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Facultad de Derecho
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Recortes de Prensa

Going Clubbing

Sur in English, 27| 03 | 2009 - Noticia

Charles Betty and a colleague at the University of Malaga have recently completed the second of two studies, the first in 2000, which look at the lifestyle, attitudes, resources, integration and fears ex-pats of pensionable age. In this second study, Charles was particularly interested in the importance of social clubs and took his sample group from members of clubs and societies in the Benalmádena area.

Questionnaires were sent out which asked about aspects of the life-styles of British retired residents and non-residents. In Benalmádena, the British represent 11 per cent of the population and the study concentrated on the 55 - 91 age group, with the largest number between 60-79 (77 per cent). Of those surveyed 63 per cent were female and 68 per cent were couples.

At the heart of the study was the influence and importance of British social clubs in the daily lifestyle of retirees and how they felt they integrated into their local community. The five clubs in the study have a combined membership of over 1,500 people.

Help and friendship

Retiring to a new country means a complete life change, not only do you suddenly have enormous amounts of leisure time, you have to cope with a whole raft of new ideas and, of course, the language, all of this usually without the support of family. Most retirees come as part of a couple, but, with women still tending to outlive men, current figures show a higher number of older people living alone.

It is very clear that social networks have an important, indeed critical role, especially for retirees leaving family in Britain. One comment was, “I don’t know what I would do without my club. I would feel isolated.” This illustrates one of the biggest concerns expressed by fourth age retirees, that of loneliness, a problem that is most likely to increase. Social interaction was believed to be a crucial element of club membership with members commenting on the range of social activities such as eating out at Spanish restaurants, sports, visits to theatres and local fiestas which were regarded as a staple part of their retirement environment. A composite opinion of the availability of, and attendance at, cultural events is neatly summed up by Katy aged 80 years who remarked: “Spain offers a variety of interesting and evocative cultural events which add enormously to our retirement. The theatre in nearby Fuengirola founded and maintained by English speaking residents advertises a wide range of shows. There is something for everyone. Access to exhibitions and talks are available for people who enjoy this kind of culture. In many ways my life here is richer than in the UK.”

One of the most eagerly anticipated social and friendship events were club outings. Almost 97 per cent had visited many places in Andalucía, and 92 per cent had also travelled to other regions of Spain. Club outings presented occasions when friendships could be strengthened, or new ones made. For retirees these events provided a secure and hassle free way to explore their newly adopted country.

The meetings themselves become a forum for debate and discussion about the challenges of retirement in a foreign country. There is a ready exchange of experiences and the fact that nearly a third of the sample are members of more than one club seems to indicate a need, not only for companionship, but also for the acquisition of knowledge and information. This has become of particular relevance in the present economic climate with many clubs arranging special events with guest speaker who can address tax and pension issues.

Meeting the locals

The vast majority of retirees want to involve themselves in some way in the community and the relaxed retirement lifestyle in Spain gives ample free time and fiestas are the certainly the most popular event enjoyed by retirees. Seventy-one per cent believed that they were worth attending and provided an insight into local culture and a good and useful way to integrate (however briefly) with the local community.

Past studies have suggested that British retirees isolate themselves from the local community consciously or sub-consciously, creating barriers to effective integration. The questionnaires and interviews showed that any meaningful communication between the retirees and Spaniards is minimal. Interviews with local people such as municipal civil servants, lawyers and business owners confirms this view, and suggests that, apart from simple greetings, there is little verbal contact because of lack of language skills. Yet surprisingly more retirees than expected said that they had Spanish friends. There are social occasions when retirees can meet Spanish people, but usually on a peripheral level. Members of social clubs are mainly British people, although in some clubs there are other English speaking Europeans. Some retirees acknowledge the problems of communication. Albert aged 72 years wrote: “There is a real need for better communication with Spanish people and many of us who have attended Spanish classes have little or no opportunity to talk with local people.” Brenda aged 74 years said: “The Spanish people are usually very friendly, but object to the English not to speaking much Spanish.” Unfortunately, older individuals find it very hard to get to grips with the Spanish language.

Frustrations

Some of those interviewed commented that they felt inadequate and frustrated because they cannot speak Spanish and only 15 per cent said that they were reasonably fluent or fluent Spanish speakers. Most people were unable to carry out a rewarding conversation with the local people. However, 72 per cent have made the effort to try and learn the language, but most gave up as the lessons were generally considered to be too difficult especially by older people because they felt unable to absorb the intricacies of grammar and tenses.

Kay aged 64 years said, “The town hall classes are too big. At least twenty-eight in a class with eight different nationalities. The teacher did not give us everyday language, but insisted on us learning lists of grammar and verbs.” What most people wanted was to be fairly proficient in colloquial Spanish without necessarily being grammatically correct. This view was expressed by Frank aged 72 years who wrote, “My attempt to learn Spanish was at times annoying and frustrating. I couldn’t retain grammar and when I said I would like to learn more everyday Spanish, which would help me to speak in simple language, the teacher merely shrugged his shoulders.” Others suggested more groups where British and Spanish people could learn together and said they would welcome the opportunity to mix with Spanish people who are trying to learn English and help each other. It seems that language schools and other providers of Spanish classes need to gear their teaching to what older retirees want rather than assume that teaching techniques suitable for young people also apply to the more mature student.

Undoubtedly, language will always be one of the biggest hurdles for British retirees in Spain, but by being part of a social network there is less chance of the depression and isolation that might otherwise result.

Meeting of Minds

Although not everyone is a “joiner” for those that are there is no doubt that clubs provide valuable opportunities to extend social networks and forge new friendships and for many provide a reassuring lifeline, without which their lives would be poorer. Members share experiences and gain fresh insights into possible problems and solutions, thus helping them to settle in a new and challenging environment. As was stressed by those spoken to in the Foreign residents departments of the Town Halls, (Sur in English March 6th) the clubs do have an important role to play. They are dynamic and respond to the wishes of members by providing a valuable everchanging range of activities which help to integrate people into the local British community, and hopefully into Spanish society. They also have a vital role in creating an extended family for retirees, providing a mutual support network in difficult times and helping to prevent the shadow of loneliness that can so often haunt old age.

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