Matthew. Chicago, 60 years old.
When did you arrive?
We came to Barcelona in November five years ago, so November 2012 from Prague. We were living in Prague. We lived in Prague for five years. We left the United States in 2007, so I haven’t lived in America now for 10 years so I’m not an American any more and I’ll never be an European.
You’re not American anymore?
I don’t feel like I’m an American, because we don’t really live an american lifestyle here. We always lived kind of an European lifestyle in America, not going to the grocery store but going to the butcher, going to the bakery and buying stuff like that. My wife, having an European upbringing with her Italian grandparents.
But she’s American.
Yeah, she’s American from Chicago. Italian American. I’m Irish and Dutch American and she’s Italian American.
So basically you were Europeans in America and you are now Americans in Europe.
(he laughs) I suppose so. Nobody thinks I’m Spanish, I can tell you that. (hablas Holandes?) is what I hear more often.
But you don’t have much of a Dutch face.
My Dutch student calls me Bricktop. He’s a character of a Guy Ritchie movie.
In which other countries have you lived before coming to Barcelona.
We lived in Prague for five years before coming here. And we lived in Cefalu, in Sicily for four months. We were watching a house for somebody who hoped we would buy the house, but Italy was too chaotic, Sicily was beautiful but Italy was too chaotic for us. But Cefalu, you should go there. It’s gorgeous, we really liked it a lot. And we stayed up on the Madonie Mountains. It takes 20 minutes to get down and it was a beautiful drive, very hot. But in February very cold, it snowed. First time in a hundred years but lucky me I was there.
Which year was it?
I guess it was 2009.
And before that, it was Chicago?
Yes, 50 years in Chicago.
So it was 10 years ago that you left the US for the first time.
I retired when I was 47 and we left. It took us 3 years to disengage and get out.
So you retired and you left and now you’re working here.
Yes. I didn’t have enough money to stop (put off) working forever. I didn’t have the “fuck you” money but I had the “fuck it” money. I knew I would always have to work and I figured I would teach. But I didn’t think I would teach English, but here I am.
What did you use to do?
I was a security exchanger. I was in the financial business, I was a broker, I was a member of the Chicago board options exchange, I was a member of the Chicago board of Trade. I was an associate director at UBS, the Swiss bank. I was a quantitative and alternative investment guy. I spent 30 years in the financial Industry. I’m an expert in Financials.
Wow, that’s a lot. And why are you here now?
We didn’t really like the Czech Republic because the food was bad and the weather was not good. But, one thing led to another and we were there for five years. We wanted to go to another place. As I said, Italy was too crazy, Rome was too crazy, Sicily too. And we came here on vacation and we just felt in love with the city. We stayed just outside Vila de Gracia, in Sant Domenech. We walked into Vila de Gracia, we had breakfast and my wife said “I think this is it”. And I said “I think you’re right”
Did you stay since then or you came back.
Well, we had to go back to Prague and disconnect from there. I had a job, I was director of studies at a school and I had a business in Prague. My outline business didn’t matter but I had to go back and disengage from all that. Also we had to get our visas so we hired a OBM immigration and he’s taking care of our Visa needs and he’s taking care of our long term visa, 10 year visas, we should have those in a couple of months.
Good! So you’ve told me what you used to do. What do you do now?
I’m an English teacher outline, in classrooms and with privates. I do test preparations for all the tests, I do interview preparation etc.
And what is it that you like the most about Barcelona and what you think it offers to you?
The feeling. The feeling about Barcelona is very relaxed, the people are warm, the weather is nice. It’s just a good feeling, like summer when I was a kid. I feel relaxed, I feel happy for no reason at all. 300 sunny days a year, even in winter. I like when the days are getting longer. The color of the light is different.
What do you miss from other places, especially from your hometown.
I miss the beer from Prague because I don’t like Spanish beer. From Chicago I miss the Chinese food. We have really good Chinese food in Chicago. And I miss the hot dogs and the hamburgers. I miss some of the American favorites that are not done correctly here. Other than that, there’s not a lot that I miss. This is a pretty complete place. I’ve never seen this selection of food, meat, fish, vegetables… Anything you want you can get. With my “pescatero” I tell him what I want and he tells me “when?”. I have a good relationship with him. I am a small business man. I like Spain because I do business with other small business people, even at the supermarket in our neighborhood, this guy owns different places in the area, he’s a “vecino” (neighbor). The guy at the groceries, the guy at the market… I like to do business like this.
Nice. And what is it that you don’t like?
I wish the politics in Spain weren’t so divisive. I wished there was not an element that breaks up the peace. Otherwise it’s a very peaceful place. In my opinion, it’s all manufactured. All this chaos is manufactured. Because the truth is always simple, and if you want to confuse people you make it chaotic and then you can do what you want because people tune out. So that’s why I don’t like this political thing, it’s dristracting. Harshing my mellow.
What is your favorite place in the city?
My favorite place in the city? Just the whole city. Different parts of the city have different things to offer to me. I spend a lot of time all around the city travelling to accounts and things like this and I like it all! Different parts because there’s modern parts, there’s ancient parts, you know, there’s parts of many different eras including the modern time and I like that.
Do you feel integrated?
No, because my language skills are terrible.
I see, in terms of language, but in terms of people or….
People recognize me on the street so I feel part of the community. The old man clapping at the back to me and the people speaking to me as if I spoke Spanish even when I don’t. The most of the time I don’t understand them and that bothers me but apparently not enough to learn the language (laughs)
Yeah because in all these years you haven’t learnt much.
No. Every six months, my friends at the bar say to me “Matthew, how long have you been in Barcelona now?” And I say “eehmmm five years in October” and they say “Five years!! We are not speaking English to you anymore!! You have to speak Spanish, Catalan preferably!!” Then I say “That’s great fellas! I’d love an opportunity to practice my Spanish!” And I begin to hablar my Español and then they go “HAHAHAHA OH MATEO!!! TU ES INDIO! HAHAHA”
“Cabron!!” And then I turn to speak English. So I can’t win. But the jefe of the festes is a 75 year old guy at Progres and his wife was telling me something one day and I couldn’t understand. And she was trying very hard to tell me something but I couldn’t understand. So later, she tried again and I understood something about a bottle of wine. So I went down there and she gave me a bottle of Port, for Christmas, and I was very touched. And I felt that was a very nice gesture. Even though I’m an idiot that doesn’t speak the language, they still treat me like a good neighbor. Because I like to celebrate their success at the festival every year. I bake a cake for the last day when they are turning it down and I bring them that and a bottle of champagne. that’s my contribution, I live on the block, I want to contribute.
That’s nice. So you are known.
Everybody knows me. If you see me regularly, I’m going to say “hello” to you. It’s just the way I am.
Do you think you’ll ever go back or you will leave?
We have no plans. Not for the foreseeable future. We love it here and we want to stay. We are applying for our long term visas and we are planning on to stay. One of the great things about Spain is that it’s on the top 5 in the world for Healthcare, and in a point in my life when I’m gonna need some Healthcare (laughs) and here it’s all take care of. I couldn’t go back to America and afford to do that and teach English and make the kind of money that I make now. I would have to get a job, a real job at a bank and I don’t know…. it’s been 13 years since I did that. And I don’t think I want to do it again.
Because you cannot be simply retired?
I don’t have enough money.
In the US you are not retired….
I’m 60 and I don’t qualify for social security until I am 62, and I’m afraid that Trump is going to get that program before I’m able to get it. It makes me angry because my personal contribution, me alone is 200.000 USD. That is my personal contribution over the 40 years that I worked without interests. I’ve depended on that money being there back when I worked at bank and I made a lot of money and I had a big house… We paid 6500 USD a year in property taxes that supported the local school system. And I would say to my wife we lived in a poor Mexican neighborhood, and I would say to my wife that I’m happy to contribute this and to not take it. Because these people, this neighborhood needs this money. I’ve belonged to a fraternal organization called “The Elks”, my father was an Elk, my brothers were all Elks. They had a thing where they wanted 20 USD from every member so that they could make a fund to take care of this statue that they’d had forever. So I gave 100USD and I wrote a note that maybe some of the brothers can’t afford to pay but I can, I can afford to give a little bit more so I’m doing so. So that was always my attitude, if I had it, I would give it. And now they don’t want to give it back to me and that makes me angry. We were watching something about the anarchists in Spain in the 30s and they really had a good thing going! The Franco crushed it all with the “fascistas” but they had cities that had no money, everything was a collective. Now who owns everything: the State. But it belongs to us, you know? It belongs to the people. You see, Socialism or Communism scared the hell out of people but Capitalism is predatory. Capitalism is like the game of Monopoly. Everyone who’s ever played Monopoly knows it ends with a fight (laughs) And somebody owns everything and this is wrong. Because, why do we have society? We have society for a mutual benefit of protection and when it’s no longer mutual beneficial and protective, then it’s time to change. So that’s my attitude.
Good. And the last question is something you may want to add. Something you found peculiar, interesting… A contrast…
I’m just getting used to the lifestyle, you know. I started working from the house again in September and I like it because if I have an hour off I can be in the market in a minute, take care of my business, cook. I just love it here, I love my life here. I’m really happy that we came here. When I was 18 I knew a lot of guys that had cars, had girlfriends… they seemed to have a great life, and I didn’t really feel that my life was like that but now I do. And when I look at those people that were doing great then, That was the peak of their life. I feel this is the peak of mine and that’s how life is supposed to work. I know people that grew bitter because their lives are not the way they were when they were teenagers, but my life is fucking fantastic.
Yeah, and I really love it, I love everything I do and I love every minute.