Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Expats and the financial crisis - let's stick together!

Not long ago I was reading a web-based news site that was dominated by a front-page photo of Gordon Brown shaking Nicolas Sarkozy's hand in their recent Paris meeting on the current economic crisis.

It suddenly struck me just how much of this I'd seen in the news recently and as I paged back through the headlines of recent weeks, the numbers of photos of world leaders all shaking hands in one 'love-in' after another is quite stunning.

In 2007 and even the earlier parts of 2008, many world leaders seemed to have little time for each other. Then the 'crash' really hit and suddenly they've all become lifelong friends in adversity. I guess that's OK, a little hypocritical perhaps, but OK. It's going to take a lot of people working together to get things going again so the more hands helping the better - though I can't help wondering just how much money they'd save us all if for their meetings they used the telephone or video conferencing more and first-class travel and accommodation less.

There's no doubt that the current crises are affecting expats everywhere, though of course some more than others.

In some countries those segments of the property markets that exist solely to 'service' expat buyers have stopped dead as people are putting off their purchases due to either nerves or waiting to see if property prices will fall further. Industries everywhere are slowing down and finding work/income is getting harder. As so many expats are self-employed they're also feeling the pinch as a group more than many others.

In spite of all this gloom, there are some positives. As per our illustrious leaders, many communities are recognising that times are hard and are starting to pull together to help each other. Interestingly there are some indications that this 'pulling together' is helping break down barriers that in some cases had arisen between expats and the wider community.

This shouldn't be too surprising. In much of continental Europe there is a more recent history of mass hardship, particularly in rural areas, than is the case in the Anglophone countries. There is therefore a deeper tradition of neighbours and communities helping out by giving gifts of food or doing jobs for each other just to try and help. In many communities people don't differentiate much between locals and expats and therefore the networks are growing to encompass all. That can only be a good thing that will also yield integration benefits once the economy picks up.

Of course, it's not always easy to be a contributor to such self-help networks. In my case I'm not sure my neighbours and local community get too enthusiastic when I offer my limited practical skill sets in support. One looked distinctly alarmed when I offered to give a hand with a piece of carpentry work he was doing - clearly he'd seen some of my DIY efforts and rapidly formed the view that my help was well worth avoiding if at all possible!

In another example, a good neighbour and friend helped me with a little DIY job. When I asked if he needed any sort of reciprocal help he gave the matter some thought then after several seconds said "not really because I can't think of anything you're any good at". A little harsh perhaps but sadly true!

Our particular skills may not always fit well during hard times into an increasingly self-help orientated local society, but the gesture is almost always appreciated and will be remembered.

So, I'm thinking of trying to practice what I preach soon. I may go to see my bank manager to ask for a loan and tell him that if he says 'yes' I'll clean his bank's windows free for a month. He'll probably decide I'm not talented enough to take up the offer!


Catherine said...

I'm a big believer in 'random acts of kindness', so this financial crisis will afford plenty of opportunities.

When the Yellow Shirts took over the airport in Bangkok and the inevitable happened, it was natural for me to offer my services.

For instance, my hair stylist was used to having a full schedule for the Xmas holidays.

I showed up to get my 'holiday hair' to an empty salon. In the three years going to him, I'd never seen his salon empty. Ever.

The Yellow Shirts happened, his clients disappeared.

So I talked to him about the importance of marketing his business, about getting his company out there on the Internet.

The following day I arrived back with my camera for a photo shoot. During the following week I put together a small website for his company. In the coming months I'll educate him on the basics of marketing.

Random acts of kindess, one act at a time. It does make a difference.

Catherine said...

Yoooo hoooo! Anyone home?