Tuesday, 2 September 2008

British People: Don't Be Foolish in Moving Abroad

It must be fifteen years or so since programmes about British people moving abroad predominantly to France, Spain or the USA began appearing on televisions over here. These programmes were matched by numerous newspaper articles too. For some reason in the 1990s, probably when UK house prices got so out of step with the equivalent properties in continental Europe it seemed that there was a flurry of Britons uprooting and moving abroad. In the bulk of cases this was a failure as programme after programme has shown. Of course wealthy people have always had properties in many countries but they rarely live in them all year round and with their independent wealth they have had no need to find a job or to use the local health or education facilities they can buy all of this in. The British middle classes, however, who make up the people who have tried to relocate since the 1990s do not have the wealth to make themselves immune from these things and so have suffered. I was still surprised to read of a family this weekend still make the same errors which I thought had become common knowledge over a decade ago.

What are the common mistakes that middle class families keep making? The first is work. The economies of France, Spain and the USA have had higher unemployment than the UK through the past decade. In addition, there are particular rules, which especially in France almost lock you into a career from the time you are at school. It is not a flexible labour market in the way the UK was forced to become in the 1980s which has resulted in 160,000 French people working in London alone even in the 1990s and probably far more now. If French or Spanish people who know the local market, have the appropriate qualifications and can speak the language cannot find work, then why do you think you are any different? Why do you not accept you are in a worse position? Of course people have always moved to countries to find work, but as British people should be aware but seemed to turn a blind-eye to, immigrants are always in worse jobs than their qualifications and skills would permit them (if the work was there) in their home countries. I have met qualified Czech nurses working as care assistants, women with economics degrees from Sri Lanka working as clerks, how many qualified Polish men are currently simply labourers on British building sites? So if you are going to behave like a migrant you are going to have to take the work of a migrant which means casual manual labour. Your income will fall sharply and you will not get the benefits of paid office work that would do in the UK.

British people of all classes despise migrants and yet they seem to be expect to be welcomed into a foreign country as great friends. Why do not they expect to be treated the same was as they treat Poles coming to the UK? When they go to France or Spain or elsewhere they of course are making themselves (and possibly their children) as additional economic burdens/competition on the country. Australia which is probably the most bigoted English-speaking country, makes this very explicit and wants no-one no matter their national or ethnic background, unless they can support themselves entirely or fill specific labour shortages in the economy. Canada is more flexible because it keeps haemorraging people of all kinds to the USA. France and Spain do not need British people entering their economies. Due to the rules of the EU they cannot stop them, but Britons should not expect to prosper in their economies, though, surprisingly the French and Spanish do not seem as hostile to the British as they should be. The British somehow never think themselves as immigrants and never do the things that immigrants sensibly do such as first move to an area where there are already people from your country and contacts back home. This is because the British, unlike most other nationalities on the planet, actually despise other people from their own nation. This, however, makes it even tougher for the British as migrants than it is for other nationalities. I do not know any other country's people who behave the same way, though I have seen Germans arguing among themselves and Americans too. Partly I think it is because in big populations there are actually many nations and Bavarians should mix with Bavarians and Mid-Westerners with Mid-Westerners rather than Germans or Americans per se. The British should be aware of the same and so not only head to an area with Britons but head to an area with people from the West Midlands or from the Home Counties or from Yorkshire or face as much culture clash as between themselves and the local population.

People complain that it takes 5 years of living in a community in a foreign country before they get to know anyone. Is that at all surprising? I have lived in a range of cities across the UK and I find it equally as difficult to get to know people even when they have the same language and culture as me. Societies are incredibly atomised these days with no-one feeling they owe anything to the local community. In the UK it is typical never to learn the name of your neighbour until they die. You are far more likely to be emailing with someone you know in Australia with the same interests than to actually talk with your next door neighbour. So why would you expect it to be any different when you move to another country? Think how you and your neighbours treat the Polish family or the Somali family who have moved in at the end of your street in the UK. Not only do you not talk to them but you complain that they smell, have too many children and imply they are the cause of a rise in crime in your neighbourhood. In fact they are no different to what you are going to be when you move to France, Spain or the USA, ordinary people trying to get by. So think yourself into their shoes when you move abroad and then do not wonder why you have not got to know any of the locals.

One huge error Britons moving abroad make is to change too much. If you have no experience at running a bed-and-breakfast in the UK why do you think you will be able to do it in France? Very few people in the UK have any experience at working a vineyard so again why do they think they can do it in France? It is quite likely if they moved to Blackpool to over a B&B or to Sussex to run a farm or to Kent to run an orchard they would equally fail. Why suddenly think if you have been a civil servant for the past thirty years that you are suddenly capable of becoming a farmer or a bed-and-breakfast landlord/lady? You would fail in the UK you are going to fail even faster doing those things in a foreign country. Be realistic. The other thing is the Britons do not move from a British suburb to a French suburb, they almost always move to some remote rural area and then find it difficult when they do not have the local facilities they had back home. They would find exactly the same difficulty if they moved to the Scottish Highlands or the Yorkshire Moors or the Brecon Beacons of Wales. These are rural areas with all the difficulties of rural areas. That is why people have been leaving them for urban areas for the past 200 years. It is no different in France and Spain. Most French and Spanish people want to get out of those areas. The houses the Britons buy, similarly need a lot of work. It would be difficult to do them up in the UK and again twice as hard in a foreign country where ignorant of the rules and regulations as you are, they are in foreign languages. Think about it. It would be tough to go to such a house in such an area in the UK, why do you delude yourself it will be any easier in another country? If you must do this, go first to an area like the one you come from, move to a suburb and then buy a weekend house in the country, not make the huge leap all at once. Also a dump of a house is a dump of house no matter what country it is located in. It is clear that many French and Spanish know they can foist dumps on deluded Britons, places that would otherwise be demolished (I know I have stayed in some of them!). It is funny that whilst not happy to live like immigrants Britons are happy to live like poor peasants of the 19th century. Have we not shaken off the delusions of the 18th Arcadian Idyll thinking? It was nasty enough living as a peasant then, it is no different now. Shun rundown farmhouses, go for the kind of house you would live in back in the UK.

British people move abroad because they think they like the culture, the food, the different attitude to life. That is probably fine for a holiday but living it day-to-day is very different. British people yearn for the brands they had back home. In particular they whine about the short opening hours and everything being closed on a Sunday and everyone going to church. They want to be queuing at the DIY stores and being able to browse round the DVD stores or buy their groceries on Sunday morning. Britain has become a 24-hour consumer culture in a way that no other country in Europe has become. We are addicted to shopping and it is the main hobby in the UK. Whereas French men will go fishing and French women will sit and do some embroidery and the young people go out on bikes or camp or hang around ice cream cafes, both sexes and all ages in the UK simply want to shop. They often lack any hobby skills or any desire to acquire them. British people consume alone and get hostile to other people in their ways. We have shed any community for personal consumption. The British do not go to church, so though the Americans are big consumers they have not also opted out of the church policing of their behaviour though also they have not shaken off its communal aspects. British people do not do politics either, so whereas a French person or a Spaniard will find community in the political parties they follow the British do not do that either. Britons struggle hard to be remote from each other, so why are they surprised when they are isolated in other settings. If you want to be able to shop all day on Sunday, do not leave the UK. Do not move to a small French village and whine that it looks like the UK in the 1970s with all the shops shut. You cannot shop on demand as you are used to in the UK. Talk to Australians and people from Persian Gulf states living in the UK, both of whom have longer opening hours than the UK and you will experience how you will feel when you move abroad. If you find it difficult to adapt to the culture do not expect a whole country to change its ways to suit you. If you like France and its ways then fine, but if you do not then why are you thinking of going to live there and also probably in an area where it is at its most extreme? There are not loads of facilities open on a Sunday in rural England why should it be any different in rural Spain? To some degree what British people envisage when they think of living in another country is a kind of theme park version of that country which bears as little relevance to the country as it really is as visiting a version of Britain where people either are cockneys in flat caps or gentlemen in top hats and people take tea at four and we all drive minis or ride in red London buses. Many foreigners expect the UK to be like that, of course it is not and so neither is France or Spain or the USA the way we envisage it. Either tolerate the differences or stay at home.

Children. This is the worst aspect of Britons moving abroad. The standard pattern of immigration is for a young man to go ahead and once established for them to bring over a female partner and then other family members. It can take decades before the whole family is relocated. Is this how the British do it when they emigrate? No, they take school-aged children with them from the start and wonder why they are so bitter. Again, look at the experience when you move within the UK and then anticipate that magnified when you move abroad. Children find it very difficult to make friends especially these days when parents are so picky about the people they associate with and also no-one lets their children go anywhere not least to the park or into the street without them being closely monitored. Children making friends these days is as complicated as arranging a marriage. If you move just a few miles away or your child fails to get into the school that their friends get into then there is major trauma and they feel cut off and ostracised. Imagine how much harder it is for them to be dumped into a school where people speak a different language, watch different television programmes, have a different set of assumptions and values? British people complain about the immigrants who are unaware of British culture and do not speak English and then proceed to go and do exactly the same by dumping their children into French or Spanish or US schools and expecting the child and their teachers to coach (and US culture is very different from UK culture, especially in terms of education, than most US and UK people think). This is cruelty to your child. It also means that they have no chance of ever getting a good job. By moving abroad you are effectively condemning them to years working at a remedial level. They will be blocked out of a good job and they will always be an outside in the country you have made their home. It is tough enough growing up in the modern world, but you are handicapping them right from the beginning. Most Britons move abroad when they have young children partly this is because it is the best time financially and when they have mad dreams. The UK government should ban it and people should only be allowed to go abroad either before they have children or when they have retired. They should at least be compelled to leave their children with relatives until the parents have work and a habitable house in the country of destination. The children should be barred from joining their parents until they are skilled in the language and culture of the destination country.

Middle class parents superficially put a lot of effort into getting a good start for their children then throw them into circumstances which means they will never achieve the income or success that they have achieved. I met a South African woman who had come to the UK to do a PhD bringing her school-aged children with her. She might be improving her situation but you know because they have been thrust into the UK system and will then be snatched back out again three years later that they will never get the chance to reach PhD level in their studies and probably will not even get a degree. All countries now have such integrated education systems that not having the child follow through condemns them to second-rate education and lacking the qualifications or skills to either thrive back in their original country or in the one they have been dumped into. Parents sacrifice their children for their ill-informed dreams of a better (in fact usually far worse) life abroad. Possibly the best people to emigrate anywhere are the retired. Their children have gone and they do not need to find work in the country they are moving to. They may have a challenge in finding friends, so again they should not remove to remote areas. Remember that their partner might die and leave them alone (France and Spain are probably better for widowed women than the UK is, Australia is far worse given how male-orientated a society it is). Remember also that health care can be very different to back home and you will need the vocabulary to work with it.

Language skills. Well, I have already spoken about how poor the British are at speaking foreign languages and those moving abroad seem to make no effort to gain those skills before going. Their children have no opportunity to do so because British schools are so poor at teaching languages and start so late. Apparently 70% of British school pupils, according to the BBC aged 11-18 want to live work and live abroad, 55% of these want to go to USA and 52% want Australia (clearly they could opt for more than one destination), but 47% wanted to go to Spain and 35% each to France and Italy. The reasons given are pathetic, 62% wanted to move for better weather and 53% for a lower cost of living and yet since 2004 there has been a fall of 30% in the number of pupils taking GCSE (taken at 16) French to around 200,000 and less than 80,000 do German GCSE compared to 120,000 back in 2004. Spanish is rising but only to 67,000 students taking it this year. These figures compare to the 750,000 pupils who took GCSEs this year in England, Wales and Northern Ireland with 150,000 doing the equivalent Standard at SCE exams in Scotland. So whilst 70% of pupils want to work abroad about 40% are studying a foreign language even at basic level. British people entirely lack the skills to learn and speak foreign languages, so why do so many of them kid themselves (200,000 have moved to France now) that they can function abroad? They struggle when dealing with being there on holiday so why do they think they can deal with buying a house, taxation, work, education?

People will always want to emigrate. Britain is in a deteriorating position and so I can understand why many British people want to get out. However, the bulk of Britons who leave do so with a terribly inaccurate view of the life they are going to have. They are mistaken in so much, mistaken about things they are going to do which would come unstuck even if they remained in the UK. They do not realise that all immigrants have a tough life and have poorer opportunities than the circumstance they have often left behind, but are driven by more powerful motives such as mass unemployment, poverty or persecution. If you are going to emigrate your life is going to be very hard, it is not a holiday, it is tearing up your whole life and falling into a less amenable position. However, Britons moving abroad can reduce the challenges. Be aware things will be very different from back home. Be aware you will be isolated for many years. Do not try to change too many things, move into work and an area similar to what you are leaving behind in the UK. Do not buy a dump of a house in a remote area that you would not think twice about buying in the UK. Move to an area where there are other Britons like yourselves who can support you a little. Do not take children with you, you are condemning them to a terrible life if you do. Do start learning the language and culture 3-5 years before you consider leaving. I do hope we stop seeing and reading about British families who have wrecked their lives and particularly those of their children by chasing after some totally unrealistic fantasy in a foreign country. If you must do it, do not be so brainless or unrealistic as most of these people. The better option is to buy a holiday home that you can come back from.


taylor said...

sometimes its difficult to stay in some other country because you need to understand their language and everything.


Rooksmoor said...

Taylor, I agree and the British are very poor at getting to learn other people's language and culture. When you meet British people abroad they try and impose Britishness on the area where they are living. British people always talk down immigrants to the UK and do not seem to realise all the difficulties that these people have faced and continued to face. People willing to uproot and move across the world for the benefit of their families, should be admired. Most British people do not need to do this, they go abroad more for a kind of extended holiday and that is why, I think, they get into the difficulties I have mentioned.