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Clarkson's swipe at expatriates is not top gear.

There's a British man who has a problem with you. Because if you're an expatriate and if you're reading this article, there's a good possibility you are, according to him, a "failure".

Jeremy Clarkson, best known for presenting the BBC television show Top Gear, has taken another swipe at British expats and their reasons for relocating abroad; his rationale, however, could just as easily be applied to expatriates from India, Australia, South Africa or the Philippines.

Writing in The Times earlier this week, Clarkson said he could not see why anyone would leave their family and friends behind and move thousands of miles across the globe if they were happy and content in their home country.

His reasoning is: people only really harbour a desire to head for newer pastures if they've just gone through a painful life experience, such as redundancy or divorce, and just want to escape from it all.

Clarkson has written on the subject of expatriates before. He said in 2007 that a country's brightest people - it's lawyers, doctors and inventors - constitute a tiny proportion of its 'brain drain'. Rather it is those seeking wealth and luxury abroad, normally by securing employment in a position that is disproportionate to their qualifications and level of experience who sap collective intellectual potential, he said.

Clarkson's opinions have added resonance to a continuing debate among residents of the UAE, a country where the overwhelming majority of the working population is made up of expatriate workers from almost every country on the planet.

In Abu Dhabi and Dubai, certainly up to a few months ago, many expats were living a life they could only dream of back home. People who were secretaries and shop workers in London and Mumbai suddenly find themselves editing magazines and running real estate companies, even if the global economic crisis is slowly eradicating the novel idea that switching continents can escalate you up the career ladder at triple speed.

There is an element of truth in what Clarkson says but his tongue-in-cheek sweeping generalisation does not factor in those who seize the opportunity to experience a new culture and the chance to further their career by working abroad. Travel broadens the mind and where's the failure in working with people from all over the world, learning a new language and appreciating different customs.

Surely if you're stuck in a dead-end job in your home country with no great prospects, it is up to you to make something of your life. If you persist in the same role for years without doing anything about it you are more of a failure than someone with the ambition and drive to experience something new.

Clarkson says the majority of expats he has encountered sit at the bar all day long moaning about Britain while reading a UK tabloid newspaper "trying to convince themselves they are happy". And certainly many expats in the UAE are not happy; not a day goes by without hearing someone complain about traffic, the weather, the cost of living, and all the while pining for the day they can finally return home.

On the other hand, however, many expats are here for the long haul and have absolutely no desire of ever returning home; a lot of people enjoy a quality of life in the UAE that is unattainable in their country of origin.

But ultimately, expat life is what you make of it. For most, it is a major gamble relocating abroad and it's one that doesn't pay off for everyone.

Some people don't put enough effort into meeting new people and understanding the traditions and cultures of their new home country. If you take the brave decision to leave loved ones behind you have to go into it wholeheartedly.

Some families are being forced to leave now because of the current circumstances but it's always been the case that the majority of UAE-based expats are only here for a relatively short period of time before moving elsewhere or back home. For most it's not a wasted experience.

Clarkson doesn't like expats; he feels "desperately sorry for them". But Clarkson doesn't like a lot of people. Only last month he apologised for calling British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is partially sighted, a "one-eyed Scottish idiot" while emphasising he only regretted the "one-eyed" part of that particular insult.

I wonder what Clarkson would make of me: "A Scottish expat". I think we know the answer.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:Apr 3, 2009
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