The fact that Almuñécar still feels like a genuinely Spanish town is appreciated by many foreigners who choose to come here. But, did you know that in Almuñécar – La Herradura live people from over 90 different countries? Of the total 26,514 people registered here in 2019, we were 4729 (=17,8%) coming from another country. The largest proportion of Almuñécar’s immigrants come from another EU country and the most from the UK (1022), followed by Belgium (388) closely followed by Germany (385). From the Nordic countries most people come from Denmark (252) then Sweden (171), Finland (33) and Norway (27). Source: Junta de Andalucía
In addition to all of us foreigners (extranjeros) who are resident in Almuñécar – La Herradura, and thus included in the official statistics, there are many, many more who regularly stay here and enjoy paradise for a shorter or longer time.
What about us extranjeros in Almuñécar – La Herradura, have we adapted to Spanish society or do we continue to behave, talk, and think in exactly the same way as we did /do in our home countries? Is integration as important for us immigrants here in Spain as to anyone who for example immigrates to Sweden?
“Integration is about feeling a sense of belonging in society. This means that everyone should feel part of Swedish society. Integration is about different groups in society meeting and having an exchange with each other.”
Felicia Sanchez Hermansson is married to a Spanish man and they have two teenage children. She was born and raised in Sweden and has lived in Spain for several periods and years, most recently here in Almuñécar.
Here we get to take part of Felicia’s thoughts on integration.
For our family, it does not matter where we live, some of us will always be immigrants. As an immigrant, I once had an interesting conversation with another Swede when I pointed out that we were immigrants, to which his reaction was “But I pay taxes”. We are all people with the right to see and interpret things differently, but one thing is for sure, if you live in a foreign country you fit in under immigrant whether you pay taxes or not. Immigrants have a very negative tone in many people’s heads, which I think is sad, there are immigrants of all kinds – both with desirable behaviors and attitudes and less so.
When I moved to Spain in 2002 with minimal Spanish in my vocabulary, I had no idea what a Moroccan looked like or how they spoke, nor did I know that a South American could be a little “less worth” in the eyes of Spaniards. I got a group of friends from all over the world but the more Spaniards I got to know the more I became aware of different types of immigrants – I belonged to the “elite” and was accepted in a way that my friends were not, but I was still an immigrant.
When Alberto moved to Sweden, the same thing happened, everyone could say “una cerveza por favor” and thought he was a “good” immigrant once they found out where he came from. In some situations, he was treated differently depending on whether his nationality was known or not. He belongs to the “elite” of immigrants in Sweden – those who do not have to but who has immigrated for one reason or another – just like me in Spain.
The problems with and behind immigration can be summed up with the term integration. In the 90’s, a Swedish TV program “Kalla Fakta” made a documentary about immigrant Swedes on Costa del Sol and it was interesting how many chose not to even try to integrate into their new country. How the principal of the Swedish school demanded from the police chief in Fuengirola that they must have English-speaking police who answer the phone because their students could not speak Spanish. How many people only hung out in circles with other Swedes, a small community within the community was created. The radio documentary Fucking Suecos also pointed out the problems with the integration of us Swedes in Spain. The Spaniards saw the Swedish society as something negative. It may not be perceived as a problem from within, but from the outside it is interpreted as a problematic situation.
When several people gather in one place with the same culture, traditions, language, and attitude, it is difficult to try to integrate, it is comfortable and feels “at home”. For example, we like to have dinner at 6 pm and not 9 pm. The fact that a traditional Spanish kitchen does not really open until 8 pm is no problem because they can adapt to us – we are paying costumers. Many of these small changes are common in tourist areas, but with each adaptation, a little of what is genuine for each place is lost… A detail that many people really appreciate and want to keep. What is the situation with integration in Almuñécar – La Herradura? Who adapts to whom? Do you feel integrated or has a society been created within the Spanish society? Are we trying to integrate, or do we think it is enough that we help by spending money? As I mentioned before, we belong to the “elite” of immigrants, does that mean we do not have to try? Or do we choose in which areas we want to be integrated (perhaps paying in cash to avoid VAT)?
For integration, language is the most important thing! But it is not entirely easy even though you speak the language flawlessly. My old bosses often told me that ”I am Spanish dressed up as Swedish”. Then you might think that I have succeeded in integrating, but I often end up in situations where I am treated in English because of how I look – I am judged because of my appearance and then my language skills do not matter. Our children who have dual nationality and are bilingual do not fit in anywhere, they must live with nicknames such as the Spaniard or el sueco. They feel more Swedish than Spanish, but physically they look more Spanish, which resulted in our oldest son, at a very young age, wanting to change eyes.
Will you ever finish integrating? The longer you live in one place, you get used to things a little at a time and in the end something that you previously thought was a bit weird becomes completely normal. There are many things that are different, but the more you see and experience these things, the more “normal” they become. That children are up half the nights in the middle of the week or that you order a vegetarian dish and have it served with tuna. Maybe we are integrated, maybe we never will be…