Monday, 24 October 2011

When Will The Spanish Fly The Nest?

A joke circulates constantly in southern Europe. How do you prove that Jesus was Italian/Spanish/Portuguese (delete where applicable). Answer? Because he lived with his parents until he was 32.

I have in the past been flat-hunting in Spain, and it’s a nightmare. Not because of the prices (fair) or the apartments (frankly breathtakingly lovely at times) but because nobody shares, or even rents a room. The idea of a flat-share is bizarre to people, as people leave the family home clad in either a coffin or a wedding dress (or suit – you know what I mean.)

It’s a source of fascination to Americans and northern Europeans, who leave as soon as possible, and parents act as guarantors to profligate, unreliable offspring and even cash in savings and re-mortgage houses to ease junior’s path out of the nest. Over here, it’s a national scandal: people can’t get on the property ladder, and questions are in Parliament, and everything.

There are many reasons. Firstly, people seem to study in their hometown, and parents pay fees, so the whole student flat-share thing is less common.

Also, where people live in apartments (and many do) they are large and open, with several bedrooms, not the poky little huts on stilts we see still in the UK. There is often a dining room, and a lack of open plan living, which means that privacy is still possible, with different people, even generations pursuing varying activities and alternate hours in different rooms.

I also wonder if they simply like each other more, or are more tolerant. The sexual revolution has reached worldwide, and I doubt that those thirty-two year old Spanish brides wear white for the old-fashioned reason. Yes couples live together, but parents must be accepting of their older/adult children’s lifestyle choices. I’ve heard of a Spanish gay man, out to his family since he was sixteen who didn’t leave home to live with his partner until he was (yes!) thirty-two.

Or do people simply behave in a different (as a veteran of many drunken escapades I won’t say better) way. Perhaps coming home drunk/stoned is less of an issue. Perhaps they don’t indulge. Perhaps their parents join in.

Maybe European parents have learned to back off and keep out of their children’s lives, although I doubt it. I think they are positively indulgent of their children, washing their clothes, with dinner waiting on the table? If so why would they leave? (Oh right, that happens in the UK as well.) And what about Scandinavia, the low countries or Germany, where people also race for the exit asap.

I suppose this is a question: can anyone explain what’s happening here? Southern Europe has got something right. Or is it stifling and people only stay at their parents because they can’t afford to buy, or are younger buyers excluded from the market?

Either way, everybody rents, and when they move, baby will rent as well. I’m just curious, that’s all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

wow, what an interesting post. Thanks for the analysis, which rings v. true - though I'm not Southern European. I'm very convinced by your argument that 'housing crises' are phenomena that occur in quite different ways in different cultural contexts.