During this UK pre-election period, most of us will come to realise that statistics can be adjusted to mean almost anything to anyone. It was therefore with some cynicism that I read a recent article where the authors claimed that "Nearly one third of British expats have no local friends and refuse to stray beyond the safety of their British friendship groups".
The study went on to claim that only one in four expats would describe their social group as mainly British, with one in 10 admitting that their friends were exclusively British. Only 10 per cent of expats claimed to mix mainly with local people, and more than one third couldn’t be bothered to learn the language, with a quarter admitting that they were not at all interested in the culture that they found themselves living in.
The implied message from the article was, of course, that British expats living overseas are a miserable lot, whilst expats from other countries are so much friendlier and easier to talk to. It all made for rather shocking reading, but then I remembered to add a rather hearty pinch of salt that I usually reserve for some of the more outrageous British tabloids.
Integrating into a new community, trying to learn the language, however many mistakes, as well as appreciating the culture, is all part of the adventure and process of settling into a new home, a new community and a new country. Even though technology now means that it is easy to maintain contact with friends and family in the UK, it is local friends and neighbours who will be there to advise and to help in a crisis.
Admittedly, the attitude of the host country and its people also has an impact upon the happiness of the newly arrived expat and will help to determine how quickly expats settle. One survey claims that the vast majority of expats immediately feel at home in New Zealand, with similar responses from expats living in Canada. Again, it is the warmth of the welcome, and a shared language and culture that are the main factors for this result, but the same thing can happen in Spain, France, Italy and Portugal too.
So what relevance does all this data have upon the expat contemplating moving to or already living in Spain or another European country? It is true that expat life can sometimes revolve around mixing with and socialising with expats from the same country of origin. Much the same criticism can be said about the Germans, Swedish, Irish and Norwegians who often feel more comfortable and sheltered by their own communities, who are anxious to build their own churches, schools and hospitals, using only their own shops, restaurants and bars. Many British, Irish, German or Norwegian urbanisations that I visited as a reporter in Spain were clearly defended against perceived ‘outsiders’, including those from the host country.
As a newspaper reporter in Spain’s Costa Blanca, I once had the misfortune to report upon the misery of one Spanish couple who were being ostracised by their mainly British neighbours, for being the only Spanish couple living in ‘their urbanisation’.
When I attempted to discover the reasons for the hostility, a range of complaints were thrown at me, including the couple having meals, drinking and partying late at night, playing loud Spanish music, their untidy garden, as well as parking in the wrong places. On the face of it, most were trivial complaints from a colony of Brits who preferred to be in bed by 10.30pm, and unwilling to adjust to the culture, timing and habits of residents from the host country.
Sadly, I later discovered that the Spanish family could stand the unpleasantness no longer and moved away from the area. The expats had missed good opportunities to learn from their Spanish neighbours. If they had bothered to learn a little Spanish, much could have been resolved through friendly discussion, as a well as adopting more of a ‘live and let live’ attitude to their neighbours. It seemed that most of these expats were not happy people, and most would have been much happier living in Bognor Regis than in an expat urbanisation in the Costa Blanca.
On a more positive note, my own experiences of British expats is that most are more than happy to mix with their European neighbours, given the opportunity. Often, failure to mix is due to lack of motivation to learn the language, together with traditional British reserve and, unlike the article written around some rather suspect statistics, it has very little to do with a lack of willingness to make friends.
If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: www.barriemahoney.com and www.thecanaryislander.com or read his book, ‘Expat Voice’ (ISBN: 9780992767174). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle.
iPhone/iPad and Android Apps: ExpatInfo, CanaryIsle and CanaryGay now available.
© Barrie Mahoney
Filed under: http://www.theleader.info/article/46994/
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