Beyond Mañana

Real Expat Life in Spain

Life in the second-language bubble


We are surrounded at all times by a babble of chatter, news and noise, and a lot of it these days is banal or bleak in the extreme.  I strongly believe in individual choice and active selection of what we expose ourselves to, because I also believe it has a significant impact on our emotional wellbeing, when we are bombarded by negative news or trivial nonsense – or most particularly, the latter purporting to be the former.

Even when we lived in the UK I always tended to avoid the kind of crap on popular TV like reality shows or ‘talent’ contests.  But we tended to have the TV on most evenings and simply by immersion in popular culture and the internet such memes had a capacity to invade one’s consciousness regardless, in a way I didn’t even notice… and media surrounds us all every day from news to commentary to chat to advertising to popular music.  It is after all part of the environment we live in.  We don’t just hear about it, we talk about it and share things about it and have opinions about it whether we want to or not.

bubbleNot until we moved overnight to a second language environment, did I appreciate the impact of that.  It was like the world suddenly went quiet and peaceful. And we found we could choose, proactively select, what we permitted to penetrate that bubble.

I think it’s easy to talk quite derisively about expats living in their own little world, but I am talking about the positive effects of removing oneself from the rubbish bits of the old world – not recreating it in a distorted little sub-community on an urb somewhere.  I am talking about making an effort to communicate in a shop or scan a magazine, and the way the language barrier effectively acts as a filter for things you don’t want.

If you completely understand and can read a language, you cannot help but absorb advertising messages, negative news items, political points of view or bits of nasty gossip – whereas if you have to make the effort to think about it and translate it you naturally become more selective and filter as you go.  You can pick out specifically the information that you need and which genuinely interests you, and ignore and simply not take in that which you do not, far more effectively than before.

Of course finding that relevant stuff in the first place can be challenging, and unknown things addressed to my Spanish limited company can still leave me puzzled – is this junk mail, or something new I have to pay for?  Scanning and sending to my gestor usually results in swift reassurance – yeah that is basically junk mail trying to pass itself off as something you have to pay for.  This is something anyone running a business in the UK is obviously very familiar with especially in the light of rapidly changing legal frameworks, and the topicality of the references is often a good clue.

I keep in touch with as much UK and world news media as I want online, and the same goes for Spanish news – a lot of it is inevitably depressing, but the bottom line is aspects of it affect me and those I care about in different ways, and I would never want to opt out entirely.

It’s just easier to choose, to switch it off and control it – such as with the cold-callers, whose lists seem harder to get off than in the UK but at least the calls themselves are generally quite short when they find you speak no Spanish whatsoever…

It’s funny though, just occasionally you find something in you misses the bollocky bullshit.  Take for example the biggest load of noise-to-signal, the skincare and beauty market: My new-found bubble lifestyle should enable me to easily choose good value functional moisturiser based on facts supplied in the packaging and labelling – but instead I find myself waiting till I am in the UK, or kidding myself about the cost-saving virtues of duty free, so that I can immerse myself in the same old pseudo-scientific claptrap about poly-nutri-pep-particles that will somehow make me younger, sexier, richer and a better human being.  I am sure this is why we all got so excited about Boots finally delivering to Spain.

I end up spending far more than I could spend on a tube of goo in a local shop here, because here I would filter the bullshit and could not possibly justify it.  I know this, yet still think ‘well I will take a look when I am in Gatwick next month’ and buy it there instead from a range twice the price.

But as we have now lived for more than five years without broadcast TV we really enjoy what we do watch, because we’ve generally had to make the effort to find a good stream or download source for it, and we watch it when we want to on our own terms.

If we want to wait till a series has ended and gorge on it over a handful of back-to-back marathon evening sessions we can, and the whole idea of ‘when something is on’ as become about as meaningful and relevant as nipping out to catch the post.  Very occasionally if we want to engage with something synchronously as part of a cultural phenomenon (eg follow the tweetstream of garbage during The Apprentice) we can watch in real time if the internet is behaving itself, but more often than not we filter and control.  And the kids are happy to do the same.

If we find ourselves staying on holiday in the UK with someone whose got the full Sky or Virgin Media works, it’s absolutely fascinating for about 20 minutes of menu surfing – or until we realise that despite all those thousands of channels there’s actually nothing we want to watch.  Then we remember we have the last series of Breaking Bad on a USB stick and opt for that instead…

Bubble life rocks.  Come and see for yourself – just don’t bring any sharp objects.