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Changing Lifestyles : U.S. Expatriates Bullish on Spain's Prospects : Forget romance and adventure. Today, Americans come for business opportunities in the land Hemingway loved.

August 11, 1992|JOHN POLLACK | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

MADRID — Ever since Ernest Hemingway first wrote about angry bulls thundering through the streets of Pamplona more than half a century ago, Spain has enjoyed great cachet among American expatriates seeking romance and adventure.

Bill Brownell, a would-be novelist at 73, is just such a character, having quit his desk job in Los Angeles 25 years ago to become a struggling writer in a sleepy Spanish fishing port.

"I wanted to get out of the rat race," Brownell said.

By contrast, American expatriate Stephen Hanon, 30, wants to win it.

"I want to be a global manager of the '90s. You can't do it unless you go to another country," said Hanon, a strategy consultant for Price Waterhouse in Madrid.

Hanon and others like him represent a new generation of American expatriates in Spain, a small but ambitious group of adventurers drawn by the events of 1992 and the promise of opportunity in a unified Europe.

While many of their predecessors came to Spain because the country was seen as a romantic backwater, many in today's generation are coming for precisely the opposite reason: Spain has joined the European mainstream.

Only six months ago, Hanon was working for Price Waterhouse in Columbus, Ohio, and the Spain of Columbus was only a distant memory across the choppy Atlantic.

But, determined to sound out career opportunities in a country he remembered fondly from college days, he took vacation time and came here on a job search. Lucky, he found a niche almost immediately.

"We're the hippies of the '90s," said Hanon, who arrived in March with his wife, Lynn. "We dropped everything and came.

"The reality is that America is going to need people who are conversant in different languages and cultures," Hanon said. Coming to Spain--especially given the growing importance of Spanish in the United States--was grabbing the bull by the horns, he said.

Like many of his contemporary expatriate colleagues, Hanon is an unabashed Hemingway buff. As a college student here and on trips to Paris he and his friends would spend long evenings retracing the steps of the bearded author. He lived for nine months in the early 1980s in a run-down student neighborhood of Madrid, staying out late and cutting classes with studious devotion.

Now, he and his wife stay in a nice apartment in the chic Barrio Salamanca, and when he's out late it's often at the office. "I'm still romantic, but the reality is that you have to get work done," Hanon said. "It's sort of a shame--so much of what Spain represents is freedom, that spirit of living."

Not that Hanon's new life here is all work and no play. He and his wife take long walks in the Spanish fashion and occasionally drop by for a beer at the Cerveceria Alemana, one of Hemingway's favorite haunts.

But it's not the same, Hanon says with a trace of wistfulness. Spain has changed, and so has he.

According to U.S. State Department figures published in the Statistical Abstract of the United States, more than 60,000 Americans were resident in Spain in 1989--the latest year for which figures are available. (Spain's population is 39 million.)

How many are part of this new generation of expatriates is unclear--though it is clear that such a group exists. "They're young, aggressive executives," said American Club President Ed Kreisler, a semi-retired art dealer and former Broadway actor who has lived in Spain since 1954.

Recession at home has inspired even more young executives to look for opportunities abroad, noted Dale W. Sindell, an executive headhunter for Insearch, a Madrid corporate recruiting firm. "Overall, we are receiving more unsolicited (resumes) than ever before," she said.

By contrast, said Kreisler, a lot of the Americans who wandered into Spain during the 1960s and 1970s came "with a pack on their back and not a dime in their pockets. They didn't know what they wanted to do."

As Brownell recalls that period, he spent many long hours drinking cognac with a Spanish fisherman whose boat engine sputtered a lot. "We weren't very well-off. They called us the pobres Americanos ," said Brownell. "We were going to be great writers. . . ."

As it turned out, Brownell ended up working in public relations--though now that he's retired he's back at work on a historical novel.

Not all young American expatriates here came for professional reasons, of course. Many--especially those who studied or traveled in Europe during college--have come back to Spain for a year or two of fun, teaching English to make ends meet.

But while many in this set relish the freedom to travel and Spain's nonstop night life, nearly all justify their experience by the Spanish they're acquiring.

"I came to Spain because I wanted to learn Spanish and travel around Europe before I got too old," said Lisa Kampwirth, 26, from Chicago. "I think (Spanish) will be useful careerwise in whatever I do," she said.

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