My time in Valencia has provided a stark contrast to our quiet life in Galicia. Especially at the start of Carnival.
Sitting in my hotel at night I heard the familiar eee-ooo-eee-ooo of the sirens as ambulances drove past. I haven’t heard that noise in a very long time. And the sound of a random marching band. Living in Valencia every neighborhood- practically every block – has their own marching band. Any given day or night is a good one for pro-cessing. With or without a litter containing a saint leading the way. And fireworks – petardos 🧨. Practically mandatory for any night in Valencia.
Things have changed in the past two years post-pandemic. More and more Americans are moving to Valencia. I heard American english everywhere. A hundred times more than before. I could pick them out on the sidewalk. Americans have a different way of walking. Of striding. They smile more and look strangers in the face. American couples, even in their 60’s and 70’s, hold hands walking together. You never ever see this amongst Spaniards of a similar age. Walking anywhere, with just a glance, I could play American or Not. Then just wait to hear their voices as they passed. I was always right.
I asked friends about it over lunch. Perhaps I was mistaken on my perception that Valencia is being over run by Americans post-pandemic, but they confirmed my assessment.
‘You are not wrong. Floods of Americans are moving here. They’ve sold up their expensive homes in the US and they come here with a lot of money. And the rents and cost of homes are going through the roof. Valencians can’t afford to rent or buy apartments anymore.’
‘Do you think there will be a backlash?’ I asked.
‘It’s already happening. People are angry. They talk about it in the newspaper. They’ve increased the wealth tax here, as other communities lower or eliminate it. The influx will change the way of life in Valencia. And the cost of everything will skyrocket, even more. Young Valencians won’t be able to buy a home.’
Spain is beginning to revaluate the Golden visa scheme. But they are adding a Digital Nomad visa. All this as Portugal just banned Golden visas. This visa allowed people who invested €500k in a business or property to gain immediate permanent residence without any mandatory in-country stays, as required for other visas. Basically, it encouraged wealthy people to come skip the queue. It has made home ownership out of reach for young Portuguese, as wealthy foreigners drive up prices.
We are glad we bought two years ago. We didn’t pay an exorbitant price for the property. It was within the range of average prices for homes of the same vintage with land and a barn. Americans who stopped at the food truck last year would sometimes ask after our farm. The bold might inquire, sheepishly, what we paid for it. They are blown away when I deign to answer.
‘Maybe we should think about moving to Spain.’
I never thought when we left the US that Spain would become so popular with Americans. There certainly weren’t many when we arrived in Valencia five years ago. And in Galicia there are even less. But, it seems Americans have discovered our little corner of the world since la pandemia. And the beauty of living here. I don’t know how to feel about it. Except when my neighbors down the road, who are going to NYC on Thursday, called to ask me today if they could use me as their American contact on their ESTA application. As I rattled off my US details, including my never used US mobile #, it struck me like a ton of bricks. Wait a minute! I almost forgot. As I mull the new tidal wave of Americans in Spain, oh yeah, I’m American, too! Oops! Since I haven’t been to the US in so long, I sort of feel I’m not really anything. Not Spanish, but not American, either. These fresh-off-the-boat new born American immigrants are not me. But, of course they are! I’m just a little more battle scarred than them. Perhaps a smidge wiser. I can call someone on the phone in español. Make a Dr appointment or make a dinner reservation. Talk to the Amazon driver. The lady at the bank or in a shop.
Chatting with my friends in Valencia over lunch, we each recounted the fog of the Covid years. How weird it feels to think of that time. The confinement, especially. How we each coped. The uncertainty and weird bonding we did with strangers on balconies across the road. People we got to know by sight every night, clapping. When a wave or a smile meant you were seen. Lets face it, the Covid years in Spain were like dog years. Instead of living here five years, it feels more like ten. These new people will never know what that felt like. To be a foreigner in the midst of such an overwhelming crises. When you barely knew Spanish, and what to do or how to get help on a normal day. Let alone in a pandemic without the support of family. Especially when a loved one is critically ill. When your neighbors and friends came to mean everything to you. Even if you couldn’t physically touch them or speak to them, they were a lifeline you couldn’t live without. Before the pandemic, the little boys next door would fight in the room next to Jeff’s office. It drove him crazy. But, after the confinement began, he counted on that noise, especially when I was in the hospital. Someone was over there. He wasn’t alone.
‘Let’s face it.’ Said my friend, Donna. ‘We are pack animals. We don’t do well without our pack.’
It’s only five more years and I can sit for my Spanish citizenship test. Then, with a Spanish passport in hand, I can legitimately complain about ‘these bloody foreigners’ just like everyone else😉. Until then, I’m just another American interloper who smiles too much, holds hands with my husband in town, and puts up temporary fences like I own the place – psst…I do. In the meantime, I’m happy to be The American Contact for any ESTAS that our little community needs. My contribution to our local pack. For now, that just will have to do.