I want to keep my British passport.– Jane in Spain
Originally from Devon, England, Jane studied and worked in various different countries before finally settling down with her husband, a Spanish naval officer, in rural Andalucía, Spain. So says the beginning of various author-blurbs. The truth is a little more complicated of course.
To start with, I never intended to come to Spain, but I met a Spaniard on a balcony in Italy and that was that. After moving to Madrid, where he was currently posted, we then spent time in The Hague then returned to Madrid and eventually moved down south after he retired. We now live near the Mediterranean coast, but I grew up by the sea in North Devon and have a terrible nostalgia for the sound and smell of the Atlantic Ocean.
When I first came to Spain very few people spoke English (why should they?) so I had to pick up the language as best I could double quick. I also had to ‘learn the culture’, because everything – from world views to mealtimes and daily routines – was different to how I had been brought up, different even to Italy where I had been living before. As a working mother I was viewed with some suspicion, too. This is not the case nowadays as many more women go to university and have careers, but in those days a graduate working wife was not so common. The reason I mention culture or social norms is because in my experience one’s early years really do shape one for life: I have lived in Spain for going on 30 years, but I will never be Spanish.
My sons grew up moving from country to country, learning different languages as they went along. They both went to university in Britain (Leeds & Edinburgh) and took advantage of the excellent Erasmus programme: each spent a year studying in a foreign environment and meeting students from many different countries. (How sad that British students may no longer be able to benefit from this experience.) When asked where they are from my sons say ‘Europe’. I speak fluent Spanish, but with an accent: despite half a lifetime here I still look and sound British. And here’s the rub: I want to keep my British passport. It’s possible that after Brexit this may mean having to go through the tedious business of applying for visas when I want to see my grandchildren in Sweden or even France, but if I take out a Spanish passport will I be allowed back into my own country to live if need be?
Another concern is that I have reached Spanish retirement age; in fact I will be over 65 when I finally retire. I am also entitled to receive money taken from my salary before I left England. It won’t be much, although I did work throughout my student years as well. A European cenvenio technically provides for my British pension to be added to what I will receive here, but with Brexit in the air it’s not at all certain. As a full-time author I am used to an unpredictable, haphazard income, but this does worry me.
Jane is just one of the volunteers to our Citizens’ Panel.