Six Ways to Get Your Child to Study for Their Exams

ways to get your child to study

How hard is it to get your child to study?

Whether you’re living in Spain or the UK, these days it seems like the educational stakes are higher than ever: good grades lead to good courses at good universities and eventually (with a bit of luck) to good jobs at the end of it. Fall at even one of those hurdles, and the task for your child can become infinitely harder.

Which is why helping them get the best start is so important. Whether they’re studying for their A Levels at an international school in Malaga or going through the Spanish system at a local state-run school, one thing’s for sure – they’re very unlikely to do it without lots of hard work.

Here are five ways to get your child to study for their exams…

1. Present the facts

We might well be seeing signs that we’re coming out of global recession, but unemployment in Spain is still around the 25% mark (with over 50% of young people without work according to recent figures). Across Europe the reality is hardly any less stark – in the UK, for instance, current unemployment is around 7.8%. In other words, now is not the time to choose slacking off and an afternoon on the beach over long-term gain. Put it like that, and your young student is sure to understand.

2. Help install a routine

Once the facts of the difficulties involved in getting work without good grades have been established, it’s important to help your child establish a routine. Routine starts at home, with regular meal times and breaks to help them structure their study around – both during term time and throughout the school holidays. It shouldn’t be all about work, however – helping your child get the balance right between studying, relaxing, hanging out with their friends and exercising is the key to their wellbeing, and is a valuable lesson which they’ll take the rest of their lives.

3. Get involved

Once the groundwork has been laid for the establishment of a good routine, it’s important that you get involved in your child’s education. After all, why should they care if you don’t appear to? Helping your child with homework is just one way; taking a general interest in – and talking about – what they’re studying is another. Learning is fun. And who knows, you might even take something really worthwhile (other than an improvement in your child’s education) from it? Getting stuck in and helping them with their homework comes with the added bonus of improving your Spanish, too.

4. Use the carrot

We all like to be praised when we’ve worked hard and done a good job at something. A teenager studying for their exams is absolutely no different. How to motivate your child? Little rewards and regular treats – whether it’s in the form of a particularly nice dinner or a movie night with friends – are an important part of keeping a student motivated in the run-up to their big day. Similarly, a promised reward like a holiday with friends or a new car for getting the grades they need is likely to have the desired effect. Bribery? Maybe. But you see if it doesn’t work.

5. (But don’t forget the stick)

Praise and regular rewards for good work are all well and good, but they may not be enough to get your child to study for their exams. This doesn’t mean harsh, Victorian-style discipline, or anything – simply that if they step out of line, they need to know that the withdrawal of special privileges will follow shortly afterwards. Hitting them in the wallet is always a good way to get their attention, and the withholding of an allowance should soon sharpen their attention on to the job in hand. Any other special attractions – like use of the car, say – that they are provided with can also be just as effective (along with the swift retraction of any carrots previously dangled).

One thing is well worth remembering, though: we were all young once. And not all of us studied quite as hard as we might have done. So cut them a little slack, too. Help them out wherever you can, cross your fingers and trust them to do their best.

6. Don’t panic

Last but by no means least… keep calm – both before, during and after the exam period. While you want your children to do well, knowing that they have a supportive family network who will help them through the next stage whatever happens, is incredibly important. And if they don’t get the grades they’re after? Make sure they realise it’s not the end of the world. From exam retakes to distance learning and adult education, there’s always another way to learn.


Guest post by  Phillipa Sudron is writing on behalf of Oxford College:

What tested tips do you have to encourage your children to study? Please share them with our readers …


Spanish News in English: The Spain Report

spanish news in english

Are you looking for an unbiased source of Spanish news in English? An honest source that is not influenced by political and propaganda issues?  A source of Spanish news in English that has not been poorly translated by some kind of google online translation robot?

“Oooh stop it!” I hear you say. “It’s not really like that is it?” Surely the tabloids and online sources we have access to are of a higher standard than that. Well, until now, I must admit I haven’t been very impressed!

However, there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel. A great new source of Spanish news in correctly written English and without political under minings and influence has been born … introducing The Spain Report!

We (FIS)  asked Matthew Bennett (MB), the brains behind The Spain Report to tell us more about this exciting new project.

MBFIS: Tell us a bit about yourself Matthew… 

MB: I first arrived in Spain all the way back in 1998 to teach English in a summer camp in the northern mountains. I was about to start the third (ERASMUS) year of a degree in Modern Languages & Linguistics and I was met off the flight at Barajas, whisked across Madrid in the back of a car and pushed onto the night train up north. I got off at 5 a.m. in the middle of nowhere, and Father Javier, the priest who ran the camp, was there waiting for me.

I’ve been here for about 13 years in total now, first struggling to make my way as a journalist, then as a translator and now as a journalist again. My first company was a languages affair, but it seems I just can’t pluck this journalism thorn out of my side.

My son Hugo was born here just over a year ago, so it’s personal now.

FIS: So, what is The Spain Report? 

MB: A new online newspaper to do 21st–Century, independent foreign correspondence in Spain, for readers in Spain and around the world in English.

The idea is to do breaking news and major stories in a variety of broadsheet- and broadcast-quality text and multimedia formats for you.

Completely independent and non–partisan, with no corporate or party-political interests, it’s just The Spain Report, you the reader and a kind of quest for a deeper truth about the major news stories coming out of Spain.

It seems The Spain Report’s readers also want me to get out and do as much original, on-the-ground, in-depth reporting from around the country as possible.

FIS: What gave you the idea to launch The Spain Report?

MB: Analysing the ‘News from Spain in English’ market as part of the application process for The Guardian’s Madrid Correspondent position, which came up in May and which they still haven’t found anyone for for some inexplicable reason. There are so many ways existing media organistions could be doing much better in terms of reporting on Spain in English but for some reason seem not to be doing so.

FIS: Why is it different to other online newspapers?

MB: It really is completely independent and non-partisan. There’s no editorial line, as such, no party political leaning, no ‘angles’ going into a story. Just talking, and listening and translating and finding a deeper truth for you as a reader.

Then I want to make use of all of the mobile and digital news gathering tools we have available nowadays to bring readers along for the ride as much as possible and to give them news and information about Spain in lots of different ways that make sense online.

FIS: Who are you appealing to? (i.e. target market readership)

MB: Anyone interested in Spain, which so far seems to break down into four groups: interested foreign readers abroad (investors, etc), English-speaking expats in Spain, what we might call international Spaniards, and finally global media editors and producers who want to stay on top of events in Spain and have access to people who know the country when big Spain stories break here.

the spain reportFIS: We know that your first investigative venture was a great success. Can you tell us a bit about it and how you raised funds for the project …

MB: A wonderful experience, yes. There was a massive amount of global media and reader interest around the Santiago train crash at the end of July. After live-blogging it all night and all the following day, and speaking to a couple of dozen global news programmes about it, I asked The Spain Report’s readers if they wanted me to go up there for a couple of weeks to speak to the people involved and find out more for them. They said yes, and they funded most of the trip too.

They basically bought their own independent Spain correspondent for a couple of weeks to ferret out a deeper truth for them. I collected enough material (photos, visits, data, contacts, 15-hours of unedited interviews with key figures that night, etc.) to do a really great story, but it will take a while to process it all and write it up, as I keep working on the normal news and the rest of the project.

Several people asked me if I wouldn’t mind continuing to do this by, for example, going down to Gibraltar or up to Catalonia as well. It will be my pleasure. Spain is a big enough country to be able to do this more or less permanently, between major breaking news and ongoing important stuff like the economic crisis, the secession of Catalonia or this non-stop flood of political corruption. i can think of loads of great stories in Spain waiting to be told properly in English.

So I’m now setting The Spain Report up to provide regular, continuous value to its readers. Then I want those readers to subscribe for a (very) small fee which they themselves can choose. Everyone even slightly interested in Spain should jump on board. I’m also working on how to allow readers to contribute articles and photos and things from around the country. Between the lot of us, we can do something great with The Spain Report.

FIS: What should people do if they have a topic they’d like you to cover?

MB: Just e-mail me:


A big Family in Spain ¡GRACIAS! to Matthew and The Spain Report … a great new source of Spanish news in English!

We love independent, non biased reporting of facts. Do you? If you’d like to hep support this great new initiative, pop over to and sign up for updates.

Do you have any stories you’d like Matthew to investigate? We’d love to hear about them …

family in spain

Moving To Spain – A Basic Things To Do Checklist (Guest Post)

moving to spain

Thousands of people have done it over the years, but that doesn’t mean they’ve done it right. For many, moving to Spain can be a dream come true; for others, simply failing to take a few simple, but necessary, steps means that things inevitably start off on the wrong footing and they’re left forever playing catch-up.

Here are just a few things to bear in mind before you make the big move…

Before You Go…

Don’t Burn Your Bridges

Perhaps the best advice above anything else when moving to Spain is: if you can afford to keep a property in the UK (or your country of origin) then do so, whether you decide to downsize to a smaller more manageable property or keep your original home. This gives you options in the future and a possible rental income, too.

Who to Meet

Contact a financial advisor, ideally one who has specific experience in Spain.  This person can advise you on pensions, tax liabilities and what is necessary to do in terms of fiscal responsibilities in Spain. Questions that you should be asking at this point include: if you are keeping a residence in the UK and planning to rent it out how is the income taxed? If you work part of the year in the UK how will that affect fiscal residency? These can all be answered on a case-by-case basis by an experienced Financial Advisor.

Inform the HMRC ( – there are certain forms that must be filled in including form P85 – Leaving the UK.

On a slightly less formal note, it’s a good idea to get involved with social media before you go; you’ll be surprised at how many expatriate groups exist on Facebook and Twitter. It’s a great way of learning about different areas and local customs and things to do, and possibly even meeting people who are living your dream.

Tie Up Loose Ends

In terms of your British bank accounts, ensure you have internet banking set up before you leave the country; also make sure that all your statements are being sent electronically and your debit and credit cards are up-to-date.

Have a clear-out: surprisingly enough, Spain has shops, too, so don’t be tempted to bring all your furniture over with you. Besides the cost of delivery, you might find that what looked perfect in an old cottage in an English village doesn’t quite work in a Spanish villa or that, with the temperature differences, a formal indoor dining table and chairs would go unused.

It’s often not worth importing your car, either: firstly, there’s the fact that the steering wheel is on the wrong side, while secondly, as well as the duty due, you might as well have bought a car in Spain. (Although be warned: Spanish second-hand car prices are much dearer than those in the UK and many other countries.)

Learn a Bit of Spanish

Enrol in a local college while in the UK, to learn the basics. It takes a long time to be bilingual (and many never even get close), but by starting with a conservational Spanish class at home, you will at least be able to greet people, order food, speak to your children’s teachers, and understand basic inferences. There are places in Spain, most typically on the coast, where it’s not absolutely necessary to speak Spanish, as the English communities are well-developed. However, being able to have a basic conservation with a Spaniard will help with feeling less isolated, as they are such a sociable bunch as a general rule. (Plus it takes the pain away from the day-to-day administrative tasks that will need doing!) A useful translation site for day-to-day queries is

When You’re There…


When you have moved to Spain, two things are important initially: one is obtaining a NIE (Numero de Identification de Extranjeros); this is the unique identification number that you and your family need. The second is being registered as living at your address in that municipality (Empadronamiento), which is similar to the electoral role in the UK. Your town hall (Ayuntamiento) issues the Empadronamiento certificates and the police station or comisaría issues the NIEs. To obtain an NIE you must have photocopies and originals of your passport, contract of house rental/deeds of your house in Spain, and fill in a personal details form. A certificate of Empadronamiento is needed when you buy or sell a car, register a child in school, apply for the NIE, apply for residency (Residencia), get married, vote and apply for a local health insurance card. It’s important to get an NIE – this is your identification while in Spain and it’s needed for all manner of things, in addition to the above. For more advice and assistance about NIEs and Spanish bureaucracy, visit

Rent Before Buying a Property

The fun bit is house-hunting but mistakes can be made at this early stage. There’s a huge difference between being on holiday somewhere and living there. To ensure moving abroad to Spain is for you, it’s never a bad idea to rent for a year prior to buying a property. Spain is a huge country and it will give you the opportunity to sample a few different areas until you find the perfect spot to hang your hat. Rent in Spain is relatively reasonable, too, so don’t feel as though it’s a waste. A good place to start when looking to buy or rent is, with a good selection of properties from private vendors and local estate agents, while if you’re looking to buy is an excellent bet.

Open a Bank Account

Shop around for a bank that gives the best deal. Look for things like free European transfers and check the costs of having a credit card and bank account in Spain as they’re often more expensive than in the UK (and many other countries). Also, most banks charge if you use a different bank’s cash machine, so ensure yours is convenient to where you live. Banks open only in the mornings Monday to Fridays; however, during the winter months most banks extend their opening hours to either on a Saturday or a full day during the week.

With the above having been completed, and with your NIE and Empadronamiento certificates, Spanish bank account and confidence in the knowledge that your finances are in order, you’ll be free to discover your new home. By picking up knowledge of Spanish along the way and involving yourself with the local (and cyber) communities you can make informed decisions about the rest of your life in Spain.


About the author:

Phillipa Sudron is drawing from her own experiences of living in southern Spain for more than five years. She is writing on behalf of Richard Alexander Financial Planning:

From West to East and almost back again

west to east

We recently came across a great website that contains lots of interesting and informative articles about the ups and downs of having, and living with, expat children. Whatever country you call home, we think this website will be of interest to you. So, let us introduce you to , the founder of , Carole Hallett Mobbs …


“Late in November 2006 our family moved from Britain to the Land of the Rising Sun. My husband had been relocated to Tokyo, Japan for his work and I sold my publishing business to become a ‘trailing spouse’. Our daughter had just turned five years old so would spend her first school years being educated in Japan.

Living in Japan was an amazing experience and we spent a wonderful four and a half years there.

Our postings generally last for four years so we knew we would eventually be relocating again, or even returning to the UK, depending on my husband’s job. As it turned out, our next relocation was to Berlin, Germany: almost ‘home’, but not quite. I hadn’t experienced culture shock at all in Japan, but certainly did so in Germany.

This may have had something to do with the events during our last weeks in Tokyo…

A month before our long-planned departure date in April 2011 the massive 9 magnitude Tohoku earthquake of March 11th rocked the foundations of the entire nation.

Subsequently we arrived in Berlin after an exhausting and emotional 24 hour trip. We were all distressed by the departure and it took us some time to recover from the past month’s trauma.

Compared to the friendly expat community in Tokyo, Berlin had nothing for me. I found myself isolated, bored and depressed. When you relocate with very young children, you have an easy way to meet other people, either at kindergarten or at the school gate. But as soon as the child is old enough to go off to school on public transport, as mine is, that option disappears and nothing was here to take its place.

Although I’m very self-sufficient I still needed to reach out to others somehow. I also needed to find a way to occupy my time as I was unable to continue my previous work.

While on our annual summer break to the UK last year I was able to gather my thoughts and look to my future and the idea for the website was born. I thought about what was missing from my experiences of moving overseas and that was straightforward advice written in plain English. offers practical advice on topics ranging from flying with a baby to finding the right school, and from arranging leaving parties to raising multilingual children to what to pack and how to pack it. The aim of the site is to provide knowledge and information to other parents embarking on an expat life, and for existing expats who are embarking on a parenting life.

We’ve now been in Berlin for nearly two years and are unexpectedly ‘on the move’ again: we’re being posted to Pretoria, South Africa this summer. Rather than a year’s notice as before, we had only two months. Life is rather frenetic right now and I’m able to put my own advice into action as I start decluttering and packing yet again!”

By Carole Hallett Mobbs, an expat parent and founder of

A Proust Interview: The Lady who Offers to add Sizzle to your Life

Meet the Lady behind the Sizzle


Have you noticed how some people are really good at telling you how great they are? Within minutes of meeting them, you no longer hear what they are saying. Their every sentence starts, includes and ends with “I”…

Then there are those who keep quiet and don’t say too much. They listen to others and when it is their turn to introduce themselves, they give a pretty vague mumble and often play down their achievements.

A few months ago, I was introduced to the lovely Belinda Beckett. Even though this was the first time we had met in person, Belinda had, several weeks earlier, very kindly offered to proof read one of our Family Life in Spain Online Magazines … My goodness, I had never imagined how many mistakes a professional proof reader would find!

Not only did she point out mistakes, she also offered constructive criticism and improvements. It was so obvious that she was a professional. She not only Talks the talk, she walks the walk and she adds sizzle!

Belinda has recently given birth (her words!) to her very first blog  on .

As an attempt for thanking her for her hard work and also for thanking her for making us laugh out loud on many occasions when reading her posts, we thought we would introduce you to the lady behind the sizzle.

The following questions are taken from a Proust Interview Format that Belinda introduced us to. The back-of-the-mag interview format of 35 questions is designed to reveal the hidden truths behind the most private persona. So here she is …

cats with sizzle

Belinda’s Family …


1.What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Sun, sea, sangria … and sizzle!

2. What is your greatest fear?

Driving in Spain. I passed my test 30 years ago in the UK (on the 4th attempt) but I’m mentally on L-plates and back to practicing in car parks over here.

3. Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Charlotte Bronte. She put two fingers up to the Victorian establishment  with her controversial love story between plain Jane Eyre and the saturnine Mr Rochester.

4. Which living person do you most admire?

Richard Branson makes success look achievable and fun, and seems genuine with it.

5. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

Olympic Gold Medal-winning self doubt .

6. What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Mendacity. I hate deception and phoniness as much as I love the word, especially as uttered by the divine Paul Newman in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.

7. What is your greatest extravagance?

Squandering my time on earth working!

8. On what occasion do you lie?

When I’ve dropped the dinner on the floor…

9. What do you most dislike about your appearance?

That it’s not like cheese, i.e. it doesn’t improve with age.

10. When and where were you happiest?

Now, living in the boondocks of Los Barrios. It’s neither a pretty pueblo, nor well-known – an interesting challenge for a writer.

11. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

My tastebuds.  I’d like some that don’t make all fish and seafood taste yuck!

12. If you could change one thing about your family what would it be?

The need to change their litter trays. Most of my  ‘family’ are cats.

13. What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Surviving in Spain for 20 years … but let’s not be smug, the fat lady hasn’t sung yet!

14. If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what would it be?

I’d like to do it all again as a man, to see if it makes life easier.

15. What is your most treasured possession?

A quirky sense of humour – even about the bad stuff.

16. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Working  on a Sunday.

17. Who are your heroes in real life?

People who put others before themselves

18. What is it that you most dislike?

Queuing. Especially queuing behind sweet little old Spanish ladies in carnicerías  who want un quarto kilo of everything … skinned, gutted, filleted, sliced and diced!

19. How would you like to die?

Having fathomed out Photoshop and many other technologies…

20. What is your motto?

“It will be alright in the end. And if it’s not alright, it is not the end.”  Creatively swiped from Dev Patel in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (great movie!)


Thanks to Belinda for making us smile and for introducing us to this interview format.

Would you like to reveal yourself and be interviewed? If so, just contact us!

Where to live in Spain: Barcelona v Granada … Second Half!

In our last post entitled  Where to live in Spain: Barcelona v Granada .. Let´s kick off! , Molly, who writes for our Newsletters and her own website , gave us her thoughts about the positive reasons for  living in Barcelona and Granada.

By the end of the first half it was a pretty even match. In this second half, we take a look at the possible down sides of living in either of  these two wonderful cities. So let’s see Molly’s thoughts about where to live in Spain

The down sides to Barcelona 

  • Catalan can be a problem especially if you don’t speak Spanish and are trying to get to grips with a new language, it will be confusing to see both languages on documents and road signs.
  • Petty crime is a nuisance in Barcelona with most of my guests being pick pocketed at some point, it is a real issue for people speaking foreign languages as they are a target for the criminals in the tourist areas of the city.
  • The tourists can be a little bit annoying when you live in the city. Stag do´s, large queues for museums or big crowds on the ramblas and along the Paseo de Gracia.
  • I found that I can be difficult to mix with people from Barcelona in a long term sense. Networking with foreigners is really easy but these people tend to be short or medium term residents. To make friends or contacts for several years was not easy.
  • The cost of homes in Barcelona is higher than other places in Spain. Renting a flat can easily cost 1000 euros or more. Very few colleagues of mine managed to buy a property. Renting was the norm among the group I knew (mainly 30 something professionals)

live in spainThe downside to Granada

  • The public transport here isn´t so good. In Granada there are no underground or tram services. The trains are only long distance and timetables are vary sparse. The buses seem to come when they want to. They should come every 10 minutes but last Saturday I waited 30 minutes for it to come along. Taxis are not at all expensive. Usually 5 euros will get you pretty much anywhere in the city centre.
  • No Flights. The airport is pretty limited to fly internationally. Flight to Barcelona or Madrid are available. Most people travel 90 minutes to nearby Malaga by car to get flights from there.
  • If you are running you own business, freelance or online based OK. Work is pretty limited. If you want to find work here Spanish is obligatory. A good level of business Spanish. Currently in this area 1 in 4 are unemployed.
  • A problem here is the Enchufismo, this is where families stick together and give jobs to other family members, cousins, pass business among themselves and don’t let anyone else into the click. This mindset can be a particular challenge when doing business. (Not only for foreigners)
  • There aren´t many International restaurants or supermarkets. There are some but they may be toned down to suit Spanish customers. An Indian curry that´s always mild for example. It´s difficult (but not impossible) to buy special cooking ingredients. I often go for online suppliers.

Extra time

For my current lifestyle I am really satisfied with my lifestyle in Granada, the working week seems to be more relaxed, I walk to work which takes just 10 minutes (no buses, metro or queues) this suits me right now. When I was in my mid twenties I couldn´t imagine leaving Barcelona. It is such an exciting place to live. The important part of choosing a new city or town of residence is ensuring that it adapts to your lifestyle and that the way you will live you standard day with fit in with the destination. When you are on holiday it is a completely different ball game.

Thanks again to Molly for her honest feedback. Where would you like to live in Spain? Have you experienced living in Spain? Would you like to tell us why you love where you live? Would you like to take part in the next match? If so, please Contact Us and let us share Your Story about Life in Spain.

Protests in Catalunya: What is all the fuss about?

catalunya independence march

If you’ve been watching the Spanish news recently, I’m sure that the demonstration in Barcelona in Catalunya will have caught your attention, so I’m very grateful to Lisa, (aka Mum from Family Life In Spain), for asking me to provide a quick overview of the situation in Catalunya. She sent me a few questions and I think the easiest way to approach the issue of Catalan Independence and the whys and wherefores of the demonstration is to go through them one by one.

Why are the Catalans so keen to obtain independence?

It’s a simple question of identity, really. Catalans have their own language, culture and history. The language is based on vulgar Latin and is actually a lot older than Spanish which is based on high Latin. A quick example is the verb To Eat – manducare in Vulgar Latin, menjar in Catalan, manger in French and mangiare in Italian whereas comedere in High Latin gives us comer in Spanish.

There are many more examples but I know from experience that when I speak Catalan I think differently from when I speak Spanish.

Culturally, the Catalans are more staid and less passionate than the Spanish. The Sardana – the National dance – is very methodical in comparison with flamenco. Bullfighting is seen as individualistic and cruel and is illegal here. Most Catalan activities are based on groups. For example, castells – the human castles – are a group effort that require cooperation. Both language and culture are the result of a different history.

The Moors only controlled Catalunya for 80 years and never really made it into the Pyrenees whereas the Spanish Reconquista took 700 years. Consequently, there’s very little Arabic influence on the language and racially, the Catalans see themselves as the South of Northern Europe. They also had a massive empire in medieval times and had it not been for the discovery of America, which brought incredible wealth to Castile, the balance of power on the Iberian peninsular could well have remained much more equal.

You add all this together and the Catalans quite understandably feel different and would like to have their own state.

Have any particular events in Spanish history ignited this?

The crucial moment in Catalunya’s relationship with Spain came to a head with the end of the Spanish War of Succession in 1714. In 1700, Spanish King Carlos II died without an heir, and up until that point although ruled by the same monarch, Catalunya had enjoyed a great degree of freedom and was effectively a separate country. There were two pretenders to the throne – Philippe de Anjou, grandson of France’s Louis XIV, and the Habsburg Archduke Charles of Austria. Castile backed the centralist Bourbon pretender and looked forward to a Franco-Spanish axis that would come to control Europe, whereas Catalunya backed the Habsburg, who promised to respect their relative independence, and England and Holland frightened of French hegemony formed an alliance with the Catalans and Austrians. Unfortunately, for the Catalans, Charles became King of Austria and decided he wasn’t too bothered about being King of Spain and Philippe, by then Felipe, bought the English off with Gibraltar and Menorca, so the Catalans were left to fight alone from 1712 to 1714, when after a long siege Barcelona fell on September 11.

Not surprisingly, after 13 years of war, Felipe V wasn’t too pleased with the Catalans, and revoked all their laws, closed all the universities and made speaking Catalan illegal. Catalunya wasn’t allowed to trade with the Americas and all goods exported from Catalunya to Castile had to pay duties whereas Castilian goods imported to Catalunya were duty free.

Barcelona entered a period of severe economic decline, and also had to pay for the upkeep of 50,000 Castilian troops that were billeted in the Citadel (now Parc de la Ciutadella). By the beginning of the 20th century, Catalunya had resuscitated economically but in 1923, the dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera staged a successful military coup in Spain, and amongst other things, banned the Catalan language again and increased the taxes.

In 1936, the Spanish Civil War began and once again Catalunya backed the democrats and held out almost to the end. The victor of the Civil War, good old General Francisco Franco hated two things – Catalans and reds – and Barcelona was full of both of them, so without much ado, it was firing squad time again and prison if you were caught speaking Catalan in the street.

This is very recent history, and people of the older generation, my ex-wife’s parents for example, speak Catalan at home but as soon as they are out in the street switch to Spanish. Franco died in 1975 but even now there’s no way you can get her father to speak Catalan in public. Similarly, many people of my generation, who left school before Catalan was reintroduced in 1980, resent the fact that they never learned to read and write in their mother tongue.

What are the main differences in the beliefs of Catalans and Castilians?

People are people and Catalunya is a modern cosmopolitan region. Traditionally, Catalans were blonder and taller than Castilians but Franco shipped in a couple of million Andalusians and there are Moroccans, South Americans, Chinese, Pakistanis and grizzly old Nottinghamians like me, so we’re pretty much the same as anyone else, I think.

What’s important, though, are the cultural and linguistic factors I mentioned above. The children of the Spanish immigrants who arrived in the 50s and 60s have grown up speaking Catalan, dancing Sardanas and supporting FC Barcelona, so they feel different.

Another important point is that although many people want independence, given their Spanish ancestry, lots of Catalans love Spanish culture and are very happy to be bilingual. There’s a fantastic flamenco scene, and typical Andalusian festivals, such as the Feria de Abril are celebrated with mucho gusto.

What’s sparked the current upsurge of pro-independence feeling has been the ridiculous behaviour of the Partido Popular – there’s been a barrage of anti-Catalan insults from Esperanza Aguirre and company, and more importantly, the government reneged on the tax agreement we have and refused to return taxes we’d paid to central government, so we’ve now got a deficit and have to ask for help. When Catalans see Partido Popular politicians being processed for corruption in Valencia and see Bankia go down the drain due to incompetent management, we don’t feel too happy about trusting our money to a bunch of crooks.

What are the Catalans most proud of?

The Catalan word ‘seny’, which means something between common sense and fair play, pretty much sums up the Catalan way of doing things. We like being moderate and measured, and I think the demonstration on Tuesday was a fantastic example. It wasn’t reall anti anything, it was pro-Catalan and took place in a happy friendly atmosphere. We’re proud and pleased when we do things well.

Obviously, we’re incredibly proud of the language, and some of our brilliant writers – Jacint Verdaguer, Josep pla, Mercè Rodoreda,even Terenci Moix. Painters – Picasso cut his teeth here, Salvador Dalí, Tàpies and host more. Gaudí and the Modernistas – what can I say!

The Romanesque churches in the Pyrenees. El Barça! The beaches. The food. The Gay scene …

There’s so much we can be proud of that, without doing anyone else down, we feel we should have the right to do this under our own name not as a maligned region of Spain, a country which always seems to take anything good we do, the Spanish national football team, for example, as its own but criticise anything that’s not quite up to scratch.

We’re also very proud of our flag, by the way. It’s called La Senyera and the four red lines are the Four Fingers of Blood that our first king Wilfred the Hairy scraped on a golden shield before going into battle against the Moors and securing Catalunya as an independent state in the 9th century.

If Catalunya was granted total independence, how would it impact the life of an expat living there?

Difficult question and it all depends on how Europe and Spain react. If we gain independence, we’ll have to leave the European Union and apply for re-entry. The current rule is that new states are only accepted as long as there is unanimous agreement from the current states, so if Spain gets shirty about this, we could be in for a very difficult ride.

Any problems for ex-pats will come about as a result of non-EU membership rather than any express desire of the Catalan government, who will be extremely keen to make life as easy as possible for foreign nationals and so establish itself in international terms.

But the truth is we don’t know what’s going to happen yet. If Mariano Rajoy is minimally intelligent, he’ll give the Catalans the tax deal they are asking for and that might close the flood gates for a while. However, intelligence and diplomacy aren’t typical Partido Popular qualities, so I reckon that Catalan politicians are already working behind the scenes on the European question.

I’ll stick my neck out here and say that if independence comes there’ll be an unsettled period but then Catalunya without the tax drain will become significantly more prosperous. If I had money to invest, I’d be keeping a very close eye on the property market in Catalunya now.

About the author:

Simon Harris has lived in Barcelona in Catalunya since 1988 and is author of Going Native in Catalonia. He has recently started  The site’s only been going since late August but there’s a blog at  and a forum at, and he is very happy to answer your questions about Barcelona-related travel or simply argue the toss in English, Spanish and, of course, Catalan. You can connect with Simon on    Facebook – Barcelona Travel Guide  at or on Twitter through @simonharris.

If you would like to learn more about this wonderful part of Spain,  please also have a look at  Going Native in Catalunya.

Winter Fuel Payments 2012 Update

Winter Fuel Payments – are YOU now eligible – more people are!!

Thanks to a judgement of the European Court many more people will be eligible for Winter Fuel Payments (WFP) this year. In previous years WFPs have only been made to former UK residents who qualified for the payment before leaving the UK and who are now living in the European Economic Area including Spain.

This year you may be eligible to receive WFP if you have a “genuine and sufficient” link with the UK. Several factors are considered in order to assess, for example how long someone has lived and worked in the UK and whether they receive UK State Pension or other benefits.

Who can get Winter Fuel Payment in winter 2012/2013?

WFP used to be payable to all those who had reached age 60 – the Women’s State Pension age. This is currently being increased so that men and women will claim their pension at the same age.

To cut through the maze this means that ALL who have reached the current State Pension age for women (those born on or before 5 July 1951) AND who have a genuine and sufficient link with the UK can get WFP this year (even if they are still working)!

How do I claim Winter Fuel Payment for 2012/2013?

Claim forms for people in the EEA (inc. Spain) are said to be available in late August for download from the Directgov website. Go to the website and search for ‘Winter Fuel Payment’.  Once you have downloaded and completed the claim form you should return it promptly to:-

 International Pensions Centre, Tyneview Park, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE98 1BA, UK.

Alternatively you can telephone the International Pensions Centre on 0044 191  218 7777 who will arrange for you to complete a claim form.

The claim form will assess if you have a “genuine and sufficient” link with the UK.



How much is Winter Fuel Payment and when will I be paid?

The amount you will be paid depends on your personal situation:-

If you live alone you will receive £200, or £300 if you are aged 80 or over on 23 September 2012,

An additional payment is made if you live with another person who qualifies for WFP.

Claims received by 21 September should be paid before Christmas 2012. Claims received after 21 September will be paid in 2013. Claims received after 31 March 2013 will not receive a payment for this year as this is the cut-off date. This means that no payment for past winters can be claimed as their cut-off dates have already passed.

I am not aware that any official publicity will be issued about the new eligibility conditions for Winter Fuel Payments so please pass this article to others who may be interested.

The information given is to the best of my knowledge, correct and complete and can be found on various pages of the Directgov website. These issues are always complex when the EU court is involved but I hope I have succeeded in explaining who is now eligible for WFP and how to make a claim.


This article has been put together by Hilary Tompkins, a former Civil Servant, now living in Yunquera in the beautiful surroundings of the Sierra de Las Nieves.

Life moves at a much slower pace for Hilary these days. She spends time tending her garden and finding herself overwhelmed with fresh figs started experimenting in making her own preserves. This has become something of a cottage industry and Hilary has shelves full of home-made marmalades, jams and chutneys. Hilary can be found selling her preserves and also her home baking at many of the charity fund raising events inland and on the coast. Her lemon curd, made to her grandmother’s recipe, is a particular favourite. New this year will be mini Christmas cakes made to a 100 year old family recipe. Ideal for that taste of traditional British Christmas fayre.

If you would like any further information please use the contact form on this website .

If you would like to receive the direct link to the application form once it has been published online, just keep checking back with us and we will keep you informed!

Thanks Hilary!

PS. Loved your lemon curd !!!



Where to live in Spain: Barcelona v Granada .. Let´s kick off!

If you are thinking of moving to Spain and wondering where to live in Spain, it is always interesting to hear what other expats living in Spain have to say about areas they have lived in.

In this post, Molly, who writes for our Newsletters and her own website , gives us her thoughts, both positive and negative, on living in Barcelona and Granada.

If you read my post about   Spain winning the World Cup, you will know that I am a bit of a football fan. So for a bit of fun, as it is currently Euro 2012 football frenzy season, we have decided to play this as a game of two halves… who do you think will win?

So, let´s kick off with what´s great about Barcelona… over to you, Molly!

Well it´s certainly looking as though it going to be a close match!.
Both cities have so much to offer whether it be a holiday destination or a place to choose your home. For 9 years I lived in the city of Barcelona. It is a place with many advantages and that´s exactly why a lot of expats have settled in the city or near to Barcelona.

Barcelona scores points for the following:

  • The offer of Cultural activities is enormous. With great theatres and concert venues whether you are into Jazz, alternative scene, commercial music, Barcelona has it all. It is also a good place for museums, exhibitions and art too. The only dates in Spain that Madonna offers in June 2012 are 2 nights in Barcelona.
  • To find work in Barcelona is easier than some other Spanish destinations as there are Jobs for European candidates in Multinational companies.
  • The atmosphere of the city is laid back and the people are generally open minded. There is a clear cosmopolitan, European vibe to the place. I feel that Madrid feels more traditionally Spanish than Barcelona does.
  • I always notice that the way people dress in Barcelona is more relaxed than other places, not so formal. I regularly wore smart jeans and trainers when I lived there, I find it is easier to get on if you fit in where you live. In the south people dress up and wear make up all the time, it´s more formal. I´m wearing heels most days in Andalusia and sometimes miss the laid back vibe of Barcelona.
  • Massive offer of Flights from Barcelona, National and International destinations. Good connections from Airport to city with taxis, buses and trains.
  • The shopping is fantastic. A huge variety of food at places such as Boqueria market, international food can be found easily in the city. Buying clothes is great as most international brands are on offer somewhere in the city. There are also many outlets to be discovered, Mango has an outlet shop there (just off Diagonal) and then you can take a bus ride to the enormous La Roca Village too from Sants bus station.
  • The climate in Barcelona is balmy almost all year round. There are only about 6 weeks is cold weather. Some flats don´t even have central heating. July-August is really humid and sticky but generally warm temperatures for the rest of the year make it a great place to be.
  • Public transport is excellent. Underground, trains, buses, taxis. There even beaches in the city than can be accessed by bus or underground.

And now over to Granada …

Granada scores points for the following :

  • You can actually ski and sunbathe on the beach on the same day. The ski resort is about 40 minute drive from the city and the beach is a similar distance away at Motril or Salobreña.
  • Eating out can be amazingly cheap with free tapas offered in many places. Breakfast out costs 2 euros at the moment. For that you great a frothy café con leche and a piece of toasted baguette with butter and jam. (or tomato and olive oil like the locals)
  • I find it really easy to mix with the locals and get on here. People are generally friendly.
  • I love that I can walk everywhere. Distances between things are small.
  • In Barcelona or Madrid as it takes 45 minutes to get anywhere the day flies by, as here it takes just 10 minutes to get practically anywhere in the city you can fit many different activities into one day. It´s like time stretches further here.
  • The climate is great. In winter it is really cold. That crisp fresh cold. In summer it is red hot but not sticky. In the shade it is bearable. We have a proper summer and a proper winter. Spring and autumn seem to be barely noticeable.
  • I think that the cost of Rent and the house prices here are good value when looking at other places. 170,000 euros could buy you a new basic 3 bedroom home with shared swimming pool and garage at the moment. Rent here would be around 600 euros for 3 bedroom apartment in the city.
  • To me here every day feels like the weekend. People are in the restaurants most days; the streets are always busy with people. People are out at night in the week, not just at weekends.

So, as the first half comes to a close, who do you think is winning? If you were thinking about moving to Spain, which would you prefer to move to, Granada or Barcelona? We look forward to receiving your votes and comments.

Join us for the the second half, HERE.

If you are thinking about the Malaga province or Costa del Sol, read the article HERE.

Read our thoughts about the best place to live in Spain HERE.

Buying a home in Spain and Can’t Find What you Want?

In our “Property” category, you can read about some of the difficulties we encountered whilst trying to find our new family home in our chosen area in Spain. In this article you can read about another interesting option when buying property in Spain …

John Wolfendale from Eco Vida International gives us some great tips and ideas how to make our homes more environmentally friendly and more economical to manage and  maintain.

His reply to the question “Are you Buying a home in Spain and Can’t Find What you Want?”,  is as follows:

 … “buy a home in the right place and convert it!”

“There is an abundance of  cheap property in Spain at the moment. And as someone said to me the other day there are plenty of people out there who want to take their money out of the bank and put it somewhere safe!

Spain is a beautiful country. In my opinion it has everything:  a sunny climate, beautiful beaches and mountains, great food, a fascinating history and culture, lovely friendly people with a great attitude towards family life and having fun.

There are also some beautiful country villas for sale with extraordinary views and cosy looking interiors.

The problem often is with the quality of build such as damp, thin walls with no sound or thermal insulation and so on. Or the problem could be with the layout. I’ve recently come across a swimming pool in the shade “because there was nowhere else to put it” and a multimillion pound villa without even a dining room.

However converting a property is easier than you think. You can take advantage of the low prices to be found, buy a property in your ideal location, and still have exactly what you want.

How to make it comfortable without burning money or fossil fuels

Many people thinking of buying in Spain don’t realize its cold in the winter especially inland. The worst cases are those country houses with cathedral like entrance hallways. And it’s easy to underestimate just how hot it can be in July August.

Converting you home into a comfortable energy efficient one could involve the following steps:

Insulate it: this can be exterior or interior depending on the budget and circumstances.

Make it airtight: change the windows and doors so they have a good seal and also improve insulation, aesthetics, and security at the same time.

Under floor heating and cooling: all the surfaces, the walls the floors and the furniture get to your desired temperature and give a radiant heat which is far more comfortable than simply heating the air. It’s like being warmed by the sun. You can pad about barefoot even in winter.

Mechanical Ventilation and Heat Exchanger: Extract dirty wet air from the kitchen and bathroom and exchange it with fresh filtered air from outside. In the winter the cold fresh air from outside exchanges heat with the dirty air you are expelling. It works to over 95% efficiency. It’s healthy too. In the summer it works the other way around keeping you cool.

Use a heat pump: Now you’ve reduced your energy requirement a heat pump can do the job keeping you warm in winter and cool in summer at a fraction of the cost and without burning fossil fuels.

Shading and terracing: We’re all in Spain to live the outside life. Terracing can combine with shading to keep the sun of the house for greater comfort and also to create areas for relaxing, cooking, eating, or playing.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could find one company that could take care of everything from design to implementation?”

For more information, contact John on +34 606380244  or  Use our Contact Form by Clicking Here!

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