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Letters from the Atlantic Letters from the Atlantic by Barrie Mahoney

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​What Are the British Well Known For?

What Are the British Well Known For?

The British used to be well known across the world for Shakespeare, Princess Diana and cricket. We like to be known for our infamous ‘stiff upper lips’, sense of fair play, tolerance and justice. Many, mostly older people, still like to revel in the days of Empire and the ‘enlightenment’ that it brought to the world, whilst conveniently forgetting the evils of slavery, repression and imposition of alien values upon people across the world. No doubt, we all have an image of what Britain and its people stand for, although younger members of society are developing rapidly different views, which is very welcome in a fast moving, modern world.

In the years that I have been living as an expat in Spain and the Canary Islands, I have come to a view, which many will regard as unreasonable and non-liberal, that British citizens should first pass an intelligence test and secondly a test in basic good manners before they are granted a British passport. Many expats like myself, and the majority of British holidaymakers, are appalled by the attitudes and behaviour of a small minority of British holidaymakers.

Over the years, we have become familiar with the chancers who claim to have had valuable items ‘stolen’ on holiday and attempt to claim the proceeds from their insurance company. It doesn't take a genius to work out that a family heading for one of the cheapest holidays in Benidorm is unlikely to own a top-quality Rolex watch, the latest iPhone, diamond bracelet and expensive camera for each member of the family. Fortunately, the Spanish police are now much more rigorous in investigating such claims, and offenders are likely to be arrested and prosecuted for fraud. In addition, insurance companies are now much wiser to such scams, sharing databases of claims and identifying potential fraud. Despite this, we still regularly hear of such claims, although most are refused and the perpetrators prosecuted for fraud.

As many will have read in recent weeks, the latest British scam, and I stress that so far it is only the British who are involved, is false claims for food poisoning against hotels in Spain and the Canary Islands, even though the holidaymakers have not been genuinely ill. There are ‘legal companies’ in the UK, who are now presumably at a loose end following the completion of banking PPI compensation claims, and are now encouraging holidaymakers to claim for food poisoning. Many claimants have received large sums of compensation from innocent Spanish hotels, because the hotels cannot afford the high costs of challenging such claims in the British courts, and have simply paid up without a challenge.

These ‘legal companies’ have been offering ‘no win, no fee’ arrangements to hundreds of British holidaymakers, costing Spanish hotels around 60 million euros, which is a situation that clearly cannot continue. Spanish hoteliers and the Spanish Government are now fighting back and all future claims will have to be heard in Spanish courts. Some hotels are now refusing to accept British guests, and those that are accepted are being carefully monitored, with the introduction of signed disclaimers, and in ‘all inclusive’ hotels, the quantity of food and drinks consumed during the supposed period of illness is being recorded. In addition, ringleaders will be identified and prosecuted.

It was good to read this week that two British people were arrested by the Guardia Civil in Mallorca for trying to persuade tourists to make fraudulent claims whilst staying in the resort of Alcudia. The couple were acting for a so-called legal company in the UK that is sending representatives to Spanish resorts to drum up more business, as they are clearly making massive profits. The main regions affected by these fraudulent claims are the Canary Islands, Costa Blanca, Benidorm, Mallorca and the Costa del Sol.

Probably, my suggestion for a test of intelligence and basic good manners before being granted a British passport should be regarded as ‘tongue in cheek’, but it is worrying that a small minority of our fellow citizens are behaving in a manner that eventually has a negative impact upon all. I suspect that if the question is currently asked about what the British are known for, it will no longer be Shakespeare, Princess Diana and cricket.

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

© Barrie Mahoney

​This Cruel Sea

This Cruel Sea

It is true that less tourists return home alive than have set off for their holiday in the Canary Islands. This disturbing fact is not one that the tourist industry will thank me for highlighting this week, but it is time that the stark facts are raised once again and that holidaymakers are alerted to the potential risks of a holiday in the Canary Islands, and other popular tourist destinations.

The Canary Islands are a wonderful place for a holiday, but it is best not to return home in a coffin. We have the best climate in the world; each of the seven inhabited islands are unique and offer a range of activities and experiences that will enrich the spirit of even the most hardened and cynical traveller. The problem for tourists is not the islands, but the Atlantic Ocean.

Ours is a cold and cruel sea. It is deceptive in its appeal, but it is no Mediterranean Sea. Many tourists forget this and quickly succumb to the delights of this turbulent water. Its many charms lull the unsuspecting tourist into a false sense of security with its frothy and inviting appeal to swimmers, surf boarders, wind surfers, but those with a true knowledge of the Atlantic Ocean will be only too well aware of its rapidly changing moods and boiling anger that erupts from time to time.

As I write this, statistics from Real Federación Española de Salvamento y Socorrismo are worrying. There have already been 35 drownings in the first half of 2017, which is more than the same period in 2016, which places the Canary Islands at the top of a very disturbing league table, with most of these casualties being tourists. Statistics published in 2015 indicate that one tourist drowns every six days in the Canary Islands, a record that is one of the worst in Spain.

The shock of very cold water, swimming after a heavy meal, after drinking alcohol or taking drugs are some of the reasons for these individual tragedies. Cardiac arrest in the sea is not unusual, since it is the result of the shock of cold water, even in temperatures of around 25 degrees. The water around these islands rarely exceeds 24 degrees, even in the hottest periods of the year; it is not just freezing water that is a danger to swimmers. Despite the temptations to cool off after a day in the sun, swimmers can get into difficulties in as short a time as five minutes.

Many tourists forget that high winds, rough seas and treacherous currents are the main reasons for many drownings that take place each year. A strong undertow and unpredictable rip currents are also a grave danger to swimmers. They are unseen and unpredictable, catch swimmers without warning and carry them a considerable distance out to sea. Rough seas around our beautiful coastline can also be a danger for unsuspecting walkers, which may occur even in what appears to be good and settled weather. It depends what mood the Atlantic is in, and freak waves have sometimes swept walkers out to sea.

Some of these issues were brought home to me last weekend when I visited one of our popular, local beaches. It was a beautiful, yet stormy morning and the red warning flags were flying. Despite this, there were many swimmers in the sea, together with several surfboarders. I spotted two lifeguards urging swimmers to come to the shore for safety, which most obeyed. These swimmers were then directed to a safer part of the beach. However, several swimmers, including the surfboarders, continued to ignore the lifeguards.

It is this attitude of bravado and ignorance that is behind many swimming tragedies, and it is hard to legislate against foolishness. Sadly, it is also these attitudes that place the safety of lifeguards and other members of the emergency services at risk. Despite the best efforts of the islands’ government, the municipalities and the emergency services, swimming tragedies continue to occur far too frequently.

I have attached a short and very helpful video from the RNLI, which explains more about 'cold water shock' and gives advice about how to respond in a drowning situation. You can view the video from this link:

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

© Barrie Mahoney

​More Trickery by the Insurance Company

More Trickery by the Insurance Company

Several weeks ago, I wrote an article about some of the insurance companies in Spain pressuring, and using what many would see as underhand methods, to coerce expats into renewing their buildings insurance policies, even though they have been cancelled. I have been surprised by the number of emails that I have received about this issue. A far larger group of expats have felt intimidated by insurance companies, both in Spain as well as other European countries, than I initially imagined.

In some cases, policyholders failed to understand, through both language and cultural factors, that most Spanish insurance companies require at least one month’s notice of intention to terminate an insurance policy. Despite doing this, I have heard from many expats who have written to cancel, telephoned, emailed and sent faxes, only to find that their bank account has been debited for the amount of the renewal premium, and that their instructions to cancel the policy have been ignored.

Peter in the Costa Blanca emailed me to say that as well as writing and faxing his insurance company one month before the policy was due to expire, the insurance company took the money from his bank account. Peter contacted the bank and received a refund, but the insurance company is still pestering him for a full one year of premiums, which he continues to refuse to pay. Peter makes the comment that “I’m sure it is only expats who are targeted in this way. From what I hear from Spanish friends, they would simply ignore it.”

It is not always this easy though, as Sarah and George from Tenerife will testify. This elderly couple have been plagued with endless telephone calls each morning and most evenings for the last two months. The calls are in “machine gun Spanish”, and the couple find it difficult to understand what is being said, other than the demand that they pay 420 euros for a policy that they no longer want. The couple are becoming so anxious about the calls that they are about to change their telephone number.

Another expat, Crystal, from Murcia, told me about her insurance company who demanded her bank details, despite preferring to pay cash at the local office. As well as later taking money from her bank account without prior notification, the company refused to cancel the policy even though Crystal had taken out a new policy with another company. The company’s response was that in the case of a claim, Crystal could choose which company to claim from! Crystal was the only expat that I have heard from who took the time and trouble to contact the Insurance Ombudsman who is supposed to help to resolve disputes between insurance companies and clients. Sadly, the Ombudsman didn't reply to Crystal’s complaint.

I was even more concerned to receive an email from Godfrey, another reader in the Costa Blanca, who told me that he was so afraid of the letters that he had received, he paid the company even though he didn't need the policy. “I have always tried to do the right thing in Spain. I do my best to obey the law and to fit in. I was worried that they might take me to court and, because of Brexit, I would lose my right to live in Spain”.

In the original article, I had intended to include a list of ‘Saints and Sinners’ on the ‘Expat Survival’ website, based on recommendations and complaints from expats. I had not realised that some of the companies that I thought would be on the ‘Saints’ list have actually treated expats very badly. Indeed, it seems that most Spanish insurance companies are behaving badly, and in these circumstances, it is very hard to produce a ‘Saints’ list with any confidence.

As the previous article explains, situations where companies remove money from your bank account are easy to rectify. Simply go to your bank and ask them to revoke the transaction. You have 45 days to do this and it is a simple procedure. The issue is more complicated when the insurance company claims not to have received your instructions to cancel. Although it is a question of their word against yours, lack of evidence in the form of a receipt from the post office, confirmation of fax etc. makes it highly likely that the insurance company will continue to harass their client through letters and phone calls until the unfortunate expat pays up. Many expats simply pay up because of fear. In most cases, my best advice is to ignore the phone calls and letters, and it will eventually go away.

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

© Barrie Mahoney

Sugar is So Taxing

Sugar is So Taxing

I was shocked to read this week that the most obese children in the world are in the United States of America, Mexico and the Canary Islands, which is seen as a micro culture representing the highest obesity levels in Europe. The Canary Islands are the first region in Spain to follow the recommendations of the World Health Organisation that a 20 per cent increase in the price of ‘guilty products’ will help to save lives by raising awareness.

These statistics are frightening and I recall writing about this issue when we first moved to the Canary Islands. I could not understand why, in the village where we lived, there were so many grossly overweight people and, in particular, children. As well as enormously overweight adults, it was also clear that many adults were suffering from mobility and joint problems, leg ulcers, diabetes and many other ailments associated with obesity. There were at that time, and still are, many children who demonstrate acute obesity levels from a very young age.

The Government of the Canary Islands have announced a new tax that is designed to save lives. The new sugar tax will be applied to food and drink that contain sugar, in an effort to persuade residents to reduce their consumption of sugary drinks and food. Of course, there are always pros and cons in arguments related to taxation, with one side claiming that the tax will assist in improving health outcomes, whilst the other side talk about taxing those who can least afford it.

In a wet and cold climate, I can understand why many children and teenagers will prefer to stay indoors to play computer games, but in the Canarian climate there can be no such excuses. There are plenty of outdoor activities easily and freely available to encourage children to participate in an outdoor and physically active life. There are indoor and outdoor swimming pools, football pitches and a well-equipped sports centre in the village, and as it is close to the sea, there are always beach activities available. Many Canarian families have the use of small fishing boats, which can also be a strenuous physical activity.

Of course, in these days of political correctness, very few people face the real issues of being overweight, which is that we eat too much of the wrong kind of food and drink, or simply devour too much of everything. Instead, many ‘experts’ trot out platitudes that the issue may be due to “genetic reasons”, but I doubt that the early settlers of the islands and the ancestors of many local people, the Guanches, were as grossly overweight as current generations. Being “big boned” is another excuse that I often hear, as well as thyroid problems, which can be a problem for some older people, but is quite rare in children. It seems that excuses are always freely available when it comes to obesity, because many of us are simply addicted to sugar.

On occasions when I am passing the local school at the end of the school day, I see parents waiting for their young offspring to appear from the classrooms. The first thing that most parents do after greeting their child, is to hand over a large bag of crisps, sweets or a giant bottle of cola. Teenagers in our local shop can be seen after school focussed upon buying super large bottles of fizzy drinks, chocolate, biscuits and cakes. In the supermarket, trolleys are laden with bottles of fizzy drinks, biscuits, cakes and sweets, but I rarely see equally generous helpings of fruit and vegetables being loaded into trolleys.

Current statistics tell us that 1.5 million Canarian residents are overweight, which includes 760,000 who are classified as obese. This, in turn, contributes to the highest death rate from heart attack in all of Spain. The new sugar tax is being criticised by many, yet Canary Islands’ residents are leading the world for all the wrong dietary reasons.

Education is also important here too, since many Canarian residents need help to encourage them to eat and drink more healthy options. Many local people simply do not know that processed foods include hidden added sugars, such as glucose or fructose, which are found in soups, yogurts and soft drinks. It is hoped that, given time, this new sugar tax will help to change attitudes and that these appalling statistics will be reduced.

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

© Barrie Mahoney

​Taking the ‘Brit’ Out of Britain

Taking the ‘Brit’ Out of Britain

Like many expats, I completed and posted my voting form for the UK General Election yesterday. In some ways, it was a significant moment, and I should have taken a photo of the event, since this may be the last time that my partner and I will be allowed to vote as expats living in Spain. We will soon hit the 15-year rule that applies to expats, after which we are no longer eligible to vote under current UK rules. There has been pressure, including court action, over many years to force the UK Government to change the 15-year rule for expats to one where expats may vote for life, but this has always been thwarted, delayed and convenient reasons given for not proceeding. I guess much depends upon the way that the governing party views expat votes; are we likely to support the current Government or not?

Despite the shortcomings of the current electoral system, which fails to represent the views of a wider constituency through proportional representation, we should always take the opportunity to use our vote. There are some expats who claim that expat voting is a pointless exercise and even morally wrong, since we no longer live in the country, do not claim benefits, and do not use the health service. Many expats rarely visit the UK after they have left, and only return for the occasional family wedding or funeral, so they question whether they have the right to express an opinion that can seriously affect the conditions of the population remaining in the UK.

Expats do have a right to express an opinion as to who should form the next UK Government. Many expats have children and elderly relatives living in the UK, and feel the need to have even a minor involvement in the future direction of the country. The old saying that “You can take the Brit out of Britain, but you cannot take Britain out of the Brit’ is so true in these circumstances. Many UK expats receive a pension of some kind from the UK. The level and conditions linked to receipt of the UK state pension or company pension, and the amount received, is determined by government policies. Exchange rates and currency fluctuations are also the direct result of government policies that form the economic health of the nation. The levels of state benefits, even winter fuel payments to British expats residing in some of the colder European countries, and reciprocal health services are all determined by the UK government of the day.

Many expats continue to pay taxes to the UK government, based on UK earnings and pensions even though they left the UK many years ago. It is therefore right that expats should continue to express a view as to who should spend their taxes and on what priorities.

The electoral system in the UK is by no means perfect, since it fails to represent the wider range of views of a complicated and increasingly vocal population. We are told that the current ‘first past the post system’ continues to have many advocates, but in recent years it has not served us well, and many voters feel disillusioned and disenfranchised by most politicians. The opportunity to change the voting system was put to a referendum vote several years ago, and rejected by voters, and so we have to make the best of what we have.

Expat votes are now even more important since the UK is about to leave the European Union, where relationships, deals and agreements with our host countries will become even more important in the years ahead. We may feel that a simple cross against the name of a person that we do not know, and support for a political party that will eventually let us down is a pointless exercise, but it is all that we have and it is right to use it.

I hope that whichever political party eventually forms a government, they will recognise the need to ensure that British expats can continue to exercise this simple democratic right to be involved. The 15-year rule should be abolished and expats should be allowed to vote for life.

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