‘A lad wanted F**k Off tattooed across forehead’

In this week's My Spanish Career The Local chats to Steve Hezzell, an award-winning British tattoo artist and owner of Beyond Reality tattoo studio in Benidorm.

'A lad wanted F**k Off tattooed across forehead'
Tattoo artist Steve Hezzell with his wife, Henry. Photo courtesy of Steve Hezzell.

What brought you to Spain?

The main thing that brought us to Spain was the change in weather and climate; we were sick of the weather in the UK. We also thought it was time to make a change in our lives as our children had grown up.

How did you get into tattooing?

I first started the art of tattooing at the age of 9 with my uncle.  When I turned 18 I opened my own professional and fully licensed tattoo studio and haven’t looked back since.  Tattooing is in my blood and heart. I had successful tattoo studios in Mablethorpe and Loughborough in the UK before making the decision to move to Benidorm in 2006.

What are the good and bad points about living and working in Benidorm?

Benidorm can be pretty seasonal and there are tattoo studios popping up all over in the back of hairdressers etc, often they are not licensed and get away with producing dreadful permanent ink! The good points about working in Benidorm are our regular clients who make our job worthwhile. Another good point is the shorter hours in winter, which mean we have more time to enjoy ourselves and be holidaymakers.

Is working as a tattoo artist different in Spain to in the UK? 

Working in Spain is not much different to tattooing in UK although we do get a lot more different nationalities. We get a lot of British a lot of Norwegians as it’s so much cheaper here for tattoos than Norway. We also get quite a few French customers and also a few Spanish, we’ve noticed an increase in the number of local Spaniards coming to us now.

Do Brits and Spaniards have different tastes when it comes to tattoos?

Generally Spaniards like a lot of the same designs as the English but religious tattoos are definitely more popular with Spaniards.

Tribal tattoos are among the most popular with customers. Photo courtesy of Steve Hezzell. 

Do you get many drunk customers getting tattoos they might regret in the morning? What is the craziest tattoo request you've ever had?

We do not tattoo drunks they can book in for another day when they are sober, ink is for life.  A young lad once wanted Fuck Off tattooed across his forehead obviously this was refused in our studio.  Another more unusual request was a man who wanted a wheelbarrow on one arm and a spade on the other arm as he was a labourer.

What are your most popular designs?

Our Scottish designs are very popular as I draw my own so they are exclusive to this studio. Names and quotes are very popular, as are musical notes and tribal tattoos, but that can be very boring work to do.  Polynesian and Japanese sleeving is also popular.

Beyond Reality Tattoo Studio is fully licensed and also offers private and confidential tarot card reading by Steve's wife Helen. Email: [email protected] Tel: 0034 663703824

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‘Hard to stay afloat’: Is working for an English language academy in Spain worth it?

It's the go-to work option for countless anglophones in Spain, but is teaching at an English language academy still enough to pay the bills in a climate of rising prices, stagnant wages and a shift to online learning platforms?

'Hard to stay afloat': Is working for an English language academy in Spain worth it?

Traditionally seen as a type of gap-year experience for recent graduates and/or those seeking adventure before settling down to a more traditional career path, English language teaching in Spain has becoming increasingly popular as a long-term career.

A high quality of life, a more favourable climate and generally lower living costs have always made Spain a popular destination for English language teachers, with Spain posting the highest number of job advertisements for teachers among European countries.

As a result, many of those working in the industry see it as somewhere to further both their professional and personal lives.

However, poor job security, stagnant salaries and issues surrounding the long-term sustainability of language academies have plagued the sector for years.

The recent impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the current rise in inflation has further compounded these issues, with many teachers considering their long-term careers in Spain.

Teachers working for private language academies in large cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Sevilla can expect to earn between €800 to €1,400 a month after tax for about 20 to 30 hours of class time per week.

One teacher told The Local Spain that despite working as a profesor de inglés for almost a decade, his academy salary had gone down dramatically in real wage terms, following a salary cut during the pandemic which made it “hard to keep my head above water”.

“I was working as a teacher for nine years but felt the need to leave the profession as the hours I needed to work were affecting my mental health. During my first three years in Spain, I was able to get by on my salary. Since then, I have increased the number of private classes gradually, I save the same a month as I did when I first moved here, but have to work an extra eight hours a week to be in that situation”.

READ ALSO: The pros and cons of being an English language assistant in Spain

As of 2022, the minimum monthly salary stands at €1,166 gross for a 40-hour working week, meaning that someone working as an English teacher can expect to earn more or less the minimum wage based on their contact hours, with many opting to teach privately in order to supplement their income.

In addition to this, most teachers are hired on short-term indefinido contracts, meaning that they only earn a monthly salary for nine months of the year, resulting in many taking on summer work to maintain a year-round monthly income.

While short-term informal contracts and a relatively manageable monthly salary may have appealed to single, twenty-somethings seeking a few years of fun and adventure in Spain, for those looking to support a family or get on the property ladder the precarious economic reality of English language teaching has seen many reconsider their long-term career goals.

“I rented when I initially moved here but now I’m paying off a mortgage which has gone up due to interest rate rises,” another English teacher told The Local Spain. 

A traditionally in-person industry, the pandemic forced many academies online and, due to increased competition from online language learning platforms along with a paradigm shift in terms of hybrid and remote study and work, academies have struggled to replace students lost to this new language learning environment.

As a result of this, some teachers have seen their weekly teaching hours reduced as academies simply cannot guarantee a full schedule, putting further financial pressure on teachers.

teaching english spain

Poor job security, stagnant salaries and issues surrounding the long-term sustainability of language academies have been plaguing the industry for years in Spain. Photo: Thirdman/Pexels

One teacher with over seven years working experience for a large English academy in Madrid told The Local that “a few years ago our company began the long process of trying to cut our supplements and basic wage”.

“We were backed up by our comité, (representative group) but after about a year of negotiations, reductions (and redundancies) were made. At the time it cut about €250 from my meagre wages.”

As is the case across Europe, the level of inflation in Spain has risen sharply to about 10.5 percent as of September 2022. Combined with rising energy prices, more and more teachers are finding it increasingly difficult to live off a salary in some cases of just over €1,000 a month.

With the average cost of renting a room ranging from €400 to €500 in large cities, some teachers are choosing to cut costs in terms of their living standards to make their salaries stretch further.

Another teacher told The Local how “while I still go out at the weekend and buy the food I want at supermarkets, the increase in rental prices has meant that I’ve stayed in a less-than-ideal room, rather than finding a better room – due to not wanting to pay significantly more in rent”.

While the challenges facing English teachers in Spain are not unique to their line of work, this latest set of drawbacks should be factored in by anyone considering making a move here or teaching long-term.

Such economic realities are difficult to ignore, but that’s not to say there isn’t a lot English teaching can offer someone looking to gain some valuable work and life experience while also enjoying the hustle and bustle of life in Spain.

Article by Cormac Breen