Thursday 22 September 2016

Sometimes some of my fellow Brits make me cringe

I was reminded of this when I was away in Spain recently and picked up one of the free newspapers in English. They’re possibly not the best examples of responsible journalism but if you can read beyond the rhetoric they do at least provide some local information.
There was what was supposed to be a horror story of a young English child who had broken an arm. It was presumably a bad break as the Spanish hospital decided to keep the youngster in hospital and wanted to operate. That much had the English family gleaned even though, they complained, they spoke no Spanish and the Spaniards wouldn’t have the grace to speak English. At this point I say hoorah for the EHIC. And just see how well you’ll get on without one post-Brexit. If left to your holiday insurance, you’d probably be arguing the toss for quite a while, with the insurance company trying to make out it was your own fault so no pay out would be forthcoming and even if they agreed to pay there may be no guarantee that they wouldn’t advise “Stay in Spain and get the op done there.” In the meantime you probably risk starting treatment and risk having to pay out of your own pocket. Ouch!    
I do totally understand that if you don’t speak the language and don’t understand the local system it can be frightening if a member of your party is taken ill and particularly so if one is a small child. If I’d been nearer I’d have offered to help.
It was the sense of entitlement that angered me here the most, however. The family totally ignored the fact that if you go to a country where you don’t speak the language you are taking a risk. Put up or shut up or help yourself. There are several sources of help.
1.      A good phrase book or Google translations will go a long way
2.      Many Spanish people do speak English and especially medics as all medics world-wide need a good working knowledge of English. However, Spanish people choose not to speak English as they manage much better by reading and using body language.
3.      A smile, a “Hola” or “Bueans días” of “gracias” can achieve miracles.
4.      You can get interpreters.
I was also saddened by their lack of trust in the Spanish medical system. What was wrong with “only” giving the child paracetamol? It’s safe and effective, isn’t it? Why wouldn’t the operation performed in Spain be just as good as any performed in the UK?
Well, it’s not the good old NHS, is it?
Of course our NHS is brilliant. Let’s hope that post-Brexit it continues to be so. (Though sometimes patients go for days without eating, don’t they? Another complaint here levied at the Spanish system was that the child hadn’t eaten for three days.) But it doesn’t mean that other systems are useless or even inferior. Indeed, many British ex-pats sing the praises of the Spanish health care system. They know both systems. Has the Spanish system improved as a result of membership of the EU?
I’ve experienced being treated in other EU states and using the EHIC. When I broke a bone in my hand whilst in Austria and then had to have it recast and re-X-rayed on my return to the UK, the NHS were full of praise for the work done by their Austrian colleagues.
Well in the next two posts, I’ll tell you a couple more cringe-making stories, then I’ll get back to the joyous stuff.
And in fairness to the free newspaper, there were plenty of positive stories in that too.   


  1. I have found the health system in France to be excellent. After we had a road accident near Limoges, we were taken good care of and the staff couldn't have been more helpful. My husband was the one who was most shaken up, we had x-rays and treatment. They even found somewhere for us to stay the night in a hospital hostel, as it was midnight when we were released and we didn't have a hotel room booked, as we were looking for one when the accident occurred. The police were also kind and even got an interpreter for my husband (the sergeant's daughter) because he was nervous as he didn't really speak French. They even sent us off for lunch at 12noon, recommended a restaurant and resumed proceedings at 2pm. Very civilized. I do speak French and I've found people very helpful if you try to speak to them in their own language.All in all it was a positive experience from a frightening even.

  2. I agree with you. If you travel abroad you must either learn the language or be aware that if a problem arises you might not be understood or understand others. Why some British expected others to understand them is just down to laziness.
    As for the NHS being the best in the world well l'm not sure now as it is at breaking point. I feel that it's the best for us Brits because it is seen as free. I'm sure I if l was aboard and unwell l would be happy to be looked after and to pay for it.
    We in Britain need to change our views of others and ourselves now the old system is coming to an end and a new dawn is breaking.

  3. A very telling post. Worrying for the family, though I've heard of many similar stories where those affected had a more positive experience (and attitude). Thanks for sharing, Gill.

    Since we moved to France, we come across similar stories. There is a big expat community in the area, and many – residents or holiday home owners – rely on them for help (during 19 years living in the UK, I didn't know one other resident German there...). I find this dependency on others of your (or an English-speaking) nationality worrying.

    The previous owner of our house had lived in France for six years. We understood more of the contract than she did! She'd only worked with other Brits here. Even though we work in English every day, we are keen to practice our French whenever we're out. It simply has to be done.

    It can also be due in part with the lack of focus on foreign languages in UK schools. Yes, there's French and/or German, but how deep does it go? I started to learn English aged 10 (and it's even earlier nowadays), then Latin at 12, French at 13 and Italian at 15...

    Oh, I could go on! ;-)

  4. Thanks for the comments guys. There'll be just on more cringe one and then I'll be back to the positives.
    Re languages in schools: don't get em started. Blair's government stopped compulsory languages in schools at the same time more or less as he took us into war withe Iraq.Grr!
    Well, I speak French and German very fluently, Spanish quite well, I can get by in Dutch and can read Portuguese. Martin speaks Dutch fluently and can get by in French and Spanish. He understands German completely but can hardly speak a word .... long story I may tell it one day.