One of the most liberating things about living abroad is the self-satisfaction you get from knowing the chaos and idiocy you encounter is not of your doing. Be it gangsters running Russian towns, Indonesian maids flogged in Dubai, or Lagos international airport, none of these things can be blamed on me. Living abroad I am a tourist, a mere observer of things around me.
This wouldn’t be the case if I lived in the UK. One of the reasons I find the attitude of the British police so contemptible, why I detest the jumped-up British jobsworth in the hi-viz vest, and why I can’t stand the juvenile posturing of the BBC is because I cannot distance myself from them. These are products of my culture, they are people much like me, and it is difficult to shrug my shoulders and say “nothing to do with me”. The same is true for Britain’s awful roads, the rise of the nanny-state, and the whining, over-entitled middle-classes. These things start to affect you personally, which doesn’t happen when abroad. There, you can just look on with bemusement and declare these foreigners slightly mad.
I left the UK in 2003, at the height of the New Labour years. I knew when David Davies failed to gain the Tory leadership and Iain Duncan Smith was a complete flop with the voters that I was completely out of step with the rest of Britain. Not that I thought IDS was much good, but I thought him infinitely better than Blair. I was ploughing a lonely furrow with that one. David Davies I thought was pretty good, and still do: he’s the only politician that makes the right noises regarding civil liberties, and for that alone he’d get my vote. But most people think him a deranged right-winger.
I’d not say that the state of British politics was the main reason I left the UK – adventure, better money, and house prices accounted for most of it – but it certainly made it easier knowing I was leaving a place where few agreed with me politically. Now it’s true that few agree with me politically in France either, but here it doesn’t matter: it’s not my problem, I’m a tourist. My French colleagues, however, are fully invested in the nation’s issues, unable to stop caring. Nigerians speak about little other than the state of their nation and where it’s headed. I saw the same in Russia where people took to heart intractable problems that have plagued the country for a century; it didn’t look good for one’s health. By contrast, I wake up not giving a damn.
I suppose in some ways I’ve sloped my shoulders, run away from the responsibility of participating in a modern society.
Well yeah, I have. So what?