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Letters from the Atlantic Letters from the Atlantic by Barrie Mahoney

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What's Not to Like?

Letters from the Atlantic

Although the current ‘party line’ in the UK appears to demand that the European Union be viewed with acute suspicion and blamed for everything that has got wrong in Europe and, in particular, the United Kingdom, there are still many of us that actually appreciate the EU and all that it has achieved over the years. So, before any determined Brexiters reading this article choke on their cornflakes, I should add a rider that I am viewing its achievements through the eyes of an expat living in Spain and the Canary Islands. The UK has made its own decision and it is time to move on.

The EU’s anniversary summit and celebrations are due to take place on 25 March 2017, and although the British Prime Minister has been invited, at the time of writing it is anticipated that she will not attend on the basis that it is not regarded as appropriate for the UK to take part in an act of unity and forward planning when the country is about to leave. On this day, EU leaders will gather in Rome to look back over 60 years when just six countries embarked on a project aimed at uniting Europe. The Treaty of Rome was signed on 25 March 1957 by the then leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. As well as a time for celebration, it will be a time for reflection, as well as looking forward to a challenging new decade that will see the UK leave the EU, as well as a new and unpredictable US President to deal with.

In Spain and the Canary Islands, the post Franco period could have been one of acute turmoil and political unrest, but the EU nurtured this troubled country into the successful and peaceful democracy that we see today. I am not saying that Spain could not have done this on its own, but it would have been much harder and a more painful process to achieve in so short a space of time. Much of the island where I live, half of which was mostly a barren desert wilderness sixty years ago, has been transformed into an island holiday paradise where many holidaymakers come to escape to the sun. Major infrastructure projects, such as roads, bridges, and tunnels cut though mountain regions have been funded by the European Union enabling all of the island to be developed, which benefits residents and tourists alike. Again, without this level of funding, I doubt that this development would have happened.

As far as benefiting my own life, and for many others like me, the freedom to live and work in any of the member states has been one of the most significant benefits, accompanied by the freedom to purchase property, open a business and enjoy life in a country of my own choosing, rather than being trapped in the country of my birth. For me, this has been a blessing that will be denied to others through rigid immigration policies and other restrictions that have become the narrative of many in the UK.

Citizens’ confidence in the EU has been badly shaken in recent times due to the World Economic crisis, the clumsy handling of debt for countries, such as Greece, and the migrants’ crisis. During this period of doom and gloom, it is easy to forget the EU’s many achievements, which include 57 per cent of all UK trade, clean rivers and beaches, structural support for areas of decline such as Wales, Cornwall and Lincolnshire, cleaner air, recycling, cheaper mobile phone charges, cheaper air travel, no paperwork or customs between member countries, access to European health services, EU funded research, labour protection, maternity rights, counter terrorism…I could go on for a few more pages, but you get the general idea? Above all, after centuries of war between European neighbours, the EU has finally brought peace.

I, for one, will be celebrating the European Union and the influence for good that it has upon Spain and the Canary Islands, as well as for the people of Europe on 25 March. As with so many things in our fast-moving lives, we often do not know the value of something until we have lost it.

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



A Poisonous Debate

Letters from the Atlantic

I read a story this week about a woman who left her husband of twenty-two years, reportedly because he voted for Donald Trump and she felt a sense of acute betrayal that affected all areas of their relationship. This story also raises some poignant issues in relation to Brexit and other current issues where the original intention of a well-considered, thoughtful and civilised debate has turned into a poisonous one affecting many areas of national, as well as everyday life and relationships. Burning passions on both sides of the debate concerning the Trump and Brexit debates have taken their toll upon many families and friendships, and continue to do so.

During the run up to the EU referendum, I received several very unpleasant emails from some expats criticising my views on remaining in the European Union that I expressed in 'Letters from the Atlantic'. Yes, I am a committed Remainer, and an unashamedly committed European for as long as I can remember. What surprised me at the time was not only the strength of feeling expressed, but that the criticisms were coming from expats who were themselves living in EU countries. I wondered then, as I do now, how it is possible to be an expat living in Europe, and enjoying its many advantages, yet wanting to deny these advantages to others. It is an example of what seems logical to some is completely illogical to others.

As a democrat, I reluctantly accepted the result of the referendum, but I do reserve the right alongside the 48%, who lost the argument, to object, to complain, to challenge and to criticise where appropriate as the UK staggers towards an eventual agreement with the European Union. The Leave campaign had a 52% win, and it is important to respect the views of the majority, which in most cases will have been carefully considered; however, the views of the minority should not be ignored.

A further reminder of the American woman who has left her husband because he had voted for Trump arrived in my email inbox this morning. I was sad to receive a message from one of my regular correspondents telling me that he and his partner have decided to separate after several years of living together, mainly because of their differences over the EU referendum. Apparently, their views were not reconcilable and since on one occasion, it turned to violence, the couple decided to call it a day. I suspect, and hope, that the referendum was not the only reason for the break up of this relationship, but it does help to explain the differences and strength of feelings involved. One thing that struck me most in this email was the comment, which was similar to the experiences of the American woman, that my correspondent felt betrayed by his partner, whom he had trusted implicitly for many years.

I have read about and am aware of a number of families and friends that are having problems coming to some kind of reconciliation over this controversial issue, which I initially found difficult to understand. If I am honest, my own attitudes to some people that have forcibly expressed a very different view to my own has changed my perceptions of them, and which I am sure, has changed their perceptions of me. In most cases, it is not sufficient to end a friendship, but does make me more cautious in what I say about a number of issues; in other words, the openness and mutual trust has gone, at least for the time being.

Well, the genie is now well and truly out of the bottle and it is true that many people now feel liberated to say exactly what they feel about immigration, inequality, foreigners, governments, as well as a host of many other grievances that appear to have been suppressed for many years. If these views are expressed clearly, calmly and without malice, it can be a good thing, yet from what we have seen in the mainstream media, as well as in social media, in recent weeks, I somehow doubt it.

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

​Are You Friendly?

Letters from the Atlantic

This week, I received a very cross email from Dawn, a regular reader of ‘Letters from the Atlantic’. Dawn is a British expat who has lived in Italy for many years, and is very unhappy about an article that she recently read in an expat publication. Dawn sent me a copy of the article that was basically a survey of nations that had the most friendly and unfriendly attitudes to expats living in their countries.

The article claimed that Denmark, Switzerland and Norway are the most unfriendly destinations for expats. Despite the generally high quality of life in these countries, they are just not friendly enough with poor attitudes to expats and a local culture that is difficult to get used to. These ‘sinners’ were closely followed by Germany and France that ranked 56th and 57th in a list of 67 countries. Again, the general friendliness (or lack of) figured highly in France, whilst in Germany socialising with the locals and the language were major barriers to successful integration. Mind you, it could be worse, with Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the Czech Republic being the most unfriendly of all.

At the top of the friendliness list are Mexico, Costa Rica and Uganda, with Greece and Cyprus making huge leaps forward in the friendliness stakes. According to the article, these countries bend over backwards to make expats feel at home. However, the top destinations overall for expats are Taiwan, Malta and Ecuador, which is due to quality of life issues that include financial factors and healthcare, whilst Qatar, Italy and Tanzania plummet to the bottom as the worst countries for expats to live in.

I think that it was at this point that Dawn felt sufficiently moved to fire off an email to me, since she has lived in both France and Italy for a number of years, and resents the implication that both countries are unwelcoming to expats. She makes the point that these countries made her and her partner feel welcome, although initially she found negotiating French bureaucracy a challenge. However, Dawn also makes the point that being able to speak French helped her to settle during those first few months in a new country. In France, she lived in a small village where she quickly became accepted into the community, whilst in Italy integrating into a large city was more difficult, but Dawn quickly overcame this by helping to support a local animal welfare charity, voluntary work teaching English in her local primary school, as well as helping to deliver bread to elderly local residents from the local bakery!

Dawn’s email basically gives all expats a simple lesson in how to be a happy and well integrated expat. Those expats who claim to live in unfriendly countries should ask themselves whether they have bothered to learn the language and take part in local and cultural activities. Do they appreciate and value local traditions, or attempt to have a conversation with their neighbours? Have they fallen into the usual British expat trap of living in a British enclave, only socialising in British bars and restaurants, complaining about life in their host country and comparing it to the UK through rose tinted glasses? Do they only watch British television and only ever speak in English and expect others to speak to them in English? Frank answers to these questions may give an explanation of why some countries are regarded as more unfriendly than others.

So what about the UK? Based on the data before the Brexit referendum, the UK came in 33rd place in Dawn’s article, which was mainly due to friendliness towards expat families, as well as job security. However, the cost of living was thought to be too high, pushing the ranking to a lower position. One can only imagine how expats from Europe view the friendliness of the UK population towards them following the referendum.

Of course, data and statistics can be made, massaged and twisted to interpret almost anything, and surveys such as this are little more than meaningless. As all wise expats like Dawn quickly realise, much of our attitudes about the friendliness of people in our host country is heavily influenced by our attitudes towards them.

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

Letters from the Atlantic

​Getting Your Hands on a Nice Courgette

Letters from the Atlantic

I found it difficult to look at a courgette this week; the same goes for broccoli and lettuce too. After all, how could I enjoy such luxuries when I know full well that the good people of the UK cannot get their hands on them? Indeed, according to the UK’s favourite tabloid, the Daily Hate, people are craving for them and will pay anything up to ten times the normal price just to get their hands on a nice juicy iceberg. Indeed, some supermarkets are rationing supplies to prevent ‘bulk buying’. The official reason for the shortage is blamed upon poor weather in Spain and other southern European countries, which will probably not be normalised until April. Of course, much depends upon where you shop, and other supermarkets have more than enough stock from other suppliers, although of course this ‘shortage’ has led to a rapid increase in prices.

It did make me smile when I read on the letters page that some keen Brexiters are complaining that the shortage is a conspiracy by the Spanish, French and other European countries to get their own back on the UK’s cheeky attempts to leave the European Union. Apparently, Spanish vegetable growers, who grow around 80 per cent of all EU out of season fresh produce, are so greedy that they prefer to feed their own people courgettes, broccoli and lettuce rather than to send them to the UK where they could get ten times the normal price. According to the Daily Hate, Spain is accused of “hoarding” fruit and vegetables whilst British shoppers are being rationed. It is just so selfish and typical of those difficult Europeans, isn't it? Well, with the Brexit negotiations about to start, it can only get worse.

Seriously, I am not a great lover of the humble courgette, although I don't mind too much if it is heavily disguised as something else. Indeed, I learned last week that courgettes can now be turned into a kind of spaghetti, which involves the use of an expensive machine to magically turn a courgette into ‘courghetti’ and, in this way, people will now eat them since they are supremely good for you. Did you know that all adults should now be eating at least ten portions of fruit and veg each day, rather than five? Apparently, courgettes do the job nicely, resulting in the courgette shortage, as well as increased bowel movement, so please be careful.

Now, broccoli is a different matter; I adore broccoli and particularly when it is served with a nice Stilton or blue cheese sauce. Served with a nice crusty chunk of bread, it is a quick and nutritious meal that I can highly recommend that used to be served as ‘Brocco Breath’ in one of my favourite UK cafe bars. The name becomes obvious if you use the correct type of strong cheese!

On to the subject of the iceberg lettuce; now be honest, does anyone actually eat and enjoy them? Surely, the main purpose of the iceberg lettuce is to look fresh and lovely when you buy it, to look self-righteous at the check-out when you buy it alongside that pack of jam donuts, and then to lurk in the back of the fridge unloved and forgotten for a week until it collapses with embarrassment, turning into a pungent brown slurry before it is finally discovered and disposed of; unloved, unused and forgotten. Personally, I wouldn't eat one either; they are tasteless and reminds me of chewing through pages of the Daily Hate, which seriously disables the digestion.

I was surprised to learn that around 90 per cent of fruit consumed in Britain is imported from Europe, as well as around 50 per cent of vegetables. The UK also has to import significant quantities of fruit and vegetables from South America and the US, which makes a nonsense of the carbon footprint, as well as the UK economy.

I was faced with boxes of fresh courgettes, broccoli and the dreaded iceberg lettuce in my local supermarket in the Canary Islands this week. The prices were about normal for this time of the year, and until I read the article I was unaware of what the fuss is all about. If you are really desperate for an iceberg lettuce, courgette or broccoli, might I suggest that you pop out with an empty suitcase and take advantage of our plentiful supplies of fruit and vegetables, as well as our sunshine. Alternatively, there are always frozen food products.

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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