I'm in the South of France for a week. One of the ways to get under the skin of wherever you are is to read the local newspapers. I bought myself a Nice-Matin but also found a curious little magazine called the Riviera Reporter. This is an English language magazine that comes out every other month and services the large number of expatriates who have fled the UK for the Cote d'Azur. I'm always half thinking of making a move to somewhere sunny but one look through this type of magazine brings you back to your senses.
There is a column called "News of Britain and the British" by someone called Damian Elwes. He attempts to make his expat readers feel happy in their decision to live in France by quoting a friend of his describing London as the "Tower of Babel" in reference to the number of "foreigners" in the capital. It's extraordinary that people who have emigrated to a foreign country spend so much time grumbling about people who have done exactly the same to the UK.
Damian Elwes however, has not finished. There is even worse news for the expat community. Quoting "maverick (but serious) scientist" James Lovelock, he warns readers that the UK could be flooded by "climate refugees" in the next three decades – people fleeing from the effects of climate change on the Mediterranean.
It's a curious thing, being an expat. There seems to be a constant need to prove to people from "back home" that they're having a far better time. The two serious expat friends I have used to constantly send me postcards and photographs showing themselves in various sunny situations with annoying phrases like "Just another day in paradise" and "Work, work, work" scrawled all over them. Slowly, however, the missives ceased as they started to slip inexorably into a depressed alcoholic stupor. Then they started hassling me to get them Sky viewing cards as "the television is rubbish here". Then the phone calls started. "Hey, what are you up to?" one man would ask. "I'm working." I would reply. "Oh... right... do you know what the Test score is?" It was desperate ,and both couples eventually divorced and moved back to the UK.
It's not that the UK is such a special place or anything. There's just this mistaken feeling among expats that if the sun is shining then nothing can go wrong. You can see the end results propping up the seaside bars they try to run, wearing football shirts and drinking most of their own stock. I met a man called Barry in Phnom Penh who ran a bar and started off by telling me how happy he was. After a couple of drinks however, things changed and the mask slipped. Barry was very unhappy but had clearly spent so much time telling everyone back home what a wonderful time he was having that it was going to be very difficult for him to return home with his head held high.
The solution to emigration, in my view, is to go somewhere colder. I have a good friend who moved from London to Newfoundland. There is very little "inbound" traffic on the island and he quickly became something of a local celebrity. He is regularly mentioned in the local newspapers as the man "who moved from the UK to live here in Newfoundland". People wave at him on the street and he takes his summer holidays in the UK when everyone has left to visit bored friends in France.
We need to rethink. I suggest Iceland, Finland, and Nova Scotia as the new "in" emigration destinations. The kids can learn to club seals and walk on snowshoes and will really look forward to visiting "tropical" Britain. Besides, you can buy most of Iceland for the price of some naff villa in France. Go on: you know it makes sense.