Recently I have had an ongoing conversation with the mum of a boy in my daughter’s class at school. Her name is Angelina and she and her family moved to Sydney from Barcelona six months ago.
I am lucky that fate has brought us together with such timeliness. Angelina and I have become each other’s sounding boards for the exchange of cultural, factual, political and practical information between Australia and Spain. I advise her on all things Australian while she prepares me for life in Spain.
Our conversation weaves effortlessly from the practical to the extensive cultural differences between Australia and Spain, as well as the political. We speak about the impact of the current economic crisis in Spain and the mining boom in Australia; I pass on information to her about local doctors, hairdressers, restaurants, Australian etiquette and school matters, and she helps me to understand how life is structured in Spain.
It’s a perfect exchange and we often laugh about how bizarre it is that soon we will be living in each other’s countries. We even discussed my family renting her apartment in Barcelona however I am quite clear that we would prefer to live in a smaller city like Granada in Andalucia than a metropolis like Barcelona.
Here are some of Angelina’s insightful observations of the last 6 months:
Australia’s positive attitude versus Spain’s worries
The first and most notable difference Angelina has observed is that most Australians she encounters are positive and optimistic about life, displaying few fears or worries about their day-to-day life. This is in stark contrast to Spain where she says people are generally worried about security of employment, housing and everything else. They tend to make decisions based on those concerns rather than their dreams. In Australia she has observed that people seem to worry less about those things and are more inclined to follow their desires.
Fearing that she might seem negative or down compared to everyone else, she has actively shifted her perspective on life and has willingly taken on the “she’ll be right” attitude. She says she feels better for it.
I am not sure how much of her observation is because she lives in an upper middle class enclave of Sydney or if this is representative of Australia as a whole?
Pay as you go
“You have to pay for EVERYTHING in Australia and pay a lot,” she says. Angelina’s observation stems from the fact there are an abundance of activities in Sydney but you have to pay to access most of them. In Spain the museums are free and have free activities for children, childcare is subsidized to a very affordable price, the government provides 15% rebate for homeowners, and provides free education all the way to tertiary level.
Free or affordable cultural events are accessible to everyone in Spain and not just the middle class like in Australia, quality musicians and street performers line the boulevards. This all sounds utopian to my ears however I wonder if perhaps the current economic woes in Spain are -in addition to the cheap credit binge that led to the property bubble – somewhat exacerbated by this reliance on Government subsidies and services. Even so, I am hoping that all these spoils provided by the Government will continue to be offered when we move there.
Angelina has explained the very different daily timetable Spaniards live by. Having accounted for jetlag and time zone differences, I am still not sure how I am going to adjust to a 4-hour siesta in the middle of the day or eating dinner at a time when I would usually be tucked up in bed. My natural way of being is to be active in the afternoon and to be cozy at home as darkness falls. It all seems back to front however I am hoping to experience the logic behind the Mediterranean lifestyle and hope my body will adjust. I do still wonder how our children will manage to stay up so late every night and whether they will agree to have a siesta in the middle of the day!