OPINION: The British are failing to integrate in Spain…

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INTEGRATED?: Or do you buy baked beans by the crate asks writer Ruqaya Izzidien (inset)? Photo credit: Shutterstock

A BRITISH-IRAQI writer, specialising in social and cultural affairs, has taken a satirical look at Brits who fail to integrate abroad – particularly in Spain.

Ruqaya Izzidien has had her work published widely in The New York Times, the Guardian, the BBC and Al Jazeera English and this summer she found herself heading to Spain as it was plunging into a debate over British integration.

Karen Maling Cowles, dubbed the “voice of the British in Benidorm” by the Spanish press had called out the British for failing to integrate in Spain.

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“In the 27 years that I’ve lived in Spain I’ve seen how the English live in closed communities, and the great lack of integration,” she said.

So, in a recent article on The New Arab website, Ruqaya penned a piece after The Wall Street Journal published Andy Ngo’s account of a visit to “Islamic England”, which drew on the singular, superficial and anecdotal experiences of one tourist to condemn British Muslims for failing to integrate.

It interpreted British stoicism, a lack of nationalism, and women-only fitness centres as a reflection on Muslims, rather than Britain.

And, as Ruqaya says, two can play at that game… the full article, republished with permission, is below:

OTHER tourists may remember Spain for its long coastline and beaches, or its Andalucian architecture, but I remember it for the British.

When I was visiting Spain as a teenager, I got lost in a Marbella market and, encountering a throng of intimidating Brits, I became confused and frightened by the sight of them.

Where were the jolly sellers of paella and tapas? Where were the sun-kissed Spaniards I had heard so much about? And why was I confronted with these puce and peeling Brits buying baked beans by the crate? It was my first encounter with the British expatriate (the Venn diagram for a white person and an immigrant is two separate circles) and frankly, foreigners are terrifying.

This summer, I found myself heading to Spain as it was plunging into a debate over British integration. Karen Maling Cowles, dubbed the “voice of the British in Benidorm” by the Spanish press called out the British for failing to integrate in Spain. “In the 27 years that I’ve lived in Spain I’ve seen how the English live in closed communities, and the great lack of integration,” she said.

I wanted to cut past the polemics and experience Spain’s Little Britain for myself. My first visit was to Mijas in the now ghettoized Costa del Sol. With 13 per cent of the population registered as British citizens, some estimates put the proportion of foreigners in this town as high as half.

As I walked down the traditional winding Spanish roads with its picturesque whitewashed walls, it was hard to avoid overhearing English on every corner, with Brits flocking to the local English pub, while the non-Brits went the opposite way. Each group kept its distance and avoided eye contact with the other, which I put down to dysfunctional integration, rather than the far more innocent British aversion to small talk.

There are around 300,000 British citizens living in Spain, and about 40 per cent are aged 65 or over. We cannot ignore this fact, nor the need for Brits to contribute to, and assimilate into, their new country, rather than scrounging off the Spanish healthcare system through their European Health Insurance Cards.

Many properties in the Costa del Sol are buy-to-let or holiday homes, which often price out hardworking Spaniards.

My trip led me to Malaga’s English club, where visitors are expected to speak English, with instructional pamphlets offered to anyone who does not. Insisting on speaking Spanish, since I respect the country I’m visiting, a nice man gave me a bag filled with booklets about English and Britain’s long history of going to other countries without assimilating. Sometimes you’ll even hear Brits wax lyrical about the golden age of the Empire and a desire to re-establish Britain’s former glory.

Within the Costa del Sol ghetto there are several English schools that allow students to study the British curriculum, only further cementing the racial divide of the region. When I visited an English pub in the village, I was shocked to find it filled with men, and I’m going to assume this is because English women are oppressed, not because they would rather be outdoors in this glorious weather.

And when I discovered that a nearby English bookstore stocked shelves of English titles, but neglected to cater to its dwindling Spanish residents, I found myself wondering, is learning Spanish prohibited in England? What a backwards, conservative society it must be.

For Spain boasts rich cuisine, yet the local supermarket is piled high with Marmite and scones. The local restaurants serve strange, smelly foods that I overheard being referred to as ‘Fe shanchips’. I feel sorry for the English expats, who are missing out on shrimp paella, gazpacho and patatas bravas.

When I visited Fuengirola a couple of Christmases ago, I was dismayed to find that my favourite churreria had closed down in favour of mulled wine stand. Brits had flocked to the coast to celebrate Christmas, rudely unaware that the locals don’t celebrate until January.

And, during this year’s World Cup, the coastline was transformed by the exhibition of endless English flags, proving that these expatriates had no intention of abandoning their background or respecting the country that they now call home. I can’t understand why the English would not raise the Spanish flag during this time.

It is well-known that the Costa del Sol is an English destination, despite its inconvenient location in Spain. The region around Orihuela, south of Alicante, is estimated to be home to 30,000 people, over 50 per cent of whom are British and Irish.

In August, a British holidaymaker complained to travel agency Thomas Cook about the presence of Spaniards at her resort in Benidorm, asking “Why can’t the Spanish go somewhere else for their holidays?”

At one point during my trip, a Brit struggled to ask me in Spanish, “You’ve come to see the Costa del Sol?” He clearly wondered what a foreigner like me was doing in his English town.

Back at Malaga’s English Club, I was led upstairs to a discreet room where a portly man spoke to me privately. He asked me if I was ready to move to the Costa del Sol. I struggled to stifle a condescending laugh. Apparently there had been some miscommunication. Me? Become part of this ridiculous, segregated community? I had far too much respect for Spain to do such a thing.

Other tourists might remember Spain for its bullfights, its museums or its nightlife, but I remember it for its embarrassingly segregated Brits – perennially unable to integrate.

• Ruqaya Izzidien is a British-Iraqi freelance writer specialising in social and cultural affairs. Her work has been published in The New York Times, the Guardian, the BBC and Al Jazeera English.

Her debut novel The Watermelon Boys, published by Hoopoe Fiction is out now.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the publishers.

24 COMMENTS

  1. I assume this article has been written to be deliberately controversial and is not the true beliefs of the author – nobody could be get things that wrong or be that stupid surely ????

    • Headline: A BRITISH-IRAQI writer, specialising in social and cultural affairs, has taken a satirical look at Brits who fail to integrate abroad – particularly in Spain.” – however this does fit ‘guiri’ Benidorm

    • Absolutely agree … just thinknhow much Spain earns from us “”ex pats”” …

      this stupid, biased woman should go to the UK and see just how we are being kicked out of our own country x

    • There’s way too much truthful stuff in there. If it upsets expats, then they need to take a long hard look at themselves. I speak more Spanish than most expats and I have

      a) never lived in Spain
      b) never studied Spanish

      I can’t believe such moronic comments as “see just how we are being kicked out of our own country”.

    • Your comment shows how effective the article was. It’s almost funny, because you failed to notice that the entire piece is satire. It has basically taken Andy Ngo’s article and copied it paragraph by paragraph, putting it into a different context. Also of course: “A BRITISH-IRAQI writer, specialising in social and cultural affairs, has taken a satirical look at Brits who fail to integrate abroad – particularly in Spain.” – gives you a hint.

      So let’s look at the original by Mr Ngo:

      Other tourists may remember London for its spectacular sights and history, but I remember it for Islam. When I was visiting the U.K. as a teenager in 2006, I got lost in an East London market. There I saw a group of women wearing head-to-toe black cloaks. I froze, confused and intimidated by the faceless figures. It was my first encounter with the niqab, which covers everything but a woman’s eyes.

      vs

      OTHER tourists may remember Spain for its long coastline and beaches, or its Andalucian architecture, but I remember it for the British. When I was visiting Spain as a teenager, I got lost in a Marbella market and, encountering a throng of intimidating Brits, I became confused and frightened by the sight of them. …

      And Ruqaya Izzidien article mirrors that of Mr Ngo paragraph by paragraph. So yes, it’s clearly been written to be deliberately controversial and more accurately as a take-down pf Mr Ngo’s article.

  2. Talk about stereotypes this person has a huge chip on her shoulder a typical journalist who when they can’t find a story they invent one, no credibility at all.If this was written by a white journalist it would be deemed to be racist.
    ,

  3. She is right, many Brits make no attempt to mix with the local community. Think the Brit system is better which its not! They link to all rubbish from HIStory and basically are only here for the sun. These same people get very angry when other people come to Britain and dont speak English. I think many should never have left the island.
    But i know Spanish people who have moved to Britain, only mix with other Spaniards over there, Spanish bars Spanish friends, no intergration and dont speak English. So its really a case of stupid people not making any effort.

    And for the “Iraqi Brit”, go to places like Crevellente, muslims do not mix with anybody apart from other Muslims

  4. Yes, that maybe true to a certain extent, BUT the English abide by the laws of Spain and do not try and change their culture, as do the Muslims in England

  5. Well ,at least we are not beheading ,driving into,bombing , stabbing the Spanish.
    If Brits shouldn’t celebrate Christmas in Spain ,what about Ramadan in the UK

  6. Wow, Gammon privilege on parade BTL today. So yeah, let’s have a world full of segregated communities that never interact. You’re defending and demanding that for the British ‘expat’ community in Spain, so why should any other community anywhere else not enjoy the same isolationist privileges? Brits don’t want to integrate in Spain? Fine. Then don’t whine about people of middle-eastern descent failing to integrate in Bradford or wherever

    You want other groups to integrate in your country? Lovely. Then walk the talk by setting the example and integrating when you go abroad. Otherwise your whining is just the sound of white British privilege.

  7. Well, I am sitting in my Spanish car in Arrecife. An overwhelmingly Spanish city, as my wife shops in Lidl (German owned but totally Spanish) before we go to Mercadona (Spanish) and a superb Spanish fruit and bag shop in Tias. I live in Playa Blanca which is perhaps 20% British, and I mainly associate with other Brits but eat and drink in Spanish speaking bars and restaurants

    • John, it’s wonderful to read your story of being integrated, and I think I would do much the same in your position. I’ve just come back from 10 days in Valencia, Murcia and Alicante, and barely spoke a word of English to the staff and people I encountered. Why should I expect people to speak English (though it’s nice when they do, it’s also nice when you make the effort with their language).

  8. Pretty rich for the British to complain about foreigners in their country not “integrating” while keeping a distance from the locals when living overseas.

  9. To all those English expats criticising this article, have you noticed how excellent the Iraqi woman’s English is? Can any of you write so well in Spanish? If not, you’ve just confirmed everything she has written!

  10. I am sorry, but she is totally right. You see, there is a problem that we have. we can’t see what we are doing. That, is because, as British people, we feel we are superior. We are hypocrites, that is what we are. And the thing is we have no excuse. It is embarrassing to think that people can still be so blinkered. I love also, how you mention “Muslims” because she is one. What about the other religions that exist in England’s green and pleasant land? Blame it on the hijab wearing woman over there why not? What about all the others? Muslims, Muslims, Muslims. we are obcessed with it. It drives me insane that I can live here, in Spain, and have no issue at all with the Muslim community. Please stop it

  11. Firstly I always thought Satire was meant to be humorous.

    All this Journalist is doing is retaliating to a controversial piece on London by applying the same racism to the whole of the English Expat community in Spain.

    Her piece is ethically and factually wrong on so may levels

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