If you grew up in the UK you probably lived in a house, with university halls being your first taste of living in a flat. After that you either get a house of your own or slink off back to your parents’ gaff. Unless, of course, you move to another country. In Spain, over 65% of the population live in a piso or flat – something which may take some getting used to if, like me, you grew up in “the new estate” of a small Yorkshire pit village.
Here’s the view from my bedroom window at my parents’ home. On a good day, you hear the odd car, the trickling of the neighbour’s water feature and a wood pigeon or two. On a bad day, maybe there are a few raucous kids on the garden over the way and next-door-but-one might have their radio on too loud.
Here in Spain things are slightly different, as you can see from this shot taken from a 5th floor flat in Valencia city centre:
Living in closer proximity to your neighbours can only mean that there’s more noise, more interaction, more complaining…
Here are some of the most common neighbours (and other gems!) you can find while living in a Spanish apartment block, with added personal anecdotes for your amusement.
La maruja – The resident gossip, an old lady who looks sweet on the outside but is anything but on the inside. La maruja makes it her business to know about everyone and everything that happens on her turf. The finca gossip is her reason to live, her life source. One memorable encounter with a maruja took place in a lift – upon noticing my foreign accent from the few words of chit chat that I’d mumbled, she says, eyes wide open, speaking slowly and pronouncing every syllable as if I were deaf and/or dumb, “Yo soy de Valencia…” Cue awkward silence, an expectant gaze and an encouraging nod. It doesn’t help that we have the world’s slowest lift. OK, OK, you win, maruja: “YO SOY INGLESA” ! What kind of Spanish inquisition tactic was that?!
La quejica – There’s nothing more endearing than your 80 year old neighbour coming upstairs to complain about “all the racket” that you’re making at 3pm on a Friday (we were having a civilised paella on the balcony). I think her exact words were, “You’re making so much noise that I can’t hear the report about the jihadists on the television”. A few months later I also caught her wailing and shrieking about something or other on the landing. Obviously I crept out to listen to what all the fuss was about. Maybe that day I, myself, had inadvertently turned into the resident maruja.
Las mascotas – There are three yappy dogs living in the building across the street. It’s as if they know when siesta time is so they can intentionally fuck up your day. One is called Wendy and the Latin American cleaner locks her out on the balcony while she cleans. But good old Wendy always manages to launch herself through an adjacent open window thus upsetting the cleaner, meaning we then have to listen to barking and screaming.
Radio patio – Today’s hot gossip brought to you by your elderly neighbours leaning out of their windows. Important info is broadcast from resident to resident, echoing around the interior patio. Expect early morning wake-up calls while Julia tells María about what happened with Juan and his hip. Natural habitat of the maruja.
Cucarachas – Not neighbours per se, but they might as well be when you have to live in such confined quarters with them. Yours truly was living in a flat in El Carmen before someone decided that all the supporting beams in the building needed strengthening. All the ceilings were subsequently ripped down and the neighbourhood’s cockroach population moved in. Cockroaches scuttling across the sofa, cochroaches on your bath sponge, cockroaches gathering underneath your bed and DYING, night after night. Another fun fact: the cockroaches in Valencia are bigger than usual, they’re red and they FLY. Apparently they came over from South America and slowly took over from the small black ones. And FYI, the trick to killing a cockroach is stepping on it while screaming so loud that you don’t hear the splat. And…just…don’t go to the bathroom at night barefoot. *crunch*
Vendedores puerta a puerta – Cold calling. If it’s not electric salesmen feigning nigh on seizures at the sight of their competitors’ electric bill, it’s having to say, “No, I don’t want to buy any towels from your holdall, thanks” to random men in shell suits. But one particular cold caller really caught our attention: Paquita. Paquita is a small, old woman who looks like your run-of-the-mill grandma. But, as we learned earlier from La Maruja and La Quejica, little old women are often anything but sweet. Paquita soon turned nasty when we tried to stop her delivering religious literature week in week out by telling her that we’re atheists. The woman possessed told us, “¡DIOS ACTUARÁ EN TUS PENSAMIENTOS!”. Que actúe, Paquita, Que actúe. Which brings us nicely to…
La iglesia pesada – The priest at the Benimaclet church really does know how to take the piss. Not only does the church have the most annoying set of bells known to man -clonking and banging and rattling every 15 minutes-, there are also the dreaded “big bells”. They go off at Christmas, New Years, Fallas, Semana Santa, local fiestas, weddings, or whenever he bloody feels like it… Take a look at the video below to see what we were subjected to. Bear in mind that our flat was literally 5 metres away from the bell tower. All TV or music was instantly drowned out and any interaction had to stop. Many neighbours around Plaza de Benimaclet have banners complaining about the noise due to people congretating outside Glop at night, but the bells are just as annoying as any botellón. Hey, cura! Dret al descans, eh! Dret al descans!
Los reggaetoneros – Or a flat full of raucous boys. Oh how I miss one particular group of Latin American students who listened to reggaeton on full whack. I especially miss how the bass was so loud that it made my bed vibrate even though I was two stories higher and on the opposite side of the stairwell. In an old blog of mine I even compared it to living in the banlieues of Paris (I must have been watching La Haine a lot back then). Add into the mix having to walk through a cloud of marijuana smoke every time you left the flat. Oh well, at least it made the journey up the stairs that little bit more pleasant.
Cosas por la calle – La cabra, a man with an organ and loudspeaker on wheels, visits my neighbourhood regularly and conveniently parks himself right outside the building. He’s called la cabra (the goat) because traditionally they used to have goats with them while they performed…or so I’ve heard. El afilador is a mobile knive sharpening business with “El afilador ya está aquí” repeatedly booming out of the speaker on the roof of his van. This is a slight upgrade from the afilador in Sant Cugat who used to drive around on his push bike whistling the afilador theme tune. Apparently the latter is a dying breed and only exists now in some pueblos.
El raro – One of our current neighbours, who bears a shocking resemblance to Harold Ramis, has had the police and the firemen (complete with extended fire engine arm – a spectacle in itself) to his flat twice this summer. He’s perpetually half naked and hasn’t closed his terrace door for about 3 months. He once broke his mysterious silence by shouting “¡Niñaaa! ¡Chica buenaaa!” at me while I was hanging my washing out. There’s nothing like a bit of catcalling for the old self esteem – a girl’s still got it.
La rara – There is a lady in the barrio who is always wandering around with her suitcases and bags. I once saw her weeing while sitting on a stool on the side of the road – in broad daylight, singing to herself. I have no idea where she lives but I do know that, for a short period of time, she was sleeping in a bank. How do I know this? Because we used to see her and a “friend” fooling around in there. With the lights on inside the bank. When it was dark outside. There’s nothing quite like coming face to face with an erect penis in the window of a Banco de Valencia at 4am on a Saturday night. I hope they disinfected.
What about you? If you want to tell us about your dodgy neighbours or neighbourhood curiosities, or if you think we’ve missed any Typical Espanish vecinos off this list, let us know in the comments.
Further reading: Drama en el portal
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