Anette (left), with colleague Louisa Machen.
An hour chatting to Anette Skou is as good as 20 sessions of therapy. Everything she says is followed by an infectious burst of laughter, that makes any problem suddenly seem a whole lot easier.
“I’m a very positive person and I have humour,” she points out, quite unnecessarily.
Perhaps it is this attitude that has contributed to the many firsts achieved in her life. She was among the first women to be seen in a miniskirt in southern Spain, she launched the first foreigners department on the Costa del Sol, she organised the first International Day and most probably, although unofficially, became Spain’s first ‘funcionaria’ to provide a service with a smile.
“We are service-minded. We always have a smile,” she says.
“I’ve been working here now for 28 years. I still like my job very much because I’m able to help other people no matter what their problem is. It’s very important to be able to help other people.”
Anette’s laughter has been brightening up the Costa del Sol since she first came to Fuengirola with her parents from her native Denmark in 1971, when, as she points out, life was very different. She was 17, a budding artist who found herself in the middle of Franco’s Spain.
To begin with she moved between two worlds. On one hand she formed part of the incipient community of foreigners - mainly artists and American hippies travelling the world - but from there she and a Danish friend went to a girls’ school run by nuns to improve their Spanish.
“The pupils had long skirts down to their ankles - traditional uniforms - and we were in miniskirts and jeans,” she explains with a giggle. “They thought we were very strange.”
Move to Mijas
Anette spent ten years in Fuengirola running the Sagitario art gallery with her ex-husband, who was also Danish. After her divorce she moved from Fuengirola to Mijas. It was a tiny distance on the map but an important step in her life. In Mijas was her present husband, artist and art teacher, José María Córdoba, who was to provide Anette and her son Oliver from her first marriage (now a successful chef) with a “whole Spanish family”.
“I learned a lot about the Spanish way of life, the Spanish mentality, and Spanish cooking from my mother-in-law,” she says.
It was this education that stood her in good stead for securing the job of interpreter at Mijas Town Hall at the end of 1984, a post that was to lead to her being a vital link between the foreign and Spanish communities at the helm of what is now the Foreigners Department.
Anette’s arrival in Spain in the seventies allowed her to experience certain social developments twice over. “The things I lived in Denmark I lived again here: equality for women; we had that back in the 60s and here it started in the 80s,” she explains. Perhaps this replay heightened her sensibility to women’s issues, an awareness that seven years ago was turned into action when she helped to found the branch of Soroptimists International on the Costa del Sol.
“We are part of a worldwide organisation with 90,000 women,” she explains, adding that their work benefits local, national and international projects, from building wells in Sierra Leone to providing emergency bags with toiletry essentials for women who report domestic violence to the Guardia Civil.
“Spain has a long way to go. It’s amazing how many women are killed every year. Although women are more informed now, there are a lot of problems with young people today. I have a feeling it’s going backwards,” she says, for once not adding her usual giggle at the end of the sentence. Would she describe herself as a feminist? “I don’t think women should be more than men,” she says, “Women should be equal. But I would have been one back in the sixties!”
While she spends much of her time explaining local taxes and other red tape in the foreigners department, Anette has managed to weave her love of art into every aspect of her life. It was her creative vein that led to the birth of the Mijas International Day 25 years ago, a concept of bringing cultures together that has since been successful in other towns.
Her creativity also produced the Soroptimists’ poster advertising the free phone line for victims of domestic violence (900 200 999), which is now discreetly located in bar toilets.
However her love of art is reflected most in the jewellery she makes herself, and proudly wears, and her painting, under the guidance of José María.
So what is it that makes Anette Skou such a joy to talk to? Perhaps it is the enviable combination of art, culture, generosity and love.
Anyone seeking information at the Mijas Foreigners Department must come away with more than just the answers to their questions; they will have a dose of high spirits to last them all day.