BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE BRITAIN

by Kat Watt

Boredom, mischief or too much cheap booze make some Brits in Bulgaria engage in expat feuds

“We've been burgled, had our business vandalised, our tyres slashed and been victims of various violent confrontations in just one year.”

Does this sound like experiences in a gangland suburb in London? Racial hatred in Manchester? Yet another testament to “broken” Britain? It may surprise you, then, to be told that the above account is an experience not encountered by an ethnic minority, social outcast or council estate resident, but by a British expat living in Bulgaria, experiencing intimidation, slander and violence from other expat Brits.

Andrew moved to Bulgaria to start a business with his family, but has had nothing but trouble from his fellow countrymen since he arrived. “In my opinion, it seems people come here because it's so cheap then don't actually do anything. It's the boredom, fuelled by the ease of getting drunk here, which leads to a lot of expats gossiping and starting trouble. As there is more of a language barrier in this country, the expats bottle up thoughts then sound off dramatically to the next English-speaking person they see. Normally, this is harmless, We actually have some really good British friends here who would do anything for you, yet there is a small minority who seem to begrudge us being here.”

When asked the reasons for this hostility, Andrew is certain of the catalyst. “We're trying to run an honest business,” he says, “but apparently some British people don't like to see other British businesses prosper. This could be because of jealousy, or because of the threat of competition. It was the same pattern when I lived and worked in Portugal a few years back. There would be groups of Brits who would work quite happily for the Portuguese, and not worry about issues such as late pay. Yet others who worked for Brits would have endless verbal and even physical fights over money, ownership of things, and even petty issues like borrowing something and being late returning it. Now, here in Bulgaria, I've had no trouble at all with Bulgarians, but we've had no end of difficulties from a select group of people who make untrue accusations against us and stir trouble. This has resulted in threats to my family, vandalism of our property, and even several incidences of violence in which the police had to be involved.”

These examples are the extreme versions of what expats worldwide have encountered at some point, either personally or through word of mouth. Mostly, conflict in the community is no more than occasional bitchy comments, gossip and two-facedness. Back in the UK, the nation is well used to everything being scandalised. Broadsheet papers scream out scaremongering headlines on the newest violent subculture or damning government initiative and the tabloids echo this sense of outrage with their clichéd headlines exposing the latest wild celebrity or shamed MP. It could be that a lack of English-language gossip and rumour is causing Brits to replace this tittle-tattle in their new countries.

Another cause for conflict could be as simple as mismatched personalities. With such small societies of same-language speakers, there is a tendency to group together, with the reason being simply - the language. These people can be sure they wouldn't have mingled had they met back in the UK, yet as they share a common language in a country where the native tongue can be tricky to master, they fraternise nonetheless. This can cause underlying, niggling problems if one party takes offence to, or disagrees with something the other party has said, yet won't raise issues due to fear of being ostracised by a small émigré community. These issues can then form into something more destructive in the long term if the aggrieved vent their frustration in other ways, such as starting malicious rumours that may jeopardise future business or social opportunities. One young expat I learned of used to have a happy smile for every fellow expat he “befriended”. Little did one unfortunate colonial know, was that every time this lad in question had a few drinks in town, he would stone his secret nemesis's windows or let down his tyres!

As for the much more destructive and violent reports of expat feuds, this could well be down to the country itself. As with Spain a decade earlier, Bulgaria is a cheap country to move to. As little as five years ago, an old house could be bought on an average Brit's credit card, meaning anyone who was running into problems in the UK and wanted a swift exit, only had to muster up a thousand pounds or so to purchase land or property and flee to Bulgaria.

Going back to Spain, this popular relocation country has also had its fair share of problems with infighting expats. When Margaret Thatcher introduced the right-to-buy initiative in 1980s Britain, the working-class council-estate Britons couldn't believe their luck. Some cottoned on to the very favourable property prices in nearby Spain and sold their newly-bought houses during the UK property boom in the early 1990s to invest in areas such as the Costa del Sol, Benidorm and Marbella. It would seem, however, that you can take the thugs out of the council estates, but you can't take the council estates out of the thugs. These areas are now infamous little Britain sites, rife with backbiting and bickering. One such affected area is Torrevieja, below Alicante, which has a massive British and Irish community. Many of the new generations of expats there were actually born in the country following their parents' relocation, yet are so integrated into the foreign kinship that they haven't learn Spanish, don't have jobs and don't socialise out of the clique. In various cases, this is resulting in a dangerous mix of ignorance and boredom, leading to criminal activities and anti-social behaviour toward both Spanish nationals and fellow Brits.

In actual fact, these expat communities are like clubs. For the most part, people group together and get along, but there will always be one or two power-mad spoilsports who want to be bigger and better than the rest.

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