Nowadays Lloret de Mar is chiefly known as a seaside resort where tourism is booming business (well, before Covid-19 made its appearance anyway). But this is a relatively recent development. It was during the 1950s and 60s that this small fishing town was turned into a crowded holiday centre pushing its inhabitants into modernity.
Women played a crucial role in this process, thus not only changing dramatically the day-to-day life of their families but also that of Lloret itself, only compared to the metamorphosing effects on society of the gold rushes in the United States, Australia and elsewhere. Few attention has been paid to this phenomenon, an interesting example of socio-economic history in which women are the principal characters.
It is very well explained in the documentary Pensió Completa (2011), directed by Amaranta Gibert, on which part of this article is based.
From a traditional to a modern society
According to the theoretical model that reigned in post-Civil War Spain, and Catalonia for that matter, men mostly working as a fishermen or farmers were the breadwinner and women were confined to their household chores and educating children. Although the message of the Franquist regime was ‘women belong in the kitchen’, the income generated by the male often was not enough to keep the family going and the earnings of the woman were more than welcome.
At the beginning of the 1950s tourists from other European countries with more money to spend started visiting the Catalan bays and beaches. The local women were quick to recognize the opportunities these developments offered and decided to make the most of them. They rolled up their sleeves, expanded their daily household chores and started letting out rooms. After all, the difference between having relatives staying for holidays and festivals to feeding a few mouths more was not so big. Soon small restaurants were set up.
Although business was steadily growing, at the outset home appliances such as washing machines, were scarce. Before long they became dire necessity and were purchased when money started trickling in. On other occasions architects recommended building a hotel with rooms that boasted their own bathroom, an unheard luxury in those times.
As a result hotels shot up like mushrooms. In the early 1950s Lloret had only boasted a couple of old hotels, but fifteen years later there were 165 establishments with rooms for more than 11.000 tourists. So tourism also meant income for the municipality whose budget increased tenfold in just a few years.
Although the men must have gladly accepted the addition to the family income, they were not always in favour of their wives’ new trade, as they did not like to have foreigners about the house. They never were in direct contact with the clients, but either kept working as farmers or fisherman, or became building labourers because of its attractive salary.
As no professional development courses nor career education or coaching in the tourist industry existed, the Lloret women trained themselves in small groups of relatives or neighbours and turned themselves into restaurant cooks or maître d’hôtel. In fact, they were business managers, but their husband nor society recognized this achievement.
The conditions of employment were deplorable: no contract nor social security. What is more, working hours were long, while the women still had to combine looking after their clients with doing their own household and caring for the children. Taking a holiday or even a break was out of the question. In the documentary one woman comments that she did not even have time to blow her nose. Another did not see the beach for some 30 years. They were always working, which chiefly implied moving all day; for them peeling potatoes meant a moment of rest.
Influence of foreign women
In those years guards on the beach still watched over seaside visitors in order to keep up the prevailing Catholic and Franquist moral standards that ovbiously clashed with the different sexual morals of the tourists from abroad. So autochthonous women found themselves in a complicated conflict situation. While their strenuous work was not taken seriously, they were suddenly faced with a whole different life style that brought about a cultural shock. Moreover, the quiet rhythm of village life had accelerated overnight.
The inner conflict of these women was evident. The church kept preaching traditional values, but society and their role in it was quickly changing. Double standards came to the surface. For example, men did not want their women to imitate the foreign (read: easy) women, but they were constantly eying them and even flirting with them. Foreign women with colourful clothes, sandals and bikini seemed too big a contrast with their own wives wearing dark garments with long sleeves and skirts.
Meanwhile, the Catalan women were also preoccupied about what the children noticed, such as the different way in which their fathers looked at their own mother and at foreign women. Nevertheless, they felt that if they did not copy the foreigners, their men would easily fall for them and run off. So by and by they changed their conduct and appearance too, and even pursued men, till then a behaviour considered inappropriate. For the next generation things were easier, thanks to the invisible toil of these pioneer women who were the authentic pillars of economic and social support in a changing society.
Although the documentary Pensió Completa is entirely in Catalan, it is well worthwhile watching as it includes period pictures and films that give a perfect impression of the town and town life in those days.
For more vintage photos of hotels, click here.