An Expats View Of Life In Nerja

Back in the day when the missus and me were putting rucksacks on our backs and catching early morning buses in order to save a dollar, we found ourselves checking into a lovely little guest house in the ancient city of Hue, which is about halfway up the eastern seaboard of the People’s Republic of Vietnam. It was the very early days of tourism in that country and we had gone there under our own steam in the hope of securing a “twinning” agreement on behalf of the People’s Borough of Newham. Hue sitting as it does on the banks of the beautifully named Perfume River, had what we thought was a lot in common with the ‘people’s borough’, sitting as it does on the banks of the River Lee.

Any- way, and what is more to the point, on arrival and after presentation of our passports to the young hotel receptionist, we were floored by his apparent command of the English language, and in particular by his question,

“Please can you tell me what is meant by the Past Pluperfect?”

“No,” we said

“But are you not the countrymen of Shakespeare? Is it not true that of all the western imperialists, you are proud more than any of your beautiful language and enjoy an educational system that even Uncle Ho desired us to emulate?”

“Are you sure you’re not thinking about the French?” we said.

“Uncle Ho was not keen on the French,” said he, “And I think you will find that your ‘Uncle Will’ was born in a place called Stratford, situated on the banks of the River Avon, which is in England, a place with which I hope one day, Hue may be “twinned”.

“There is also another place known as Stratford, situated on the banks of the River Lee,” we retorted, “which, unlikely as it may seem now, may, we hope one day, play host to a great international sports festival, perhaps making it worthy of you and your countrymen’s consideration”.

“You are in room number 12,” he said.

And very nice it was too for the money.

Twenty five years on, and the ignorance of my own language has once again revisited me, becoming an annoying hindrance to the learning of a another- Spanish!

I seem to be all right until teacher asks me to conjugate a verb in the preterit third person or the first person future. The second person perfect, the second person past perfect, the conditional, the present indicative, the present subjunctive and the pluperfect indicative or past perfect which are, I am informed, one and the same thing (wait for the correction letter to flood in). But what does all that mean? The words, though I imagine have their roots in the Latin or in the Greek do sound English to me, it’s just that I don’t remember ever hearing them before. What was I doing during my six years at Stepney Green’s School for Young Gentlemen? The conker season only lasted a few weeks at the most. It would seem that I need to learn my own language before I embark on learning another?


If you are considering the possibility of swelling our ranks here in Nerja you might easily be swayed by those who arrogantly espouse the lack of a need to learn the local lingo. It is fairly true that life here for those of us who happen to be one of the chosen people or who has had the good sense to learn our language, do have a reasonably easy ride when going about their day- to- day. If your only requirement is a glass of wine (Tinto o Blanco) or Beer (Grande o Pequeña) then you have nothing to fear but fear itself. If on the other hand, for example, you harbour the desire to run for public office in some capacity, buy a refrigerator (to keep the drinks in) or talk yourself out of a speeding fine, you may consider what to we British has been hitherto unthinkable. Learning another language!

Taking lessons in Nerja is easy. You can enrol at one of the several schools that run courses in the town. These can be a bit pricey but like Psychotherapy, the cost is a part of the cure. Alternatively, even in spite of these financially challenged times, the Ayuntamiento (“That’s your’ actual Spanish Parlez for council Mr. Orn”) offer Extranjeros (Foreigners) free lessons in the old Español (Spanish).

However, the way that I and many of us go about butchering Castilian is with one of the many private tutors who are willing to teach in small groups where the hourly charge is shared amongst all the pupils or, if you prefer, on a one -to -one basis, either in the comfort of your own home or in a mutually agreed hostelry. The advantage of this is of course obvious. With a drink inside you, and inhibitions gone, you don’t much care about making your self look silly when you are trying to count from one to ten. And then after the lesson you can engage the barkeep in deep meaningful conversations by way of practice. The one possible downside to this idea is, if you have a tendency to drink in order to forget, you may consider that this may not be a great help when trying to extend one’s vocabulary.

It is not a little annoying that when, while doing the weekly shop for example, you can hear six year olds who, thanks to their classmates are able to speak Spanish, English, German, all the Scandinavian languages and Gaelic. All, according to the experts learnt in the playground as just one language. It brings a tear to the eye and hope for the future when you hear little Jonny tell little Johan that according to his granddad, Bobby Moore was easily a better footballer than Franz Beckenbauer. In Spanish! But the secret to learning a language once past a certain age is to find ways to enjoy doing it. Banging your head against the wall just ruins the plastering and gets you denounced by the lady next door.

It is at this juncture that I will un-ashamedly make the equivalent of a typographical product placement.

The name Señor Profesor Eduardo Catz de Argentina may mean very little to you unless you are one of the 22,294 of us who live here in Nerja. A recently taken census of the town suggests that the good professor is known to approximately two thirds of that number. Many of them having been taught Spanish by him, many having been taught English by him, some of them having been taught conversational Yiddish by him and four who apparently were delivered by him. All of whom have at one time or another stood him in a small cerveza when required. Senor Profesor Eduardo de Argentina has his own indubitable method of teaching which is enjoyed and recommended by many. Stand outside the town hall and call his name and either he or someone who knows him will hand you his card. Of course there are a number of others like him possibly every bit as good but who I have yet to meet, possibly because they have had their drinks spiked, by a person or persons unknown, before being placed on a Steam Packet bound for the North African coast. We all have our own ways of dealing with the competition.

So if like me you are embarrassed by our fellow countrymen who criticize Jonny Foreigner for coming to old Blighty, stealing our jobs without even having the decency to learn the Queen’s English like what we had to do-, if you consider just putting an ‘O’ on the end of everything you say and speaking slowly is at the very least rather rude toward our neighbours and hosts, then come here, join a class and grasp the nettle. Just make sure you know your Antihistamines from your Abject Prolepses and you’ll be effluent inside a year.

Copyright © Daniel Kruyer

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