Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Hybrid Expatriate

Seven years ago I came across an article in the newspaper "ADN" that was written by Montserrat Dominguez, a quite well-known journalist both in print and on the television. This was what she had to say: "ITV is showing a series called "Benidorm", which tells the adventures of a group of tourists. The action centres on an all-inclusive complex. The tourists neither have to leave (this complex) nor do they have to eat paella. Did I say paella? Excuse me, the Brits enjoy fish and chips, porridge, baked beans and other specialities of their cuisine; they don't try local dishes. Why would they risk this, given that their surroundings reproduce a scene in which they have pubs, music, tobacco and drinks. Why then do they come to Benidorm, to Mallorca, to the Costa Brava or to the Canaries? (They can go) without hearing a word of Castellano, Mallorquín or Catalan or, even worse, without discovering a slice of tortilla or a good pa amb oli."

In fact, Montserrat wasn't entirely accurate. To correct her, there was the episode in which Janice, bothering Mick while he was trying to read a copy of "The Sun", was criticising what had been available for lunch at the Solana. "I didn't think much to that. What was all that shite on the top? What was it called?" "Paella," replied Mick curtly. I know that the Garveys had paella, because I had seen the episode in question. But I hadn't seen it on the telly. I don't watch British telly. I don't have Sky. And because I don't watch British telly, I am therefore fully integrated and assimilated into local Mallorcan society.

Which is of course utter garbage. To go back to Montserrat's points of cultural reference, I have rarely had fish and chips in Mallorca, but I am partial to baked beans now and then, while porridge is good for you. Many is the Castellano, Mallorquín or Catalan word that I hear and even myself utter. And a good pa amb oli is a treat. There again, I'm not a tourist. Yet, Montserrat's description could, if you took out the all-inclusive setting, apply just as easily to the British expatriate. Or to one particular type. Possibly.

The fact that Montserrat was talking about a telly programme is pertinent to the debate caused by Sky satellites crashing to earth and leaving huge craters into which the expatriate community plunges as though into voids of cultural deprivation. I know there are no satellites falling to earth, but you could be forgiven for thinking that there were. Potential loss of the signal has heralded an expatriate tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. Without the telly, "oh, woe is me, t'have seen what I have seen, see what I see" but can no longer.

I suspect that many expatriates and not, it is probably fair to say, only British adopt a pick 'n' mix policy to their lives in Mallorca. They will pick some of the indigenous and some of the old country. And in so doing, they will be content. Until, that is, someone pipes up and commands them to abandon Sky forthwith and to go native, just like that someone has. This someone is the most insufferable of all expatriates -the holier-than-thou, converse normally only in Mallorquín, and let everyone know the fact expat.

While Montserrat's description of the British tourist - itself of course a gross generalisation - could equally apply to the expatriate, it would be to a species of "expatriatus in extremis". Granted, it does seem odd to stumble across such a rare species who has long planted Mallorcan roots but who is still incapable of doing the lingo to any greater extent than "dos cervezas, por favor", but why should it matter?

The pressure to make someone have to try and justify the degree of his or her integration (whatever this word means, because I really don't know that a satisfactory definition exists) is preposterous. Watching British telly is evidence of nothing other than watching British telly, but for some it is evidence of the existence of bad expat or good expat. Rubbish. It would be an extreme measure for someone to decide to pack up and "go back home" because Sky falls, but the fact that Sky, telly and various other forms of communication became so easily available is, I think it fair to argue, a reason (only one reason) why some people chose to come to Mallorca to live.

The communications industry in its different varieties can indeed make it appear as though the expatriate has moulded a style of life which is little Britain in the sun, but that isn't the fault of the expatriate. He or she is symptomatic of a cultural hybridism that has been facilitated through freedom of movement and fibre optics. And if he or she wants to watch British telly, then so be it.

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