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Letters from the Atlantic Letters from the Atlantic by Barrie Mahoney

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A Nice Cup of Tea

Letters from the Atlantic - 'A Nice Cup of Tea'

During these gloomy, cold, winter days of the post Brexit referendum, when the anointing of Donald Trump as the new leader of Western democracy confirms for many that the world is going quietly mad, there is one thing certain to cheer us up - ‘a nice cup of tea’.

Those of a certain age will know just how important tea is to the psyche and general well being of most Brits. Most of us were weaned on the stuff and it runs through our veins in copious amounts. It is what makes Britain great; it is the stuff of Empire, Winston Churchill, Shakespeare, Harry Potter, Hugh Grant and cream teas. Indeed, it is a well known truism that you are not a real Brit unless you drink at least ten cups of the stuff each day. Any less than this and you are regarded as a fraud and imposter, or maybe even a European, no argument.

During those damp, cold days in the UK, many of us would feel warmed and comforted by ‘a nice cup of tea’. During a crisis, or during those times when it is difficult to know what to say to someone who is ill or in distress, the usual British response is to “put the kettle on”. I suspect that it is one of the few things that unite the people of Britain; forget the Union flag, just bring out the Tetley’s!

There is, of course, the added advantage that as the temperature drops, you might find yourself reaching for ‘a nice cup of tea’, because of the obvious benefits of warming your hands around the cup and temporarily banishing the cold. Recent studies reveal that there is a basic psychological factor when drinking ‘a nice cup of tea’. It makes us feel warm and friendly towards others.

In one experiment, people were asked to rate strangers on how welcoming and trustworthy they thought they were. Holding ‘a nice cup of tea’ made them rate the strangers higher on these attributes, whilst holding a cold drink had the opposite effect. Expats should note from this experiment that holding a chilled glass of sangria when meeting strangers is not always such a good idea unless they have carefully thought about the possible dire consequences that may follow such an encounter.

In the study, it was found that those holding hot drinks, such as a ‘nice cup of tea’, were more likely to be generous, and less likely to display behaviour considered to be selfish. Apparently, this is due to strong linguistic and metaphorical links created in the brain by repeatedly using the words ‘warm’ or ‘cold’ to describe personalities.

Several years ago, I was involved in a survey for an expat newspaper that focussed on what items Brits miss most when living in another country. Top of the list was ‘a nice cup of tea’, closely followed by a range of other items, such as pork pies and baked beans. Although I was initially taken aback about the vehemence with which 'foreign tea' was criticised, I was not surprised, because I shared the general opinion expressed.

The general consensus seems to be that it is almost impossible to get a decent cup of tea in continental Europe. I know of many expats who make a special point of bringing back teabags from the UK whenever they visit, or ask friends and relatives to bring some out for them. The fact that most of the popular brands of tea are readily available from supermarkets in Europe goes unnoticed, with the fanatical claims that "Yorkshire Tea is the best in the world”, when to others it tastes exactly like all other brands available in continental Europe, which I am sorry to say is to me very similar to lukewarm dishwater.

Of course, real tea drinkers complain about the quality of the water in Europe; they will insist upon using only bottled water and certainly never water from the tap. Others complain about the temperature that the water is heated to, forgetting that a kettle is a kettle whether it is bought in Blackpool or Benidorm. Tea aficionados will complain about ‘a nice cup of tea’ being served in a glass cup rather than one of the bone china variety, an unforgivable error in Europe, but forgetting the dubious quality of the chipped mugs that are in common use in cafes all across the UK. Others will complain about the flavour of milk (if added), the quality of the sugar (if used) and indeed whether or not higher temperatures have destroyed the flavour of the tea in the packet before it is even purchased.

Personally, I have come to the view that it is nothing to do with the quality of tea, water, cups or the temperature of the water, but simply because it is European, and this is the real reason behind the Brexit referendum. If the UK Government had appointed a Minister for Tea Drinking long ago, much of the Brexit discussions could have been avoided. In any case, the availability and quality of ‘a nice cup of tea’ in Europe will continue be considered and discussed long after the Brexit negotiations are completed; after all, it is simply a question of priorities in life.

As for me, I gave up being a tea drinker almost immediately upon arrival in Spain, as I could not bear to ruin my tea drinking palate, which I now reserve for special and rare occasions, such as a National Trust cream tea during occasional visits to the UK. At a time of crisis, I resort to a nice cup of green tea, but nowadays I am a confirmed coffee drinker. Maybe I have now formally ceased to be British.

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: http://barriemahoney.com and http://thecanaryislander.com or read his latest book, ‘Footprints in the Sand’ (ISBN: 9780995602717). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle editions.

© Barrie Mahoney

Footprints in the Sand

Currency Crisis for British Expats

This article is no longer available on this site, because it is now published in Barrie's latest book 'Footprints in the Sand'

'Footprints in the Sand' is available from Amazon, Waterstones and all good bookshops, as well as on Kindle

Currency Crisis for British Expats


A Glimmer of Hope for Expats in Europe

Letters from the Atlantic

If you happen to be a determined Brexiter, it is probably better that you do not read this article, since it may lead you to choke on your cornflakes. For those who do value the European ideal and the opportunities that we have been given to live and work in the country of our choice, there is some news that may help to cheer us all up following the recent traumas of Brexit and Trump.

It is already clear that the decision to leave the EU has caused considerable distress and uncertainty for expats, and particularly for those of advanced years and poor health. I know of many who are planning to return to the UK, if their health and finances can stand it, others are claiming citizenship rights from their host countries, whilst others remain in a kind of limbo. Confusion, uncertainty and unnecessary stress is not good for any of us, but it may be that there is a glimmer of hope appearing on the horizon.

Charles Goerens, a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group in the European Parliament representing Luxembourg, is calling for the establishment of European associate citizenship for those who wish to continue to be part of the European project, but are nationals of a former European state. Simply put, this associate status would give British expats continued rights, such as freedom of movement and the right to reside in member states of the European Union, as well as being able to stand and vote in European elections. In return, associate citizens would pay an annual membership fee directly into the European budget. Those who apply for associate status of the EU would continue to retain their British passports and UK citizenship, which would mean that the status quo would continue, albeit for an annual membership fee.

Charles Goerens makes the point that 48 per cent of all British voters wished to remain as European citizens and should continue to have the right to do so. The EU should assist the process in providing a practical solution for UK citizens who are being stripped of their European identity. Treaty change at European level will be required, since current treaties specify that European citizenship stems directly from national citizenship of member states. European Union citizenship is currently additional to and does not replace national citizenship.

So, what happens next? Nothing substantial can happen until the UK triggers Article 50, which sets the divorce from the EU in motion. Meanwhile, the European Parliament’s Constitutional Committee will vote on the amendments, which will be followed by a vote in the European Parliament as early as next year. Further development of the proposals can only take place during the negotiations that follow Article 50 when current treaties will be updated.

Some Brexiters are, of course, unhappy, with the ‘Get Britain Out’ campaign director complaining that the move will encourage further divisiveness between the British public at a time when unity is required. On the contrary, I think there is little for Brexiters to fear from a move that will offer further democratic choice, and help to protect the rights of those who wish to retain their European identity; one size does not fit all.

If you would like to contact Charles Goerens and for further information, please go to my Expat Survival website: http://expat.barriemahoney.com

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: http://barriemahoney.com and http://thecanaryislander.com or read his latest book, ‘Footprints in the Sand’ (ISBN: 9780995602717). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle editions.

© Barrie Mahoney

Footprints in the Sand - Barrie Mahoney

Chinese Takeaway

This article is no longer available on this site, because it is now published in Barrie's latest book 'Footprints in the Sand'

'Footprints in the Sand' is available from Amazon, Waterstones and all good bookshops, as well as on Kindle

Letters from the Atlantic


​The Evils of Apple Bobbing

Letters from the Atlantic

Halloween is over for another year, thank goodness. At risk of sounding both a prude and a party pooper, this is one of the annual rituals that I detest with a vengeance. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good party as much as the next person, but this tacky, heavily commercialised celebration of evil is, for me, a step too far. Also, I don’t think it is too unreasonable to refuse to answer the doorbell when ‘trick or treaters’ come calling after 10.00pm.

It wasn't always like this. When we first moved to Spain and the Canary Islands, Halloween was virtually unknown, with the main event being the following day, All Saints Day, when it was customary to visit the graves of dead relatives, with family members often picnicking in the cemetery. In some ways, it all seemed a little macabre to British sensitivities about death, but we all remember the departed in different ways and this was an example of the Spanish way of doing things at that time.

In the last ten years or so we have seen the American way of 'celebrating' Halloween, together with the expensive commercialism of an event that used to be little more than a hollowed out pumpkin fitted with a candle; indeed, Halloween ‘trick or treats’ were never part of Spanish culture. It has moved from being a spooky night for the kids to enjoy to one where 'trick or treat' is seen as a serious and often threatening event for adults to enjoy as a preliminary to a nightmarish party at a local bar until the middle hours of the morning. Indulging in 'blood curdling’ cocktails whilst trying not to look too embarrassed in a ridiculous costume, I doubt that many of the departed are remembered much before mid-afternoon on All Saints Day, and that is if the headache allows. As for a cemetery picnic, let’s forget it.

Looking back to my career as teacher, I remember the excitement of Halloween when children made and drew witches, black cats and cauldrons. They enjoyed making and chanting spells, writing spooky poems and stories, but that is usually as far as it went, although I do remember one painful exception.

As a young and newly appointed head teacher, I shall never forget one unfortunate Halloween when I was expected to attend an afternoon meeting at County Hall. Later that evening, I received an animated, irritable phone call from the Chair of Governors, who was the village vicar, advising me that he had received a very serious complaint about my management of the school. Bewildered by his opening criticisms, I asked for more details and was informed by this humourless and pompous man that a parent had called him to complain that staff were indulging in witchcraft and evil practices and that, as a church school, we should know better. I listened and assured my caller that I would give it my full attention the following day.

Chatting to staff over coffee at break time the following morning, it became clear that my infant teacher, a well-meaning but generally incompetent soul, had decided to let her class have a Halloween party in my absence. From what I could gather, this involved drawing, face painting and making witches’ hats, chanting spells and apple bobbing, which I was surprised to learn that all witches worthy of a black cat and broomstick were expected to indulge in from time to time. It wasn't on the curriculum planning for the week, and I suspect that it had all got a little out of hand. Despite this, my loyal and perceptive school secretary, who always took it upon herself to prowl around the school in my absence, assured me that nothing untoward had been going on, and that the children had enjoyed themselves, albeit noisily, but adding that the caretaker was not too happy when she arrived to clean the classroom.

Later that afternoon, I met the parents who had made the complaint. They appeared to be a decent young couple who had recently converted to become fundamental Baptists. As with most religions, it is often the newly converted who are the most extreme and they were clearly unhappy that the school entertained any kind of celebration of Halloween. We talked about the issue at some length and eventually the couple agreed that they had over reacted, but would prefer that their son didn't indulge in the evils of apple bobbing ever again. I agreed to their terms, and in return the couple agreed to run a fundraising stall at the forthcoming Christmas Fair. As it turned out, this young couple became the most supportive and dedicated fundraisers of all the parents that I ever came in contact with. However, I was never able to face the idea of apple bobbing ever again.

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: http://barriemahoney.com and http://thecanaryislander.com or read his latest book, ‘Footprints in the Sand’ (ISBN: 9780995602717). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle editions.

© Barrie Mahoney

Footprints in the Sand

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