Monday, September 14, 2009

Expat safety issues

I read recently of the terrible accident in Portugal that involved a beach cliff rock-fall resulting in several fatalities.

This put me in mind of how dangerous the world can be and how some, notably holidaymakers or expats, can be in particular danger due to a lack of local knowledge.

I remember being on a beach once (abroad). It was a chilly and not particularly nice spring day. There were only a very few people on the beach mainly walking but one couple caught my eye.

They were sitting on the rocks at the base of a moderately high cliff. At the very second I noticed them, there just happened to be a fairly large collapse and fall of stones, earth and sand from the cliff above them. This came down and hit both of them before I could say anything.

This was a freak occurrence both in terms of how unlucky they were and the fact that the accident happened just at the very second I noticed them. The good news is that they were shocked but otherwise uninjured. They also just happened to be newly arrived expats that had been living in the country only a week or so!

Shortly afterwards I was asking a local why there were no warning signs on the beach under the cliffs. His response was fatalistic “..but everybody knows the cliffs are unstable and wouldn’t sit underneath them..”


The stories of potential expat woe through ignorance abound. Poisonous snakes kept as pets without knowing what they were, dangerous plants cultivated lovingly in the garden and of course lack of local geographical knowledge. Some are no doubt the stuff of urban legend but many are known to be true.

I did know a medical first-aider in Australia that told me that a disproportionate number of the problems he had to help with affected visitors and expats that just hadn’t grasped the local dangers and ‘issues’.

One of my American friends had just moved to the UK when we met up at a mutual friend’s house. While sitting in the garden the English friend said that she must weed near the fence then departed inside.

My US pal suddenly decided to be dynamic and jumped up saying “I’ll get those”. Before I could get out the words “NO, STOP!” he’d dived with his bare arms into the world’s biggest pile of stinging nettles.

Cue a look of horror, screeching and hopping around – and the subsequent liberal application of lots of germoline. As you may have guessed, whatever poison oak and ivy they may have in Northern California, he’d never encountered or heard of stinging nettles before.

So even a suburban Essex garden can have its dangers for the unwary!

I guess the message for expats everywhere is – ‘get that local knowledge and FAST!’

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