Scribbler in Seville

10 things I’ve learned I can’t live without

A few weeks ago, I reached an important milestone – both in my life, and in my time lived in Spain: it’s 10 years since I arrived here in Seville. Back in September 2003 I came to this beautiful city – via London and Quito, Ecuador – with no expectations, no idea of what I’d find (I’d never been here before), and a few names as contacts.

A decade later, I have a small, tumbledown house (literally), two dogs and a semi-wild cat, two children and a husband, lots more English-language novels, thousands of leaflets, guidebooks and novels about various aspects of Andalucian and Spain, from the Civil War to flamenco, as well as a decent collection of children’s DVDs. And one of the contacts is still a good friend, and unofficial godmother to my son.

Having read Josh’s reliably excellent post on five things not to forget when moving to Spain (clue: it’s about food, and nursery food at that), it occurred to me that since I’ve been here 10 years, my anniversary would be a great excuse hook for a post on things I’ve learned that I can’t live without. Practical posts aren’t my forte, but this might be of some use or interest to a new, or potential, expat.

So here goes (artwork: Copyright Lola and Zac Flores Watson):


1) Revo internet radio
If I want to dance, I find some pop tunes on Radio 2; hear the news, Radio 4; remember why I left London, Radio London; listen to some quirky tracks, Radio 6 Music. I go off into my own little world when I’m in the kitchen with my radio on. Some British expats refuse to listen to British radio or watch British TV. Balderdash and poppycock. (Confession: I do listen to RAI in the car.)


2) Satellite dish
I rarely watch TV, except for the news – once the kids are finally in bed, I’m either working on the computer, eating, or asleep. We don’t even have one at the moment as our sitting room is a building site. But when we do, the reason I value it so highly is CBeebies. Have you seen Spanish children’s TV? Think, the most moronic, sexist, casual-violence American animated nonsense you can imagine, and that’s it. Brain-rot. At least Ballamory has sound ideas on racial harmony. And its theme tune is far less irritating than Sponge Bob Squarepants, FFS.


3) Girls’ nights out
My best girlfriends are all English. What a cliche, I hear you say. But that cultural familiarity, the unspoken bonds, the mutual understanding of being married to a Spaniard (four of my closest mum mates are) and all the communication challenges that implies. All we need is a bottle of wine (or three) and you can leave us there till the wee hours.


4) The Week
My wonderful, though sadly aging, Dad gets me a subscription every year to this weekly news mag, which distills the most interesting and important stories from British and foreign media into 60-odd pages – perfect loo or bath reading material. And it gets passed on to one of those mentioned in 3).


5) Nice soap
The Spanish don’t seem to do nice soap, unless it’s made of honey and glycerin with oatmeal flakes suspended inside and costs 4 euros. Buy a four-pack of normal scented stuff from any English supermarket and you’ll be fragrant for months.


6) Facebook, especially groups
I don’t understand anyone who doesn’t use Facebook. How else would I know when anyone’s birthday is? Or what their children look like now? Or what embarrassing thing happened to them at work last week? Or which Youtube video’s gone viral? I work at home, so there’s no water-cooler moment, no chat while the kettle boils (do they even have kettles in Spanish offices?) It’s like a mouthy coffee break, getting squiffy cocktail hour, and catch-up chat on the phone, all rolled into one. And the groups are indescribably useful and supportive. I’ve made fantastic contacts, found work, and received (and, I hope, given too) useful advice via Facebook groups.


7) Extra reserves of patience and tolerance
The I-don’t-understand-you grimace, the “you don’t need that form”, “you only need one copy”, “you don’t need the original”. Ignore, push, insist, ask again, request clarification (you did need the form, four copies, and the original). If in doubt, start again from the beginning. Be firm and try to stay calm. Spanish administration is hell, but at least make sure that the bolshy jobsworth funcionario (civil servant) who’s trying to deny you that essential document – because she wants to go and have her coffee break – does her job properly. (Although in my case, I don’t think they get off scot-free either – I need everything explaining at least four times, which must have its less endearing qualities.) And if they’re being really obtuse, officious or offensive, just picture them in their underwear.


8) Chutney
Cebolla caramelizada doesn’t quite cut it. In fact, Spanish jams in general are sub-standard. English fruit and vegetable chutneys, however, especially spicy ones, have this strange power of making an ordinary cheese sandwich into a thing of wonder.


9) Regular trips back to the motherland
We go about twice a year – I need to be among people who speak my language, literally, and may not be as warm or friendly as the Spanish, but who won’t frown at me when I mumble because I’m too knackered to en-un-ci-ate clear-ly. Where supermarket shelves overflow with a heavenly array of cakes, biscuits and naughty puds, and crisps and chutneys (see 8) come in 359 flavours. Where friends who’ve known me for years can tell me what I need to be told. And where I, and especially my children, can spend precious time with aforementioned aging parents.


10) My family
Well, obviously. I’m hardly going to dump them by the roadside and go gallivanting off to the Algarve for a week on my own, now, am I? (Well, actually, there was talk of a girls’ weekend away – see 3) The biggest change for me since arriving in Seville, apart from giving up smoking, designer clothes and poncy cocktail bars, has been having my children. They’re half-Spanish, or half-Andalucian as their Dad would say, bilingual, and comfortable in both cultures, thanks to 2 and 9; and 1 helps too. My husband, for his part, keeps our shoddily-built bungalow standing, tending to plumbing, electrical, structural and countless other problems, and is a bear-ish sort of bloke who is useful around the house and garden (great veg patch) – just as well, since he doesn’t have a job. Anyway, they’re the bees’ knees and I love them to bits. I managed without them for three days recently, on a very nice trip in Andalucia, but that was quite long enough, thank you. I can’t go without hugs for more than three days. Ni pensar.

What can’t you live without?


<div align=”center”><a href=”” title=”Seychelles Mama” target=”_blank”><img src=”” alt=”Seychelles Mama” style=”border:none;” /></a></div>

29 thoughts on “10 things I’ve learned I can’t live without

    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      What makes you think I’m leaving, Craig? No plans to, though I’m often asked, especially by those back in the UK. My husband wouldn’t cope with English weather – he’d wither and die – like most Andaluces, he can’t survive without the sun!

  1. Kaley

    I totally identify with this. I love making friends with women married to Spaniards, although they tend to be American women married to Spaniards here. There are actually quite a few of us! I don’t think it’s anything to be ashamed of; those Spanish men are quite beguiling, really. 😉

    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      Hahaha Kaley, that’s one word for them!! Exasperating would be another 😉 Those nights out with the girls are as essential as releasing a pressure valve – holding it all in just isn’t healthy and will cause an explosion!

    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      Some diverging views on UK TV and radio – it’s the long-stayers (like you, Paddy) who don’t seem to bother with it. Do you have any foods you miss, as a foodie travel expert?

    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      Thanks Mary. It is pretty fab, handy for a comprehensive round-up of global events, and analysis of key issues, and in my case gets passed on so others can enjoy it too. Can be handy for English classes as well. Oh, and the recipes are great too!

  2. Molly Sears-Piccavey

    I love to read my monthly magazine Glamour from the UK to keep up with the famous folk there (so I know who they are when I go back to UK) and the shops/fashions etc. I´ve been subcribed for ages and look forward to receiving this each month. Another thing I can´t do without is Ambrosia Custard.

    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      Interesting you love your glossy mag Molly – I used to pick them up at the airport to read on the plane, but nowadays they make me feel scruffy and unfashionable (which I am) so I’ve stopped! Although I do buy the occasional English gossip mag. Custard – that’s so English! Can you buy it here?

  3. Joe Cooper

    A great list which coincides eerily with mine (with one or two exceptions). My comments are as follows:
    1) Don’t listen to much UK radio as my job involves keeping up with what goes on here and reporting it back to Madrid and London. However, now that I have a little more time on my hands, perhaps I should explore.
    2) Don’t have much time for TV either, though I am currently hooked on “Isabel”. Can’t say that I miss UK TV so never felt tempted to invest in a satellite dish.
    3) Without wishing to sound sexist, girls like to talk and boys like to stimulate their adrenalin so my equivalent of a girls’ night out is riding incredibly quickly down to Jerez on my motorbike, flying hot air balloons or playing my guitar loudly. Horses for courses I guess.
    4) Absolutely essential for keeping up with what’s going on in the UK (and the rest of the world) and avoiding the syndrome of thinking that Seville is the centre of the universe.
    5) Here I have to disagree. I am totally addicted to Spanish soap and do not miss all those ghastly smelling concoctions that you find on the the shelves of UK supermarkets (e.g, Wright’s Coal Tar soap etc)
    6) Absolutely essential for keeping up with family and friends. I´m a total addict.
    7) Ah yes, Spanish bureaucracy. You do need lots of patience but there are also shortcuts. I found being made redundant and signing on to the dole a surprisingly straightforward process. However, I may change my mind when I come to set up my own business. Hold the front page.
    8) Always been a big mango chutney fan but never had any trouble finding it here.
    9) Absolutley essential for staying in touch with the family and reminding my kids of their heritage. This summer we did Stonehenge, Snowdon and Buckingham Palace as well as a big family reunion in North Wales.
    10) Like you, I miss my family when I’m away and now that I am travelling less, am really appreciating the the fact that I have more time to spend with them. It also has its benefits from a health point of view. I finally taught my son to ride a bicycle this summer and now he wants to ride everywhere so I have had to buy a bicycle to keep up with him. This has done wonders for my weight, my blood pressure, my diabetes and my cholesterol!

    Keep up the scribbling!


    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      Thanks Joe, great to get your input as a pre-Expo expat! Re 2) apparently there’s an episode coming soon which was filmed in the Alcazar. 7) We just went through that process, so if you need any advice, just shout. Well done on the cycling and its health benefits!

  4. Josh

    Ah yes of course, Jam! It’s just never as good it it? I was in Hungary recently and they had Tesco’s. Just saying. And I think there are times when no-one can be bothered to enunciate properly, or at least correct themselves if they know that they’ve got it horribly and sometimes embarrassingly wrong.
    Thanks for the mention Fiona, and I never knew you were such a talented artist! Lovely post 🙂

    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      Josh there used to be an M&S here, and I think there was a Tesco in Madrid. Makro do Bonne Maman jam, which is utterly delicious, but no chutney. Yes, I am fully expecting my children to keep me in suitable style with their artistic endeavours before too long.

  5. Mary Joplin

    I’m with you on some points but not on others. I do agree about kids’ TV: it’s diabolical here, Just Manga or cartoons from the US, no home produced programmes aimed at a young audience. In the 80s things were different and there were some decent programmes for children and teenagers. Alaska presented one and Penelope Cruz (looking very different) presented another!
    I listen to BBC radio, but there are some excellent Spanish broadcasters too, such as Julia Otero, Carlos Francino or Carlos Herrera.
    As for the soap, what about Heno de Pravia? Three large cakes of soap for 1.60€ (I think) at your local supermarket. It’s just traditional, fresh-smelling soap,Try it!

    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      Great to read your comment, Mary, always interesting to get views from super-long-term expats. I will check out those Spanish journos – thanks for the tips. My husband uses that soap, but I prefer something more “fragrant” 😉 Wish I’d seen Penelope Cruz and Alaska doing their kids’ programmes!!

  6. Louise Brace

    British TV and radio. I have lived here 13 years, speak fluent Spanish and am married to a Catalan, but I won’t be proud and say I don’t bother with TV. I do, I love it, it reminds me of home and you can’t beat a a good old BBC drama and I totally agree Cbeebies hands down beats Boing and Clan and if I have to hear the theme tune of Violetta one more time… I have to stay up with music from the UK, I couldn’t live without it. HP sauce, Cadbury’s and cheddar cheese, without which I couldn’t eat cheese on toast. All my friends moved here, so I don’t miss them, but I have completely integrated into the local community and now count Spanish, Swedish, German, Dutch, oh and British residents as my friends. I love living here. I have adapted. I live in a bilingual household, but at the end of the day I am British and there are just some things from home you can’t beat.

    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      Hi Louise, sounds you have a very multi-national community where you live. English TV seems to be something many English expats find to be essential to their existence! Thankfully we can get Cheddar from Mercadona – a lifesaver for all those lasagnes. Do love the occasional trip to Morrisons for other goodies, though.

  7. rubypearlmt

    I wouldn’t have made it through this year without my girlfriends, either. Ever tried whisky-cheese night, or Debbie Does Christmas cookie decorating (the reason Debbie is involved is that once you’ve had a bit to drink, the cookies take on a slightly risque quality. While hysterical, you may want to be careful about passing them on to children. Or to someone to whom you are not married.)

    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      Love your ideas for girls’ nights, Ruby – the risqué cake decorating sounds like fun. The whole cupcake thing is just taking off here, since it takes us a while to catch up. I think I’d go for vodka and smoked fish, not being a whisky drinker, though not much of the latter here in Spain. Or sherry and cheese, of course. Lots of great inspiration for some entertaining evenings.

  8. Kate Dengra

    After reading this I beleive that if I lived in Seville you and I would be good friends! you seem to live a life very similar to my own and have the same opinions! I too live in Andalucia (coming up to 9 years) and I am married to a Spanish man! and have a half Andalucian little boy! we are planning to move Almeria way next year thoughas there simply is nothing here in our remote cave land and we need a bit more ‘activity’ for a small family.
    The only thing I couldnt live without as well as all your mentions is calpol (can’t get my little monster to take the spanish equivalent)…..and Etsy… husband has been out of work 4 years and it is only thanks to Etsy that I have made enough money to be able to exsist!

  9. Andrew Forbes

    Love this piece – and your children’s pictures! That wifi radio looks neat – I miss Radio 4 just mumbling away in the background. Don’t listen to it, but it was always nice to have the voices as a subtle soundtrack to a day working at home. Now it’s that darn Salvame at lunchtime!!

    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      Thanks Andrew – I was bizarrely grabbed by Salve Deluxe at the mil’s the other night (still no TV here), with all the streeeeetched 50-somethings having a “discussion” about Pantoja’s twat of a son. Then I saw him on the cover of a gossip mag wearing a Tshirt saying “F*** ME I’M FAMOUS”, and suddenly I remembered why I hate the prensa rosa and the Z-list sub-celeb culture.

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  11. Seychellesmama

    What a fantastic post this is!! It’s amazing the things that we need to have in order to stay sane in our expat lives isn’t it!?
    Can so relate to the paperwork thing, bureaucracy here is a joke too….everyone said to us before we moved here that in regards to stuff like that Seychelles is very much like 1970s UK and despite not being born then I think that they are right!!
    Kids TV is totally trash here too, we currently don’t have satellite though but we download stuff we like!
    Love the drawings for everything they are adorable!!
    Thank you so much for linking this fab post with #myexpatfamily blog link up 🙂