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Paris Cafes

There are expats the world over who have found out the hard way that life abroad is not always what it seems. Our forums at ExpatExchange are rife with first-hand stories posted by expats that find that living overseas is not what they thought it would be. A recent article on Dailymail.co.uk about unhappy British expats in France explores that reality.

But with familiarity came disenchantment. The croissants were sometimes stale, the women not always glamorous, there were supermarkets alongside the street markets and fast-food joints next door to the traditional bistros. In short, she began to notice that France wasn’t quite as French as her first romantic impressions.

As always, do your research, if you’re not yet living abroad. Go vist, talk to other expats and do everything else necessary to ensure you are making a choice that is best for you and – if applicable – your family.

A British expat who fought in World War II lost the most recent chapter in his battle to win the right to vote in UK elections for long-term expats, as noted on the BBC’s website. Harry Shindler lives in Italy, and has for quite some time, and he continues fight a UK law that limits suffrage to those who have lived in the UK within the last 15 years:

In its judgement, the Court determined that the UK was entitled to confine the vote to those citizens with a “close connection” to the UK and those “who would be most directly affected by its laws”.

Given that Mr Shindler would be able to vote if he returned to live in the UK, it ruled that the current laws did not infringe the “very essence” of his rights to take part in free elections.

It noted that different countries had different rules about eligibility for elections and it was important that they should be given leeway to do so as long as they “struck a fair balance”.

One can argue about the merits of the law itself, but doesn’t something seem amiss when a CITIZEN who fought for the UK in the most horrific war in history can’t even vote? Can’t the PM or the Queen or someone else with political mojo step in and get this guy a ballot?

Here’s an excerpt from a great Culture Shock Report. Actually, it’s written by an expat in Bolivia that isn’t experiencing much culture shock at all:

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?

Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia

Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

No, but as a Graduate Teacher of Spanish, French, and English as a Foreign Language , I first lived abroad (Spain) in 1976, and am currently a resident in Spain again after returning from Bolivia in 2010. I have been teaching for some 33 years now, half that time in Spain, so for me adjusting wasn’t a problem.

If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language?

Yes, Spanish, which I had studied at University and have been teaching for over 30 years.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

Not at all! For me I get “reverse culture shock” on the few occasions I have returned to live temporarily back in the UK!

How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

Insignificant, having been residing in Spain for more than 20 years, my move to Bolivia was much easier than for most. Some uneasiness about South America but I had spent 4 months in Colombia earlier in the same year I went out to Bolivia (2009) so I had a good idea of what to expect and was much more confident.

Expats often talk about going through the “stages of culture shock.” Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

Having been divorced from my British ex-wife for more than 20 years, and used to being alone, I didn’t experience any of these stages. Of course it helps that I am totally immersed in the Spanish way of life, food, customs, and speak the language fluently!

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

Learn the language!! Immerse yourself into the lifestyle of the locals. Keep a low profile, especially at the beginning of your stay, and if you don’t speak the language. Keep on your guard, as a “Gringo” you are going to stand out like a sore thumb, so some people will inevitably try and take advantage of that, either by attempting to trick you out of your money, or other items, to robbery or worse.

So, this continues our theme this week of blog posts that highlight the importance of cross-cultural training. Have you shared your experiences with Culture Shock?

Expats in Boston are offering some of their thoughts about what it has been like for them over the course of the last week. Here are some snippets about one expat in Boston during the week of the Boston bombing as detailed on Telegraph.co.uk:

Many of the runners and spectators at the scene on Monday were from Britain, including Becky Wall and Will Bowry, who teach at the British School of Boston…

Bowry, 29, was born in Scotland and lived in England – including stints in London and Suffolk – before moving to Boston…

He was quickly ushered from the scene, shocked but unhurt…

“I have lived in Boston for six months and there’s a real sense of strength and the ability of Bostonians to be able to overcome this vile and cowardly atrocity,” he said.

“People are getting back to work. I was in London during the 7/7 bombings and there is the same sense that the city will not be defeated.”

I was living and working in New York City on 9/11 and its aftermath, and I felt the same sentiments offered by Will in the above article. These people that perpetrate such horrendous acts think that they can intimidate our society, but it has the exact opposite effect. Nothing brings together Americans and the British, as individual countries and as allies, than an attack against one, the other or both.

Media reports continue to circulate about the weakening pound and the impact it has on British expats (FTadviser.com), particularly on pensioners:

A decade of a weakening pound has left many expat pensioners with up to 50% less buying power from their retirement income now than when they first retired, research from Equiniti has revealed.

Equiniti Paymaster currently administers the payroll and international payment of pensions for over 50,000 expat pensioners, many of whom are former public sector workers receiving an average pension of around £5,600 a year.

The largest single group of these 50,000 pensioners, 12.45%, has retired to the eurozone where someone who retired in 2003 will have seen the purchasing power of their pension fall by 22%. Someone with a £5,000 pension would bring in just under €7,300 (£6,212) ten years ago, whilst the same pension amount would now bring in only €5,692 (£4,843).

That is a huge loss of purchasing power. We also posted about the weakening pound and its impact on expats at the end of February. Expat finance is something that anyone living abroad must continually monitor and take appropriate steps.

Actor Warwick Davis, of Star Wars and Harry Potter series fame, recently described what it is like working on An Idiot Abroad:

“It’s gruelling, because when the cameras stop you’re still there. There’s no kind of: ‘Okay guys, thanks a lot,’ and then off to a five star hotel. You’re left where you are, and if you sleep rough in a gypsy caravan, you sleep rough in a gypsy caravan for the cameras. That’s what happens. So yeah, we had a few rough nights.”

For those unfamiliar with the series, An Idiot Abroad is a documentary-style comedy in which a Brit (Karl Pilkington) is sent abroad, and outside his comfort zone, by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant to experience different cultures.

Merchant hopes Karl will have a great experience, while Gervais is more set on seeing Karl in absolute misery as he wades through cultural experience after cultural experience. Either way, expats all over the globe will find plenty to relate to through Karl’s life abroad.

An agreement has been reached that has clarified just how much money Cypriots and expats living in Cyprus are going to lose to what is described as a “one-off levy.” Sure it is. So now they’ve gone from “we’d never do that” to “we’re only going to do this once?” Good luck:

British expats with savings under £85,000 have been spared from being taxed by the Cypriot government in a last-minute EU deal.

But it means that any of the island’s 60,000 British expats who break the threshold will be subjected to the compulsory one-off levy.

Cyprus was saved from a banking system collapse and bankruptcy in the early hours of Monday morning when eurozone ministers agreed a draft rescue package of £10 billion euro (£8.5 billion).
The UK Government has previously said it will only compensate British armed forces personnel left out of pocket.

So is this some kind of magic bullet that is actually going to save the Cypriot economy? I Would love to read the evidence that demonstrates what exactly is going to be done to produce different results.

British expats in Cyprus? Not happy these days. Not happy at all. The recent move to syphon off funds from depositors in Cyprus has ensnared British expats along with native Cypriots:

British expats in Cyprus and the British press have reacted angrily at proposals to force depositors to share in the bailout costs for Cyprus banks.

Britain has close ties to the island nation and Cyprus was a crown colony of the British Empire until 1960. Roughly 3,000 personnel from the British Armed Forces are based on the island for strategic reasons.

British expat Jean Stark said: “It was a huge shock. We hadn’t expected it all as it hasn’t happened in any of the other countries that have been bailed out.”

The deposit levy is set to hit 60,000 British expats and around 170 million pounds ($255 million) in their savings.

The article includes a quote from U.K.’s Finance Minister that indicates government related personel will receive compensation, but all other Brits are out of luck. You can guess the reactions of expats and the media, which are also noted.

Expat Finance is critical when anyone moves abroad, and this latest event only highlights how those that think they have planned wisely can still be caught off guard.

Drunken Expats in Shanghai are causing problems. China’s “most international city” is experiencing tensions between it’s foreigners and the local population that would like more peace and quiet at night:

Furious locals “dumped water” on some 200 noisy foreigners who enjoying the nightlife on Yongkang Road, one of Shanghai’s most popular bar streets, last weekend.

A local government official told the Global Times newspaper they would now “force” the street’s bars – whose clients are largely European – to close by 10pm.

Residents of the street in what expats call the “Former French Concession” have reportedly been complaining about noise pollution for at least a year.

These kinds of stories are gentle reminders to expats everywhere that they are not living at home. The behavioral expectations for New York or London aren’t relevant to what happens abroad, even in a city widely regarded as the most friendly to westerners in China.

Similarly, two expats in the UAE recently had their death sentences overturned for trafficking in small amounts of hashish. Wake up out there!

British expats abroad, especially pensioners, need to consider their currency options as the decline in the value of the pound has potential to significantly impact their income level even further than it has already. Here are a few quotes below from a BBC.co.uk article about the impact of the pound on British expats:

While holidaymakers might take a short, sharp hit from a weakening pound, a change in the strength of sterling may be more of a lingering issue for expats…

Financial advisory group deVere has calculated that many UK expats in Europe have seen their monthly retirement income reduced by an average of 8% since the start of the year…

“With this in mind, and to avoid being subject to further volatility in the currency markets, those who are living abroad and claiming a UK pension should consider the various ways to mitigate the fluctuations with their financial adviser,” [says the group's chief executive Nigel Green].

The full-text contains a bit more insight that should be helpful for expats considering their options should the value of the pound continue to fall. This is the kind of research expats should always do ahead of time to prepare for all possible scenarios!

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