365 Days With My Mother-in-Law: Boots on the Ground View of Barcelona’s Economy

It remains in a state of suspended animation.

On March 5, 2020, a venerable Mexican lady flew from Mexico City to Madrid, and then on to Barcelona where her only daughter — my wife — lives. At that time, nobody knew it was the height of the first wave of the covid-19 pandemic in Europe. Sylvia, my mother-in-law, had just sold her apartment in Mexico City with a view to renting a flat near ours in Barcelona. The plan was simple: she would spend the first month or so with us in our 85 square meter apartment (915 square feet), adjusting to her new surroundings before beginning to look for her own place. Three hundred and sixty five days later, she’s still here.

This completely unplanned-for eventuality happened for a variety of reasons. The first was that the Mexican peso, with immaculate timing, shortly after she had sold her apartment and deposited the pesos in the bank, plunged by 25% against the euro in the five-week period from February 20 through March 24, thereby wiping out a quarter of her purchasing power in Spain. The peso has recovered only a small portion of that plunge since then.

The second reason was the two-and-a-half month lockdown that kicked in across Spanish territory ten days after my mother-in-law’s arrival. It was one of the strictest lockdowns on the planet. People could not go out for a walk without a justifiable reason, and being outside with someone else was out of the question.

The three of us were stuck indoors together for 70 days. Once Spain began to reopen, in mid-May, we realized that the still-raging pandemic had effectively torpedoed my mother-in-law’s plan to rent a three-bedroom flat and sublet one of the rooms to short-term visitors from Mexico.

Nonetheless, my mother-in-law’s arrival was in many ways a godsend. My wife had been furloughed at the start of the lockdown and remains so to this day. I lost almost half of my clients in the space of three days and have only just begun to replace them with new ones. By pooling our resources we’ve been able to weather the storm financially. Our savings remain more or less intact, primed for another rainy day. Plus, if my mother-in-law hadn’t come, my wife and I — two expats/immigrants living thousands of miles from home — would have had to spend the worst crisis of our lives completely cut off from our family…

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