The Hopes and Fears of an Expat

During the First World War, British soldiers sang these words to the tune of Auld Lang Syne. It exactly explains why they were in some far-flung corner of a distant foreign field.

We’re here because, we’re here because, we’re here because we’re here,

We’re here because, we’re here because, we’re here because we’re here…

Many of us British Expats live in Spain for better reasons.

I’ve lived on the Costa del Sol for eleven years. Yes, I was running from something when I arrived here. And NO, I’m not one of those who fled abroad after the Securitas depot robbery of 2006. Although, chronologically speaking, I am one of those who left the UK after the Securitas depot robbery of 2006, but that’s pure coincidence, M’lud. I was no more involved in the biggest cash haul in UK history than I was in the Brinks-Matt or indeed the Great Train Robbery. And I have a rock solid alibi for the last one. I wasn’t born until more than two years later.

Before this post brings more unwanted attention onto the Costa del Crime and, relying on me being innocent until proven guilty, let’s move on. I left behind a teaching job in the UK that had got completely on top of me. I came here in search of a new life, and found it. Lucky me!

My story isn’t unique. There are many Expats living here who gain from the sunnier weather and the milder climate we enjoy. There’s also a significant number who temporarily escape each summer to avoid the worst excesses of the sun and the heat, and the tourists. But you’re naive to think that us Expats on the Costa del Sol live in a world of unlimited milk and honey.

There are some here, well below retirement age who’ll never need to work. The bureaucratic Spanish system isn’t very sympathetic to them. Try getting your child into a Spanish state school if you live in the rarified atmosphere above paying Spanish taxes. You’ll score no points out of twenty and the authorities really won’t lift a finger to help you. 

On that same scoresheet, my wife and I chalked up more than ten out of twenty. Our eldest got a place at our first choice school. Both full time workers, we even qualified for school dinners, which doesn’t sound much (particularly if you’re Theresa May) but actually because of the hours Spanish schools open, this is invaluable. At least one of us can do our full working day before collecting our three year old from school.

There’s a big difference between those who’ve chosen to retire here and those of us who work. If you love playing golf or bowls, or just want to walk your dog or love spending time outdoors, then you can’t fail to benefit from three hundred and thirty days of sunshine a year. If you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or any ailment that benefits from warm, dry weather then you could well be in the right place. But this is not the easiest place to earn a living.

That’s shown by how few people manage to establish themselves here. It doesn’t seem to make much difference what age you are when you come here or whether you come alone, with a partner or a family. Our experience of making friends and getting to know people over the last decade is typical of many Expats who’ve beaten the odds for whatever reason. Most of those who even actively want to settle here will try and fail to put down deep enough roots.

It reaches the point where it’s really not worth bothering with new arrivals, as they probably won’t be here for long. This is similar apparently to how seasoned soldiers feel when they meet raw recruits at the front.

Our Expat experience is that people can be gone at the drop of a hat, however long they’ve been here. Some people can just pack a bag and be gone. Others have seemed settled, they may have set up a successful business, own a house and appear to all the world like they’ve done all the hard work. And then you hear that the business and the house are on the market and they’ve decided to go ‘home’.

Missing family is usually one of the main reasons given. That return home, like the decision to go abroad in the first place, often masks deeper problems. Many’ the time that there’s a change of status in people’s profiles soon after they go. I guess at least one of them has decided that just because the grass is greener in the UK, that’s not enough to stay together.

Many people choose to return to the UK when their children reach a critical age in their schooling. For some, that’s when their child is five years old, or seven, ten, eleven, twelve, fourteen, sixteen or even University age. Many parents want to put their children into the UK system, whether the child has been educated in a Spanish school or an International school here.

We Expats benefit and suffer from living in a fairly closed and small community. Perhaps we develop a bit of a siege mentality. We’re convinced that Brits in the UK earn more than us for doing the same job. That may or may not be right. A photographer from the west of England told me that he had at least two hundred competitors for wedding work based within a few miles of his hometown. On the flip side, the number of couples getting married in the UK is much greater than the number getting hitched here. To be honest, there’s a competitive market in most things both here and in the UK.

Some Brits here have chosen a different path. They’ve gone native. They’ve learned the language, embraced the culture and more. They’ve settled down with a Spanish persona and live a Spanish life. Some of them even siesta while many of us work on through the heat of the day. Who’s to say who’s doing it right? If you don’t believe in religion then you probably don’t believe in an ultimate authority. Let’s not get into that now, or any other issues that might divide us.

The bottom line is that we Brits living abroad as Expats aren’t really that different from Brits living in the UK. We have similar hopes and fears. Name checking a great Keane album reminds me that we might still listen to the same music, watch the same TV, eat similar food and even live similar lives.  We just happen to do it an hour ahead of the UK, and in a different country that doesn’t belong to us.

And now us Expats are living with the uncertainty of Brexit. If you’re in the UK, you may well be living with that uncertainty as well. You’d think that the politicians won’t screw up something so important to so many people. But, unlike me, they do have form. And recent events from the national to the local level, don’t exactly inspire many of us with much confidence.

So please forgive us Expats if we feel we’re a bit closer to the front line than you are in the UK…

We’re here because, we’re here because, we’re here because we’re here…

Did you like this? Share it:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *