Little Britain

I was invited by some English people I know to accompany them on ‘The British expat shopping trip’ to Benidorm. Apparently this happens 3-4 times per year for British expats from the area around Valencia to travel down to the Mecca of British food stores on the southern coast. I’m not much of a ‘Motor coach’ type person. I’ve been on a few excursions that involved motor coaches since we’ve been here. But the locations need to be something I’m genuinely interested in – like cheese making or olive oil. So I usually avoid that kind of thing. I like a train. Why would I need a coach?

The prospect of this British shopping trip reminded me of when Jeff surprised aka shocked me with an Alaska cruise. The only exotic part of this was that instead of leaving on a boat from Seattle, where we lived at the time, we flew up to Vancouver Canada – a 45 minute flight. All to embark on what they called the ‘Newly Weds and Nearly Deads Adults only’ cruise. After telling me that we were taking this trip (sadly, it was already paid for) I wondered if the ‘nearly dead’ part wasn’t foreshadowing of things to come after I killed him for taking me on this little excursion.

We were, by decades, the youngest people on the boat. At dinner I was the only one who hadn’t brought my fox stole. I was not happy until one of our shore excursions included going salmon fishing with two old Mexican guys, with whom we went pub crawling afterwards in Juneau. But that’s a story for another time.

So when I was invited on this Benidorm thing I told Jeff about it – sure I would not be attending.

‘You should go. It might be like the Alaska cruise. You might surprise yourself.’

I wondered if perhaps he was thinking he’d be buying himself a day alone. So I said I was in. Getting on the bus, it was clear that the average age was elderly school teacher. I was the only person with all their original teeth and the only person not born in the British Isles. I was like an exotic animal in a zoo. Everyone wanted to know who I was.

It took about 2 hours to get down the coast, with two stops for the bathroom at lay-bys on the highway. These weren’t at rest areas. The bus emptied out and everyone piled off for a bathroom break and food. Seriously, two stops where food and drink needed to be consumed by the 60+ people on the coach. I wondered if perhaps they should enlist a physician next time to test the participant’s blood sugar.

We finally crested a hill and Benidorm came into view. My first impression? Holy Crap! That’s the ugliest horror show of a city I’ve ever seen! Las Vegas is prettier than Benidorm and Vegas is a nightmare.

Benidorm is a city on the Costa Blanca – White Coast – on Spain’s southern Mediterranean coast. From there it heads south to the Costa del Sol, and it doesn’t get much better. Benidorm is a city for holiday makers – that’s what it was designed for and the buildings are like what our future settlements on Mars will look like. Out of place, garish monstrosities that the Martians will hate us for. An uglier collection of massive high rise monoliths in one town, I have never witnessed.

They drove us past the initial urban area to head to the British store. This is in a warehouse and is chock full of everything the English miss about living in Spain. Brown sauce (gravy in Americanese) of every stripe. Curry this, and curry that. Chutney. Steak and kidney pie. And Yorkshire pudding by the mile. Did I purchase things? Yes, I did. I could get some drain cleaner in a brand I knew would work (we’d been having issues). And I bought some other stuff like spices I couldn’t get easily in Valencia.

I spent enough money that they gave me a free coupon for a full English breakfast on a future visit, to be used within the next 2 weeks. Since that wasn’t going to happen I approached a couple in the cafe outside. They were dressed in clothes I didn’t know you could purchase in this century. Were it me, I probably would have put on a bit more clothing to go to the grocery store. But whatever. I asked them, in Spanish, if they would like my free card. They looked dumbfounded.

‘No Espanol’ the wife said. Then she turned to her husband. ‘She’s trying to sell me something on that card but I don’t know what it is.’ All in a thick Northern English accent.

That stopped me in my tracks. ‘I’m not trying to sell this to you.’ I told her. ‘I can’t use the free breakfast so I wondered if you’d like to have it.’

She took it from me without a word and whispered to her husband, like I couldn’t hear her. ‘American.’

We piled back into the coach with our walkers and the like, and headed to lunch in the center of Benidorm. The place is Little Britain. All the signs are in English. And the people are an appropriate color of persimmon. They’re either red from the sun or bright orange from the spray tan they sprang for before boarding their EasyJet flight from Manchester. We had been booked into a local restaurant for the menu del dia. But we had to get out own drinks at the bar. I took The drinks order for everyone at my tables and went to collect them.

I spoke to the bar owner in Spanish – a large, red faced man in a rugby shirt. He looked confused so I repeated our order.

‘Say whot? Lo sieno, mate. I don’t speak Spanish.’

The bar owner in a Spanish city – I repeat – THE BAR OWNER doesn’t speak Spanish. So I turned to one of the two clearly Spanish guys working next to him and placed the order in Spanish. They both smiled at me. Is my Spanish total shite? Yes, it is. But, even today I gave it a go at Jeff’s Dr. appointment. We try, and then we try some more. How else will we get better?

We finished our meal and loaded back up in the motor coach for our final stop at an Iceland on the way back. This was in an urbanizacione nearby, filled with Brits. Iceland is a store – I think owned by the British Whole Foods-ish store, Waitrose, since all the stuff is festooned with their brand. I bought some things for baking, like flavorings for cookies. Some cards for Anniversaries and Birthdays. And they had an English book section so I loaded up on books. I could have outfitted myself with everything I would have needed for a full English country Christmas – Christmas crackers, the works, but I declined.

Getting back in the coach, I couldn’t wait to get back to Valencia. Where real people live. I’ve encountered boorish Brits in Spain and written about it here. But it stretched even my sense of credulity that someone would move to another country, buy a business in that country as public as a restaurant, and then not learn the language. I raised this issue with my friends.

‘He doesn’t have to learn Spanish. He lives in Benidorm.’ They told me. As though I was an idiot for not understanding that.

‘But he lives in Spain.’ I reminded them.

‘Benidorm isn’t really Spain. It’s like Blackpool with better weather.’

And there you have it. The height of entitlement and colonialism wrapped up in one simple sentence. I’ve been invited to go back on the next shopping trip. Sadly – not really – we’ll be safely back in the US for the entire month of December so I’ll miss the enticement of ‘real Christmas pudding after lunch’. Galica is looking better and better.

6 thoughts on “Little Britain

    • I had never heard of it before going there. The Brits I know in Valencia don’t really like it either, except to get specialty items from home. I kind of think there is a class thing about it – at least from the way they disparage those who go to Benidorm as holiday makers. Like they’re glad they can afford not to live there. Its interesting.

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    • Benidorm really is horrible. And its sad. Its more the lack of respect for the culture of the country in which we are all standing that can drive me crazy. Even my British friends here in Valencia both complain about it in their fellow countrymen and then will sometimes do it themselves. If I say something about it they’ll always own up to it sheepishly,. Apparently there have been actual ethnographic studies done about the British and Dutch in Benidorm. And others on the impact on the culture of the region.

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