As a Brit who spends a large chunk of the year in Espana, I enjoy ‘people watching’ other Brits who are here on holiday for a week or so. This may sound slightly snobbish. It’s not intended that way (well, maybe just a tad, ‘guvnor’)*. More accurately, there’s nothing like the opportunity to observe one’s fellow countrymen and women with a fresh pair of eyes, so to speak. And who can miss ‘em when they’re turning themselves a delicate shade of lobster pink at a beach a stone’s throw or three away from here.
In any setting from ‘la playa’ to a tranquil ‘pueblo blanco’, I’d wager that visiting Brits can be instantly identified. And why is that, you may ask? There’s a simple answer: aside from the fact they might be seeking some “nice fish and chips” or “a good English bar”, the Brits are wearing fewer clothes than the local inhabitants and visitors from other parts of Europe.
An English family owns the town house opposite mine (yes, these are the same neighbours I’ve offended with noisy antics in the past) and various members of this clan avail themselves of the property occasionally. Last week, a group of four friendly folks aged around 50 were the latest to visit. I was invited into the house to install a new gas bottle on the cooker. I immediately spotted a large bottle of cheap vodka in the kitchen, as well as the bikinis hanging on the washing line. The four Brits spent every day reposing on their terrace, smothered in sun cream, wearing the aforementioned bikinis and presumably consuming the plonk. Now, don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing wrong with any of this behaviour (I’d indulge in much worse if I didn’t have to work and look after minors) but I found the ‘bathing belles’ an eye-opening contrast to the rest of the townspeople who were wandering about in jeans and cardigans, because it was only 20 degrees C.
While British expats may generally “sit on the terrace” for a while before heading sensibly into the shade, visiting Brits sunbathe endlessly, even if the temperature doesn’t demand extensive removal of clothes. I visited Torre del Mar at the weekend - a bastion of visiting and expat Brits. On the beach, you could easily spot “exhibit B” (B is for British) because the Spanish were wearing shirts and leggings, the Germans sported shirts and shorts and the British favoured... practically nothing. Furthermore, around the Torre del Mar Camping swimming pool, British girls were topless. The pools in Lanjaron and Orgiva - i.e. in my ‘corner’ of La Alpujarra’ - don’t even open until June because it’s considered too cold for open air bathing. Go topless in May in the mountains? Nah.
Getting back to the Torre del Mar Camping (and I’m not sure I’d want to head back there anytime soon), you couldn’t fault the clean and orderly facilities or the politeness of the staff but why do people want to spend their precious week’s annual holiday in the dolled-up equivalent of a car park with a few trees and metal poles deployed to divide the plots? Well, we know the answer: budget. However, away from the beach, budget-conscious campsites with a view exist, such as the ones in Orgiva. My four-year-old son loved the Torre campsite because he could ride his bike endlessly round the perimeter but I hankered for somewhere more secluded (my thoughts wandered to the unspoilt East Dean campsite near Chichester, West Sussex, in the days when it remained a well-kept secret).
In the morning, we checked out the swimming pool: the one featuring the topless babes and the cold water, which I decided to give a wide berth – brrr! Around the poolside, a rather hectoring English father was dictating the every move of his son of around three years old. While my two boys roamed freely beside the shallow kids’ pool, this little boy was constantly instructed and manoeuvred. I’m sure Daddy wasn’t impressed when my eldest asked him to blow up our inflatable rubber ring. I might not be able to inflate a ring without feeling queasy (this feeling is far worse if I have a lingering hangover, which I didn’t on this occasion) but at least I don’t take the business of a campsite swimming pool Ever So Seriously. Dedicated Daddy was soon brandishing a digital camcorder and had scripted his own short movie, sure to be nominated for an Oscar. As we departed, he was standing in front of the pool performing his dead serious commentary: “Here we are at the Torre del Mar Campsite swimming pool... [name of son] is here...”. I felt sorry for whoever would be forced to view the footage when this British family returned home – especially as Mum had earlier shot Jack or whatever he was called standing on something that hurt his foot and made him cry. Epic content!
After my observations of 'The Brits Abroad’ and a stint on the beach - which was populated by quite a few civilised Spanish holidaymakers, actually - we ventured back to Lanjaron. At this point, I discovered that I’d burnt my back a mild shade of pink – a case of incorrectly applied sun cream. Ahem! What was it that I was saying about British holidaymakers baking to delicate shade of lobster? This made me think: if Spanish people viewed my family alongside the vacationing British, would they be able to tell any difference, what with my ‘malo’ Spanish pronunciation and predilection for a “nice vino blanco”? Apart from the fact that I might be wearing an extra layer of clothes, I suspect that the answer is “no”.
Meanwhile, Britain has been baking in its own mini heat wave. And what was the result of the masse hysteria regarding temperatures exceeding 24 degrees? The beaches were so rammed that visitors couldn’t see a stone or a shell under all the reddening limbs and there’s been a run on beer and barbeques in the supermarkets. Predictable! Sigh. Enjoy it, folks, as you’re set to plummet back to 10-14 degrees C shortly, depending on how northerly you’re located, and then there’ll be a run to turn the central heating on again.
* Disclaimer: although the persons mentioned in this blog entry may resemble real people (some of them clearly are real people!), the entry is, overall, a 'cultural study' of Brits abroad in general and not about particular ones. It's also meant to be tongue-in-cheek and most certainly isn't designed to be taken seriously. The author's twisted sense of humour can, at times, go down the 'wrong' way. Although it would be easy to believe that the author is some sort of nasty ol' cow who thinks she's a bit superiour and lurks in social settings waiting to poison-pen everyone in sight, that isn't the case. Honest... guv. The author is just as quick to take the p*ss out of herself as other subjects and it's all in the interests of "dry humour". To anyone who was offended, the author papologises.