What’s it like living in Martos? (Spain). Ask an Expat
Norah lives in Martos , just outside Jaen in the northern part of Andalusia. It’s a scenic region of mountains and olive fields. It’s not a place many expats would aspire to settle in and we were curious about why she chose Martos and what her life is like there.
We asked Norah a lot of detailed questions and I loved reading her very candid answers on Martos, life in Spain, bureaucracy, and on other expats. A very interesting read. See it all below.
Name: Norah Ohrt
Country of Origin: Australia
Number of years living in Spain: 7 years and 10 months
Hi Norah. How did you end up in Spain?
I studied here in the late 60’s early 70’s and spent holidays traveling around Spain and loved Andalucía
Why did you end up choosing Martos as your base?
When looking for a home I looked on Real Estate websites for Andalucía and researched every town where I saw a property I liked. I rejected all towns with a population of 15,000 or less. Martos ticked all the boxes as it is within 45 minutes to 2 hours of all major tourist attractions, it is home to large International Company [Valeo] therefore good internet and technical services would be available, it had good public transport, was 20 minutes from a big city [Jaen], the population is around 23000-25000, it had all services required, health centre, doctors, dentists, vets, shops and multiple supermarkets. Library, Theatre, Parks, gardens, a Municipal Swimming pool etc.
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What do you like about living in Martos?
The people are wonderful, interested, engaged and interesting. The culture is special…lots of traditions, cultural events, Festivals and a Feria. There is a Theatre and Library with a small art gallery attached. An annual Art Prize and Sculpture Prize are awarded to EU citizens. Both prizes are acquisitive so the towns Art collection is growing. There are regular programmes of Flamenco, Ballet, Plays, and Concerts etc. all held in the theatre.
I have integrated into the community and most of my friends are Spanish. I am involved with the Casa de Cultura helping in an Intercambio [ Language interchange] group and sitting on several judging panels for various awards. I have conversational English with two children twice a week, they were 5 and 6 when I started with them and they are now 9 and 10. They bring a lot of joy to my life and their English is almost fluent.
I love everything about the Olive Oil Industry which is the cornerstone of the economy here. We have 65 million Olive trees in the Jaen Province and Martos has two olive oil co operatives and a couple of small producers and between them they crush 100,000,000 kilos of olives a year which produces 23,000.000 kilos [ not litres] of olive oil and that is just Martos!
What do you dislike about living in Martos?
I dislike nothing major about living here, I have a great lifestyle and great friends, I miss my Australian friends but wouldn’t swap this for anything!
Any complaints I have come from the red tape/bureaucracy and the running of local government.
The gross inefficiency of departments because information isn’t shared and computers are not utilised to full advantage. The heavy overstaffing of departments so you often have to see three people about a very small issue..…..the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing because there is no data and information sharing. The amount of paper used for building permission etc. etc. is ridiculous and complete over kill.
Here is an example of inefficiency ….. if you need a copy of your padron [ registration on the Town Hall roll] all that should be required is to attend the Town Hall with your ID and request a copy, have it printed out, signed and stamped! But this doesn’t happen, all your information is taken, a document given to you to go up to the next floor in the building and pay 1.60 Euros, get the paper stamped , return with the receipt. Go away for three days and return to collect the copy!
It should also be noted that the actual document is only valid for three months! So if you need a copy for any reason the whole performance has to be repeated!
There is subtle and not so subtle corruption at the local government level.
The great affection the local council has for stamps! Some documents stamped three or four times!
Graffiti isn’t cleaned up, and the owners don’t pick up after their dogs! There are large fines but as the local police never get out of their cars it is difficult to fine the offending owners!
What (if anything) do you feel you most had to adjust to when coming to live in Spain? Was it difficult? Do you today feel well integrated in your city? Do you now eat dinner at 10pm? 😊
The noise levels of children playing on the streets in Summer, often until the early hours of the morning was hard to get used to at first. They are on Summer holidays so time means nothing to them!
There is no such thing as children being in bed at a reasonable hour. I am used to it now and it doesn’t bother me.
The sounds of loud ‘penny bombs’ fired at random all day and into the night when it is a Saints day or celebration or some kind. The noise can be extremely loud and comes without warning. The animals [and most humans ] hate it!
When I am alone I eat my dinner at 8 pm, when I have Spanish company it is 10 pm and when I go out it is 10pm or later! I have breakfast at 10.30 and lunch at 1.30 or 2 pm, sometimes later if entertaining. Coffee and cake or “afternoon tea” is at 5.30. and pre Covid, I would often meet with friends for ‘afternoon tea’ that flowed onto drinks at about 7.30 and then dinner later!
What’s your daily life like in Martos? How do you usually (in non-pandemic times) keep yourself busy?
I have a garden, so I do gardening.
I love to entertain so I cook a lot. Make biscuits and cakes for my Spanish friends, they love all the different style and flavours of things I cook. Pavlova is always a request for Birthday parties and dinners . One of my Spanish friends asked how I got the marshmallow inside the pavlova!
I have my Intercambio language group at the Library and the two children I have conversational English with twice a week.
I visit friends, meet for breakfast, or coffee a few times a week.
I read and write and stay in touch with friends all over the world.
How is your Spanish? Did you learn Spanish before coming to Spain? Have you learned it in Spain and if so any tips? (I’m asking because while Lissette and I both speak Spanish “Spanish Spanish” has been an adjustment).
I spoke Spanish 50+ years ago when I lived in Spain but had forgotten most of it as it was unused.
I picked it up again but still struggle with verbs, I seem to have no memory of them!! However I speak Spanish rapidly and fairly fluently with my Spanish friends but it isn’t always grammatically correct! The local dialect took a bit of getting used to they never finish words and have lots of local expressions.
My tip would be don’t struggle to speak it perfectly as you miss out on a lot when you are trying to find the right verb, just speak and don’t worry about mistakes, the Spanish don’t mind and are very understanding and just happy to converse with you. Also they don’t mind if you ask them to speak a little slower!!
You live in a place where I would think there aren’t many Expats (please correct me if I’m wrong). Has this been a challenge?
It is not a challenge not to have a large “expat” community as I prefer not to live an “English” style life with all that entails. The gossip, misinformation, and loud social drinking amongst the largely non engaged, ill -informed expat community is a ”community” I prefer to have no part in.
There are approx. 250+ English expats in Martos and the surrounding satellite towns. I am delighted that there aren’t more!
I have 4 friends in Martos who are “expats” , 1 American, a Norwegian , and two English who lived in Scotland for 30 years. I have another 4 who live in other towns and we see each other about twice a year. I have about 10 acquaintances living here who are English, Swedish, and Dutch However most of my friends are Spanish.
How do you feel about the locals? Has living in Spain been a favorable experience? Do you have any tips (do’s and don’ts) for foreigners looking to settle here?
I love the locals, for the most part they are warm and friendly and if they like you they are very inclusive and generous. My friends are from all walks of life and so willing to share their culture, history and traditions with me.
I would suggest you get about 3 quotes if you want to do any building work as some of the locals think all foreigners are made of money and tend to pad their quotes. If possible have one of your Spanish friends get the quotes as they won’t try it on with a local!
I find it an advantage to tell people I am Australian, NOT English!
Always use Spanish builders if possible. In my experience NEVER use an “expat” for anything. Sadly a very large percentage of those professing a trade are not honourable.
Go to the local restaurants, bars and cafes frequented by the locals not those frequented by “expats”, they will get to know you and it a way to practice your Spanish .
Be patient as sometimes you have to wait while they have a catch up with a friend in the middle of serving you in a shop, or stop cutting your hair for 10 minutes while they admire someone’s baby!
Don’t think they are being rude if they don’t say please or thank you it is not in their culture to say it all the time.
They can often be quite personal with you and comment on your clothes or hair and if you have gained or lost weight!
All the provinces and cities have their distinct culture and language. What stands out for you in Martos?
Here the local dialect is called Marteño. Words are shortened or slightly changed. It is lilting and a little ‘sing song’ when you listen to the older people.
They have Romeria a wonderful Festival the last weekend in May, horses, floats, traditional dress…it is a happy and beautiful event. The Feria, a local fair, held late in August is also a riot of colour and noise!! The disco runs from 9 pm to 8 am!!
There is also the Festival of San Juan, where people dress in medieval costume and there are stalls, dancing and other events.
The Olive Oil Festival is great too, held early in December every year.
There are historical ”walks” and courses about the town’s history and architecture run by our local historian from the Casa de Cultura.
There is a competition of the facades and patios of houses in the Spring which is complemented by walking tours of the streets, and patios.
I know you bought your own home and had a lot of renovations done. I’m wondering how that whole process went being a foreigner here.
Buying the house was the easy bit! The Renovations were a nightmare. I had a husband and wife “tag team” of confidence tricksters as the real estate agent and builder….”my husband is a builder, he is very busy now but is happy to offer advice”! A way to get his foot in the door…. I employed him which was a HUGE mistake! 85% of the work had to be redone by a Spanish builder. Performed at a fraction of the cost I was charged by the initial builder. I took the English builder to court and won the case and was awarded, and finally paid a considerable sum, but it didn’t cover all the loss!
Note: even if people employ English or Spanish builders and are paying them “black” (cash) under the table, have them sign a document stating you have paid x person, x amount, on x date, for x work, and have them sign it as having received the payment. That way if they ever need to seek legal redress they have proof they employed the person to do the work and they were paid.
That was a bitter experience but the following experience, working with local Spanish builders, was a relief!
My advice as I said earlier is to use local Spanish builders and tradespeople and if you are worried about the language barrier hire a translator for a few hours it will be cheaper than having to do the work twice, especially when you will be grossly overcharged by the “expat builder”. Of course this is a generalisation, not all expat builders are like that but it is still wise to use the Spanish and support the local economy where possible.
Do you have a car or do you take public transport?
I don’t have a car and use public transport or travel with friends who have a car. The public transport system and the trains are excellent. Local taxis are also affordable.
Do you have a favorite local dish?
I like Salmorejo an Andalucian [ Cordoba] cold tomato soup. Smooth and thick and served with little pieces of Jamon and chopped hard boiled egg and drizzled with Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Pipirrana a typical Andalucian salad, with Tuna and orange added to the usual salad ingredients and it is served “wet”.
Do you have any regrets at all? Would you do it all over if you had to do it again? Would you have changed anything?
Apart from the bad experience with a pair of English “crooks” doing my house renovations I have no regrets at all.
I would do it all over again without hesitation and would change nothing.
Many thanks to Norah for contributing all this information and for giving us a great read.
If you have any questions on Martos and life there, she has her own blog: Explore with Nor