Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Expat Association

I have received an email from the British Expats Association to the effect that, after a lot of hard work and little support from the Expats (as we seem to like to call ourselves), they have decided to close down. You can find their erstwhile objectives on their site at Their first point says it all - To remove the discriminatory culture towards Expats that exists in both UK and Spanish Government Departments.
Neither the British nor the Spanish authorities take much - or perhaps any - notice of the British citizens who live in Spain. The Spanish don't employ us or grant us any rights they can avoid, and the days of the British government sending a gunboat to sort out Johnny Foreigner have long gone.
You are on your own.
In Europe!
And that's the strangest thing of all. We are all Europeans, merely living in a different bit of it from where we were born. And yet, we can't vote (outside of local elections) and we have no champions.
Oh - and judging by the news from the expat association above, we don't even care.
I'll leave out the bit about the endemic fraud - as often as not committed by one Brit against another - and the lack of the offer of any white-collar employment by the Spaniards towards the foreign community, which is now standing at over ten per cent of the entire population (with the honorable exception of a massive number of Argentinian dentists). Here in Spain, we are in cowboy country.
One of the things that the expat association decided to belabour the European Union - acting as God-given Brits abroad - was to make the point that Britons don't have identity cards and it was unlawful for them to have to carry them in Europe! So, while the rest of the European countries carried on as normal - Italy with its police card and France with its Carte de Séjour (police card again), Spain decided to tear up our residence cards - a card which looks like the Spanish ID card, fulfilling the same function and carrying our tax/ID number and used to identify oneself or to guarantee a credit card - in short, a pretty useful document - switching this to the current system which is designed, apparently, to discriminate still further against fellow-Europeans in the 21st century.
Now, we are expected to carry both our passport (our British ID as it were) together with a letter from the immigration authority to say that - we need to carry our passport and that our Spanish ID/tax number is such and such and that this letter is not in itself an identity document, don't you see? Whoops, better not fold it inside your wallet because it'll fall to bits.
In Almería, the gestorias (street lawyers - the citizen's first line of defense against the swollen bureaucracy of the state) reduce the letter to a managable if hard to read size and plastificate it. No news on how legal that is. In Madrid, they give you back your old out-of-date residence card, with the corner cut off, and tell you you can leave your suitcase full of passports and sundry police-documents at home.
Not sure about how legal that is, too.
The Spanish know perfectly well how idiotic this whole performance is, but they explain that, with the huge numbers of new civil-servants which are entering the system (to try and lower Spain's dreadful un-employment figures, despite the evident risk of bankrupting the country) they all need something to do.
You could of course become Spanish, taking out Spanish nationality. Highly visible sports figures manage to do just this in a matter of days (do you remember the Spanish olympic skier who cheated in the winter games a few years back? - Ullrik Von Schtipfelgrüber or some other equally Castillian name - or then there are all those goal-scoring Spanish footballers which strange African looks and a bare smattering of the language), however it takes the normal joe several years to get the same deal. Then again, if we are Europeans, why should we need to become Spaniards anyway? And furthermore in my case, a bit like old Ullrik, no one would believe me if I said I was Spanish - too tall and blond for a start.
So we come to the thrust of the expats and their association - essentially to get the British government to look after those millions of us Brits who have decided to go and live in foreign parts. The government, naturally - unless we send money home or support the British Labour party with generous and regular donations - couldn't give a rat's arse for us. But, we made our choice. This doesn't make us 'expats' or 'exiles' on the one hand, or really 'immigrants' on the other. Somewhere in the middle lies 'émigrés' - those that live happily enough outside their own countries, with little desire to ever return but similarly without much intention of tearfully kissing the local flag.
If only Europe was a proper state (rather than simply a commercial opportunity) then the subject wouldn't arise.

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