Saturday, September 12, 2009

Happiness is a spring onion

THIS could be hard to explain, but if you have lived in a foreign country you’ll know just how much people miss their home comforts.

Expats, when asked what they miss about home, always say (first, and with some resignation), family. It is, after all the expected reply. Then they say friends, and lastly they’ll reel off a short list, at great speed and with gathering enthusiasm, of their favourite food. Their eyes glaze over as they relive those sublime moments when they last bit into a freshly grilled Cumberland sausage or crunched the batter on cod ‘n’ vinegar-soaked chips.

It’s an age-old formula. And it’s true of any nation.

News had reached me that a large supermarket, stocked to the brim with British goodies, had opened nearby. I hadn’t been enticed. These places usually have the stock selection of Marmite, Cook-in-Sauces and Heinz soups. I can live without those. But a recent, long-overdue lunch invitation to my Spanish ‘in-laws’, (known in Spanish as familia politica which sums it up in a nutshell) sent me off in search of exotic guiri foodstuffs to knock their socks off.

I took The Artist with me to keep me in check. Our first trip to this temple of Britishness was surreal. Aisle after aisle full of expats happily torn between so much choice.
It’s sad I know, but I’ve waited almost 30 years to be able to buy spring onions in Spain and here I was living the moment. After that it just got better and better. Cheshire cheese, fruity herbal teas, sickly ice-cream soda, ginger beer! We came away laden down, me feeling hugely comforted by all these long-lost familiar ‘friends’and The Artist wondering whether he should get a Spanish girlfriend.

Yesterday I returned and in anticipation pushed the door open, ready to pounce again on the spring onions. It was then I noticed stacks and stacks of fresh eggs. Imported from the UK. I stood there for a minute trying to work out the logic of importing fragile eggs all the way from Britain when there are chickens just around the corner. But I couldn’t.

In fact, there were quite a few things that could be easily bought at Spanish supermarkets at a lower price but everyone is free to spend their money how they like. I’m not sure whether the cats here can appreciate the difference between Spanish cat food and imported Whiskas but it is on offer all the same.

I started to hone in on other incongruent items. Trawling the massive freezer section I came across the winner. Frozen vegetable and chorizo kebabs. Chorizo that had been made in Spain, of course. Shipped to the UK. Strung on a stick with veggies. Frozen, and shipped back to Spain to a British supermarket to be devoured by Brits, living in Spain. I’m still trying to figure this out, but coals to Newcastle is a phrase that keeps coming in to my head.

Still, I wish the supermarket a long and very successful life, which judging by the hordes of hungry Britons there yesterday, is almost guaranteed. We may be in the middle of a recession, but who can resist a little of what they fancy, from time to time.

Weather today: It's very early so it's hazy but the sun is up and it will probably be a glorious cloudless day. The rain in Spain is definitely staying on the plain today and forecast to miss the coast. High 29ºC/83ºF Low 19ºC/66ºF. Barely noticeable breeze 7km/h. Pressure 1014 mb. Relative humidity 58%. UV index: 7.