On Expats, Cowpats, Migrants and the Pursuit of Peace

Expats can be like cowpats. There you are enjoying the peace of the countryside, and ... ooops, you step in poops. Suddenly your attention switches from tranquility and rural joy, to something odorous that should really have been avoided.

Expats and their spats are on my mind because I'm soon to be one. Testing the waters on a virtual basis, I joined 'Expats in Portugal', a Facebook group.

Yesterday, group member Nina observed: "The carry on with some members in this group is shocking. I can't hold back any longer! Whilst there are some really nice, helpful, informative people there are also some really nasty, rude ones who clearly join in on conversations just to stir up trouble & feel it is acceptable to say hurtful things & get personal which at times is verging on bullying. I have seen an innocent question ending in an all out war of words."

Pic: Hitch Bo, from his Portuguese travelogue 

We've all been there, whether it's an expat group or one of those passive aggressive 'Spotted' shaming forums, where posting often turns to roasting, with inevitable demands for decent behaviour and bans for those judged trolls.

Back in virtual Portugal, I immediately felt the need to see the transformational angle, and wanted to respond with a special show on my Transformation Talk Show - The Barefoot Broadcast's soon-to-be daily airing. Entitled 'Ex-pat, but not a twat' (working title), I'm hoping to use my 'non-combat chat format' and talk to anyone with a view on living abroad, even those who feel the need to bully, belittle and badger other people.

I want to understand how this expat curmudgeonliness occurs and see if we can find some common ground in a conversation that encourages respect and understanding among those taking part.

Angles may include the distinction between ex-pat and migrant. Some see this purely as a racist classification where whites and Europeans establish themselves as 'expats', whilst everyone else is a 'migrant'. See this Guardian article for more on that.

Another, equally uncomfortable, take could be around the concept of colonial karma: who-goes-around-gets-come-around, maybe? It's all just a great big churn of human movement, and those with colonial pasts might be especially open to welcoming 'blow-ins', as they're know in Devon, my current perch.

Anyway, aren't we all 'world citizens' as my surrogate father and mentor Geoff Powell says? Borders and flags are all made up. Can't we just follow our noses, follow our hearts and follow the Golden Rule?

Personally, I see myself and my family as migrants, not expats, in our looming bid to find a more peaceful way of life in Portugal. I can't think of much worse than mentally and physically gating ourselves in a new land, refusing to engage with local culture, and doing all we can to re-impose the one we are endeavoring to escape, with its tendency to narrow-mindedness and fear of others.

We seek a more peaceful way of life, as I suspect others are, who grace the aforementioned Facebook group. Perhaps this pursuit lies at the heart of all who are offended there? The seemingly positive may feel their dreams of a new life being shattered by nasty trolls as they venture abroad. The nasty trolls also upset - with the proposition of the seemingly positive 'flooding in' and destroying their new-found, foreign fulfilment.

As we look for 'a life of Saturdays', as my wife just put it, I'll be keen not to come across as my own worst, personal stereotype of the expat: brown, wrinkly and to-be-avoided. Not unlike a cowpat.

My radio show can be found here: https://www.spreaker.com/show/transformation-talk-show

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