13 February 2006

The premiere article of Spanorama. The Cheat talks about being Bitter Expat and Happy Expat. What Expat are you?

To some extent, we all become Bitter Expat at some time. We are far from home; we miss people, places, customs, foods, and the thousand other tiny things that make all cultures distinct. "

I love this country.  I want to state this now and for the record because occasionally in this column I’ll write less than flattering things that may sound to the contrary.  I love this country, and that’s why I choose to live, work and play here.  No conditions.  No strings attached.  Period.

Having said that, real life in paradise can sometimes tarnish the glossy perfection that we like to imagine moving here entails.  Like every place Spain has its share of gutters and strikes, as living in different countries has taught me.  It has also taught me that more often than not the aggravations and annoyances of expats tend to focus on the cultural differences between their home and adoptive countries.  Stereotypes surface and inevitably become amplified as experiences (mostly of the negative variety) build up which can lead to expats acquiring a dim view of their new home.  The net result is the transformation of Happy Expat into Bitter Expat, a person who we have all known at some time or another.  This is the person who’s every gripe and grievance comes with a cultural tag, as in “it was typical Spanish service” or “…nothing Spanish works properly”,  which if untreated can lead to the all encompassing “its so Spanish” phraseology wherein the very noun itself becomes derogatory.

I have been Bitter Expat once.  I became so disenchanted by my life in Amsterdam that everything that made that city special and unique became synonymous in my head with bad feelings.  Needless to say, this is a poor way to deal with life’s challenges, and subsequently I missed out on a lot of good things that the culture had to offer, as I substituted little pet peeves and innocent cultural differences for my personal failures and problems.  Making a foreign city or entire country responsible for your unhappiness is a convenient exit strategy for many unhappy expats.  It is the first and very definite sign that an expat is ready to leave that country and go home, because they no longer show any interest in understanding the people or ideas surrounding them.

To some extent, we all become Bitter Expat at some time.  We are far from home; we miss people, places, customs, foods, and the thousand other tiny things that make all cultures distinct.  But always remember why you came here, and remember that no one likes to be pigeon-holed, culturally stereotyped, and labelled, particularly when it’s not a pretty label.  We are guests in this country, and like it or not, we have to accept that guest rules apply.  If you don’t like the party, you get up and go home.  You don’t try to wreck it for everybody else (especially not the hosts) by bitching.

Here I am, living what I think is a near-idyllic life in a great country.  I came here after considerable research and the benefit of dozens of business trips that allowed me to acclimatize to the culture and to get to know some people and places on an intimate level, before committing to moving here and changing my life. Not everyone does this.  Some come down on a whim, others for work, or love, or end up here by chance.  Whatever your reason, you’ll love it here.  Come on in, the water’s just fine. Just remember all the wonderful things you enjoy are always here, even when the train is late or the tapas are particularly bad.  It’s all part and parcel with being Happy Expat.

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