Understanding the Hosting Culture: The Challenge for Spaniards in Scotland

Scotland is one of the most popular destinations for Spanish emigrants. Although the media usually points to the 2008 economic crisis as the main cause of this migratory phenomenon, the reality is that lots of Spaniards were already arriving in Scotland before that date.


 Andrea Vega Redondo

15 years ago Nuria came to Edinburgh from Madrid. Since then, she has seen Polish and Spanish communities settle in the capital city. With her studies in Scottish Law she has created a public service, the Spanish Information Point (Punto de Información en Español, PIE).

[cml_media_alt id='1839']ELREC[/cml_media_alt]

This is a free service where legal and occupational advice is offered to Spanish-speaking people. Her initiative is supported by a local entity, the Edinburgh and the Lothians Equality Regional Council (ELREC), which promotes social integration. Nuria’s personal experience in Scotland is really valuable for this service. Her purpose is to make all legal resources available online so the users can be independent to make their own arrangements.

Cosmopolita Scotland interviewed Nuria to understand, in a nutshell (1), how PIE works. We asked her about her own experiences of being immigrant and the challenges for the cultural integration of the Spanish-speaking community in Scotland.

What does the Spanish Information Point (PIE) offer to the users?

[cml_media_alt id='1841']PIE[/cml_media_alt]

The PIE attends and gives advice as a primary contact to all Spanish-speaking people living in Scotland. The aim is to favour these people’s current life conditions. To accomplish this we give legal advice with online and face-to-face consultancy.

One of our fundamental objectives is to develop the independence of Spanish-speaking immigrants. For this reason we are building a website to give relevant information for their legal needs. I recommend them to visit our blog available at: piescotland.org

One of our fundamental objectives is to develop the independence of Spanish-speaking immigrants.

What brought you to Scotland?

My idea was to finish my degree and come here just for a year to learn English so, when I would come back to Madrid, I had that language skill on my CV and I could seek for a better job. At that time I didn’t have anything better to do. But I must say that I left a job in Madrid to come here. Then it started to go better but the beginnings are always hard. I was literally mute and deaf for 3 months.

How were the first years for you?

In general, it wasn’t excessively hard. I found a job in a week and accommodation in 5 days. Besides, the Scots usually went to Benidorm on holidays so they associate me with their vacation spot. I seemed sympathetic to them. There was a cool atmosphere.

When you first arrived, what were your first challenges ?

Undoubtedly, the language. If you can’t understand the language you wouldn’t be able to know how this country works. It’s the most basic tool for survival. That’s why if you stick yourself to the Spanish-speaking ghetto your life standards wouldn’t improve.

It’s like playing Super Mario, and not being able to level up. You will get stuck in the same level the 25 years you will be here. If you want to move forward you need to communicate. This is the first and the biggest barrier for integration.

If you know local jokes and a bit of Scots (the traditional English dialect in Scotland) they will be open to you.  At the end of the day (2) Scottish are really sweet and friendly.

If you want to move forward you need to communicate. This is the first and the biggest barrier for integration.

How did you overcome the linguistic barrier?

With a lot of dedication. To manage the language is basic so you have to study and practice it as much as you can. Since I decided I would stay I understood I should do the same things that I used to do in Spain. If I’d like to see the TV or read books I should learn the native language. I was working in the mornings and studying intensive night courses for a whole year. So I could carry on with a normal life. In other words, to be able to be an active citizen in the society, which I am part of.

The Big Debate in UK: Immigrants’ Access to Benefits

[cml_media_alt id='1853']UKIP[/cml_media_alt]

In the recent electoral debate for Westminster elections, it seems that there is a general opinion shared by UKIP, Conservatives, Labour and Liberals about cutting back access to benefits for immigrants. Is it even harder now than ever for immigrants to enjoy these?

Access to benefits is now more complicated for everybody, not just for immigrants. And this especially affects the working class. When I arrived the requirements  were exactly the same for immigrants and locals. It is true that the language barrier has always been there. This has meant that on many occasions, qualified people had to work as house or care assistants. Because they don’t have enough language competency to work in their field.

If you begun in this country at that time you had equal conditions than someone who had just finished university with no working experience. Because what was really important was your working abilities and learning capacity. In fact, having just one degree might not be enough to work. But that was before.

Access to benefits is now more complicated for everybody, not just for immigrants.

When the access to benefits changed for the immigrants?

From my perspective there are two phenomena: the massive immigration UK has received from Poland since this country joined the EU and the rising of the Euro-sceptical party UK Independence Party (UKIP), in south England mostly.

Could you tell us how the Polish immigration has been perceived in Scotland?

Unlike England Scotland has traditionally been an emigrant nation. You can easily find Scottish communities all over the English-speaking world. Especially in Canada, Australia and South Africa.

Anyway, people from all over the Commonwealth have always come here. And generally speaking, immigration was not perceived as a problem because they came gradually, creating new working opportunities.

Here in Scotland the strong debate in the last few years has been about immigration and it all started with the massive arrival of the Polish citizens. The intensity and the speed of this arrival generated a new perception of the immigrant communities. I wouldn’t say it was the dominant opinion, but definitely it was new.

In 2004 Poland was a poor European country. Immigrants came in a similar way that Spanish immigrants went to central Europe in the 60’s. The fact that you’re leaving your family behind  living in poverty makes you work hard to send them money. There was something of this in this new immigrant population.

In a country where efficiency is highly valued but the working rhythm is more relaxed (more human oriented) the sacrifices and extreme stretch of working were shocking for locals.

Quickly a negative perception from part of the Scottish society emerged. They identified Polish people as direct competitors in the working market. That’s the reason why some media and political parties started to ‘make’ a problem out of the migratory phenomenon.

Here in Scotland the strong debate in the last few years has been about immigration and it all started with the massive arrival of the Polish citizens.

Did the ‘anti-immigration speech’ focused on the Polish communities?

Yes. I remember a day in 2006 when I was in a park in Leith with a Spanish friend. The two of us were sitting down on a bench talking. Then suddenly, some teenagers heard us speaking and they realized we weren’t speaking English. So they threw stones at us while screaming ‘Polish!’ That’s something I had never experienced in Edinburgh. Sometimes someone heard you speaking something that was not English and assumed you were Polish.

But generally speaking with Italians, Spanish and French the discrimination is different. Rather paternalistic. Everyone works with stereotypes. But, anyway discrimination exists.

[cml_media_alt id='1840']Nigel Farage[/cml_media_alt]
Nigel Farage

There are some immigrant associations that argue that UKIP is pushing other parties to have more restriction on the entry of new immigrants to the UK. What do you think?

Exactly, the promotion of the UKIP, especially since 2012, had an impact on the immigration politics (that have its origins in London). Until that date the Conservative party was relaxed but with Nigel Farage’s ideas arising they started to use the ‘anti-immigration speech’ to stop that. These immigration politics have been created this past few years.

How did the impact of the UKIP’s immigration speech affect the Scottish society?

I think the fact that Scotland has its own parliament makes these political proposals about immigration arrive with less strength. Actually, in my opinion, I believe this debate contributed to the division between England and Scotland favouring the way to the independence referendum. Anyway, the recession discourse has some impact on Scotland’s politics.

Scotland’s Spanish Community

A recent sociological study points out that there has been a very strong intensification of Spanish immigration in Edinburgh since 2010. How have you perceived this emigrational movement? Has it changed since then?

Possibly the objectives with which they came before, and therefore the attitudes and psychological profile, were different. Before you came for adventure or to learn the language. Like a restless option to acquire a new life experience and learn another way of doing things. There were people who came to study and now there are more people who have completed their studies and come to work.

Since 2008, many people who came were forced by the economic crisis in Spain.  Maybe a majority of them came without a fixed plan, and perhaps many of them were already unwilling to integrate into the local culture.

In this respect, I have to make a point: the large majority of Spanish immigrants come from middle class backgrounds. It is important to underline this when we talk about economic exile, because it doesn’t represent the working class, which has neither the cultural or economic means to realize this option.

Finally, there is a very small percentage, especially people who already were over 40s, who are committed to study with all the supports that are available here and they do it. I know two or three people the same age as me who have studied nursing.

In this respect, I have to make a point: the large majority of Spanish immigrants come from middle class backgrounds.

Do you see involvement in Scottish politics by the Spanish immigrants?

No, there isn’t. We are very few. Maybe it’s because people are coming now for less time so they still want to fight in Spain. Because they want to go back home.

When you’ve been here more than three years, European laws recognize you as a resident. Then local policies are the ones that affect you, not the Spanish ones. People who have been here for a long time are more involved though. There are even people who are members of a political party in their constituencies.

In my case I’m involved in different neighbourhood assemblies, I prefer this type of initiative. But the reality is that there are not many Spanish people involved.

Challenges for Cultural Integration

Which barriers do you think are the most common for the cultural integration of the Spanish immigrants in Scotland?

As I’ve said before the first barrier, and the most intense and permanent in time, is language. You also have to make yourself strong enough. You need to understand that you will be leaving aside a part of your cultural personality of your home country and accept new things from the host country.

Everyone has to understand what cultural discrimination really means.  In a new country, you need to change and it’s up to you to whether you want this to happen, and to what extent. It’s very difficult to find the right balance.

In my case my cultural identity is shared in two halves: one Spanish and the other Scottish. If I’m in Madrid more than a fortnight I feel Edinburgh is “home” and I want to go back.

You need to get it right and this is very difficult. Why did you come here? What you want to achieve and where you’re going? You need clear objectives.

Do you think that is the main barrier for cultural integration self-imposed?

Yes, absolutely. But, it’s normal. You are alone in a new place. The meaning of loneliness changes and acquires a new dimension. In the first year, which is the hardest, you experience the language barrier, which enhances loneliness. These are not self-imposed but real barriers. But what comes after that, if you do not integrate yourself it is totally up to you.

In that first year the PIE can help you. I can translate, I can make you a letter, if you have any problems at work I can try to explain how you can solve them. I can make you a little psychological profile of the mentality between employee and employer in this country. It turns out, quite often, that Spaniards are more suspicious than we should be with our employers. We are used to being cheated in Spain. But in Britain, generally speaking, the relationship between employer and employee is much more straightforward. On many occasions, conflicts between managers and Spanish employees are created just because British don’t understand Spaniards. Spanish workers often react with suspicion and automatically attack. Then a surrealistic working dispute takes place.

One thing I highly recommend is to watch TV so you know the country where you are and you understand better the British and Scottish character. The way they laugh at themselves.

One thing I highly recommend is to watch TV so you know the country where you are and you understand better the British and Scottish character. The way they laugh at themselves.

Finally, what do you think is really needed for genuine cultural integration?

For cultural integration we need to be fully aware of what international solidarity means. Class-consciousness has been disappearing. If the banks (that are the new government) give you three mortgages, two loans and you have two cars and a house with a pool even if you are a carpenter you don’t have the feeling of being part of the working class. You will automatically be unlinked from your neighbour who is supposed to lend you a hand.


Use of English for Spanish Speakers

(1) In a nutshell

  • Translation: En pocas palabras
  • Example: (…) has interviewed Nuria to understand, in a nutshell , how the Spanish Information Point works.

(2) At the end of the day

  • Translation: Literally,  Al final del día. Figuratively: en el fondo/al final/a fin de cuentas…
  • Example: At the end of the day Scottish are really sweet and friendly.
  • Comment: Although the literally translation would be “al final del día” a good translation in Spanish is “a fin de cuentas”

Autor: Andrea Vega Redondo

Profesional de medios audiovisuales afrontando nuevos retos en Escocia

Audiovisual media professional facing new challenges in Scotland.

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