… they live in apartments!!
Well, I knew this already – a phenomenon that I discovered when visiting O’s home town for the first time and I noticed that there were hardly any individual houses in the village of 3,000 inhabitants! It was very strange for me to see that O’s brother and his small family live in an apartment on the 4th floor – just like if they had been living in the big town of Zaragoza… O’s parents do live in a house though, but they are really the exception. In Sweden living in the countryside almost always means that you live in a house with a garden – it feels, at least for me as a Swede, as the whole point of living outside a city!?
O’s home village with apartment blocks and the castle
So, why do I write about this now? Well, even if we still have no idea of when, where or how we might live in Spain, not even when we will leave Puerto Rico*, I started to look for places to live in Zaragoza – out of curiosity and because I enjoy reading those kind of ads… My search result for homes for sale in Zaragoza was: ~850 apartments for sale but only 17 houses!! In Spain’s 5th largest city!!? Homes are anyway so expensive in Spain that we probably wouldn’t be able to afford a house, but it is still very interesting to see the huge difference in numbers.
This is a cultural difference with Sweden (and UK, and many other European countries, as well as the US) where most people live in houses, that I have given a lot of thought to. And it reminded me of the most boring part of Swedish history (or at least I thought so); the so-called shifts! How boring it was to study the enskifte, storskifte and laga skifte… they seemed to appear ever so often in the history-book! For those of you who are not familiar with this very important historical development in agriculture and social relations (or the Swedish terminology that I have problems to translate) – I am talking about land reform!
Even though I thought that it was a really boring subject in school, I now find it fascinating because I believe that it is one of the many reasons why Spanish villages look the way they do, and why Spaniards in general live in apartments. Ok, ok, I am aware that it is very expensive to buy a house in Spain but there is definitely not a lack of land in Europe’s 2nd largest country so there also has to be a cultural / historical explanation!
This is what I remember from my history classes: Land reform in Sweden took place from the late 1700’s all through to the end of the 19th century (this info according to Wikipedia) and it had both positive and negative socio-economic implications. The reason for the so-called shifts was that the land was becoming too split up in small plots, and the farmers ended up owning small fields in various locations (because of inheritance rules etc). The land reforms remedied the situation and on the plus side were bigger fields gathered in one place, which meant that the farmers could improve their harvests and spend less time farming in different areas, which had obviously been very inefficient. Unfortunately it also meant that villages were split up and most people ended up living isolated on their lands, away from the village community.
The Scandinavian (actually Danish) countryside with individual farm houses in the fields…
And there we have it – in Sweden most farms are situated in a middle of a field, surrounded by the land belonging to the farmer – while in Spain people still live closely together in villages while owning plots of land scattered all over the place!! O’s father has at least three different plantations on the land around the village; one fruit orchard, one olive grove and one for almond trees. I am fully aware that most people living in villages in Spain are no longer farmers but I still think that history and culture can be used to explain the differences between the two countries:
- In Sweden people are used to living far apart, and even if most villages survived the various land reforms the houses were more spread out and small plots of land between the houses became gardens.
- In Spain the villagers remain living closer to their neighbours because there is no need for gardens or space because the fields and plantations are outside the communities.
- O also pointed out to me that Spain still hasn’t experienced a proper so-called green wave, which in many other European countries has occurred several times – that city people get fed up with the rat race and decide to move out to the countryside to live closer to nature and a less stressful life. In Spain the majority of young people are still moving from the countryside to the cities and many apartments (and a few houses) in O’s home town are abandoned. Personally, I can’t really imagine living and raising a family in a small apartment in a Spanish city (or village for that matter) but maybe I won’t have a choice (if the prices don’t decrease)… At least we will have access to O’s parents’ plantations in the countryside.
- There are hardly any old farmhouses in the countryside – my idea was that we could find an old Spanish farm and renovate it… but they seem to hardly exist due to the above mentioned reasons!?
A photo to illustrate the border between the village and countryside in Spain…
I have to add that I have no idea if there were similar land reforms such as the Swedish ones in Spain?? I need to study the subject further but this was my attempt to explain and understand the differences that I have noticed. I am planning to find a good book about Spain’s history to study before we eventually move there!
My conclusion is also that this difference can also explain why Swedes are more quiet and less talkative than Spaniards (a generalisation, I know); if you live alone in the middle of your farmland and you only meet people occassionally when going in to the village, you get used to being quiet.. While if you live close to other people in a village community you might need to talk louder and more to get across your opinions! The same with interrupting people – very rude in Sweden, but quite common in Spain! 😀
PS O always claimed that his village was ugly, which I don’t really agree with, but I realise that from the photos it doesn’t look very charming… I will have to take photos of the nicer neighbourhoods next time I go to Spain!!
*) our visas still expire on the 15th December and we haven’t heard anything from the visa lawyers – I am going to try to call them, O hasn’t been successful so far managed to get hold of the lawyer yesterday and she has promised to get back to us asap…