Tuesday, November 15, 2011

British Expat Subculture and Why I Dislike It....Or A Cautionary Tale For All Expat Ghetto Dwellers

The British tourist has traditionally been considered rude, mean, poorly behaved and linguistically incompetent. Whereas the stereotype of the holiday in the UK is all red buses, telephone boxes and the London Eye, the stereotype of the UK holidaymaker abroad is a sun-reddened shirtless and overweight man translating from English to the local tongue by shouting instructions and flailing gesturing arms energetically.

Glaringly obvious then that the stereotype of the British expatriate isn’t all that favourable either. Having lived for much of their lives in the constant murkiness of British weather, the stereotypical British expatriate has been attempting to harness the power of the Mediterranean sun to power an existence as British as roast beef and just as bland. They socialise with other expatriates in bars named after famous London landmarks, shop in British supermarkets and speak Spanish less fluently than Christina Aguilera.

Spain is a traditional country for the British retiree to escape to but now that lifestyle is coming to an end by the European downturn.

As many expat retirees rely on a combination of pensions, stock and home equity to fund their retirements, it is no surprise that the crisis has seen many of them in dire straits. Unsold and unsellable Spanish homes mean that although a house may be worth money on paper, there is no  comfort to be had in a stagnant market. Likewise, the share market is slow to recover, and the former quarterly windfalls in the form of dividends have either dried up to a trickle or turned red as the international money-bleed is tipped to continue through 2011 and beyond.

British expats in Spain now live in the same kind of no-man's land that political asylum seekers and recent immigrants face in Britain. The inherently racist attitudes to outsiders in the UK (suspicion at best and outright abuse at worst) is now at work against against British expats. This hostile attitude is, in part, understandable. The vocal minority of British expats who enjoyed all of the comforts of sun and inexpensive living while moaning endlessly about local 'laziness' and the annoyances of Spanish bureaucracy have done little to invoke local sympathy in hard times.

While many expats do try to learn the language and involve themselves in their community, the slightest hint of a British Imperialist attitude is enough to turn an already proud and defensive people against expats. Now, when the ghetto-dwellers need the help and understanding of their community, it is clear that there is no community to turn to.

A stronger push on the part of expats to quietly, and humbly assimilate into Spanish life could provide a framework for future cultural understanding in times of need. The obvious truth is that a petty thief is unlikely to break into the home of a known - and well-liked neighbour - no matter what their country of origin is. Similarly, a known and well-liked neighbour will never die forgotten in a Spanish apartment. The beauty of the Spanish 'nosy neighbour' is that he or she is more likely break down your door than passively wonder where you went.

Expats who refuse to live in the now-silent ghettos know this first-hand.

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