Monday, December 31, 2007

For the New Year...

Many thanks to all who have visited 245 and Counting during the first few months - and special thanks to those who have contributed on, and off, the page.

I hope that expats and others around the world will visit and contribute in 2008... but now it is time to wish you all the very best for a peaceful and prosperous new year...

Photo by: fito

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas stories from around the world...

A timely return in this holiday period for 245 and Counting... after an unexpected break. Amongst the many festive articles and end-of-year reviews, it was interesting to come across a BBC feature* where a number of British expats around the world share their thoughts about Christmas from a wonderful variety of exotic countries. It is fascinating to hear how individuals in different locations celebrate this time abroad and particularly what they are nostalgic for (a traditional British Christmas dinner seemed to feature prominently, although one might wonder how even the most ardent fans could cope with a roast mean and steamed pudding in some climates - even with air-conditioning!).

However, even more relevant to 245 and Counting... the brief introduction to the feature stating that almost 10% of the UK population now lives permanently abroad! If that amounts to approximately 5 - 6 million people... wow! This is a fairly recognised figure, previously documented, and if it is in any way representative of expatriate tendencies in other countries, what potential for an expat blog...

Photo: Kerry A Adamo


Sunday, November 11, 2007

It's news to me...

How do you take your news? In these days of mass media it seems quite easy but for expats there may be challenges, especially those who are not fluent in the local language, making TV news, newspapers, etc., hard work. Well, the wonders of the www can help and we have found the BBC web site absolutely superb as a source of top quality news and information in our first language.

Now some are outraged to find that the BBC news site is carrying advertising. Strange that this should provoke such a reaction in this day and age? Well, one has to appreciate that the BBC's history is one of independence, their TV, radio and related services being funded by UK users paying an annual licence, meaning no advertising!

In fact, since the news and other services have been available on the BBC web site* there had been much discussion that this enabled anyone around the world to make full use of services that are paid for by British licence payers! However, now the BBC has come up with an ingenious system - when you connect to their site it detects if you are based in the UK or overseas and, if the latter, the news site you see will carry advertising. As a Brit overseas, I really value the BBC services and this seems a small price to pay for continued access to a quality news source, particularly compared to, say, having to subscribe to the service - the move to advertising is strongly supported by this particular expat...

* BBC news


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Autumn of our years...

Autumn already and, to continue the (fairly) recent theme, one could be forgiven for thinking that this blog had gone into retirement - but real life and the day job inevitably take their toll from time-to-time!

Perhaps it is an appropriate time of year for the subject of retirement and I have been wondering how this time of life may be more or less challenging for expat retirees and what different options may be open to them. Many people I meet who have retired overseas seem to be enjoying life enormously - have they just been able to create their ideal retirement or does living in another place provide more opportunities and stimulation?

Unfortunately, images of typical expats and typical senior citizens seem to get in the way of seeing the real people, and their very real lives, so in some future posts I would like to try to strip away much of the stereotyping and try to look very simply at how one can make this major transition - in another place. Contributions in "Comments" will be welcomed!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Time to reflect...

Well, a hectic life has seen this blog neglected but that does mean there has been more time than usual between posts for reflection and this time the thoughts have come around to pondering further a major change in life, which perhaps gives many their best opportunities for reflection - retirement!

Any mention of this subject, whether here or in conversation, seems to spark strong reactions on one aspect or another of retirement - and from people of any age group - so I think we shall try to follow some related themes, as particularly related to the expat.

Only last week, a mention of expats in retirement turned the conversation to the vivid image of the enclave of "lotus eaters" in a steamy climate, where everyone has little to do but play bridge - and the gin comes out by 11 am! Not an unreasonable way of life do I hear you say? Some are probably able to do that and survive it but perhaps we also need to consider those people leading a more active retirement and what matters to them...

Sunday, September 30, 2007

A pain in the...

Well, it has been easy to praise the French health service, simply because it is so good. However, to give the promised feedback on experiences with dental care, it has to be said that there seems to be a weak spot in what is otherwise a superb system.

The local dentist here is excellent but there are others in the local towns and villages, so choice is not a problem at all. Just recently, though, in what can only be described as a rare lapse, the local guy overlooked an infection and sealed it in! The point here is not about this mistake, as we all make them, even if it did result in truly excruciating pain... no, this is about what you do on a Sunday when your toothache is so intolerable that it cannot be endured until Monday.

Well, the local dentist did not give an emergency number, and one could not be found in the telephone listings. A call to the local hospital asking if they knew someone resulted in the suggestion that the hospital in a town 45 minutes away has an emergency dentist - but checking with them also resulted in a blank! Fortunately, someone had the presence of mind to suggest that the ambulance service might keep a number and, hurray, the unfailing emergency services came up with a dentist working on Sunday morning - and he was excellent, even if he said that it would be necessary to remove the nerves!

So, a happy ending really, although is worth noting that this was not one of the local dentists, but a practice in a large town 50 kms away. Perhaps this would not surprise most people, but it was a shock to find that it was such a problem here, where every other aspect of medical care is so great. Why don't the local dentists have a rota for out-of-hours work, like pharmacies, I wonder?

The moral of this post? I guess whatever country you are in, just keep brushing...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Retiring but not so shy...

Spending one's retirement in the sunny South of France is an attractive idea, particularly for those from cooler, damper climes, such as Brits! So, imagine the furore in the last few days as the rumour machines have generated the idea that France will no longer honour the international agreements on reciprocal healthcare! Naturally, this is a subject of keen interest for anyone, but particularly for the more senior who have been strongly voicing their concern!!

Of course there is always some truth associated with rumours and apparently there are proposals on this which have not yet been formalised but which have already been misinterpreted! Apparently what France is actually saying is that it will meet its obligations to those who have officially retired but it proposes to make a stand on the matter of those chosing to retire to France at an early age, whom it says it will no longer subsidise. I must say that I had not realised that such people had slipped through the health system net here.

Anyway, it seems that there is no need for concern if you are at official retirement age - however, if you have made your pile, and want to sit back on it, then you will probably have to part with a little for your healthcare cover for a while! As France boasts the finest health system in the world, I can only say that this would be a good investment. However, all this illustrates the point that when considering relocating to any country it is important to check not only what amenities are available but what reciprocal arrangements may be in place - and, if none, what full health cover will cost, at any age...

Photo: Roxana Gonzalez

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Bonjour, hola, buongiorno, guten tag...

To return to the subject of language, but in the context of continuing the theme of expats and citizenship, it was interesting to read earlier this month of the UK government's intention to extend the requirements for immigrant workers to the UK to provide proof a certain minimum ability in the English language; apparently only "highly skilled" workers were required to prove that they could speak English adequately but the move now is to include "skilled" workers in this - and perhaps even to go further and require this of "low-skilled" people. We have tended here to describe those living in another country as "expats" and the description "imigrant workers" does give this a rather ruthless economic context, but I suppose that not all expats actually work in their host country. I wonder if that exempts them from language requirements!

Anyway, these new initiatives are apparently supported by the new Prime Minister and it should be said that the UK is not alone in seeking a certain minimum standard in use of the language of the host country - France certainly has such intentions. Provided that this is used with the best of intentions, one can only think that this must help integration in society in the long run. For personal experience, I can demonstrate a reasonable use of French in my expat or immigrant worker status, but I am sure that I was greatly helped when first arriving by having retained a fairly decent amount of French from school days, even if it was rusty.

In this vein, one cannot help wondering if those who support these recent moves were also advocates, in 2004, of changes in teaching policy for English secondary schools; according to a recent BBC article, the teaching of foreign languages became optional then! Well, it seems to have long been thought that the British are not keen to use other languages but it is not surprising to learn now that the numbers studying German have declined by 40% in the last six years - and there is also a drop of 37% in the case of those learning French.

Now if this policy were to be extended to schools internationally, perhaps eventually no country would have immigrant workers! And this blog will become redundant...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Fellow citizens...

Having survived the recent dental work I return with another major consideration for the expat. Does one take on citizenship in the host country? And, if so, how is that regarded within that country and by outsiders?

For temporary overseas postings, contract work, etc., there have long been agreements between countries for granting visas for living and working for a comparatively short period and systems for extending those permits. However, everything needs to be considered differently for a permanent move and one's rights within a country can depend on your country of origin. I have already recounted how obtaining a Carte de Sejour (the permit to live and work in France) used to be more straightforward than trying to register overseas cars in the country! Nevertheless, the residency permits were a fairly time consuming task, requiring you to provide endless personal documents, including proof that you had the means to support yourself - and one had to go through a renewal process every few years, the duration depending on one's circumstances.

Of course, the way around this requirement was eventually to apply for citizenship of the country, to obtain all the full rights of any French person. For many going to another country this is actually the only way to obtain security in another country, assuming that the application is accepted.

Well, Brits in France have not needed a Carte de Sejour for a few years now, following European agreements passing into French law and giving people from certain other European countries the automatic right to live and work in France. Despite this, there are those who still consider taking on citizenship - perhaps for added security or even just out of affection for their adopted country. Perhaps also another level of commitment to their "no going back" decision.

It is obviously understood if people need to apply for citizenship in order to live and work in a country and that was probably the reason for which most did it. However, how is that regarded when it is purely optional. Would some outsiders condemn it as "going native"? Do nationals of the host country truly accept you as one of them after you have passed through this process? Perhaps that depends on the individual but my feeling in the case of Brits in France is that one needs to ask the question is it appropriate personally to take this step - will one feel French and be accepted as such? Perhaps if there are children this might influence the decision, especially if they are born in the country.

However, perhaps rather than trying to adopt a specific nationality we should actually embrace the notion of being Europeans, as that is where the initiatives originated to abandon all the permits and start to break down some national boundaries. If we have children born in the new country then they will have the option to make their own choice later, rather than having the adopted nationality thrust upon them. Perhaps this approach will gradually help us all to feel citizens of the world rather than trying to maintain nationalist barriers. But then perhaps we need to consider if unique cultures may gradually be eroded...

Photo: Chance Agrella

Monday, September 3, 2007

Lessons not yet learnt...

This time it has been raging toothache that has kept me away for a few days - and coping with the cocktail of painkillers and other medications that are to prepare the way for the work to be done! I think I have learned a little about the French dental service already in this process but will save any comments on that until the worst is over!

What I have been reflecting on, in the odd lucid moment, is another big subject for many expats which we are certain to come back to regularly - EDUCATION - particularly in the context of another major consideration - a second language. This combination can impact significantly on decisions about relocating as is illustrated by the family whose circumstances prompted these thoughts. All other important aspects of their considering moving to France point towards going ahead but what do you do about schooling for young teenagers? Is it realistic to ask them to learn the language adequately enough in situ to be able to be taught their other subjects in that language - or should they learn the language before making the move, thereby postponing everything?

Of course international schools can be an option but their availability can be limited - however, perhaps it is feasible to plan the relocation based on access to such a school. It is hard to say though how suitable an international school may be when the family is making a permanent move as there is inevitably a segregation from the local community and the kids may find it harder to enjoy a normal life and make local friends when they are separated in this way. It may be easy to underestimate the adaptability of children but most people will realise that the wrong decision on this can be a gamble with the education of their children. Perhaps there is an age threshold up to which the risk is slight. It would be interesting to hear any first hand experiences that can be passed on to others contemplating such a move...

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Cultural shock...

Back in dear old Blighty, a great pleasures was listening to Radio 4 with its wonderful variety of programmes. So, image the delight when discovering an equivalent French station - France Culture. This has a similar mix of news and comment, plays, documentaries, humour, panel games, etc. - and with the added advantage of being good for one's French!

In the UK I often had Radio 4 playing for most of the day while working and and did not find it hard to concentrate on work, to the exclusion of the radio, or to allow the brain to tune in to an interesting bit without the work suffering too much.

However, as an expat there are always surprises - and it came as a shock to discover that trying to work here with the radio on in the background is not the same. Why? Well, perhaps it will eventually be a measure of accomplishment with the second language when I can comfortably work, writing in English all day, and simultaneously absorb a radio play in the background, in French - but so far that just is not working...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

It's that time again...

It seems inevitable that we will return regularly to matters of language - a big subject and one of which there are daily reminders for most expats, even if they have got to grips with the local lingo reasonably well. 'Local' is a key point, as even the French from other regions can find accents and dialects in the Languedoc difficult to understand!

Anyway, the summer usually brings its own language jolts, this area being very much a tourist destination - in the local shops, bars and restaurants, extra staff drafted in for the season who do not know us usually speak loudly (in French) on hearing our accents, even though we have used reasonably acceptable French! Some will even break into what we have dubbed Menu English in an effort to give us help that is not really needed - this generally comprises phrases relating to the dishes, cooking, etc. that a non-English speaking waiter has learned and can throw into the pot, so to speak, sometimes at relevant points. Here it is usually in a genuine effort to be helpful, rather than superior, so should be appreciated - but it can become a tad confusing, even wearing, when you are trying to focus on your second language, as well as unwind after a long week and make that key decision about which aperatif...

For those who do not have any English to offer but want to say a few friendly words, there is the ubiquitous "Are you on holiday?". Inevitable perhaps in one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world, but we do tend to look forward to the winter when it is just us and the locals!

The people we know on a day-to-day basis, out-of-season, have at least accepted our strange pronounciation, eating habits, etc., while we have recognised that losing one's accent is almost impossible for most of us - and also accepted that no matter how good our French may become we are probably fated to enjoy those same conversations every summer...

Photo by: Kerry A Adamo

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Keep taking the tablets...

That last post has had me reflecting on the time that we did have a real medical drama here - and of course such events always happen in the middle of the night, especially when you live in a small village up in the hills. So, all the more impressive that the emergency services were here in not much more than 15 minutes - fantastic at 4 o'clock in the morning!

In fact the emergency ambulance service here is provided by the fire brigade, so we first had three pompiers (firemen) arrive on the scene with full paramedic kit. Light relief was actually provided by one of them asking "Have you tried taking your medication?"! Well, you would probably be glad of this guy if you were stuck in a blazing building but perhaps he is not a paramedic team leader... anyway, as everyone - including his colleagues and especially the patient - groaned aloud, the doctor arrived equipped and able to take the drama out of the crisis!

With the superbly fast reaction of the emergency team, followed by some excellent hospital care, this fortunately had a happy ending. So, a tribute to the wonderful French medical system as well as an extra cautionary note about being sure of the availability of medical services when you relocate...

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Your good health...

A comment the other day was that, in rarely visiting the UK, we have probably lost our immunity to the day-to-day cold bugs in circulation there. An interesting thought and perhaps it means that it is necessary to avoid Brits visiting France! It may also mean that we are still developing an immunity to the common infections here. It is hard to say to what extent this may be so but perhaps just by relocating we face more subtle challenges than the very obvious ones (such as moving to an area where particular diseases are prevalent). In any event, all this does raise the subject of one's health and what standard of care can be expected in a new country.

The question often comes up as to what access we have to health care in rural France, sometimes phrased as if we are in the remotest areas of a developing nation rather than an advance European country! In fact France offers one of the best, if not the finest, health systems - even in a village of just 700 people, in the hills of a rural area, we have a clinic with two doctors and district nurses, as well as a visiting dentist, and are also only about twenty minutes from two local hospitals. So here in rural France, with an excellent health service, we are happy to take our chances with any new bugs we may come up against!

However, if you know that you are going to a country where access to good health care is not easy, then how do you address that - it is not a problem while you enjoy good health but what if the worst happens? Communications, transport, health insurance, etc., can all play their part but how do you prepare for the possibility of a real medical emergency? And if you have an existing condition, then you probably need to investigate very thoroughly what access you will have to your normal treatment and medication, as well as possible emergency services. Perhaps, then, health care should actually be one of the major considerations when contemplating the expat life.

Photo: Chance Agrella

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Shaping up...

As this blog gradually takes shape, it does seem destined to address the big issues facing expats at large. Without wanting to set targets that are too ambitious, this feels like the right direction just now and, in any case, I'm not sure that it is feasible to attempt to provide the solutions for day-to-day needs for anyone, in any situation, in any country. In any case, there are plenty of specialist sources of information, especially for specific countries.

So, the objective here is not really to provide a resource, or directory of services, for finding the best dentist in Timbuktu. However, that dentist is welcome to contribute, and offer those services, and I hope any reader will feel they can ask for specific help or offer such answers, as one hope is that this may develop into a meeting point for those already cast abroad, or prospective expats, for an exchange of information as well as discussion of the bigger questions...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Give me a break...

Assumption Day - and whilst we will make no assumptions as to how significant this is for most of the population of a secular state (it is a feast day recognising the passing into heaven of the Virgin Mary) this remains a holiday in France. A public holiday during the month when anyone in France who possibly can is away on holiday seems a little odd, but religious and other traditions have their own ways.

It is generally felt in the UK that the French enjoy far more such holidays (bank holidays, as they are known in Britain). Of course, when living in a country you discover the less widely known truths - in the case of public holidays, there are more here but, unlike the UK, if they fall on the weekend, then there is no compensating extra day off work in lieu of this. The holiday is taken on the actual day. So, all shops and businesses can be closed on a Saturday.

That said, the French have mastered a particular art - where possible they will faire le pont (make the bridge). If a holiday falls nicely on a Tuesday or Thursday, then it is common to add the Monday or Friday to the equation to make a nice long weekend! In a good year this can amount to a few long weekends. On reflection, perhaps the Brits are right - the French do have the whole public holiday thing well organised!

Photo: Francesc Cloquell

Monday, August 13, 2007

Getting tough...

If the day-to-day challenges of expat life are to form a part of this discussion, then we must also not shy away from some more demanding considerations. Like David M, I think I can describe my expat experience so far as "enlightening and certainly life enhancing" (ref. Comments in the last post) but what about very fundamental factors that can make or break our peace of mind and security?

OK, you are settled in the new country and getting used to the idea of being surrounded by all those 'foreigners' - one morning the realisation dawns that you are in fact the foreigner here! Oh! Do you wonder if you might be experiencing discrimination without having known - or does that only happen to others? Or are you just paranoid? Perhaps some people are treating you as what you are, not who you are. Does that undermine you or affect how you behave?

Of course there are actually many reasons why someone coming into a community may be treated differently, so you may need to decide what, if anything, is happening to you - perhaps you are in fact 'enjoying' some positive discrimination...

Another big factor is language. It is obvious that being able to communicate with others makes a huge difference to how things go - but for some your willingness to speak their language is their measure of your acceptability. In the UK there are all sorts of moves to make a reasonable use of English an important factor for people seeking citizenship.

So, in your new country, will you take on the language if you do not really speak it already? Or perhaps you can survive perfectly well within a group of compatriots. How important, or acceptable, are expat communities in sheltering us from really learning the language and perhaps even protecting us from discrimination? And can the expat group itself form the relationships with the wider community?

Well, mainly tough questions today - help needed with the answers...

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Getting real...

In reviewing the first few posts, I feel that one could be forgiven for thinking that this is concerning itself purely with the concept, the state of being an expat. For the more pragmatic, it is worth stressing now that I am as aware as any of the realities of life as an expat and expect the practical considerations to become key to this discussion.

Of course some can relocate with the security of a safe income but most have to cope with all the normal challenges of life - work, accommodation, shopping, bills, dealing with bureaucracy, etc. However, they have the added factor of coping with these things somewhere else, where the rules and possibilities are probably quite different - and where they need to use a second language too, this can add another dimension to every activity.

It is surprising what can turn out to be challenging. I remember that the process of obtaining a residency permit in France (no longer needed for Brits) was relatively straightforward in what is known as a bureaucratic country. Of course one is dismayed when the residency permit application demands proof of your subscription to the health system, as the health service had asked for your residency permit as part of your application to them - but there are ways around such things!

In contrast, the difficulty of registering imported cars under French plates was astonishing, with most sources of information, official or otherwise, never quite matching up to the actual requirements which always remained slightly hazy! The ensuing trial-and-error process one had to resort to in gathering and submitting the amazing amount of documentation was expensive, and took months, just to register a couple of cars.

Not a problem to obtain the right to live in the country but unbelievably difficult to drive one's car legally! Typical of the sort of experiences that make up the wonderful expat experience!

So, yes, the practical will very much form a part of this discussion...

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Second thoughts on second homes...

The thought of overseas holiday homes seems to have lingered since last posting. Perhaps one cannot deny any sort of expat status here as I'm sure that many second home owners are genuinely experiencing, and participating in, the second culture. It is probably a case of looking again at how much our expat definition will flex!

Looking more carefully at the holiday home scenario, we can probably differentiate a type of holiday home and what is known by the French as a maison secondaire. It is easy to confuse these but there is a type of holiday home that cannot be thought of as a true second home, generally where the owner is largely focussed on income from their investment - probably letting the house for a large part of the year and perhaps only using it personally for an annual holiday or so. Even if that may be a half-way house, so to speak, to fund what will become a real second home, at this stage it is hard to say that those in this situation can be described as expats because, whatever their hopes and aspirations may be, they actually spend little time in the country and probably have quite limited contact with the local community, neighbours, etc. who most likely perceive them as sporadic visitors. Our expat definition had no specific time factor but it probably needs a certain certain level of involvement in local life to meet the basic "living in a foreign country" definition!

On the other hand, there are many enjoying true second homes, dividing their time between their homes, probably rarely letting them out, if ever, and just having occasional visiting friends and family use them for holidays; they are living in the second country to a certain extent and probably participating in local life, becoming known in the community, etc. Such fortunate people are probably making the most of two cultures, many with one eye on a fuller commitment to their second country - they must merit an expat status, albeit an honorary or part-time one.

Of course it is possible to live permanently but hardly participate in local life and perhaps many owners of maisons secondaires are more truly committed to their second country than some full-timers!

Village nestling in the Languedoc hills

Monday, August 6, 2007

Stretching the point...

Illness rather than lack of enthusiasm or time caused the abrupt halt just as this was beginning to take shape on the page - even in the country with the world's finest cuisine, it is still quite possible to buy a suspect tuna and mayo sandwich! However, part of the attraction of this very format is that one can come and go, prod the subject around, and generally approach things as informally as one wants. Perhaps some structure will emerge - and already I have wondered if there might be some value in developing some sort of expat mutual support theme - but there is no rush.

Around and about the dubious sandwich incident, there have been a couple of encounters coincidentally relevant to this early stage. Peak summer is the time for outdoor parties and events in the South of France and one not to be missed is our "fête du quartier" (a fête for just our area of the village), a day of dining, playing pétanque, eating again, and then partying into the night - attended by about 120 people. A British couple visiting their holiday home explained that both had experienced childhoods in various countries with parents always living and working overseas. They said that, like their parents, wherever they might live in the world they would always maintain a base in the UK, as their ultimate home. They also added that they are the new British couple living in the village.

So much to consider in the context of the expatriate! First of all we have the element of being a temporary expat, when posted temporarily overseas for work - one will always be returning. Then the idea of choosing to live elsewhere, for any duration, but always maintaining a base "back home". Well, our definition of "a person living in a foreign country" does not put on any time constraint or require roots to be severed.

If one looks at how far an expat can commit to, and integrate into, the host society, perhaps a fixed time limit, such as a contract or posting, does create a quite understandable barrier - it might partly explain the creation of expat communities, maintaining a degree of separation from the local people. Similarly, it would be understandable if the permanent safety net of a home base would naturally hold back one's commitment within another society. However, albeit that our definition requires no specific time limit, can one be said to be an expat when the situation is visiting one's holiday home?

I will have to come back to the whole area of time-limited expats, commitment and, in particular, expat communities!

For the second encounter... at a dinner celebrating the renovation of a public building and attended by several hundred local people, neighbours at table recounted how their working life in government service has seen them posted to a few regions within France as well as various overseas French dominions and rarely staying in one place for more than a couple of years. Again, living overseas with time limits, but now we have postings from France to French overseas territories!

Given probable cultural differences in overseas territories of the same country, this scenario perhaps supports the case for the expat definition to be stretched to include "those who live away from their origins" (refer to the last post). Looking at the etymology, the original words being ex patria - outside of one's native land - then it seems quite justifiable to include those relocating to overseas territories or even to distant parts of their own country.

In any event, this broader definition perhaps will help us see how people behave, and how they are reacted to, when they are living somewhere else...

Sunday, July 29, 2007

A defining moment...

However many potential destinations there may be (refer the very first post), at this early stage the point of the blog seems to be to examine what it is to be an expat - and if that word conjures up classic images of colonial "lotus eaters", then let's look at a definition. According to my Collins English Dictionary...

Expatriate: a person who lives in a foreign country.

Perhaps we can stretch the definition a little to take in those who live away from their origins, if we want to develop the notion that there can be great cultural differences when simply relocating within a country. I am uncertain as to whether this can be truly the same state of living as the real expat but we can come back to that.

So, I hope to share and exchange thoughts on the state of being an expatriate (or similar) and how one reaches that situation - the experience of uprooting from one's culture and familiar surroundings - the process of getting there, like any journey - and what it means to arrive on a one-way ticket.

Photo: Chance Agrella

Friday, July 27, 2007

Lovely weather...

The peak summer months of July and August see the rural areas of Mediterranean France at their finest and a particular joy are the village fêtes - far from the afternoon garden parties seen in the UK, these take the form of open-air partying going on through to the early hours. These can be attended by hundreds of people (of all ages) from surrounding towns and villages who are entertained each evening by professional bands of musicians, singers and dancers - attending one's first village fête here is a stunning experience! Of course they are possible because of the wonderful summer weather which is most likely to stay warm and dry through the evening and night during the summer months.

Just now, climate is very much on the mind with the media dominated by headlines of heat waves in Eastern Europe and very severe flooding in the UK where many are temporarily homeless, and there are power cuts and shortages of drinking water. If it is the case that such disasters are actually a part of a change in the global climate, might we see this impact on our decisions as to where we live? Of course there are already major disaster zones, such as where deserts are taking over once fertile areas - but where situations are not yet quite so severe, how much would we tolerate before leaving our homes permanently?

Many people do in any case relocate in search of the sun but perhaps we might see a new trend of people making the move purely to escape a deteriorating climate. I think that could be happening already although I must confess to a personal interest here, having been flooded out of house and home some years ago in the UK! Once the water is in your home, there is no choice but to accept the situation and I still have vivid images of the emergency services arriving to find us with the table set for dinner (no power, so candles and take-away pizza!) and sitting in the fading light in our wellington boots - with water almost up to our knees!

Now a "fond" memory, but the aftermath was a nightmare - and that experience, if not the major consideration, was unquestionably a factor in deciding to make the move to the South of France not much later.

There are undoubtedly already desperate "climate refugees" driven from their homes in extreme circumstances but I have to wonder if we could now see more affluent climate migrants - enabled by ease of travel, tele-working, etc., it is far easier now to chose where we want to be. Perhaps climate change alone could become a reason for living somewhere else, regardless of other factors - how many of us would move home, and even country, purely to escape the weather?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Welcome to 245 AND COUNTING...

Idly browsing a little while ago I came across a Wikipedia article, as one does, stating the number of countries in the world as 244*.

Apparently, this includes full United Nations member countries (currently 192) and many others with, or claiming, the status of "country". Looking through the list I noticed, to my horror, that my own country of birth, Wales, is not actually listed but rather grouped under the United Kingdom entry! So, with patriotism stimulated, I have to make that total at the very least 245 - and counting...

That is a lot of potential destinations - and ever changing.

As a Brit relocated to the warmer climes of the South of France (a country enjoying full status on the Wikipedia list!), I often reflect in idle moments on the challenges and attractions faced by those of us who live in a country other than that of our birth. How do the experiences of others compare to my own? What are the reasons for choosing to change environment, culture, language, etc.? How does reality compare with our expectations? Would we go back? Or would that be the last thought in mind? Or perhaps such a move has been forced on us in which case how do we adapt and accept it?

Do we in fact need to shift countries to experience great cultural differences? There is surely huge diversity within vast countries such as Australia, India, the USA, etc., so this now gives more such destinations than we can contemplate!

Perhaps I want to find out if I am making the most of my move. In any event, I hope that the reflections and questions here will be more than a "diary of a Brit in France", although there are sure to be incidents and anecdotes to share. However, I hope that readers around the world will help this exploration of being somewhere else...

* source: Wikipedia -