Post Referendum culture shock

Yes I am devastated. I am also angry. Depressed. I feel like a car crash is happening in slow motion in front of my eyes and there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop it. Welcome to the world of post-Brexit Britain.

It’s been a month now since we voted to leave the EU. A vote that should never have been put into the hands of the people. It has become clear very quickly that no-one really understood what they were voting for. And by that I mean people on BOTH sides of the vote. After all, how were we meant to understand about tariffs and subsidies and trade negotiators? Bank passports and freedom of movement. Access to the single market. These are all very technical matters that very few people really get. And the people who do are the ones we know as experts. The experts who were warning us of the consequences of our actions, but that were apparently ignored by a small majority of those people who actually voted. The consequences that we are now starting to see slowly happening although, if you read many of the social commentators, they aren’t happening at all and this country is a much brighter, happier place. I personally think these people are deluded.

There is so much I could write about here. We have had an incredible roller coaster of news over the past few weeks. Blink and you would miss another resignation. The biggest “suprise” was the appointment of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary – although many still think this is part of a clever game that Teresa May is playing. Time will tell.

But putting aside the news, I’ve been thinking about how this weird period in time feels very much like another thing – it feels like we’ve just landed in an alien country and it feels like we are collectively going through the culture shock cycle.

I have written about culture shock many times and discussed the cycle in the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide. For those who haven’t read the book it goes something like this:.

Culture shock could be defined as disorientation on moving somewhere unfamiliar, a rollercoaster of emotions. It is said to have four phases and each phase is described differently by different people but generally speaking they are: wonder/honeymoon, negotiation, adjustment and acceptance. You can move between the four phases in order or back and forth between them; you might skip some of the phases or not experience any of them.

So here we are, in a new, angry world and it feels very much like culture shock.  First is the honeymoon period. In my book I do also discuss the grief cycle and in fact at this stage, what we are going through/have been going through is much more like grieving than anything else. So whilst some of us did experience a sort of honeymoon stage (a weird “high” of the excitement of the first day or two), many jumped straight into the second stage which is denial.

Probably the most obvious way people have indicated their refusal to accept that this has actually happened is with a petition calling for a re-run. More than four million people have signed this petition even though it is very unlikely to happen (and there would probably be civil war if it did). But it was the only thing we felt we could do. This couldn’t be happening. This shouldn’t be happening.

Denial was mixed up with anger and frustration – which has led to a huge rift opening up in this country. I had already seen this happening before the vote and wrote about it here, but since the 24th June things have descended into a place I never thought I would see in this country. As well as a horrible rise in reports of racism on the streets, the comments sections of online newsites is not a place you want to be. I am seriously upset by the vile that is being spat out across the internet. I just want to turn back time and wish it had never happened.

But what comes next? It should be adjustment and I guess that is what we will slowly have over the next year or two. At the moment we can’t move on because we don’t really know what we would be adjusting to. I am still very hopeful that sense will prevail and even if we leave the EU we will still retain close links to our neighbours including access to the single market in return for freedom of movement If nothing else, I truly, truly hope that our ability to live and work and study in Europe will still be there when my children grow up. I also hope all my European friends in the UK are able to stay and live their lives happily – as can my British friends in Europe. It is a worrying time for a lot of people.

Eventually comes acceptance. At the moment I seriously cannot see how this is going to happen. But I know that eventually we will have to accept whatever the outcome of this debacle is. Or at least we will have to accept the new terms under which we will be living. We won’t have much choice unless, as many probably will, we leave permanently to live in another country. An awful lot of people are currently looking into gaining citizenship of another EU country at the moment.

So here we are stuck in the awful culture shock/grief cycle that has followed the referendum. I feel no better about things than I did straight after the vote but I realise that partly this is because my life is slightly in limbo at the moment anyway – we are still on holiday in the UK so I don’t have the normal distractions that would keep me sane. I recently read an excellent article about how to keep us level at times like this (which you can read here) and I will certainly be following some of this advice – in particular building a supportive community and getting out into nature (eg dog walking when we return to Pretoria).

But for now I continue to plough on, writing to my MP, answering mis-informed views on social media, talking to people about why they voted the way they did. I can’t do nothing, this is too big just to “let go”. We all have a duty to our children’s futures and I for one don’t want to say I didn’t step up when my they ask me in thirty years what I did to try and stop the madness.

In the meantime, all of you Americans need to prepare yourself for what you will be going through in November should Trump be elected. I suspect it will make post-Brexit shock look like a walk in the path…..

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As an expat, why I am voting to STAY in the EU

My country has been split over the past few months. Split by an issue whuch has revealed a fault line through the middle of the United Kingdom – a fault line which many of us didn’t even realise was there until this year, and a fault line that the whole country seems to be sliding into with a huge furour of anger and hatred and fear. It has not been pleasant and I would not wish an EU referendum on anyone.

But what it has done is make me take a long hard look at this institution we are fighting over, this huge behemoth with all its defects but also its benefits – the good, the bad and the ugly side of an institution I had assumed we would always be part of. An important part of – as one of the largest economies in Europe, we play a full and vital role in shaping the way the EU is run. A role we will no longer have if we leave, although we will still be affected by the decisions made by those who remain.

So the debate has raged – back and forth. The economy, immigration, faceless bureaucrats telling us what to do. How much we pay to the EU every week, what we could do with that money. The affect on businesses. What sort of a role we would have on the world stage if we left. Personalities and politicians taking sides. Friends and family split by the arguments – others turned off by the whole thing. But in the back of our minds, all knowing that this might be collectively the most important decision of our lifetime.

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So I know all the arguments. I have read as much as I can get my hands on. Right from the start I have always said that we don’t really know what will happen if we leave – this is an unprecedented situation and the claims from both sides are only based on best guesses. Economics is more of an art than a science and we can’t predict how people will act if we withdraw so there are still a lot more if, buts and maybes than definites in this debate.

But beyond the economics, the question of migration, the laws on bendy bananas and all the other nonsense that has been thrown at us over the past few years there is an issue which as an expat seals the deal for me. And that is that I want to be part of the world.

I realise I am luckier than most in that I have been able to travel all my life. I took my first plane ride before I can remember and I have lived on every main continent. I have visited more than 70 countries and that includes, as a wide-eyed teenager, the obligatory inter-railing trip around Europe.

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I love Europe. I love the beauty of Italy, the food of Spain, the efficiency of Germany. As a child we took holidays in the south of France, canal boats linking up towns where we could cycle to pick up baguettes for breakfast and practice our schoolgirl French. As a student I took part in sponsored hitch-hikes to Paris. I have stayed in Germany with old family friends, lived in Spain and Gibraltar, taken the children on holiday in the Netherlands. I once took a ferry to France for the day to stock up on wine. Another time I did an overnight boat trip to the Hook of Holland just because we could.

Like it or not, Europe is a part of us and I don’t want to lose that. But more than that, as a global citizen I don’t want to belong to a country that looks to the outside world like it is pulling up its drawbridge and isolating itself from everyone else. I love my country but I know it is not perfect – there is so much else out there, so much we should be part of. From food to culture to trade, we need to stay connected or we will be left behind. Not just economically but every other way as well. And it’s a two-way thing – we have so much to offer the rest of the world, why should we put up the walls and say no, we don’t want you? Because to the rest of the world this is what it will seem like we are doing if we vote to leave. In my expat life here in South Africa I am friends with people from all over the world. Many of these friends are Europeans. Proper friends, friends I am sure I will remain in touch with for the rest of my life. I have as much in common with them as I do with my friends back in England. To leave them, to symbolically tell them them we don’t want to be part of you – well, to me that is unthinkable.

This is why I (thanks to my proxy back home in the UK) will be voting to remain a part of the EU this week.