Are British Expatriates Really Integrating?

Published on 04/04/2011 in Expat Life

In the wider context of tourism, the British have never been particularly flatteringly perceived. Repeatedly, surveys will be commissioned aiming to humble them into more considerate behaviour.

Brits in SpainThe British tourist has traditionally been considered rude, mean, poorly behaved and linguistically incompetent. Whereas the stereotype of the holiday in the UK is all red buses, telephone boxes and the London Eye, the stereotype of the UK holidaymaker abroad is a sun-reddened shirtless and overweight man translating from English to the local tongue by shouting instructions and flailing gesturing arms energetically.

Little wonder then that the stereotype of the British expatriate isn’t all that favourable either. Having lived for much of their lives in the perpetual murkiness of British weather, the stereotypical British expatriate has been attempting to harness the power of the Spanish sun to power an existence as British as roast beef and just as bland. They socialise with other expatriates in bars named after famous London landmarks, shop in British supermarkets and speak Spanish less fluently than Christina Aguilera.

But is this stereotype at all justified, and is integration possible for British expatriates?

Certainly, there are those who are content with their British ghettos, little outposts of the United Kingdom on sun-soaked hills. But so long as they’re contributing to the wider economy of their adopted countries, is this really a problem?

It’s more of a case of non-expats looking at the phenomenon and remarking how they wouldn’t be party to it. Ultimately, the expatriate who fails to integrate won’t have any sway on local politics either, so it’s a somewhat harmless practice. Furthermore, this ‘attitude’ is most common among those for whom proper integration would be more difficult. A retiree Grandmother living in a foreign country might be encouraged to learn the local tongue, but should she really be forced?

Integration may be being resisted by a few expatriates, but in certain countries the local government and its systems are in some way at fault. In the glittering cities of the United Arab Emirates, (which have been steadily growing as a top expatriate destination for many countries) language teaching is being blamed for poor integration.

The private school system teaches children Arabic for 8 to 10 years as a compulsory part of the curriculum, but many do not attain even basic fluency. This is partly a matter of practice: the circles in which expatriate children move do not frequently use Arabic in spoken language. But a lack of standardisation and regulation seems to be harming chances of integration in a land with an already widely criticised social stratification.

The attitudes of the much maligned British person abroad aren’t the only thing standing in the way of proper integration. Open hostility from the local community is always potentially a parallel issue. It is unusual, perhaps, to find a place that’s exceptionally enthusiastic about any form of integration.

A recent British Council MIPEX (Migrant Integration Policy Index) study ranked Sweden highest of all nations in North America and Europe. Portugal, Canada, Finland and Holland followed closely, with particular attention paid to access to education and the effectiveness of anti-discrimination policy.

The landscape of expatriate integration has certainly changed. In Spain particularly, the global recession has forced many expatriates out of work and even out of the country.

The Spanish government is currently pondering whether to bulldoze about 100,000 homes built illegally in the South. Many of these homes already have expatriate owners, who’ve been fighting tooth and nail to not lose the property they purchased in good faith. The bubble has burst. But in the recovery to come, perhaps the mistakes on both sides will be learnt and a better integrated British community abroad will flourish.

Written by: Steph Wood

About the author:

Steph Wood is a copywriter and marketer working for a company specialising in overseas property insurance.

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Oh dear said:
08 February 2014 @ 12:27

The ironic thing about all this is if all the Polish, Albanians, Nigerians etc. came to Britain and refused to learn English, everyone would be up in arms about it. But when the Brits do it abroad it's fine, because God save the Queen right? ;)

TonyHicken said:
13 November 2013 @ 12:34

hola a todos

if you are not willing or prepared to learn spanish or can learn there language then stay in the uk...if you are retired you may get by without learning to much spanish as you may have friends who can help with paperwork etc,but working here without speaking or writing in spanish then forget it..And dont forget always have your ID with you(in some places without you are in shit street)pardon my french.saludos de Tony

Eldorado said:
07 November 2013 @ 20:21

Why are you 'humiliated'? Who has humiliated you, and how? Nobody even knows your name.

People who go to another country to look for work are not necessarily immigrants, and why should they be? Not all expatriates work for multinational companies, many work in local businesses and schools.

The hundreds of thousands of French who live in London are not immigrants either - they even have their own MP in the National Assembly in Paris.

I can always tell how well educated people are by how they spell and pronounce expat - it's spelt without a hyphen and pronounced with the stress on the first syllable. People who spell it 'ex-pat' are thickos, the kind who don't want to 'eat foreign food' or 'speak dago'.

It's noticeable that there is a class divide between British expatriates - the ones in Italy seem to be much better educated and integrated than the ones in Spain, and you never hear about them causing trouble in their host country.

Sixty years ago, it was the upper class and upper middle class British who would go to Kenya, while the lower middle class and working class went to Rhodesia. Now the former go to Italy while the latter go to Spain.

How Many of You Are TRUE Expats? said:
08 September 2011 @ 10:00

Ex-pat means someone who is sent to a country by their employer to work. It does not mean someone who comes here to retire, or to look for employment, that is called being an IMMIGRANT. So hands up how many real ex-pats are here. Not many?!
I am absolutely humiliated by the number of racist comments on this website. Probably posted by the proud Brits who live in their little Brit colonies and employ Brit workers on the black, don't follow the rules of the country and expect to get something for nothing all the time. As many of you would say to people of other nationalities who immigrate to UK - if you don't like how we run our country, go back to your own.

dr david ashby said:
06 April 2011 @ 02:29

hi there all
whilst the stereotipe exists in say the costas there is a more hidden one these live in spanish villages but will travel miles to speak in english with other expats the local people try to help them but do not succeed.
these will be the ones who sooner or later will leave bemoaning that the locals cant or wont speak english the foods awfull and we miss uk, i love spain ok im 65 my spanish gets better god willing and i will be buriad here, if you try the spanish will bend over backwards to help but is a 2 way event

SJG said:
05 April 2011 @ 16:49

Manana manana unless they want something from you, then ayer isn't quick enough. And get used to the Spanish shrug, it's common place, don't try to demand an expalnation. The Spanish are (generally) probably the most selfish people that I have ever met. That said I lived and worked their for over 10 years and am still considering retiring there when I have finshed travelling to other parts of the world.

Learn the language and when locals reply to you in English reply to them in Spanish. You'll soon find out if you're getting it right. Age is no excuse for not learning a language. You're retired, what else have you got to do?!

Nicola said:
05 April 2011 @ 15:30

Good article and i tend to agree with most of it. Many of the Brits i see on holiday here or possibly even ex-pats make me cringe with some of the things they do and the way they look. I mean i am a British ex-pat and i have really struggled to grasp the language but it's fair to say that some Spanish have been down right rude and hostile towards me when trying to speak Spanish. Staff especially in bars, shops and supermarkets...they don't seem to know what 'customer service' is and they could learn a lot from the English when it comes to manners.

Stephen M Reid (Story Teller Man) said:
05 April 2011 @ 15:25

Yep Steph! Sounds just like The Pink Brit chap in my series.

jim ross said:
05 April 2011 @ 12:31

We are talking thr generic term " British" here.
There is a difference with the English and the Scottish,Irish and Welsh .
The non English tend to learn Spanish more and slip easier into the Spanish way of life.

The celts are used to settling abroad for work reasons historically and seem to be easy going with the locals as opposed to pushing the english way of life.
We are all strangers in a strange land here and should blend in more.

Andrew Shanks said:
05 April 2011 @ 11:21

Steph is only partially correct. It is not easy for older folks to learn a new language. Many were not taught well when at school anyway and to learn a new language, good basic grammar is vital. As to integration, you just do not notice the many Brits, Dutch and Germans who have successfully integrated because they fade into the general population. With even a modicum of effort this can be accomplished. Life is so much richer when you can make new native friends through fiestas, baptisms, first communions, romerias or even going to local football matches or demonstrations of horsemanship. As the result of making Spanish friends we have been able to help them to realise ambitions to visit U.K. by introducing them to helpful friends there and by accompanying them on occasion. On a practical note, British ex-pat enclaves may have summer long access to their communal swimming pools - something denied when Spanish families are in the majority on developments controlled by a "Comunidade de Proprietarios".

Robin Corner said:
05 April 2011 @ 09:10

Learning the language is a MUST!!
Driving one centimeter off the car in front is quite a difficult skill to master as is eating pig's brains on toast. Sleep deprivation can cause long term health issues - and the interminable "fiestas" can become boring.
Forget keeping promises and being on-time for an appointment and get used to wearing plastic shell suits and not shaving (men) for days on end.
Yes; integration is really quite simple!

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