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Madrid City in English
Wednesday 12th of December 2018
Maritza Mossberg 1304 1st of April 2013 by editor 1st of April 2013
Secret of success? Photo (CC) flickr: LearningLark
Ladies, love, and laments

The combination of travel and romance in Spain didn't begin with budget airlines. Maritza Mossberg speaks to members of Madrid’s British Ladies Association about love and life in the 1960s and 70s

Love! The word that makes or breaks our hearts. Many of us wouldn’t balk at the idea of finding romance in Spain, especially considering how attractive even the “average-looking” Spaniards are. Nowadays, it’s not unusual to jet off to foreign shores for work, travel or study, but during the 1960s and 70s travelling abroad was far more adventurous. To find out about romances in those decades, I chatted with some members of the long-established and wonderfully named British Ladies Association, to discover their stories.

Meet the girls
The group of eager tale-tellers is Jean, Jenny, Jenifer, Barbara, Julia and Susan, all from the UK. When they moved to Spain in the 1960s and 70s, motivations were mixed: for Jean and Jenny it was to learn the language, Jenifer moved here to teach English, Barbara was taking a year abroad to study for her degree course, and Susan was just looking to spend a couple of years away, which of course extended longer than planned. Julia was already married to a Spaniard in the UK: “He was my Spanish teacher. We had extra classes. Then I made him a trifle and it became much more serious!” she laughs. “In the end, work drew him back here and I came with him.”

Meeting the men
With the exception of Julia, the majority met their partners in Spain, but Jenny’s story spanned continents—she met her future husband in the UK; he was Spanish, but living in Venezuela and had been sent to the UK to learn English at the centre where she was teaching. “He went back to Venezuela,” she explains, “and we wrote, and then he returned to Spain and that was it!”
    Aside from spicy relationships connected with studies, meetings were often by chance. Jean’s London-based Spanish teacher had a friend in Madrid, who agreed to show her the city on a planned visit. Sparks obviously flew, and they were married within a year of knowing each other. Barbara crossed paths with her future husband by trying to find the Biblioteca Nacional. She asked a young man for directions; he introduced his friend, with whom she got on very well. They kept in contact when she returned to England to work for twelve months, and they married shortly afterwards.
    Susan met her husband-to-be via friends in Zaragoza. She reflects that when she used to visit him, she would be the only woman present; the other men had to take their girlfriends back to their parents’ home by 10pm. “At that time I was considered a foreigner, and that was associated with being ‘loose’, more liberal than the Spanish. It was 1974, and Franco was still in power. Men would sort of look at you if you wore a short skirt, a bit more than they do now,” she points out.

All relationships have their ups and downs, but moving to a new country meant a decrease in contact with loved ones in England, a language barrier, obvious cultural distinctions, and certain societal restrictions. 
    Jenny did not speak any Spanish upon her arrival. “Spain was, of course, very different when I came here,” she remarks, “in some ways a lot safer. Buildings used to have big locked doors. You would clap your hands for the sereno [nightwatchman] to come with a bunch of keys to open the door for you. Each sereno looked after a part of the street.” Jean comments that women could not hold hands in public with men, even if strolling in a park or travelling in a taxi. “If the taxi driver caught you, you could be threatened or taken to the police,” she adds.
    Jean and Barbara both agree that the biggest challenge was not the language, but the in-laws. “I had more differences with my mother-in-law than with my husband,” says Jean, “She criticised what I did because I did things in a different way.” Barbara’s in-laws were from the Canary Islands, so when they visited her, it wasn’t just for dinner, but for long periods of time.

Getting help around the house was very frustrating for Susan. “My husband had never had to take plates to the kitchen. The idea of doing things was just not considered,” she comments. All of the women agree. “My husband never changed a nappy! I didn’t have any help at all and I had three children,” Susan exasperates.
    With men often looking after finances, provision for the future could prove difficult. “Many women over the age of 50 may not have made enough of a payment to the government for a pension,” Jenifer explains, “and it can be a very big problem. I had assumed that my husband was making payments.” She eventually discovered that she would not receive a Spanish pension, but fortunately she was able to pay for a minimum pension with the British system at the time. The problem exists for men too: British and American friends have often left a good job at home to be with a Spanish novia or wife, and have found themselves losing out careerwise and eventually pensionwise.

The British Ladies stories suggest finding love in Madrid during the 1960s or 70s may not always have been the idyllic, romantic storyboard we imagine; but relationships are always complicated, and just as susceptible to the ‘mad’ in Madrid as the ‘pain’ in Spain.

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