‘Employers in Ireland care more’

New to the Parish: A couple from Uruguay and Spain met in 2014 working at a restaurant in Dublin. The education system and supportive employers make them reluctant to leave

Sebastian Sainz, his wife, Elena, and their son, Damian, at Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Sebastian Sainz, his wife, Elena, and their son, Damian, at Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Sebastian Sainz grew up surrounded by cooking and baking. His grandmother was “the best cook in the world”, and his mother makes delicious cakes and biscuits. “I like learning about new cultures and societies through their kitchens. Food says a huge amount about a country’s heritage and traditions.

“I’ve always enjoyed creating, cooking and learning. Every moment spent cooking is unique, and the best moments in life always involve sitting around a table with a plate of good food.”

Sainz grew up in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, a place hugely influenced by Italian, Spanish and British immigrants. “The posh areas and neighbourhoods are British; their buildings look like they belong in England. There’s also a huge Italian culture. I have an Italian passport and our accent is a mix of Spanish and Italian. We speak Spanish with the velocity of the Italians.”

Sainz’s eagerness to develop his culinary skills first brought him to Spain, before he moved to Ireland in 2008. Eight years later he sits in a Dublin coffee shop with his Spanish wife, Elena Segura Gonzalez, whom he met after moving to Ireland. Perched on Gonzalez’s knee is six-month-old Damian, who gurgles with delight as he investigates the array of books scattered across the wooden table. From time to time Gonzalez pulls her son into her arms, rocking him from side to side as she describes her journey from Seville to Dublin.

The couple met while working at Las Tapas de Lola on Wexford Street in Dublin, a restaurant Sainz was involved in setting up. When he first came to Ireland in 2008, he worked as a chef at Tulfarris hotel on the banks of Blessington lake. He had been in Ireland only five months when the economy crashed.

“The recession hit and suddenly the hotel was gone. One day we had work, the next we had nothing to do. It was the middle of winter and we had to start looking for jobs abroad.”

Sainz moved back to Marbella, but visited Ireland a couple of times. In 2012 a friend contacted him about opening a Spanish restaurant in Dublin. Sainz had heard about austerity measures in Ireland but decided to take a risk in the hope that the recessionary tide was about to turn.

“I saw the transformation around Wexford Street beginning in April 2013. When I came back, things had completely changed. People decided they wanted to pay for nice food, and different places began opening: good pizza restaurants, tapas places, fusion restaurants.

“In the last three years I’ve watched this city grow and develop a lot. There’s also been a change in the approach to beer and wine. People know more about wine and they’re more interested in what they’re drinking.”

In 2014 Sainz met Gonzalez, who was working as a waitress in Las Tapas de Lola. Gonzalez, who is from Seville in Andalucia, came to Ireland looking for work in 2013, following her sister who had moved to Ireland more than a decade before to marry an Irish man.

“I have three nephews and a niece here and they’re Irish. For me, Ireland was already my second home.”

Sainz was eager to introduce his new girlfriend to his family in Uruguay. After a trip to Seville for New Year’s Eve, the couple travelled to South America for a holiday.

“Growing up in Montevideo is different to here in Europe; it’s what I want for my son,” says Sainz. “I think it’s the whole of Latin America: people are more open with their emotions. There are different values of friendship, communication and family that you don’t find in Europe. I’ve lived in Spain, in Romania, in Ireland, in South Africa, and I’ve never found it anywhere else.”

Despite this deep connection with Uruguay, Sainz says Ireland is the right place for his family for now.

“One of the things that pushed me to stay here and see my baby grow up in Ireland is the education system. There’s lots of Montessori schools, which seem very efficient and good. We also get support from the Government until he is 18, and that doesn’t exist in Uruguay or Spain. We’re saving this money, and when he’s 18 he’ll have money for university.”

Gonzalez is grateful to the Irish maternity services for their support during her challenging and difficult pregnancy. At 22 weeks, she was told that her cervix had dilated too far and that she was at risk of going into early labour. She was admitted to the Rotunda maternity hospital, where she spent the following two months in bed.

“Damian wouldn’t have survived after such a short pregnancy. I had a problem called cervical incontinence, which meant the neck of my uterus couldn’t support the weight of the baby. I had to be monitored in hospital until I reached 30 weeks and then I spent the following four weeks at home in bed.

“They looked after me and my baby with incredible humanity and professionalism. After I gave birth, I went back to visit the nurses and we all cried with happiness.”

Gonzalez often struggled without the support of her family in Seville. “It was hard both for myself and Sebastian, who had to go straight from work to the hospital every day. Thanks to his kindness, love and understanding, he made those months much more bearable. And in the end, those experiences make you stronger as a human being.”

Gonzalez was also pleasantly surprised by her employers’ response when she told them she was pregnant. “They said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll change your timetable.’ That would never happen in Spain. Here, I can say I want to work 20 hours because I want to be with Damian as much as possible during his first years.”

Sainz also has flexibility in his new job as the chef in Green Man Wines in Terenure. He lives three minutes away in Rathgar and knows he can arrive late if Damian is sick or his wife needs help.

“Employers care more here. They take the time to look after the people who are working for them. When you balance things up, why would we go back to Spain? For the sun? Life isn’t just about the weather.”

  • We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past five years. To get involved, email newtotheparish@irishtimes.com. @newtotheparish
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