For migrants (emigrants and immigrants), notions of “destination” and “direction” are key. They are going someplace new, but, more importantly, they must concern themselves with where that place, their new home, is going. Is it going where they want it to go? Is it headed in the direction they think it is? Truly? Beyond the news, and the public relations and tourism hype, is their newly adopted country headed in the direction that they think it is, or should be, going?
Emigrants have a right to know, truthfully, what they are getting into. That said, for emigrants, knowing the truth of their new home is next to impossible. The Internet makes it possible to do research. But most of that is a marketing and public relations veneer. It is what they want us to know, and what visitors believe/see. And that may, or may not, reflect the practical, everyday truth of life in that place. To be fair, it’s okay, if the country is not going where we think it should, or if it’s going nowhere at all. Cultures expect different things out of life. I’m talking about much more than the painfully trite difference between people who “live to work” and those who “work to live.”
Ireland is a beautiful green country of friendly, warm-hearted people who are easygoing and enjoy a very casual and relaxed existence. That’s all true. Ireland is a great small country for business, and is rapidly on its way back to economic greatness. Bushwah.
Ireland (and the Irish) repeatedly proclaims that the Emerald Isle will be the “best small country for business”. Little tip: every small country believes this. An Irish friend of mine who lived in Edinburgh tells me that Scotland says the same thing. But the entrepreneurial spirit is simply not in the Irish national soul. There are Irish entrepreneurs (and good ones) to be sure, but the national mindset, current laws, policies, and standards are psychically at odds with the entrepreneurial spirit.
Despite its claims that it wants to be a Mecca for business, Ireland currently has laws on the books that restrict small business owners and some of their descendents from taking advantage of certain social benefits that accrue to most other working citizens. These are not old, long-forgotten statutes. Some of these restrictions have just been reconsidered and upheld. Additionally, the Advisory Group on Tax and Social Welfare recently recommended that the PRSI (pay related social insurance) tax for self-employed individuals be increased by 1.5% (over the standard 4% rate imposed on others). But, going beyond even these structural social concerns, Ireland’s basic business infrastructure is not what its marketing and PR would have us believe.
For a country that is so vital to the European tech sector, or believes itself to be, Ireland’s level of connectivity (reliable high speed Internet service) is appalling. Additionally, the number of Irish businesses that still don’t have even a rudimentary Web presence is staggering. And, all too often, those that do boast embarrassingly Internet illiterate designs. While I understand that many of these businesses are older, traditional establishments, and not every business needs to be “cutting edge”, taken collectively, none of this sounds like the workings of a culture that fundamentally “gets” self-employment, small business, the entrepreneur, and technology. Again, that’s okay.
The Irish can be whatever they want. But problems arise when Ireland (and other countries that believe their own hype) make decisions based on perceived self-image and grand hopes for the future instead of reality. Irish leaders act as if the country is just a couple profitable corporate relocations away from economic nirvana. While it’s great to have ambitions, countries with longer institutional memories and more experience with self-governance have learned to temper the impact that ambition has on policy. They plan for the future based on pragmatic asset projections.
Sadly, Ireland may be a long time in emerging from its current economic slump. I fear that the Irish will founder on the shores of their own leadership, as they continue their policy of ad hoc taxation and spur of the moment financing, to the long-term detriment of the economy. The Irish people may have to endure another meltdown or two before Irish leadership has enough experience in the bank to knowledgeably lead the country to a promising future. And that’s nobody’s “fault”. Ireland is simply a young country.
That’s something I would never have realized until I actually lived here, listened to the news every day, and talked to enough people. Before I moved to Dublin, the questions necessary to achieve this insight simply wouldn’t have occurred to me.
You never really know the truth of a country until you live there. Do your research before you go. But the only way to know the difference between real life and the rationalizations and false perceptions of locals is to reach out to expats, both recent arrivals and the old hands. Find out if the myths of place are true. Do laws, regulations, and actual practice support the public relations and marketing?
Don’t just consider the differences between fact and fiction, think about what those differences represent? Why are the country and its people lying to themselves, or misrepresenting themselves to the world, in this particular way? Are they ashamed of something? Do they want to be something that they are not capable of becoming, and, if so, what (or who) is stopping them? Where in their history did they turn away from what they want to be, or say they want to be, and why?
If you are okay with the truth of life in your new home country, whatever that may be, that’s grand. But make sure that you really dig for the truth before you trade one set of misperceptions for another.
Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:
* Renting Abroad, Home Maintenance and Property Management in a Foreign Country
* Corporate Taxes Abroad, and the Con Artistry of Luring Foreign Investment