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Advice to expats

What to do if you want to move

House prices are soaring. Taxes are rising. Wages are stagnating. Keir Starmer is looking on, rubbing his hands. Joe Strummer’s question occurs to you — “should I stay or should I go?”

Thank God I couldn’t find work in Tokyo

Recently, debate has erupted across the British right — including in this publication — about whether young Brit should emigrate. Yes, say Peter Hitchens and Stephen Daisley. No, say Adam Limb and Capel Lofft

I take no position on whether you should emigrate. That’s really your business. Individual circumstances will vary. Frankly, I suspect that few young adults will, given its disruptive impact on one’s life and the fact that Britain, despite everything, remains a first world country. As an expat, though, I can offer some inexpert advice to people who have been thinking about it.

First, a word on terminology. Some leftists enjoy complaining that conservatives refer to foreigners in Britain as “immigrants” but to British people in foreign countries as “expats”. I think their feeling is that the former is meant to have negative connotations whilst the latter is meant to have positive ones. People who have moved abroad, whatever country they have moved from, are both immigrants and expats. In Poland, I am an immigrant. To British people, though, I am an expat. (Perhaps there are Brits in Benidorm who don’t think of themselves as immigrants but, well — sorry, guys.)

If you are planning to emigrate you shouldn’t just think about why you want to leave but why you want to arrive — or, in other words, not just about what repels you from Britain but about what attracts you somewhere else. When I decided to work abroad, I wanted to live in Tokyo. I liked Murakami novels and Japanese pro wrestling. Thank God I couldn’t find work there. I was so entranced by The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and New Japan Pro Wrestling that I had somehow forgotten that I didn’t like crowded cities or officious work environments. What a miseryguts I would have ended up being.

People with a head full of politics should ask themselves if they have idealised exotic foreign lands. A socialist heading to Cuba, for example, might be surprised to learn that it is not quite the egalitarian paradise they had imagined. On the other hand, a conservative heading for Central and Eastern Europe might be bewildered to find that it is not a glistening tradtopia where buxom women skip through wheatfields in floral dresses on their way to church.

You can buy a castle in Bhutan for the price of a leaking shed in London

A potential expat should also ask themselves not just what foreigners can do for them but what they can do for foreigners. If you’re on the right, you probably don’t back open borders so you can’t assume you have the natural right to saunter in. If you are going to settle in somebody else’s country, and they have allowed it, you should be a pleasant and productive guest. Trying to learn the language right away is advisable. I say that not from the smug heights of my own achievements but from the dark depths of my failures. I know from embarrassing personal experience that native English speakers can be indulged in their complacent ignorance so long that once they have begun to grapple with the język of their host nation, they face a steeper climb.

Don’t be a nuisance. Most obviously, do your best to keep within the law. (I may not do this perfectly, but I am at least one of the few people in Poland to have bought a TV licence.) You don’t have to smile if someone spits in your face but try to show some gratitude for being there. If you are of a political cast of mind, don’t start slagging off this or that feature of your new home like a houseguest who starts criticising the furniture. That said, be humble with your praise of politicians as well. After all, a lot of your new neighbours will oppose whoever is in government and they have more of a right to hold forth than a newcomer.

Let’s think more practically. What can you do for a living? Some people will work remotely, of course — and why not? As far as I can tell, you can buy a castle in Bhutan, Brazil or Romania for the price of a leaking shed in London. If that isn’t on the table, then you could teach English — spreading knowledge of our beautiful mother tongue and frantically improvising a response when an advanced student asks how to use the future perfect continuous tense. If you learn their language, you can use whatever skills you had in Britain (if you had any).

How should you make friends? First — avoid the expat trap. British expats in larger cities huddle together like rats in the corner of a pirate ship. Walk into a random bar in Warsaw, for example, and you might bump into an entire table full of them — smelling of grievances and imported HP sauce. Make sure to get out and about, though. No one makes friends from their bedroom — unless of course you mean “Twitter friends”. Find a popular bar, restaurant or café, and make sure that people hear your cut-glass tone or Scouse lilt. It might not be quite the potent aphrodisiac that it would have been in New York in the 1960s, but it can turn heads.

Make the most of chances to visit family or friends, or to have them visit you. It is a lot easier to stay in touch with people you have left behind than it would have been for British people who sailed for the US in the 1800s and never returned. Still, the pandemic showed that we cannot take international travel for granted. I still regret not visiting for Christmas in 2019 (“I can just come in the spring!”). Then again, no one forced me to move.

Some people might have more specific questions about what it’s like to live in Poland. To that I say — keep out! The last thing we need is a bunch of whining Brits turning up to ask why there’s no milk in their tea. If a lot of Anglos start pitching up in my neighbourhood and degrading my “very slightly exotic” street cred, I’ll be out there marching in a “Make Poland Great Again” baseball cap and calling for the government to zbudować the ścianę.

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