Immigrants, that’s you and me if we decide to live and work abroad. Talk about it within the context of home however and just that one word by itself is enough to provoke a reaction from most people. The issue is never far from the public consciousness and tabloid newspapers unashamedly play upon these fears with their simple stereotypes; they live in separate communities. They don’t try to integrate. They’re lazy. They can’t be bothered to learn our language. They eat strange food. Worst of all they come over here and take our jobs. It all sounds familiar I’m sure, but not something you are likely to think about if you want to live and work abroad.
Coming at a time when the global economy doesn’t know which way is up many people and governments are becoming much more conservative about immigration while being supportive of their citizens who want to live and work abroad. This is old news though, so lets spin the tables around and have a look at this from a different angle.
Welcome to the World of the Expatriate Community
After living abroad for a quarter of my life a few things have struck me about the expatriate community and made me rethink my perspective on immigration. The main reason for this is because many of the complaints you hear about immigrants are those which expatriates hold onto so tightly.
How close is the nearest Irish Pub to you?
Coming from a country that has been historically blighted by its unfair share of poverty and famine, the Irish have gotten everywhere and taken many parts of their culture with them when they emigrate to live and work abroad. Chances are there’s an Irish themed pub close to where you live.
From these Irish pubs to the cricket fields of Hong Kong and the rugby pitches of Jakarta, the expatriate community gathers in familiar places to do familiar activities. Finding those places is one of the first steps many people take as they attempt to navigate the unfamiliar waters of foreign lands and establish links with like-minded people. This is important for people who live and work abroad.
Pass through the doors of your local Irish pub and you could be anywhere in the world with the possible exception of North Korea and Vatican City. The scene changes little regardless of the country, even if the taste of the Guinness does.
Where are all the Locals?
From the pub to the Women’s Association, most expatriates quickly make friends and fall into their own social circuit when they live and work abroad. Garden parties, weekend piss ups, a spot of golf, whatever it happens to be.
At some point living abroad the observant will notice something. The people around you are predominantly white and either rich or middle class. In Europe or the States they could be your neighbors, abroad they probably are your neighbors. This is not to say that there are no locals around. There will be lots, but get introduced to enough people and it’s likely you’ll a phrase similar to this; “You’ll like him. He’s lived in Europe.” This is the Foreign Stamp of Approval. It says he’s one of us, a local who shares something in common with you because he has experienced your culture when he decided to live and work abroad. I’ve often heard people follow up the comment with the statement, “they’re more open minded,” as if exposure to Western culture automatically makes you more personable.The result is most people I know just don’t spend any time with people from the country they are living in, unless it’s their partner.
They’re All Lazy
Well they just are! Locals are lazy. You tell them to do something and they don’t do it. You have to watch over their shoulder the whole time to make sure anything gets done, and you can’t trust them. It’s like you have to do everything when you live and work abroad. Apart from the persons partner of course, they always works really hard.
Too many times have I listened to people complain about how lazy and incompetent the locals are. Luckily prejudice travels well when people decide to live and work abroad.
While most of Europe hovers on the edge of a double dip recession and the US struggles to achieve one and a half percent economic growth, the economies of Asia, Latin America and Africa are expanding rapidly. Sure China’s economy is slowing down from almost nine percent, but this is a figure that most countries in the West can only dream of. It’s time for us to realize that lazy incompetent people aren’t the ones achieving this. It just could be your husband or wife isn’t the exception. The people around you when you live and work abroad are generally as hard working as from where you come from. Equally there are a hell of a lot of lazy people where you came from. Take off the rose tinted glasses!
Lets learn the language
It’s amazing just how many of us rely on the rest of the world to speak English. My first trip abroad without my family was to Thailand. I was following the tourist trail, moving from hostel to restaurant to bar. Every Thai person I met spoke a bit of English. Of course they could, it’s English after all. In my whole time in the country I only met one fellow traveller who had tried to learn a bit of Thai.
Maybe tourists don’t need to speak the local language. Perhaps it’s different if you have decided to live and work in a different country you will speak the language fluently? After all before you’re allowed a work visa in England you have to be able to speak the language, that is of course unless you’re very rich.
After finally making the big move to live abroad I realised that this statistic was the rule rather than the exception. Too few of us bother to learn the local language. I met a person recently who had been living in Indonesia for more than five years and couldn’t have a basic conversation in the language. How does he manage? Pointing at things and talking slowly and loudly in English. How does he get away with this? Pointing is a perfectly acceptable way to hold a conversation.
A Taste of Home
Marmite, Branston pickle, cheese, sausages. If you’ve lived abroad at least one of the things on this list will ring a bell. The nutritious equivalent of precious metals, they are highly sought after by British people living abroad. If you bring back any of the above from your trip home you’ll have made a friend for life. Whatever country you come from it will be the same. There’s always going to be something that people miss when they live and work abroad.
Food is also a reliable icebreaker. It is the expatriate equivalent of a conversation about the weather or how you hate your neighbor. It is often followed by how the local food doesn’t agree with you and how quickly it goes through your body. It all comes back to a taste of home and a sense of familiarity. I don’t mind eating rice every day, but honestly sometimes I just want something different. The fact that I’m rarely far from a place offering a Full English Breakfast means that there are a lot of people who feel the same, this is just a thing you understand when you live and work abroad.
It’s Not Always Easy
Too many people and not enough jobs is a familiar problem. With a growing middle class and more people going to University most developing countries are trying to reduce the number of immigrants coming to their country to live and work abroad. It’s not just Europe and the U.S. that are putting up barriers to immigration to stop people who want to live and work abroad. The trend is now to hire local people where possible and legislation is often put in place to ensure this is adhered to.
Many conversations I’ve listened to while abroad mirrors those in Britain. Foreigners are coming over here and taking the jobs that locals believe they should be entitled to. More and more it is only those with specific skills that are in demand that can expect to find employment without any problems. This is the situation that people who want to live and work abroad will increasingly face in the future.
It’s funny that you mention learning the language. For years I struggled with CD courses and in-person classes and I thought I was beyond help. Even the basics of a language seemed to vanish within moments of being “learned”.
Then I started to visit foreign countries for a few weeks to a few months at a time and I found I picked up the language almost instantly!
Somehow being surrounded by the language; hearing it spoken, seeing it on menus and road signs and so on – the total immersion – helped me learn languages far quicker than anything I’d tried before.