There’s a new service on our local radio: it re-broadcasts a three-hour program from London put out, apparently, by the Sun newspaper. So now, those of us who live here can keep up to date with what’s going on ‘at home’. The latest gossip about those sterling characters that are too important to appear on such a channel, as re-told to the breathless costa-dwellers. The frothy mixture interspersed with bits of news, the weather forecast (for the Thames Valley no doubt), some pop songs, some politics-lite together with other wholesome and instructive entertainment.
Sometimes, living here is a bit like what one can imagine must occur on Pitcairn Island, the tiny and unapproachable island in the south Pacific, taken over 150 years ago by the mutineers from the Bounty.
‘Ahoy there Mr Christian, any news from London?’
‘No Mr Christian …’
Of course, there is one clear and obvious difference. Each year, crisis notwithstanding, our group is growing larger. More and more people are re-locating here, anxious to join in. Our children have often moved to Spain to be with us: in some cases, they’ve been born here. We may be grafting here, or we may be retired, but we will have worked hard in our past lives from wherever it was we left behind, to come here and to call this home.
We have many skills and countless experience and we are prepared to offer our help and advice to improve our new neighbourhood. So why don’t they ever ask us?
The longer we live here, the less important our old country of residence becomes. The less urgent to catch up on the latest activities of shallow and plastic characters that we only know of anyway from watching Sky television. How much future each of us has is down to fate, but there’s no doubt but that our future is here.
To be fully comfortable living here, we must know our way about. Not just the geographical constraints of our pueblo and indeed our province, but we must find out how things tick. The culture of Spain, the kitchen, the traditions, the history, its society and, as far as possible, its language. These are all crucial elements to living here in comfort and in peace.
But there is more, we must be satisfied with our own society. To describe ourselves as ‘Brits’ or ‘Expats’ or ‘ingleses’ or ‘guiris’ or some other slightly insecure or perhaps negative term, is a weakness. To think of ourselves as ‘colonials’ or ‘exiles’ (like our interbred friends on Pitcairn) or ‘immigrants’ or even as ‘future Spaniards’ are all wrong and perhaps even slightly absurd. The colonial works to become wealthy with the intention of returning home; the exile has his nose pressed to the glass, anxious yet unable to return inside. An immigrant is here to better his lot: to find work and dignity. As for us becoming future Spaniards, even those of our children who are born here will tell you that such a thing is not easy. We are, perhaps, ‘émigrés’, living here because we can.
Our lives here are fine. We live well. As long as nothing goes wrong, we have nothing to fear. We live almost in a different or shifted dimension from the Spaniards. We walk past them, but sometimes we suspect that we could walk right through them as if through a ghost. They are here and we are here, but we are not, quite, here together. We tolerate them, they tolerate us.
Which must be our fault. Our mistake. We say we must try harder.
In fact, the problem which our group faces is a different one. We have yet to create a ‘society’, or ‘an entity’. Being an ‘Expat’ doesn’t quite make the grade – it’s as if we used to be ‘a Pat’, but got demoted somehow. We need, it seems to me, to become proud of ourselves, of our group. In fact, we need to become a group. Believe me, the local people would not only understand, they’d treat us better.
There’s a word which a friend, Christine, brought to my attention which could work. Cosmopolitan. It would make things a lot easier. We could dispense with ungainly terms like ‘Europeans’ (does that include Spaniards, what about Americans?), the ‘Brits’ (what about the Germans, the Dutch and so on?) or even the ‘Extranjeros’? I am sure that the local Spaniards and the political institutions would respect us more, if we could leave aside the apathy and unite as a proud group, with fresh ideas, enthusiasms and energies for our towns and parishes.
Locally, society is divided not between the Spanish and the Foreigners, so much as between the Local Spanish and everybody else. The town halls are run exclusively by local people (with a few rare exceptions) and they are staffed exclusively by local people. In my town (Mojácar), we have well over 50% Cosmopolitans (I’m using that word now), yet all the public jobs go to the local, ethnic people. This is because we have been happy, in our majority, to allow this to happen.
In the old days, when there were but a few foreigners living here, we would look out for each other. The British embassy was never going to move a finger (its job is to promote British industry abroad) and the Consulate’s only obligation is to sell us another passport or extend some ‘home’ benefits to us abroad. When there were only a few of us, we would help each other out: drive those in need to hospital, translate for them, wine and dine them (as necessary) and join together when the chips were down to buy them a ticket out. Now, we are too many and we lack an identity. For this reason, perhaps, we have associations, clubs and circles. But, precisely because we are weak, apolitical and inert, we are picked upon. We are a powerful group. All the money that circulates here is (or rather was) ours. It came from elsewhere. We have homesteaded here because we love it, because we find it beautiful and peaceful. Yet, when some threat looms, we shrug our shoulders and, unbelievably, we put up with it.
Imagine what we could do, those of us who have the intelligence and the experience, whether we are Britons, Germans, Norwegians, Americans or Madrileños, if we became, truly, Cosmopolitans.