The brighter side of life in Spain

It's unlikely to have escaped your notice that Spain hasn't been getting the most positive coverage in the international press recently. Many newspapers and other media outlets in the UK, the USA and elsewhere have been focussing, understandably, on the economic challenges faced by President Rajoy's government, and the effects of these straightened times on those living here in Spain, including the sizeable expat community. Headlines about debt, bail-outs, banks - all bad news. For example, I was contacted a few weeks ago by a documentary maker who wanted to talk to down-on-their-luck British expats who had found work in Spanish factories. As I don't know anyone who fits that description - all my British friends are lucky enough to be in work - I passed him on to a contact on the coast who has a much wider and more varied circle of expat acquaintances than me, since she works directly with the expat community. Said Feisty Expat gave him "a 50-minute ear-bashing" about how she was sick of people approaching her to do negative stories about the expat community in Spain, explaining that this wasn't the only available viewpoint. It seems that some people in less-economically-battered Britain - especially journalists on certain publications, and the more gullible readers - assume we're all living on the breadline, at the end of our tethers, about to sell up and jump on the next plane home. As many of you reading this will know, that is simply not true. Times are hard, but many of us have been here for 10, 15, 20 years or more, are settled with families and businesses, and will stick it out. Several months back, with this in mind, one of the most pro-active members of the online British expat community started a hashtag on Twitter (tweets with a theme prefaced by #) called #spainis, encouraging others to add their positive views, comments and images. This managed to trend on Twitter - in other words so many tweeters took part that #spainis became a hot emerging topic for discussion, with messages about the brighter side of living in Spain reaching thousands of other tweeters. Then, a few days ago, the New York Times published a series of black and white photographs (which intrigued me, I'll admit), entitled: "In Spain, Austerity and Hunger". While admirable in terms of their composition and technical quality, the subjects of these photographs were disturbing: families waiting to be evicted from their apartments; living in an abandoned factory; looking through rubbish bins for food; eating at soup kitchens; queuing for hand-outs at food banks; as well as protesting at anti-government rallies (they even managed to find some skinny demonstrators); and roads stretching to nowhere in half-built developments. They were highly arresting images designed to shock the viewer. The report was subtitled: "Spain Recoils as Its Hungry Forage Trash Bins for a Next Meal", which is both absurdly sensationalist and wildly misrepresentative, as I'm sure everyone reading this will agree. As educated people who either know, or live in, Spain, we are aware of the wholly unbalanced view which this report, and others, give to Spain. But for those Americans, and others, who know nothing other than what they read in the newspapers and see on TV, it is fact. And for the country's image abroad, in economic and touristic terms, this is Not Good. Which is why the Spanish newspaper, Ideal, has started a campaign asking people to use the hashtag #paraelNYTimes or, alternatively, email them images showing the brighter side of Spain, which they will then forward to the New York Times. Perhaps then this august and highly respected publication will start to show some journalistic balance in its reporting. Everyone can do their bit by sending photos showing that we're still alive, healthy and enjoying life here in Spain. Things may be tough, but we haven't lain down to die just yet.
Blog published on 4 October 2012