This post was originally published in 2012. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.
Although I’ve only been to Spain a couple of times, I’ve enjoyed the unique attitude, food, lifestyle, and culture. And Seville (in southern Spain) has its own identity within the realm of all things Spanish.
So when Karen McCann (award-winning journalist and author) and her husband Rich moved to Seville full-time in 2004 after visiting Seville for a few years, you’d better believe a book came out of the experience.
Dancing in the Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad is a light, entertaining, and insightful peek into what it’s like to move abroad to Seville and immerse in a country and culture that is foreign to what we are accustomed.
See also: The Irony of Expat Life – Pros and Cons
I was quickly caught up in the well-woven stories, and I laughed out loud more than a few times; the acid test of a good book for me.
Although it’s far from a how-to style of book, there’s a lot to be learned and McCann’s vision is to help others follow in her footsteps. In an interview on her site, she said:
“I want to demonstrate that living abroad isn’t as difficult as many people think. People often say they wish they could live the way I do. While some truly can’t, due to career, family or other circumstances, often the only real barrier is that they can’t imagine how to go about it. I wrote Dancing in the Fountain to give people ideas about how it can be done and what fun it can be.”
I think the best way to illustrate McCann’s writing style and some of the topics covered in Dancing in the Fountain is to provide some short excerpts from the book that caught my eye as I read.
On Moving Abroad
We’ve all read articles about how to keep your brain’s synapses firing by doing Sudoku, taking up knitting, or going bird watching, but frankly, I find life in a foreign country to be a far more interesting and effective way to stay sharp. -page 14
Moving to a foreign city is an opportunity to reinvent yourself that rarely exists outside of the witness protection program. –page 91
When people ask me what I miss most about living in America, I always say it’s my family and friends, because of course I do, and besides, if you don’t say that, everyone thinks you are totally heartless. But to be perfectly honest, what really springs to mind is how much I miss Saran Wrap.
Living abroad, the first thing you give up is the ability to go on automatic pilot. Even the simplest daily activities, such as preserving a half lemon or buying basic household tools, require ingenuity and fortitude. –page 183
I especially identify with this; which is part of why I was happy to “just be” in Switzerland, and why one of my favourite things to do when I travel is spend time in a supermarket.
Seville’s Probing Communication Style
I am often gobsmacked by the highly personal and/or utterly impossible questions our Spanish friends put to us, such as “How old are you?” and “Have you gained weight?” and “Who do you think is prettier, me or my daughter?” They expect an answer; evasions are considered bad manners. Once my hairdresser asked “You don’t have any children. Is it because you don’t want them or can’t have them?” This was a bit forward, even for a Spanish woman, but it did lead to a discussion more interesting than the comparative merits of mousse versus hair spray. –page 183
American friends often object to siestas by saying that napping during the day makes them groggy; worse, they’re worried it could prevent them from sleeping properly that night. Until I moved to Spain, I had never noticed how fearful we all are in the US about not getting sufficient sleep. –page 79
I may be Canadian, but I’m guilty as charged on this front.
The basic daily structure and routines are dramatically different in Spain to many other countries. I observed some of those differences when I visited Spain myself.
I have rarely, if ever, heard a Sevillano complain about lack of sleep. The general attitude seems to be, “Oh well, it was worth it.” They assume they will survive some short-sleep nights without any trouble, so they do. I’ve adopted a similar attitude, and if my energy is at a lower ebb than usual, I take comfort from the fact that thanks to the siesta, I only have to keep up the momentum of my day for seven hours at a stretch, not fourteen or sixteen. –page 80
Daily Life and Festivals in Seville
“But what do you do all day?” Friends from America are always asking.
One of the reasons I love Seville is that nobody who lives there would ever dream of posing such a question. Whether they’re working, going to the university, raising kids, on the public dole, retired, or in some less definable situation, the answer most Sevillanos would give is: “I just live.” But when I try to explain that to my American friends, they find it very unsatisfactory indeed. “But really,” they persist, “what do you do? How do you fill your time?”
It’s not hard to fill your time in a city as devoted to public celebrations as Seville. The year is studded with them, like skyrockets exploding one after another, each one so brilliant it eclipses everything else. And the longer I live in Seville, the more I find I am steering the course of my life by these bright lights on the horizon. –page 168
Although I’ve had some highly varied medical experiences around the world, I actually found the care (and cost) of visiting a doctor in the US was among the better experiences I’ve had. But that was before I read about Seville’s free house calls.
Spain…has universal health coverage for its citizens, and the primary care is excellent. First of all – are you sitting down? – they make house calls. All the time. Without a fuss. It’s routine. The winter after we sold the house in Ohio and bought the cottage in California, I developed a bad case of bronchitis, and after I’d spent four days in bed, Rich phoned our Sevillano health care providers. They said they would send someone out in two hours. Exactly two hours later, a physician showed up at our door carrying his little black bag. I think the last time that happened in the US was during the Eisenhower administration. The doctor examined me right there in my own bed, gave me a diagnosis, prescribed medicine, and departed. No money changed hands; I think they may have done an automatic debit of my bank account for five euros. –page 157
No one here has to be reminded to stop and smell the roses. Every spring, when Seville’s orange blossoms fill the air with the sweet scent known as azahar, everyone goes around sniffing and smiling for weeks. –page 207
I think that travel in general teaches us to take ourselves off auto-pilot and appreciate our surroundings. In so doing we learn a lot and redefine our priorities. To relocate to a place where stopping to smell the roses is a way of being and not just ubiquitous phrase, is very special indeed.
Thanks, McCann, for the reminder.
I received a free copy of Dancing in the Fountain for review. All opinions expressed are my own.