Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Immigrants and Ex-pats

There are two types of foreigner living in Spain long-term: those who came to work and those who came to live. They are - specific exceptions aside - the immigrants and the self-styled ex-pats. To me, an immigrant moves to a new country to improve his lifestyle – and that of his family – and to seek his fortune. No doubt he will work hard, learn (as best he can) the language and be proud of his children becoming 'nationals'. He will not seek to be a 'second class citizen' (even if the local people treat him as one). An ex-pat on the other hand seems to want to stay as he is, only displaced into another culture. Perhaps learn a bit but always talk about and contrast things with 'home'. He may look down upon the locals by condescension to them – while loudly treating them not as his equals, but his betters ('after all, it's their country', ‘we’re guests here’…etc).
Perhaps there're other types - 'colonials' (who seek to exploit their neighbours before disappearing back 'home'), 'emigrés' (comfortable with themselves, but never going back), business executives (in matching shorts, jacket and tie), snowbirds, guiris, ingleses (regardless of where they come from), whenwees, hippies, bums and bikers... and then there are those who fully embrace the Spanish way of life, find a Spanish lover and disappear smartly into the woodwork.
Let’s call them all ‘Europeans’, with honourable additions from the USA, Australia and so on, and a blurry qualification for the Eastern Europeans, who might be more comfortable as inmigrantes.
Sometimes I think of the Europeans living in Spain as a group of people a million and a half strong. That’s more than the entire population of the cities of Málaga, Córdoba, Almería and Alicante combined. Yet, beyond (apparently) all being readers of a white-bread weekly free newspaper, there’s no cohesion, no unity and no identity. Not apparently a group after all. Our few famous companions are known for things they did before they moved here – whether robbing the Glasgow train in 1966, acting in a few movies, being a gun-runner or a bank manager, a pop star or a racer – yet no one has raised our game while being a fully-fledged resident in Spain beyond a few who seem to have found a calling by ripping off their fellow Britons. I can think of a few luminaries that might buck this statement, rather like proving the rule: Michael Robinson (sports commentator), Henry Kamen (historian), Jon Clarke (newspaperman), Len and Helen Prior (unwilling political victims), Maurice Boland (radio presenter), Chris Stewart (writer) or Chuck Svoboda (property rights agitator), but we really need a top-notch champion I think, someone with whom we can identify and, vicariously be proud of  – Guirilandia’s version of Arnie or that footballer with the underwear adverts and the tattoos.
Until we do, we shall remain as a faintly embarrassing blip on Spain’s history, which, like the Visigoths, will leave no trace when we pass. Our main energy here seems to be spent on saving abandoned dogs or messily feeding wild cats. We neither seek nor are invited to participate, to join in. If it wasn’t for the money that we pump through the local Caja de Ahorros, we’d be rounded up and told to scarper. Frankly, the authorities don’t care a fig for us – we have now even lost our residency and ID cards. When necessary or commercially interesting, notices or billboards will as likely be in Ingrish as in English (since 1970, across Almería: ‘this establishement has complaint forms if the customer does so request it’) and we are being written out of local history. See the latest edition of Mojácar’s bi-lingual tourist magazine for example which, in 84 pages, manages to make no mention of us whatsoever. In Mojácar, we eat nothing but ajo colorado and pelotas.
Despite being millions in numbers, past and present, scattered mainly in meaty lumps along the coast or in the islands, we currently have no streets, barrios, buildings or memorials to honour us beyond the Calle Doctor Fleming (Alexander Fleming discovered the use of penicillin, but never visited Spain) and the Calle O’Donnell (Leopoldo O’Donnell, a Spanish general with an Irish name) both in Madrid, and then a few brandy companies in Jerez with historic British names from Spanish families. Well, there’s always Gibraltar.
Sometimes Spain allows a foreigner to take instant nationality – for ‘sporting’ reasons, perhaps – we remember the German skier Johann Mühlegg who skied as a Spaniard in the 2002 Winter Olympics… until he was busted for ‘doping’. Yes, well, perhaps the less said on both sides about him the better…
Our town was dying in the mid sixties. It was a small yet pretty Almerian burg called Mojácar with no surviving agriculture. It was poorly communicated and in as much rubble as new build. There was one bar in the village and three restaurants on the beach, yet a Parador hotel had just opened and the Town Hall was gamely giving away property to anyone prepared to invest in it. At that time, there were only a few hundred people living here and there is no doubt that the artists, bohemians, poets, settlers and visionaries who moved here because they loved the place all managed to turn around the local fortunes. Today, with more británicos than mojaqueros, and with the entire local economy springing from foreign pensions, capital and original outlay, the municipality has successfully managed to avoid any and all reference to the forasteros – the settlers. Our money yes, by all means - but not our partnership. On both sides, a lack of will to integrate leads to a divided and unequal union, with the foreigners feeling like battered wives. If you sell enough houses to ingleses, you should profitably start to blend. Yet, the local story of two long-time bar-owners, Ramón and Gordon, bears retelling:
‘Gordon’, says Ramón, ‘you’ve not been in my bar for a couple of weeks for your morning brandy, are you all right?’ ‘Ramón’, says Gordon, ‘you’ve not been in my bar ever’.
Here in Mojácar - a town with today about 40% local, 10% Spanish and the rest a mixture of Brits, Romanians, Ecuadorians and Chinese (I know, with a sprinkling of another fifty nationalities) - it's hard to lump all the foreigners together as either one thing or another. Some are here to live and spend their money, others here to make money and go away again and others... probably waiting for instructions from Beijing.
The answer is for both sides – locals and settlers – to integrate, the one into the other. Mojácar is hardly 'Spain'.
After all, they sell us houses. We become residents. Then, we - and they - begin to learn about the other. We, because Spain is a fascinating place where we have chosen to live, and they, because they sold us a home, allowing us into their community. Changing their community.
One day perhaps, the local people will be as proud of Mojácar as we are.
Foreigners, at least those I’ve identified as Europeans, or non-Spanish Europeans if you prefer, although non-local Spaniards have similar problems to our own, live in ghettoes – so goes the Spanish reasoning. Perhaps the old saw about the Spaniards who went to work in Germany in the 1950s and sent their money home applies in people’s minds to the guiris. If Ramón goes to their bars or restaurants, he won’t be understood, he won’t get a menu in Spanish, and any money they take from Ramón and his mates will be sent to England with the next post. Well, guilty of the first two, but not the third: it all stays here.
Spain has a number of large capital cities, vibrant with money, offices, departments, companies, cathedrals and power. On the other hand, our town, and all our towns, are small and unimportant places. The capital city for the ingleses is probably Marbella, with Estepona, Fuengirola, Mijas, Mojácar, Albox, Torrevieja, Altea, Jávea, Calpe, Denia and Ibiza rounding out the foreigners’ main ports-of-call. These towns between them don’t have much in the way of presence, with small-time leaders, miserable budgets and oft-ignorant councils, but they are what we have. 
In Spain, there are an estimated 5,640,000 foreigners. With open borders with France and Portugal, tourists staying over, undocumented boat-people, the majority of ex-pats refusing to get on the local padrón and so on, the authorities can only guess at a figure, but that’s the one they like. There is another kind of foreigner that the same authorities inexplicably like a lot more, and that’s the turista. They may not leave much money here individually, but, last year, 56.7 million tourists, including 13.6 million Britons, spent at least one night in Spain. Apparently.
The problem is, of course, that foreign residents don’t particularly spend time or money in Spanish resort hotels and it’s the managers of those establishments who are the considered experts on tourism in Spain. One resident spends in twelve months a lot more than one tourist manages in 4.2 days, or whatever the current average visit is. Let us suggest a chubby monthly allowance or pension spent on clothes, restaurants, petrol, travel, a maid and an electricity bill. There’ll be a house and a car bought from foreign funds as well. Compare this with a tourist who has paid for his holiday in some agency in London and who… if he doesn’t enjoy himself… will choose Portugal next year.
Unlike ‘Residential Tourism’, as the Spanish authorities gamely label our community, a sector on which nothing is spent, beyond (according to bar-room politicians) something massive on the health service, proper ‘Tourism’ is worth a ministry and a huge billionaire budget. Last year’s figures for tourism show 622 million euros spent in 2011 by the Government, plus a similarly massive amount from the autonomies and local authorities.
Answer this - how much does your town hall spend on the foreign residents, and who is the local councillor in charge of us?
We are told we need to integrate, what we need is do is to participate.

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