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