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Wednesday September 11, 2013

Are British expats one big happy family?

Some time ago I was given a book written by an expat who described in depressing detail the every day squabbles and feuds that existed between fellow Britons in her French village. I was appalled to think that this unhappy bunch was living cheek by jowl in a small rural community bristling with angst and loathing for one another when they should have been having the time of their lives.

And yet the other day I happened to be speaking with an expat in another part of Mallorca who told me that he had encountered the very same problems in his village. Although he and his wife made every effort to remain on cordial terms with their British compatriots, sharing dinners and meeting for drinks and local events, many in their circle were apparently at loggerheads. This, he explained meant that organising dinner parties could be a minefield because it was critical to invite only those who weren’t on hostile terms.

Much as I expressed disbelief, I had to admit that on rare occasions I too had come across a certain animosity between local expat groups. Earlier this year my husband and I had naively set about organising an Anglo-Majorcan supper only to be asked quite bluntly by two British couples about the other guests. When I mentioned other Britons that we were thinking of inviting there was a sharp intake of breath and a polite decline of the invitation. Aside from that isolated incident, I honestly can’t say that I’ve noticed much froideur in my own rural valley.

A Majorcan friend told me that living away from a village on a quiet track with Majorcan neighbours was our ticket to sanity. She said that the gossip and intrigue among expats in her tiny village was rife and that the main problem was that most were retired with few interests and had failed to integrate with Majorcans in the locale. Few of them could speak Spanish so by necessity were forced to socialise together. This meant that increasingly they became reliant on a small coterie of expat acquaintances, all thrown together by circumstance, often with very little in common. It is what Spanish friends have described as pueblo pequeño, infierno grande, literally translated as ‘little village, big hell’.

The retired engineer who had described the expat feuds in his neck of the woods on the island, agreed with my Majorcan chum. He believed that it was critical to form local Spanish friends and to develop hobbies and interests which widened the social circle. Here on Majorca there is little excuse and there are excellent networking and cultural groups that are open to all nationalities such as ESRA, Spirit of Spain, LACE, ABC Business Club, the Mediterranean Garden Society and EporE. There are also vibrant foreign expats only too happy to break the bread with their English neighbours, and in our valley at least, there are Majorcan dance, sport and cultural initiatives welcome to all.

It’s sad to think that some Britons leave the home country in search of happiness in a foreign idyll, only to find themselves in a small goldfish bowl living among those they grow to dislike intensely. I hope it is just a minority but to be honest don’t they really just have themselves to blame?

Please feel free to comment on this article. All comments are moderated, so it will appear after I have checked it. Thanks!

  1. Small village, big hell, sounds like hell indeed! I’ve been a “serial” expat for years but always in towns, and have fortunately always enjoyed a happy social life. Now we’re considering buying a house in the south of France, but have been warned about life in small villages for various reasons. Your story adds another one! I think a small town, on the outskirts perhaps, might be a better choice.

    Still, very sad people have to live the kind of strife-ridden life described in your story. However, as you wondered, I think perhaps they’ve got themselves to blame.

    * by Miss Footloose | Life in the Expat Lane | Sep 26, 05:45 pm

  2. Yes I think you’re doing the right thing. Somehow being on the edge means that you enjoy privacy but can join in local events too! I would find it hard living in a tiny village here that was hoaching with bored expats in love with tittle-tattle!

    * by anna nicholas | Nov 8, 05:18 pm