For 28 years out of our 36 years of marriage we have lived abroad. This is in fact our 34th house since we married and we have hopped happily around the world doing a variety of interesting jobs mainly as a cog in a large corporate machine and living the ” ex-pat life”
This life certainly makes us experts in packing and unpacking and over the years we have met hundreds of other expats in our travels. Expats are drawn together by two things normally, they are British and they are posted to the same place. They have in the main little else in common. Looking at our latest address book it is interesting to note that with a few very notable and dear exceptions there are no expats that we met on our travels listed there. We have friends in all the countries we have lived in and in some countries some really very special friends but they all lived there before we arrived and continue to live there now. The most expats were I guess just that, expats who shared moments with us and after a few years of Christmas cards when we or they left, we and they drifted apart.
We realised on our first posting that one could run into trouble with expats who flock to new arrivals in more remote places like bees to a honey pot. The advice given by Cousin Jasper to Charles Ryder about his first term at Oxford in Brideshead Revisited always rang true “You’ll find you spend half your second year shaking off all the undesirable friends you made in your first year.” We developed a litmus test of our own based on customers in my imaginary perfect English pub . Would the expats we have met be a) the people who when you saw their car in the car park you drove on to the other local b) people you would nod to across the bar c) people you would have a drink with on occasions d) people you enjoyed drinking with e) people you drank with happily and were keen to socialise with regularly .
The term expat doesn’t alway apply either as I think there are now places in the world and especially in Europe where you are hardly an expat. Cyprus, parts of Spain and the Algarve come to mind. There people really live in Little Britain where locals are more like Merchant and Ivory film extras, there to add local colour to the town square and allow the ” expat” to try out the local word for good morning/evening/night.
Leave it to A.A. Gill to stir up the expats forums back in 2007 with this acerbic piece
“If it were just you that the Brits annoyed, I wouldn’t really care. What I mind is that they’ve re-created this Disney, Dick Van Dyke, um-diddle-diddle-um-diddle-I, merry Britain of childish grub and movie clichés, this Jeeves-and-Wooster place of mockery and snobbery, and I’m implicated, by mouth. Made complicit in this hideous retro-vintage place of Spam, Jam lyrics, bow ties, and b******. These ex-Brits who have settled in the rent-stabilized margins aren’t our brightest and our best—they are our remittance men, paid to leave. Not like the other immigrants, who made it here as the cleverest, most adventurous in the village. What you get are our failures and fantasists. The freshly redundant. The exposed and embittered. No matter how long they stay here, they don’t mellow, their consonants don’t soften. They don’t relax into being another local. They become ever more English. Über-Brits. Spiteful, prickly things in worn tweed, clutching crossword puzzles, gritting their Elizabethan teeth, soup-spotted, tomb-breathed, loud and deaf. The most reprehensible and disgusting of all human things; the self-made, knowing English eccentric. Eccentricity is the last resort of the expat. The petit fou excuse for rudeness, hopelessness, self-obsession, failure, and never, ever picking up the check.”
Well that’s put us all in our place !
Mind you reading reminded me that someone once said that ‘I love being 65 years old for I am now of an age when I no longer care what other people think of me, the only important thing now is what I think of them.’ Actually it was me about an hour ago when I was out walking !
So yesterday we arrived at 1 p.m. at the Masseria Palagogna on the Ceglie to San Vito road to meet 8 other expats for an all you can eat all you can drink lunch. Now dear reader if you think I am going to in anyway categorize these lovely people you are very mistaken. I am far to long in the tooth for that. Suffice to say our table out did all the Italian families and groups for noise ( no mean achievement) almost from the outset. We certainly also out did them in the number of carafes of beer and wine carried to the table. Indeed by the end had there been any Italian customers left at 5.30 in the evening I think they would have formed a guard of honour to clap us out of the restaurant. Certainly the staff did, though more from relief at the thought we were finally leaving and to make sure no one had the bright idea to ‘pop back in for just one more’ .
If you get the chance to go it is not bad value. €28 per head and though it isn’t really all you can eat the amount of food would satisfy the best of trenchermen. However I would be quick. When the owner looks at his September accounts he might well ban i inglese and you have our little band of brothers to thank for that. But no names no pack drill.