Life as an Ex-pat – Immigrant- Incomer – whatever. Things you should know.
‘But are there many ex-pats living in your village?’
The dismissive tourist inquired with a hint of negativity. He was viewing a property and thinking about moving out to Spain. Immediately I had an impression in my mind of a group of people who we often think of as a community of simple, single-minded people who refuse to integrate with the locals and try and live as they did back home. This picture in my head has come from somewhere. I cannot ever remember watching El Dorado, the shortest running soap opera from the 1990’s. Perhaps he had. Why have we allowed this mockery? an unfair description attached to whole communities.
‘Wherever you settle out of your own country’ I answered smirking, you will be an ex-pat or an immigrant.
Maybe there is some truth of negativity attached to this description, what I do know is that it is a judgment labeled unfairly to whole communities. The negativity attached to the term has been created by ourselves and it has always amused me because it cannot be further from the truth. If only the naysayers would look a little further than beyond their noses.
In 2000 I left Blighty to embark on a lifetime adventure to live in a country that was somewhere other than where I originated from. I left because I could. I was not fleeing persecution, well maybe my mother-in-law. It was not an easy decision to make and like most (Duh!) Ex-pats I traveled towards the unknown. merely running away mindlessly into the sunset never to be seen again and with kids and cat in tow. When you have made that journey, be proud. Most people are too scared to.
I set up home in South West France and quickly made friends with others that had done the same. We would meet at the till in the supermarket and solely based on our knowledge of the same language we would start a conversation which would lead to a meet-up. Hence a small community of Expats.
Language will always be responsible for helping to bind communities together. We gravitate towards our own kind because it is in human nature to relate. Not because people are lazy. I admit my mastering of non-native languages is pretty pathetic, however, it does not make ME pathetic, I am good at many other things. You will find many ex-pats holding out the hand of friendship to the people who have lived here before us. You will also find that the hand of friendship is more forceful on the side of the ex-pat with local people viewing us with suspicion. This is normal for most who uproot and land in faraway lands.
“I try not to make friends with English people,” stated an English man I met when I was out walking. He had lived in France for a number of years. What a knob, sorry I had to say it. These people make my blood boil. My quick-witted reply, ‘I only make friends with people I like, whatever their nationality.’ I snapped back. For most people, once you scratch beneath the surface you will find an amazing human being with an audacious story to tell.
We continuously put labels on communities tending to judge without taking the time to get to know people. First impressions are irresponsible and can be dangerous. I cannot see it changing, we have done it throughout history. Wars have been created because of it. For just a moment, think about how many wonderful people have passed through your life and have left no impression because you were too quick to judge them without getting to know who they were.
Getting back to ex-pats, I have lived in Spain for the past 15 years. Recently through my work of organizing some events and activities, I have been blown away by some of the people I have met and their achievements. I do live in a small village which my kids often remark, saying it is full of retired people. They really mean communities that are nearly dead, on their way out, and probably think they are sitting looking out of windows, knitting and stroking their cats. Crikey.
I am not going to mention any names here but I think the average age in my pilates group must be 55. The lady kicking her legs in the air lying near me is 84. She looks 65. One of my best friends last year exchanged her apartment for a camper van took off last year for a life on the road, she is 70 and we talk regularly. Yesterday she was stuck down a track in the middle of nowhere broken down and laughing at the craziness of it all. Another friend recently went paragliding to raise money for cancer, I think she is in her 70’s She tells me stories of when she was a hippy and went to Woodstock. I have met musicians, writers, poets, and artists. Every day somewhere within this Expat community there is someone who will inspire me. Health Matters here too. You are more likely to see queues at the yoga class than at the doctor’s surgery. Six months ago I formed a walking group which has steadily been growing. We all meet for breakfast after the walk. Yesterday there were nearly twenty of us. Some local tourists have joined us. They use our group to meet local ex-pats who live here. It is a wonderful way of discovering how we survive this life.
‘Live your life to the extreme,’ ex-pats will say. ‘Retirement is lost. This is a case of being re-directed.’
As a community it could not be more social, people learn to take their time and be more open with each other. If someone is in trouble they will be supported. People make friends easily here.
Life could not be better. Yes my village is full of expats, we have English, Dutch, French, German, Belgiums and Russians. One of my best friends is Brazilian. We have all come from somewhere. Check out your DNA. I have Irish, German and Indian in me. I guess I could always fit in somewhere, labelled or not.