…and why I would like to urge all expats to think hard before they make comment about the political situation in their new host nation…
According to Nikita Khrushchev: “Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river…”
Now far be it for me to contradict an eminent former leader of the Soviet Union but may I just suggest that whilst politicians may all be driven by the same personal goals, politics actually differ greatly from nation to nation.
Take the USA and compare it to the UK on a political level for example – well actually you can’t – and that’s my point exactly!
The United States is a federal constitutional republic with a president at the helm. The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy with a queen and a prime minister in charge. The Conservative Party in the UK is traditionally associated with the colour blue – yet you could say it has more in common with the Republican Party in America, which is associated with the colour red…
Therefore, even on the most basic level, i.e., ‘which colour does one use to associate with politicians of a given political leaning in a certain country?’ nothing can be compared easily between different nations.
So…why oh why do some expatriates believe that they know anything at all about the politics of the new country they’re moving to?
In my experience…
I have experienced and overheard highly embarrassing conversations about politics between expats in every nation I’ve been fortunate enough to call home, and one thing is universally true of these exchanges: the expats who shout loudest about political issues don’t actually have a clue about local politics!
You cannot assume that your political understanding translates to be in any way applicable or relevant in your new nation.
Expatriates need to have common ground to share when they meet others who have relocated to live as foreign migrants in their new nation – I understand this fact. However, why not try talking about the weather, or if you like controversial topics of conversation I suggest you discuss religion, because if you decide to start crowing on about politics you will make yourself look ignorant at best, and you will offend your new hosts greatly at worst.
I have a good friend who lives in South America; she in turn has many friends and associates who herald from North America, and we have spent many hours scratching our heads and wondering about the North American expatriates who believe their political system has any bearing or relevance in the new nation. What’s more, we find it strange that assumptions and ‘understandings’ that one has of politicians in the ‘old country’ can be carried with you and applied to those politicians about whom you know nothing in your new nation.
Whilst it may be acceptable to generalise and state that: “I have come to the conclusion that politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.” (Charles de Gaulle) Or: “The problem with political jokes is they get elected…” (Henry Cate, VII), you really won’t win many friends or influence any people if you start procrastinating about specific political policy in your new country.
Why politics don’t translate…
To have any chance of understanding politics and political decisions one needs to know the historical relevance of policy decisions made by the different parties which are, or which have been in power. In the nation in which we grow up we often gain our political understanding through the indoctrination of the news and popular media. We also learn about the historical nature of a given party’s development from our parents and our peers, our teachers and from reports we hear or read…
Therefore the majority of us are ‘qualified,’ at least on the most basic level, to have an opinion about the political development of the country we herald from. However, when we turn up in a new country, whilst we may have been able to learn the language of that nation before we expatriated, it is highly unlikely we will have any sufficient depth of relevant political understanding unless we have specifically studied the politics of the country for many years at university level!
Unfortunately this doesn’t stop many an expat expounding vociferously about the ‘corrupt nature’ of politicians in their new nation, or complaining that they are not allowed to have a say and locally vote now that they’re resident in this new country abroad!
Why you need to watch your mouth!
Your personal life experience to date will affect your political leanings – fact.
However, your personal life experience may be alien and irrelevant to the people of your new country, meaning that your political leanings will not necessarily translate well in your new nation.
As a North American or a Briton for example, your politics may have led you to truly believe that globalization is the real key to reducing the gap between rich and poor in the world. However, as an expatriate now living in South America for example, if you promote your belief you are likely to come up against those locally who can give you factual evidence of why globalisation doesn’t actually work.
The political production editor at the British newspaper The Guardian summed it up well: “Many developing countries have done exactly what free market evangelists such as the International Monetary Fund told them to and have failed to see the benefits. The truth is that no industrialised society developed through such policies. American businesses were protected from foreign competition in the 19th century, as were companies in more recent “success stories” such as South Korea. Faith in the free market contradicts history and statistical evidence.”
And yet I have literally heard expatriates from affluent first world countries harping on about why globalization is the key when they have taken up residence in a much less affluent second world nation.
And another reason why you should perhaps think before you speak…
If you decide to speak out and speak up and openly complain and criticise the political system in your new nation without actually knowing what you’re truly saying, the ramifications of what you say could have very far-reaching consequences.
At best your hosts may wonder why you don’t just leave, and at worst they may actually encourage you to get out!
I was recently contacted by a group of disgruntled expatriates living abroad in a developing nation; they were complaining that their real estate rights were being deliberately overlooked by local and national politicians. They were doing everything they could to raise the profile of their complaint because they genuinely felt that racism was inherent in the political system locally, and they wanted to make this known internationally.
However, the country in question is a developing nation where there are massive internal and external political and economic issues that the country’s government is actively trying to tackle. As a result, real estate rights for foreign citizens are unfortunately so far down the political agenda that they may never be heard or considered, let alone resolved. What’s more, the real estate rights for local citizens are equally as poorly legislated for…
In other words, the expatriates had got it wrong – and their ill informed opinion had driven them to widely deliver and promote a message that undermined the local political situation in their new nation of residence.
It is absolutely right that expatriates take a deep and genuine, lasting and significant interest in their new nation of residence. I even believe that in some circumstances it’s right that long-term citizens have the right to vote and even run for political office.
I also believe utterly in freedom of speech.
However, when anyone expounds on subjects they know little about, it’s not big and it’s not clever…and when it comes to expats talking about local politics if they have no understanding of local political matters, their ignorant opinions and baseless judgments can undermine and alienate.
Therefore, I really do urge all expats to be careful, and to really think deeply before they begin ‘sharing’ their own opinions about the politics and politicians in their newly adopted nation.
About the author: Rhiannon Davies is the editor of www.ShelterOffshore.com – the website for people seeking a lower taxed life.