A tourist is a sightseer. A traveler lives with locals. ~ Robert Close
If there is one thing we – the Expats living on Mallorca - do not want to be, that's tourists. When we decided to leave the familiar grounds of sweet old home behind and stepped onto this island, we left the outsider's shoes at the entrance and changed them for a pair of insider ones, didn't we? We are after the authentic and want to walk on secrets paths well away from the ones well-trodden by the foreign hordes. In short: We want in!
The reality can be observed in any little bar on market day. Here the expats are "locals." In between? No doubt about it, there is a big divide. How can we bridge it?
Learn Spanish On the Go #
What many people tell me keeps them back from mingling with the locals is the language barrier. True, it's hard to get your point of view across or eloquently speak philosophy with words you do not have. And true, it might take years of serious study to get to a point where others tell you, you are fluent in Spanish (and longer even until you believe it yourself).
My advice: When it comes to languages, think small, not big!
You might not be able to discuss the ins and outs of world politics, but you can say, gracias and por favor. You can say sí and no. You can order your drink. You can say holá and buenos dias (or even throw in a Mallorquín Bon día which will be greatly appreciated).
Before going to the local market, translate the words on your shopping list and use them when you get there. You can read them off the paper if you are more comfortable but this shows the shopkeepers how much you respect their culture and language. Then, when you return week after week, the smiles will be good medicine for Kicking the Expat Blues.
In a restaurant, let the waiter bring both the English and Spanish menus to see what's what and then use the Spanish one to order.
Use every possible opportunity to chat people up using hands and feet and big smiles and the dozen words you know. This is how children learn. This is how you learnt English. And quite successfully, too!
Use Local Service Providers #
You want to be part of the community? Well, you're welcome. You just have to step in: Build your crew of locals for the everyday services you need. Choose a local hairdresser, bakery, shoe repair shop, garage …
Also, for healthcare, there are some very good Mallorquin doctors, dentists, physiotherapists and other health care providers around. You don't know whom to trust? Ask the locals. I asked my local bank counsellor for a good hairdresser (you could see she had one) and thus found Caty – twice as good as the posh one I had in Palma (I hope you can see that, too) and at one third of the cost .
It's in the local shops and waiting rooms you meet the "authentic" Mallorquins. Take a cooking or language class and practice your Spanish with everyone. Believe me, they are the most patient of teachers. And over time they'll come to know you and call you their neighbor.
Observe the Dress Code #
When I first came to Mallorca with my family a good thirty years ago, it was on invitation by Isabel and Tano, Mallorquin friends we had met in my native Germany. They let us stay at their lovely holiday house in the Port of Andratx. It was the first of many visits, and each time we were on the Island, we went to Palma for a home-cooked lunch at their flat in the city.
On our first visit, we didn't know. It was August. Hot as hell. We appeared in flipflops, all of us, and wore the same type of shorts and t-shirts we would have donned to run down to the beach or go to the market to grab some of those heavenly tomatoes. My eldest daughter's pink top had a chocolate stain right above her heart which hadn't come away in the wash. (It was her favourite t-shirt, so she wore it anyway)
We were not prepared for this: Our hosts received us in their Sunday best, and an honour guard of freshly showered, crisply dressed and neatly combed children (all five of them grown up and home from work to do us justice) lined the hallway. We – the shabby lot from Germany - delved into a sea of perfumed kisses and swore to ourselves that next time we'd do better. And we have done ever since.
You might think this was thirty years ago and times have changed? Next time you go to Palma or are at a party or event with locals present, look and see. You don't have to overdress. Neither is it about excessive makeup or displaying your expensive watch. It's more about the neatness of the look; about the cleanliness and fragrance you exude.
Expats, male or female, please: The easy-going life on Mallorca might sometimes feel like one long holiday and make us lazy. Some might stop to sew on missing buttons on their shirts or blouses and throw their irons in the bin, or wear their favourite comfy clothing long past the point of fraying along the seams… But unless you are a youngster in a gang of youngsters, simply don't.
And, por favor, don't walk around in town half naked. Would you choose a bikini or a pair of swimming trunks as your normal streetwear back in Liverpool or Leeds or Heidelberg? Frank answers, please!
"The best about the sun is the shade it throws. And the best drink? AGUA."
- By my good and unforgotten friend, the late Tano Bonnin
Stay in the Shade #
Ever heard the word cangrejo? It's Spanish for a crab – and a tourist turned red by the sun. We all know about the long-term dangers of sunburn. With the right kind of protection, you might get away with a little frying on the beach on a short stay.
However, if you are here to stay you are in for 300 days of sunshine and might morph into a dried plum unless you stick to what the old Mallorquins say and stay out of the sun in the heat of the day.
To all women out there on the island: For cool air, get yourself an abanico – a fan – and learn how to use it with elegance and style!
Affordable Mallorca Tip: In summer, follow the example of the locals and let fresh air into the house in the cool of the night. Close all windows and persianas as morning comes to keep the heat and sun shut out. You'll feel the difference and you'll thank them for their wise approach.
Change Your Timetable #
Lunch at 2.30 p.m.? Dinner at 10 p.m.?
Not easy to bend your mind (and stomach) around. Didn't we learn it's healthiest to eat your last meal of the day at 6 p.m.? True.
However, if you want to meet locals at a restaurant and not find yourself in an exclusive club of tourists (and expats), try the Spanish schedule: In summer, get up early to enjoy the morning cool, dedicate yourself to whatever work you have to do before 1 p.m., then withdraw from the world for a light lunch and your siesta. Pick up the threads of what you were doing around 4.30 p.m. until, at around 8 p.m., you call it a day.
Time for a cool drink. For a delicious non-alcoholic drink with colleagues and/or friends, click here for a delicious recipe >> Grapefruit Mocktail - The Perfect Thirst Quencher . Sit back and relax and enjoy the leisurely pace. Depending on what you're doing, start preparing dinner around 9.00 to 9.30 to have it on the table by 10 p.m. Enjoy your meal in the cool of the evening. Have plenty of cold water to go with it.
And if, by any chance, there was an event later that night? By all means, go and enjoy yourself! You have caught up on sleep with your siesta, after all.
Take Your Coffee the Spanish Way #
There might be a café chain called Cappuchino on the island (not affordable, if you ask me), but we want it authentic, don't we? We stick to the local:
- café solo (small cup of strong coffee, no milk)
- cortado (small cup of strong coffee with a splash of milk)
- café con leche (bigger cup, half strong coffee, half hot milk)
- Americano (big cup, weak coffee, American-style as the name says)
- And in summer: café con leche con hielo (café con leche served with a glass full of ice cubes – you just tip the content into the glass and voilà! Perfectly refreshing on a hot day)
Fall in Love! #
Fall in love with a local? That would of course be the best way to get in. For our writer Romy Bunn Bellamy it's a dream come true. Read more>>
And if that doesn't happen – let yourself fall in love with the island and its people! You will never want to leave.
- The locals' expertise
- Personal experience
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By Ulla Rahn-Huber
21 May, 2022