Expat Exodus Back Home?

Is there really an expat exodus back to the UK? After the British broadsheets, the tabloids are running stories about foreign-resident Brits forced to retreat back home. ‘Fleeing in their droves’ is the soundbite consensus of the media, with hordes of British expats supposedly in dire straits because of the credit crunch, the distressed £ sterling, loans taken out in euros on the strength of sterling incomes, the rising cost of fuel and food basics, diminishing income from holiday letting businesses, etc.

Provence, the perfect climate, and a sports lover's paradise. These same slopes on the nearby Mont Ventoux are currently covered with 2m50 of snow. And in the summer between June and September afficionados of the sliding sports still find a way to race down

But what’s new? There will always be dreamers who gamble on good fortune, and uproot without proper consideration of the disadvantages and risks, who see the grass on the other side of the fence through fluorescent-green tinted glasses. When times are tough a sizeable number of these will have little choice but to head back home with their tails between their legs. But that’s just a fact of life, the inevitable ebb and flow of people across borders that we see through good times and bad.

Credit crunch, poor exchange rates? At 3£ an hour in Thailand compared to at least ten times that price in the UK, it'll be a while before this particular 'luxury' catches up with Western prices...

Tomorrow’s Daily Express is hardly likely to have any major insights on the topic. Another article has been pencilled in, and should it make the final draft, Old Etonian Bill Coles’ piece I suspect will make little mention of the more humdrum aspects of this issue. Of course in times of crisis people get caught out. Then the pendulum swings again, and people head off once more for pastures new. And so on, and so forth.

June 2008 - Friday lunchtime in a City pub, or a Pastis by the pool in the south of France? Where would you rather be?

These days, apparently, news has to 'bite'. It's all about making the most noise and appealing to people’s baser instincts, in order to get the most viewers or readers. When asked by Mr. Coles, I tried to give a balanced, long-term view of the alleged exodus to the journalist… will it be reported as such, or will those parts of the interview be cherry-picked to suit the picture the Express wanted to portray in the first place? For the benefit of non-Brits, the Express is a right wing conservative daily, a middle-market tabloid slightly more informative than the photo-filled Sun, but way short of the likes of the Independent, Telegraph or Guardian in terms of number of words with more than one syllable. The xenophobic British tabloid press loves a bit of foreigner- and French-bashing in particular, and here’s the perfect opportunity for them to have a good laugh at the expense of those who abandoned the UK in the search of an allegedly better quality of life. Read between the lines, and the message is “you got it wrong, Britain’s always been the best place to be, you should never have left in the first place”.

Britain, the best place to be? A glass of Cote du Rhone from the vineyards on the slopes over the valley while I think about that one. Didn't take long. Next question please...

The French have always rubbed the Anglo-Saxons up the wrong way. During his recent US presidential campaign McCain jumped on the bandwagon, likening France to an “aging '40s starlet still trying to dine out on her looks but doesn't have the face for it." Nothing better than a bit of rhetoric to garner a few extra votes from those with conservative tendencies!

But I prefer the facts over the rhetoric. Expats who carefully looked at the cons as well as the pros, gave themselves room to manoeuvre in case things go wrong, were pessimistic in terms of expected costs and profits from planned business ventures, will be staying firmly put. These people - barring extreme bad luck - are in their adopted homes for good. Many left for pastures new, not because they expected them to be greener (and cheaper) all year round, but because they felt there was something lacking in the hectic, stress-ridden, profit- and self-centred US-led ‘Western Way’ and preferred the family and community-oriented, more laid-back lifestyles to be had elsewhere. Standard of living was in some cases sacrificed to a degree in favour of a different concept of quality of life, when heading for warmer climes in southern Europe. Cheaper living costs maybe, but letting out gites in a refurbished rural farm doesn’t quite produce the same income as some once earned in former lives as, say, city financiers.

Others who were brave enough to travel further afield and managed to adapt to the ‘alien’ cultures to be found in the likes of South-East Asia, hit the jackpot – at least for a while. Laid-back lifestyles and far lower costs of living, combined. Even if pensions are dropping in value, few expats resident in Thailand will be booking their flights back to Europe, if they can help it.

Not about to join the exodus - an American expat in Chiang Mai

France is not what it was – the whole world is a sacrificial victim on the altar of a runaway economic model leading us inexorably, sooner or later, down the American highway to worship at the feet of the great god consumerism. Sadly, even if France is dragging its feet, it’ll get to the same destination eventually. In a global free market no country is left with much of a choice.

A terraced two up-two down house with a postage stamp garden in smoggy south London, or a farm and a few acres in sunny Provence for the same price? I know where I'd rather be...

Will I be going back to the UK? You would have to manacle me to the tail end of a TGV and drag me through the Tunnel. Climate, culture and lifestyle provide me with more than enough reason to stay put in France, even if the £ retreats from parity with the euro. As for the developing nations such as Thailand, these are considerably further from swallowing the Anglo-American cultural dream, and the six plus months I am able to spend in Thailand each year are a breath of even fresher air. Long may it last!

... though perhaps not quite so fresh air in the town centres, these days!! Chiang Mai, November 2008

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Mike said...

Pete, quite thought provoking. Must admit that my daily read of news is usually limited to BP or the Nation. The only UK press I currently read is my local Nottingham rag for the sport!

If I do read any of the other pages I just end up convincing myself that I made a sound decision to move. (crime, weather stress).

The Baht exchange rate is worrying but I can stand a 10,000 Baht hit(difference between now and July) each month( with the hope of recovery later this year) better here than I could in the UK.

If anything, things are getting a little cheaper here thanks to the oil price which unlike in the UK is passed on to consumers.

Diesel is down to 18 Baht a litre now!

Hoo Don said...

I can't fault your opinion on the true Thailand ex pats running into any financial trouble. A minimum 30000 baht per month with a little cost cutting should be more than adequate. The girl hunting big time Charlie, funded by unpaid loans and with his pension due in the very distant future could find a sustained strong baht his calling card to run for cover. A cleansing of this kind would not be a bad thing and a sure benefit to Thailand in general.

Britinbangkok said...

I get paid in Thai baht so it's not affecting me at all. Plus, even if I didn't, the US dollar has been relatively stable for the last year and a half or so. Feel sorry for the Brits though, especially the retirees, must be killing them!

Mike's correct though, prices seem to be coming down a bit here - even things like milk and bread have dropped a couple of baht per, which does add up when you consume as much of them as I do :-)

Britinbangkok said...

Oh and definitely agree with you on having to be hog-tied to ever consider living in the UK again (same for the US, for me!)

I've been gone from the UK for more than 25 years. Talk about living in a 'Strange Land' if I ever had to return.

Mr. Nighttime said...

Enjoyed reading this, and thanks for stopping by my blog.

I'm not sure what to make of this, as I have no experience with living outside of my own country. I suppose the only thing I can relate to it would be my move out of NYC almost 10 years ago for upstate NY, Rochester to be specific. I know how I feel when I go home to visit my family, and find that I can't stay in NYC for more than 4 days or so anymore. I have acclimated to the slower pace of life here (as compared to NYC) and i find it far more enjoyable as the years go on. Now, if they could only make good bagels up here...

While I have traveled abroad some, (England, Scotland, Eastern Caribbean) there are still many places that I would love to visit and experience. Thailand is not on my list, but I would like to learn more about it.