“How’s the Spanish economy doing, then, any news?”, asked my dad for the thousandth time over the phone.
“How’s Spain? Is it as bad as we see on the news on the tele?”, asked my 91-year-old granny as she babbled with Hugo, my 6-month-old son, over Skype.
“Should I invest in a hotel in Barcelona?”, inquired a new Facebook friend, an investor from Karachi in Pakistan.
“You should definitely write about Spain,” my readers told me when I asked them after a period of existential blogging doubt 18 months ago, “the Spain-Spanish-English mix is already your strong point (…) someone needs to talk more about Spain’s problems in English, for international audiences.”
In Murcia, my students told me that what they really enjoyed was that I helped them think about Spain and the world because we always read and talked about the news together.
And when I found out that Hugo was going to be born and grow up in Spain, then it also became a very personal quest for more knowledge and a greater understanding of Spain, of course.
But where do you start trying to explain ‘Spain’ to people nowadays, almost 6 years after the start of the economic crisis? And why were they asking me?
Some relevant anecdotes about me and Spain…
- I spoke not a single word of Spanish when I was 19 years old—back in 1996—not even ‘hola‘. But I needed to choose another language to accompany French whilst I studied for a degree in Modern Languages & Linguistics, and it wasn’t going to be German. The first foreign language I ever tried to learn was Welsh. Fortunately, between hating Welsh and starting Spanish, my French cousin helped me to learn to love foreign languages.
- The first Spaniards I met were ERASMUS students in Manchester and the first time I visited Spain was in the summer of 1998, to teach English to a couple of hundred children at a summer camp in a lovely village called Cervera de Pisuerga, in the northern mountains. Spain was a big, youthful adventure back then, full of new people, travel, trains and parties, and lots and lots of Spanish to learn. The real-estate boom hadn’t begun, mass immigration hadn’t happened, and it was still 4 years before the euro. I had no money and I had a great time.
- Copywriter or journalist? I had such a great time, in fact, that I couldn’t wait to get back here as soon as I finished my degree. After a six-month detour in Stockholm as a copywriter for Publicis, I decided I didn’t want to write corporate drivel for a living. I wanted to become a journalist. In Spain.
- But you have no money, you fool: I decided to start at the top of the tree. Whilst working two jobs to pay the bills, I toiled away at night studying journalism, current affairs in Spain and improving my Spanish even more, in order to try and win a place on the prestigious Master’s Degree in Journalism run by El País. There were only 40 places available and each was to be awarded on merit, so I was absolutely delighted to qualify in 14th place, the first English speaker to do so for twelve years, apparently. The euforia lasted for about a week, until I realised I didn’t have the money to pay for it.
- Murcia to Madrid to Moscow: I moved to Madrid anyway.I found a couple of shifts at the English edition of El País, but they were looking for someone more experienced. A company called World Investment News was looking for business journalists who weren’t afraid of travelling. They sent me to Moscow in the winter of 2002.
- Back in Madrid, waiting for the next project, I took the train down to Murcia shortly after New Year. It didn’t make it. It came off the tracks at 7.04 p.m., one cold, dark January night near the village of Tobarra, in Albacete. The train split in two behind my seat. Two women died. (More). It was quite a shock.
- I moved back to Murcia and enrolled on a business creation course, in which my first (Utopian, unrealistic) idea, was to create a website called MultiMediaStory.com to try and produce multimedia content for online news sites. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing or how to make money out of it. The rent still needed paying, though, and people did want to pay me good money to teach them English and translate their business documents and contracts, so I became self-employed and, in my spare time, started learning more about blogging.
- I created one blog called Doctorlingua.com, about language learning, and another called TheBigChorizo.com, about Spain for an English-speaking audience. Business eventually went so well that I turned the Doctorlingua name into a limited company. We employed a few teachers and translators, and had dozens of happy clients and hundreds of happy students. I’d even learnt how to do all the accounting myself. Quite a leap from my previous lack of money wisdom. These were the boom years in Spain. The end of them, anyway. I’d learnt how to create value for a bunch of happy clients, albeit not with journalism or writing.
- In 2009, though, the company folded and we each went our separate ways. I wasn’t really motivated by teaching and translating, although it paid the bills. I decided to concentrate on developing this blog, MatthewBennett.es, and work on learning how to discover an interesting niche and on how business is done online. I wrote about translation and language a bit, discovered Twitter and Facebook, and even reached the stage of doing some online business: people I’d never met or even spoken to on the phone would send me translation work. Then I found out there was value for both my readers and for me in providing regular, quality information about a topic.
- Passion + skills + value: but what should I write about? What should I concentrate on? Spain by this time was a mess, economically speaking. Unemployment was rocketing, Zapatero was making worse decisions every day and there seemed to be no way to stop the rot. In October 2011, I found out I was going to be a father. That helped concentrate my mind a lot, and I asked my readers for help: did they want me to keep writing about a changing world or to concentrate on writing about the news from Spain? Their response was almost unanimous: they wanted me to write about Spain.
- So I do. I write about the news from Spain for you, and try to imagine where it might lead us all in the future, in order to help you understand how the country is changing in a very challenging 21st Century. I also write for Hugo, who was born in July 2012. This is personal now. Spain and Spaniards can count on me and my ideas over the next few years. Who knows, if we strive hard enough to understand what’s going on, we might even help fix the country by the time he leaves high school in 2030. Whatever happens, the state Spain is in by then will be the product of how the world changes and how Spain adapts to that world.
Explaining how a whole country is changing from what people knew it as in the past into what it is today and what it might become in the future is no easy task.
Our new globalised world is hyper-connected, very complex and flooded with more information than has ever been available before.
Business, the economy, politics, international relations, national identity, collective psychology and behaviour, religion, culture and tradition are all involved in the story.
A country doesn’t change in a secluded manner, isolated from the rest of the world, and nor do the only opinions and data that count come from inside that country. Not any more. Lots of people have lots to say about Spain in the 21st Century.
So you don’t need a single specialist to help you make sense of it all, you need someone who’s very curious about life and capable of broad, strategic, long-term thinking, cross-cultural insight and comparison, and who speaks languages fluently…
It’s a fascinating journey, loyal reader. And it gets more interesting every day.