The British are failing to integrate in Spain

The British are failing to integrate in Spain
6 min read
04 Sep, 2018
Comment: Ruqaya Izzidien takes a satirical look at Brits who fail to integrate abroad.
Brits on holiday in Benidorm, Spain [Moment editorial]
Last week, 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.

Well, two can play at that game.


Other tourists may remember Spain for its long coastline and beaches, or its Andalusian 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 Crowles, 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.

Brits should contribute to, and assimilate into their new country, rather than scrounging off the Spanish healthcare system

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 percent 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.

The White Lion British pub, Levante beach, Benidorm, Spain [Getty].

There are around 300,000 British citizens living in Spain, and about 40 percent 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 reestablish Britain's former glory.

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

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.

Read more: Immigrants don't need to integrate, you do

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 percent 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 Timesthe Guardian, the BBC and Al Jazeera English.

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

Follow her on Twitter: @RuqayaIzzidien

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.