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Wednesday February 27, 2013

The expat ‘blow-ins’ who sooner or later blow out

My naval architect friend Ignacio was telling me the other day that an Irish sea captain acquaintance once described expats who failed to stay the course in a new country as ‘blow-ins’. Ignacio told me that he invariably knew whether or not a fresh-faced arrival pitching up in our valley was there for the long haul.

Hey and what about me? After more than a decade living in rural Majorca, I sincerely hoped he didn’t think I’d just up sticks and disappear in a puff of smoke. If so, he could dream on. He shook his head and laughed. But the point is this, how do you spot ‘blow-ins’? Is it the way that they act or talk, or perhaps interact with the community whether expat or local in those early days?

Funnily enough I’m developing the Ignacio nose for ‘blow-ins’. A few years ago, a showy middle-aged British couple arrived in a nearby village and in a matter of months were hanging out in popular bars frequented by other expats, vulgarly shouting ‘Mi amigo!’ to the owner of my local café he didn’t like it as if they were blood brothers, and boasting about a new enterprise that they were setting up. They took over a restaurant site that had a history of failure and multiple owners, couldn’t be bothered to work the long hours of the Majorcans, and spent most evenings vacuuming up their own liquid stock. They were despised by the villagers revolted by their lack of constraint, and departed with their tails between their legs two years later.

There are those idealists who come to Majorca in the hope of running away from a problem-or dare I say it themselves? They appear to embrace local practices, desperately try to engage with expats and the local community, inventing a colourful past and impressive- usually false- job history. Savvy expats google their names and discover that they are not who they purport to be and the lie begins to unravel. Word gets around and soon they are ostracised. When they fail to impress and the money runs out, they pack their bags and head off to another would-be Utopia where they can weave yet another exotic personal history that will hopefully hit the mark.

There are others who float into the valley on a complete whim. They have holidayed in Soller before at a time of year when the sun shone and tourists waved from the picturesque historic tram, oranges and lemons hung heavy from the trees, and all was well with the world. The harsh realities of living in a small rural mountain town 24/7 and through some fairly glum and bleak winters has never crossed their minds. Few have jobs, relying on pensions, savings and the odd brush with consultancy back in the UK but it rarely works out. Soon they tire of rural life, their travails with the local Mallorquí language and the linguistic rigours of its more mighty ‘Castilian’ brother, and head off back to Blighty.

Of course some ’blow-ins’ really don’t want to blow out. They are the expats who genuinely want to make a life for themselves here in the valley but due to unforeseen circumstances such as a family or work crisis, are forced reluctantly to return to the UK.

And finally there are those of us who feel we were born to be here. We love the locals, the feisty food, the hot and clammy summers hoaching with tourists, the cool and mysterious winters when eerie wood smoke curls up from the orchards and the wild and seductive sea beckons like a siren. We relish the traditions, history, fiestas, wildlife, the heady fragrance of jasmine, rosemary and thyme and the glut of fruit in the summer months. Oh and how a glimpse of a gecko or lizard, the braying of a donkey, cluck of a hen and rare sighting of a weasel scurrying over a stone wall cheers the soul.

So we’re not all ‘blow-ins’ who blow out. No indeed many of us are here to stay. For some expats there’s no place like home.

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

  1. Anna, although I enjoy your blogs, I think this one is based on a fallacy. Not everyone who enjoys the experience of living in another country wants to make it permanent – what is the problem with that? Calling these people “blow-ins” implies that they are somehow inferior to longer-term residents.

    We live in mainland Spain now, as retirees, and there are many things we enjoy about it, but I don’t consider it to be “forever”. Because of my husband’s career we lived in five countries other than Spain and the UK, all of which brought us amazing experiences and gave us insight into the lives of very different peoples. I have spoken at least some of the language of every country I’ve lived in (although Polish made me shed some tears – believe me, the “rigours” of Spanish and Portuguese are nothing compared to Slavonic languages!) We have integrated into communities, made lifelong friends, and then moved on, often with sadness but looking forward to new experiences.

    After 12 years of living in Spain I now feel it may be time to move again, possibly back to the UK, but I don’t feel this means I’ve “failed to stay the course”. I’m happy for you that you obviously have found “where you belong” and your writing about Mallorca shows your love for that beautiful island, but please don’t condemn those of us who look at life differently. For some of us, “home” is where we live at the moment … wherever that may happen to be!

    * by Ged | Apr 9, 02:49 pm