Costa Blanca fun
When talking about immigrants, and especially in current times, hardly anybody will first think of the English, German and Dutch. Things are different along the Costa Blanca. 80% of the population is of foreign origin, and for once they are not predominantly from Poland, Morocco, South America or China. The Western European refugees do show remarking similarities with economic and political refugees.
A random November day in Torrevieja is at least as exciting as visiting the endangered species section of a zoo. At least half of the people strolling along the promenade seem seriously out of place under the Spanish November sun. While Spanish think of this time of year as almost-winter, the tourist population happily and proudly wears shorts to get as much out of the abundant sunshine as possible. Most of them are over 50 years of age, speak only their native language and they therefore have a hard time integrating with the local residents.
..came from Bulgaria to be a musician in Spain
Even though most of the foreigners come here to spend money, many Spanish people are annoyed about the way they behave. Maria (34), who works at the local tourist office, praises the ethnic diversity and cheers at the cultural events that Torrevieja is able to attract because of its many visitors.
Victor (26) has a slightly different view. He is happy for the sun-seekers to be there because it means he has more work. Victor works in 3-D design, a technology which is used before the construction of all new apartments. But apart from the job, he doesn`t think the influx of people brings much excitement to the city. `They seem to have even less fun than Spanish old people have. They don`t go out to sing and dance, they just stay in their houses. Even if you try to talk to them, they prefer to ignore you`, he says.
Not only do the foreign nationalities hardly integrate with the local population, they are not very eager to mix among themselves either. The majority lives in mono-ethnic neighbourhoods which look like holiday parks: a huge number of identical houses, straight from the drawing board onto the Spanish ground. Many Spanish people get lost on the few occasions they actually get to these neighbourhoods.
Local shops hardly benefit from the importation of people and money. The newcomers tend go to the same international hypermarkets which have transformed into international and non-Spanish playgrounds for the elderly. Local radio stations broadcasting in foreign language fulfill the hunger for information and cheesy music. Local bars have special evenings for each of the different nationalities, so they can properly serve each interest group separately.
Searching for the sun
Arter (26) from The Netherlands is spending a few days in Torrevieja with his friend Lonneke (22). Arter explains that his parents decided to spend every winter season in Torrevieja because his mother is handicapped and has access to appropriate care here, much more so than she does back home. Iepe (33), also from The Netherlands, tells a similar story. His father moved to Spain for the same reasons. Many people with medical problems chose to come to the Costa Blanca to improve their health, and they are lucky to pay more affordable prices for it than they do back home. Accepting that they may not always be served in English is a different thing. Many people get upset because they need to bring translators with them to get proper treatment in hospital or care centres.
Dave (42) came over from Birmingham, UK, with a few friends. They are playing golf and stay over at a friend`s place. They for sure are not the only British nationals but they are younger than the average. Everybody older than 45 is likely to (co-)own apartments in one of the many neighbourhoods that stretch from the beach into the inlands. The majority of the elderly simply enjoy the autumn of their lives in the Spanish sun, without doing much more than that. They are visited by children and grandchildren on a more or less frequent basis. Their offspring does visit more of the local establishments, but they don`t mix in with Spanish youth very well either.
The money imported by the often big-bellied and sunburnt jubilados (pensioners) is a source of attraction of other groups of immigrants. Many Argentinians work in the hospitality sector, while young people from Sahara countries like Mali and Senegal line up along the promenade to sell all sorts of souvenirs. Selling streets without a licence is however illegal and the they need to carefully scan the surroundings for police officers. They are not allowed to sell in the streets and will pick up their merchandise in a matter of seconds after local police officers arrive. But overall, they are able to communicate in at least Spanish and English, possibly even French and another local African language.
The smaller the population of immigrants, the better they tend to mix with the local population. Bobi (30, photo), who is Bulgarian, came to Spain seven years ago as a musician. He now speaks fluent Spanish and his band `Rockturnos` frequently have gigs in English bars. Bobi`s idea of coming to Spain was inspired by his sister, who moved to Spain before he did. Being Bulgarian, which had not yet joined the EU seven years ago, it was initially quite difficult for him to access Spain.
Bobi now lives with his girlfriend Tiia (23) from Finland. Tiia came to Spain to do an internship and now works in a company helping Scandinavian people find their way in the Costa Brava area. She explains that many people are using their services, because a simple thing like paying electricity bills is not as easy as it is in Scandinavia and often requires a lot of paperwork and patience.
Find the differences
All in all, the jubilados in many ways get away with behaviour that they themselves would not accept from foreigners in their own countries. The fact that they bring money to the local economy only marginally helps them build a positive image. Many of the foreign elderly stick to their own values, stay within their own groups, and uselessly hang around in public places. They don`t work and remarkably match the stereotypical image of ordinary immigrants? And they obviously don`t all behave this way, but neither do economic and political refugees.
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