applied to the coast – the perceived wisdom believes it is all donkey
rides, sun burnt, over-weight Brits, vulgar villas and Russians speeding in
Inland is seen as sophisticated, self sufficient, and
creative. Yet even within the “inland” concept there is a divide. Once again,
the east is seen as less – since it is dry, dusty and low-end with self-built villas with
concrete-composite Eagle sculptures at the gate.
The west though is seen as verdant, full of aged,
twisted cork oaks and classical white villages where artisans live.
In addition to east and west, be aware that the level of
“inland” is also relevant is this intricate system. For example, the villages
close to the coast, like Casares, are full of UK daytime TV hosts’ second homes,
so it is important to go further inland to qualify for the higher the snob rating.
A friend of mine lives in one of these beautiful inland
white villages. It clings to the mountain, offering a stunning view
across the countryside to Gibraltar towards North Africa. He
recently launched a new business venture and invited the village’s ex-pat
community along. Well, it was a real eye opener for me. Each guest had
perfectly honed their dinner-party, cocktail-do identity. Many appeared to be “creatives” – struggling for art and self sufficiency, whether it was
recycling like Wombles, capturing the suns rays and the mountain water
for survival; or making bespoke tiles, one-off sculptures or even roman mosaics
( “where the spaces are as important at the pieces” I was reliably
No one seemed to be a regular Joe that worked each day
in business and juggled his finances to pay the mortgage. Here, in rural
Andalucia we Brits have created a fantasy world of self sufficiency.
The irony is that most artisans need sponsors; people with money and showy tastes to by their work! They need to sell their artisan products to those vulgar new rich on the coast. No one
in a mountain village wants a bespoke mosaic for 10,000 euros, do they? It’s
the coastal Brits (who are supposedly lower down the social hierarchy), with their ornate sea
view villas that love this artisan stuff. I guess it fulfils the circle, as
then the coastal folk can climb further up the social ladder by showing cultural
The best moment for me during the cocktail launch was
when one woman glanced across at me with the greeting, “oh, good lord, you’re
wearing a watch. You must have just arrived in Spain. No one
wears a watch here. Or are you…. from…the coast?”
Wow, there it was, like a poisoned dart, strategically and
efficiently fired across the terracotta terrace, the comment that identifid me as the outsider. I was the only one wearing a watch and I was the outsider. The fact that
I had lived here for a few years, could speak Spanish better than most there,
and was happily ensconced in a Spanish family was never to be discovered in polite conversation. It was too late. My Tag Heuer
had let me down.
The ultimate irony in all this is that when we move
abroad, many of us decide to reinvent our lives anyway. So the bespoke mosaic
artisan with the double barrelled name, living in the mountains, might well have come from the wrong side of
the tracks in the UK and left for a better life.