Despite visits, many of us complain that we feel ‘out of touch’ and detached from the UK

I was chatting to an elderly couple, Anne and George, in a bar the other day. It is one of the benefits of people watching in local bars; there are just so many interesting people around.

They told me that they had lived in Gran Canaria for nearly thirty years, and that although they always intended to remain on the island, they still regarded the UK as home.

They return to the UK once or twice a year for a month at a time, and stay with various relatives and friends. However, despite their visits, they complained that they often felt ‘out of touch’ and detached from the UK, and thought that their friends and relatives didn’t seem interested in them or their lives anymore, or keep them involved in the way that they used to.

There is an expression that says ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder’, which is neatly countered by one that says ‘Out of sight and out of mind’. It is of course a human condition that although we all always mean to keep in touch with our family and friends, work and other issues often get in the way of good intentions, and it can take real effort on both sides to keep in touch.

Expats, and particularly those living in sunnier climes, often forget that the folk back home are still battling with their own problems. Stress at work, problems with the kids, and high gas and electricity bills all take their toll.

Quite simply, there is often not enough time to call Mum and Dad basking in the sunny Canary Islands or the Costa Blanca. After all, on a really bad day, the thought may sometimes cross their minds that if Mum and Dad hadn’t been quite so selfish and moved to the sun, they would be on hand to babysit!

I have always found that with family and best friends, even though we might not have spoken for weeks or even months, time is irrelevant. When we are next in contact, the conversation resumes as if it were only the previous day that we last spoke. However, it is always a good idea, as with all telephone conversations with the folks back home, to be aware of certain sensitivities, such as the weather.

Whilst I may be basking in 27 degrees and sipping a cocktail on the sun terrace, I try to be aware that my family and friends may be trying to cope with minus 5 degrees or heavy rain, a clutch of screaming children, as well as the week’s groceries.

Anne went on to tell me that they are always meticulous about phoning family and friends on Sunday afternoons each week, and they couldn’t understand why their friends were often not there to answer the phone, or unable to have a lengthy chat.

“We like using our videocam on Skype”, she added with a flourish, and I immediately suspected that the problem was – insensitivity to others. I can think of a number of friends and relatives, although happy to use Skype by appointment, would rather not been seen unshaven, or with a towel and curlers in their hair or, in some cases, not without first having a full facial!

Sadly, Anne and George seemed oblivious that other people have busy lives. They too have things to do, people to see, crises to deal with, and rows to be resolved.

Some people like the routine of regular calls but, in my experience, asking people when it is best to call is often a good idea or just try to be sensitive to times when people are working, collecting the kids from school, meal times etc. If it is difficult, use other methods of communication instead.

Personally, I prefer to use emails, text messages, WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook to keep in contact with family and friends. Despite the lack of popularity and some cynicism from the older generation, social media has brought families and friends together.

I have renewed friendship with many people since I joined Facebook and, despite the much-publicised negatives of using social networks, I find that it is one of the important factors in remaining a happy and contented expat.

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