A fair proportion of the people who read this blog are adventurous souls who have made some life changing decision, upped-sticks from whence they came and come to live in Seville, a new city, in a new country, away from all the things that brought familiarity, if not a little boredom to their existence. I salute you dear friends, because whatever your story, it’s taken courage and a great leap into the unknown.
But it’s hard at first. I´ve done it twice now, this moving to Spain lark, once when I was 22 and then at the age of 38, and both times it was tough. Everywhere you look there are large groups of people, laughing animatedly as they share fun times with their fellow guffawing companions, as you, a lone wolf, walks silently and unnoticed with a lump in your throat, back to your shared flat, lap top at the ready primed with your chosen website for watching TV series or movie streaming.
But little by little things fall into place. It takes time to make friendships, particularly if you don´t speak the same language as the majority of the population. I´ve done it both ways, not speaking a word of Spanish, and then second time round, with enough level to get by in most situations. But where ever you are on the Spanish-speaking-ometer, it´s still a tricky process to penetrate into Seville society.
So, just to make life that little bit easier for anyone new in town who finds themselves peering sadly through tapas bar windows at the happy faces within, here are my tips to start feeling like you belong.
1. Get a local breakfast hangout
I didn’t get it when I first arrived how essential to Seville society breakfasting out is. Apparently it’s a basic human right and at just over 2 euros for toast and a coffee, utterly affordable by most. People here are creatures of habit so tend to go to the same bar at the same time of day. So, smile, be nice, strike up conversations with the bar staff, or the old man who´s always there sitting at the end of the bar. Or whoever, it really doesn’t matter, but it will at least make you feel like people know you exist, plus there’s nothing better than starting the day with a friendly ‘Hola’ serving up a nice warm tostada, orange juice and coffee.
2. Take up a hobby
On the whole people knowing you exist front, attending something with some regularity is key, and a hobby be it salsa dancing, yoga, a running club, leaning how to Rollerblade, again it really doesn’t matter what the hell it is, but you want to do it with the same people at least once a week. For me in my first year in Seville it was Salsa classes and after a few weeks I had my own little salsa crew with social events throughout the week, should I have wished. Or you could try my favourite exercise crush Entreenate whose mix of outdoor exercise classes and fun guarantee some new friends.
3. Get an intercambio
As an English speaker you are much in demand. Due to the pure chance of being born a native English speaker, right now in Seville that makes you hot property. Everyone and I mean everyone is learning English, but they have very little chance to practise. There are organised language exchange events on offer in Seville, but more often than not, it´s 20 Sevillanos, a solitary Swede and a Russian. I have nothing against Sweden or Russia, but what our little Spanish friends really want is a real life native English speaker. So when one does occasionally pop up, they are immediately surrounded, which if you’re a new in town Norman-no-mates and haven’t had a conversation for while in any language, will at least fill that gaping hole of loneliness, at least for a couple of hours.
I would also recommend trying to meet up with someone regularly on a one-to-one basis, as is generally far more productive and pleasurable, both in terms of improving your Spanish and developing a long term friendship with someone.
4. Learn Spanish
It’s obvious, but vital. You need it, I’m sorry, but you do to have any faint chance of feeling part of the place you´re living. But be patient. It takes time and commitment, and classes. Don’t expect just to pick it up from listening to some tapes. Go to class, get an intercambio, speak to random strangers and try to enjoy.
Here are some academies offering Spanish classes:
5. Choose where you live and who you live with wisely
There’s a lot of dodgy accommodation in Seville, and some seriously strange people as well. It may be stating the obvious, but try and live with people who you think you might have something in common with. If you’re a student, don’t live with a 45 year-old woman with a cat and if you’re a 45 year-old woman avoid a house of Erasmus students. I struck gold when I first moved to Seville and shared a flat with a charming architect who’d himself lived abroad, and so without thinking twice he introduced me into his friendship group and many late nights of Ballentines and Coca Cola accompanied by drunken dancing.
Pick your area wisely. The centre is fun, a barrio more than half an hour walking from the centre probably isn’t. Most people start around the Alameda, Macarena or near to river. Triana is also a favourite, just make sure you’re not living in close proximity to a bar because you will never get a good night’s sleep again.
To find my first flatshare I used Easy Piso but there’s also SPOTAHOME a recently launched multi-media platform desgined to smooth the process of finding accommodation in the city. Perfect if you want to sort out somewhere to live before you arrive, it’s aimed at foreign students or people working away from home as they personally vets rooms outlining in fine detail the pros and cons of each apartment or house. You even get to see a rough and ready video of each apartment, however you don’t get to check out the property yourself in person before you book it. Prices look pretty reasonable, and seem to be somewhere between 200 – 350 Euros per room, depending on location and whether a single or double.
6. Hang out where the international Boho set go
There are two bars in Seville where if you go often enough, you´re bound to make friends. First there’s ‘Alfakeke‘ on Calle San Vicente. Pierre the owner’s French, he’s lived in the US, he understands what it means to be living away from home, and he’s a nice guy. And he’s managed to build up an international, friendly clientele who are warm and welcoming to the various waifs and strays who pass through its doors. Not far from Alfakeke is ‘Anima‘. An institution in the city’s nightlife, Anima plays hosts to twice weekly live music concerts on Thursday and Sunday evenings, where you often see the same friendly faces enjoying which ever happens to be the band of choice that particular evening.
7. Go Irish
Despite being half Irish, I’m not one to seek out the local Irish bar in town, but a lot of people do. And the main guys in Seville are ‘Merchants‘. They are the self proclaimed number one sports bar in Seville, but if rugby or some sport involving kicking or throwing a ball is your cup of tea, then Merchants is the place to watch it. Plus there will be other people of the same sport watching ilk congregating, which I assume must be fun.
If you want to take your Irishness even further, why not join the Gaelic football team. You don’t have to have any Emerald connection, or even necessarily any prowess at the sport, just be willing to turn up to practise on Sunday mornings near the Olympic Stadium.
8. Say yes
When I arrived in Seville I had decided to say ‘yes’ to anything and everything (within reason). One of the joys of living abroad is that you’re no longer confined by the social codes and norms of your country of origin. You can do whatever you want, with whoever you want. Be prepared to strike up unlikely friendships with people you might not have considered ‘suitable’ at home. Be open. Be free!
As a footnote, since writing this article a year ago, I have become familiar with the wonderful world of Tinder and just as a word of precaution, probably best not saying yes to everything here. Please use common sense and discretion.
9. Shop in your local fruit and veg shop or market
Buying fruit and veg in Seville is fun yet terrifying at the same time. If you’re learning Spanish, it probably tips more highly on the terrifying scale, but once you crack a smile from the lady serving your cebolla or she calls you ‘hijo/a’ (that’s son or daughter and a perfectly normal greeting in these parts) , you´re on your way to winning her over and having one more person who acknowledges your existence.
10. Talk to strangers
A good friend of mine from the UK, who shall remain nameless, felt so lonely one Saturday night as he wandered the streets of Madrid, that he followed a bunch of English people who were obviously going to a house party, through the door of the party he wasn´t invited to, and into a life long friendship with someone he met there. I’m not suggesting you go to such extremes, but DO talk to that person who you keep seeing in the same cafe, or why not go up to that table of people at the concert and ask if you can join them. They will almost certainly not say no, and if they do, sod them.
And on a similar note, contact bloggers who are also strangers of course. I´ve met up with a few people who’ve contacted me through this blog, in fact this very post is inspired by someone who got in touch asking for tips to find some friendly faces in town.