Chris Marshall

Expat: Adjusting To Life Back In UK

In March my wife, Sandra, and I along with our three (3) dogs and eight (8) cats moved back to Staffordshire after fifteen (15) years of ‘expat life’ in Almerimar, Spain. We have retained the apartment for holidays and extended winter breaks, but we are home again.

I hesitate to say ‘home’ as although I lived in Trentham and attended both Trentham High School and the Sixth Form College, I moved away to take my degree and spent the next thirty three (33) years primarily ‘down South’, in America and in Spain.

Stoke has been a constant in my life for forty three (43) years, my parents still live in Trentham, we have always maintained a base here throughout our somewhat nomadic life, and we have come back three (3) or four (4) times a year – although never together as one consequence of so many pets is that in twelve (12) years we only had one (1) night away together, and until we returned to the UK in March we had not been in the UK together for fifteen (15) years.

‘Home is where the Heart is’ though so I will lay claim to Stoke being my home, and for the rest of this article I would ask that you indulge this claim.

Here we are back home and without a doubt the two most frequently asked questions are:

1) Did you move back because of Brexit, and
2) I bet it has been hard to adjust to being back in the UK.

The answer to Question One ……. no. While I am happy to be this side of the fence regards any Deal or No Deal Brexit, it was not a factor. I will leave it at that for now, as I will write about it in due course.

The answer to Question Two …….. again, no. However, I have seen, and known of, a lot of returning expats who have struggled so feel an explanation is warranted, and dare I say, may assist future expats.

Think of it as the first of a series of Expat Survival Guides, where the first rule of survival is to plan your departure!

I know. This is a negative approach. You have no intention of your dream of living abroad ending. Not for you the mistakes and misfortunes of others. It will be different for you.

Maybe you are right, I hope you will be, but probability is against you I am afraid. Young, Middle Age, or Old I have seen them come and return with an increasing frequency.

Why? A failure to learn the language would be at the top of most people’s assumed list I guess, but you would be wrong. It certainly helps, but the reality is that more Spanish speaking English makes it less critical, Google Translate is a huge help, and if you so desire you can immerse yourself in an English speaking community.

You are more likely to find that age and the sun are not as conducive over time, that an outdoor life becomes less attractive the less you can make the most of it, that family circumstances change back home, that living in an ageing community results in more funerals than birthdays, that friends visit less frequently after the initial years, that children move away to find employment, that living in a holiday area off season is not so much fun after a few years have passed.

Let me return to Question Two, or more accurately, my response to it. Our plan was always to return to the UK and individually we returned frequently maintaining a lifestyle here in Stoke: friends, optician, osteopath, dentist, all remained in our lives. Some may say that this was a sign of not committing to our time in Spain, but we decided before we moved that we would retain our residency, tax status etc in the UK and pay for any health issues in Spain not covered by the European Health Card. Our business remained UK based, but we committed 100% to the lifestyle and opportunity Spain offered – a blog about life in Spain, a Telegraph Expat column, re-homing and transporting stray cats and dogs, writing for local newspapers all kept us fully engaged with the local community and the national issues effecting Spain.

Our return has been made significantly easier by the fact that England, and in particular Stoke hasn’t changed all that much. I am not saying there have been no advancements, improvements or unnecessary changes but the fundamentals remain unchanged: the people, the humour, the weather (OK this has been very different but not unexpected), the M6!

Biggest adjustment? Eating times! Spain would generally be breakfast around 10.30am, lunch 2.30pm, dinner at 9pm, with the main meal more often than not lunch. I think that we were were fortunate in so much as my working life was often based around commutes into London, or airports, flight and hotels so we were more accustomed to these type of hours. Many an expat finds themselves struggling to find a Spanish restaurant open before 8pm for two reasons 1) they didn’t stop serving lunch until 4.30pm and 2) no Spanish want to eat that early!

Back home invitations to lunches at 12.30, and dinners at 7pm have taken some getting used to, or more accurately would have if we hadn’t decided to stick with what works for us ….

Please don’t get me started on the idea of alcohol without Tapas! I rarely go to the Pub these days: drink driving laws combined with the fact that pubs just aren’t what they were in my day, but when I do I always take a while to adjust to the fact that no food is provided with the drink.

In conclusion then I would say that our transition back to life in the UK has been aided significantly by the lack of change: both in the way of life here in the UK over the years and our ability to retain our core lifestyle from Spain, which at the end of the day may be the biggest issue people struggle with – expat life for many is so totally different than life was in the UK and as we all know maintaining change can be very hard, especially as we get older.




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