“They come, rosy of skin and short of clothes. They seek our sun, our beaches, our paella, our way of life! Oh god, we’ve sold out of ice-cream… in January! Take to the castle, boys!”
Alicante is a strange place. After Paris, I think it’s the most touristic city I’ve visited yet. Like others have written about in the past, it’s become something like a British/German colony on the coast of Spain. And it’s easy to see why.
Even while visiting in the winter months you’ll be sweating in any jacket built for the season. There’s cheap(ish) food, English-speaking waiters and enough sand to make you feel all tropical. It’s a city where you can live a comfortable, sun-filled life (2974 hours of sunlight per year), which is something attractive to many a grey northern expat. Hell, it’s attractive to young Aussies as well!
It’s also easy to see why some Spaniards complain, and why a few were feeling a bit of schadenfreude about Brexit finally liberating their beaches (it won’t stop the Germans, though). Walk down any street in the city centre, or near the beach, and you’ll no doubt hear English, German or maybe some Scandinavian being spoken in loud celebratory tones by grey-haired nomads in shorts and t-shirts. Menus are presented in Spanish and in English. There are even little communities built around Irish pubs built almost solely for expats.
The stereotypes are true, I’m afraid. Guiris can be spotted a mile away, simply by the clothing. You can’t blame them, I know, some people just come from colder climates, but it does make it a lot easier for restaurant spruikers to strike up their pitch in the right language. “Hello! Something for lunch? Fish? Hamburger?”
Holding on to the Tongue
While I could easily jump on a high-horse about this and complain about a city losing its culture, blah blah blah, I really have no right to. I’m a guiri. I’m easy to spot, with my pink cheeks and slightly ginger beard. I’m no better for having a Spanish girlfriend or for living for a few months here. I still take out my phone and take too many photos (I’ve got a blog to update, dammit!) At least I’ve learned to keep my jacket on, no matter how much I sweat. That helps you fit in.
What does make me depressed is how much this culture is taken for granted by travelers from the “super-power countries” and the ways in which financial power becomes cultural power. Nowhere in main-stream Western Europe is safe from hordes of flashing phone cameras. Everywhere you’ll find teenagers speaking in English slang or advertising the US or UK flag on their shirts, backpacks, caps.
It forces locals in the business to adapt to survive. Take, for instance, the previous example; hospitality workers have to learn the language of the tourists to succeed financially. So much of Alicante seems to be funded by tourism and migration that the lingua franca becomes a necessity. Language is powerful. It is one of the leading forces of cultural change. If enough people start to speak English for the sake of capital flow, then capital flow becomes something only available to English speakers.
It’s not fair to expect people to learn the language of every country they visit, not now-a-days when travel is more widely available than ever before, but a few polite phrases here and there really counts for something. It helps keep the language and culture of the location alive. It’s respectful. And it’s fun. C’mon, don’t tell me you’ve never wanted to learn a bit and impress your friends with a couple of rolled Rs and guttural jotas.
Respecting the Change
All the aggressive blogging and article-writing isn’t going to bring about the end of globalisation, though. No, there are darker forces at play doing that. While it’d be nice to stop seeing the exciting edges of various locales rubbed down to a generic, family-friendly marble by vacationing Brits, words aren’t going to stop it completely.
There’s a whole lot of good coming from this tourism and migration. Expats have been known to rebuild beautiful buildings in their original Spanish style and even re-vitalise neighbourhoods hit hard by crisis and depression. I even overheard a couple of Germans in the Castillo de San Fernando cafe ordering in Spanish. It’s not all doom and gloom, there are good guiris out there!
But I believe in Spain as well. I’ve come to see the way of life as something totally unique, colourful and good-for-the-soul. It is undoubtedly one of the countries hit hard by financial crises and Eurozone austerity, but the Spanish seem to have something bright and powerful that can’t be dampened, so why not share a bit of that with the world?
One Last Thing…
Because Alicante’s beach-side is definitely your classic tourist-trap, it’s much better to venture inwards. The neighbourhoods near the castle are full of artsy little boutiques and great museums, like the strangely abbreviated MUBAG (fine art) and the MACA (contemporary art).
Of course, being an Aussie hipster, my favourite store in the whole city is a print-shop-cum-cafe called The October Press. Be sure to give these guys a visit and pick up a radical print on the way.