‘Footprints in the Sand’ is the eighth title in the ‘Letters from the Atlantic’ series. In some ways, this year has been the most difficult collection of ‘Letters’ to write, since much of the year has been focussed upon the Brexit debate. The decision whether or not to leave the European Union has for many expats been the most disturbing and disruptive period in their lives.
‘Footprints in the Sand’ is a reflection of the events that I have experienced over one year as an expat living in Spain and the Canary Islands; experiences that I hope will resonate with expats living all over the world. Thousands of expats have gone before us seeking new lives, experiences and adventures. All create footprints; some we choose to follow, whilst others we ignore. In time, footprints are washed away by new circumstances, opportunities and priorities. Nothing is forever and often we have to start again.
As with many nationalities, xenophobia and racism are never far away, and the British are no exception. As history has shown us in the past, at times of recession, financial and social disturbance creates a situation where many seek to find scapegoats, in order to explain and provide and excuse failures in their own lives.
In the past we have seen Jews, gays, travellers and others persecuted, simply because they are perceived to fit the criteria of ‘someone to blame’. Post 2008, and the scapegoat has become the European Union and all that it stands for. Concerns about what many see as uncontrolled immigration, widening gaps between the rich and the poor, lack of opportunities for less well-educated groups have all added to this poisonous and destructive debate.
When my partner and I moved to Spain thirteen years ago, it was during a period of excitement and positivity towards the new found freedoms that expats such as ourselves were given. We left the UK during a period when anything was possible. The European Union opened the door to new opportunities and a new way of life. Like so many others, we followed well-trodden footprints of many thousands of expats before us who had suddenly realised that the door was now open; we could live and work in any European country that appealed to us.
No longer would we need work permits, visas and permissions. Our rights as citizens of Europe would be protected wherever we chose to settle; we could buy property, start businesses and finally take our place as a member within a community of nations. It was when positivity and ‘can do’ attitudes prevailed, and we were ready to play a full part within it. How quickly things have changed.
During my time working as a newspaper reporter, and later as a columnist and author, I have seen at first hand the benefits that a new life in Spain, France, Portugal, Italy, as well as other countries, have offered British expats, as well as those from many other countries. For some, it has been the promise of starting a new business in a country offering a lifestyle that they can easily empathise with. For others, it has been the promise of a new life in a country offering a freshness and vibrancy to life. For many retired people, a new life in the sun offered the relaxation and health-promoting climate sought for most of their working lives. We have also seen a period of peace, stability and prosperity within Europe that our forefathers would never have thought possible. So, what has gone wrong?
Britain is an island nation and, whether we like it or not, xenophobia has always been part of the British psyche. There has always been an element within British society that has distrusted Europe specifically, and foreigners in general. Some of these attitudes are based upon arrogance, whilst ignorance also plays a large part. The European Union is also to blame and often criticised for being undemocratic and arrogant in its approach.
However, a close examination of the structure of the EU by experts reveals that it is far more democratic that current political structures within the UK; one only has to glance at the composition of the House of Lords and the promotion of its sitting members through a discredited honours system to see why. The EU has failed to promote itself, is often seen as too remote and fails to take into account the needs and problems within individual member states.
As in previous years, this volume of ‘Letters from the Atlantic’ covers a twelve-month period of my life as an expat, together with some of the challenges, delights and experiences that many of us face. I hope you will enjoy this current volume as expats all over world continue creating ‘footprints in the sand’.
If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: http://barriemahoney.com and http://thecanaryislander.com or read his latest book, ‘Footsteps in the Sand’ (ISBN: 9780995602717). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle editions.
© Barrie Mahoney