Commonwealth and Foreign
SETTLING DOWN IN SOUTH AMERICA
By SYBIL VINCENT IF "he little knows of England who only England knows" he also knows nothing of British settlers who has only seen them in a British Colony or Dominion, and not in South America. Of course, there are British settlers all over the rest of the world but they are either so few and scattered that it is impossible to generalise, or else living in the midst of orientals they stick to their own manner of life automatically. South America is the only place where thousands of Englishmen have settled into a foreign yet European civilisation.
The .first thing you realise in South America is that most of the conventional ideas about Englishmen abroad are completely wrong. The first cliché to be exploded is that we are rotten linguists. Young men who work out there seem to pick up Spanish amazingly quickly. More important is the discovery that, far from being un- adaptable, Englishmen become completely Chilian or Colombian, or whatever the name of the republic may be, in an amazingly short time. The theory that wherever an Englishman may be and however many years he may live abroad he never accepts foreign standards of life is nonsense in South America. I don't mean that he loses his British integrity, his strong card in business out there. But as far as everyday life is concerned the Britisher settles down before the Germans and Italians, who form such a huge proportion of the colonists in the A.B.C. countries—the Argentine, Brazil and Chile—know they have left home.
Chile with its distinct English and German centres for colonisation, is a perfect example. I happened to spend Easter in the German section. It was almost impossible not to believe you were in Bavaria except for the snow- capped volcanoes that rose above the wooded lakes. The little hotel was a complete copy of a Bavarian gasthaus. We ate completely German food, nothing but German was spoken, the place was crowded with people taking walks, admiring the scenery and doing everything in the manner peculiar to the German on holiday. Yet except for a few older people they were Chilian born. The German settlers must have chosen the Chilian lakes to remind them of home. It is the only part of South America that is the least like any part of Europe.
None of my. English friends had planned such a national sort of Easter holiday. They had long ago realised that while there are a great many disadvantages in South America, the terrible slowness of everything, the frequent discomfort, the sameness and isolation—there is another side. Provided you don't expect their customs, habits, food or houses to be the same as at home you can have quite a good time with South Americans and live like the best on a salary that would mean suburban obscurity in England. The British contri- bution to any good-sized South American town is a country club with lawn-tennis courts and a golf course. The founders were British but the local inhabitants are members as well.
The United States citizen's inability to settle down_ in South America has been a break for hundreds of Englishmen. As a general rule Yankees only do well out there if they have a fairly interesting or important job or live in a colony like one of the huge United States copper mines, which are complete Middle Western small towns transplanted to the top of the Andes. They won't stand the monotony of minor posts in isolated places. The leading South American cable company owned by the United States employs something like 8o per cent. Britishers. This 8o per cent. does not all come from the British Isles. It includes Australians and Canadians, so it is not just a ques- tion of being born in an overcrowded island.
Strictly speaking, these men who come to South America on so many years' contract cannot be classed as settlers. The numerous British employees of banks and businesses, or the amazing Lancashire contingent who sell Manchester goods in the most inaccessible Andean villages cannot either, but all their working life will be spent there and possibly their old age as well. After a few years there is little hope of a job at home. They've got out of touch with things in England, although with their knowledge of local conditions they are fairly certain of employment in South America. Unless a young man brings a wife with him from England he will probably marry a local girl. All over South America, but especially in the tropical north, where the women are almost orientally secluded, English husbands, with more modern ideas, are in great demand. Ever since the days when many of the British battalions who came to fight for Bolivar, decided to settle in South America when the War of Independence was over, the British Seem to have had a peculiar genius for marrying into the best and richest South American families, assimilating South American family life and producing numerous offspring. Everywhere one meets their descendants, people with names like Ross or Hunter or Morgan who can't speak a word of English and appear completely South American in every way.
But it does not take that time to make a good South American from British stock. Englishmen with South American wives nearly all see South America as the future of their children. Some try to send them home to school, although the exchange control such as exists in Colombia, Chile and Ecuador which forbids even salaries paid by British firms being taken out of the country, makes this very difficult. Still, those who cannot do not worry very much.
There was the British Consul whose fourteen-year-old son hardly understood a word of English. "I had hoped to send him to Wellington," he told me, "but perhaps it's just as well the exchange restrictions make it impossible. Of course, I'll take him home for a trip sometime so that he'll learn English properly and know what it's like, but after all he's got far more future out here. Apart from this country being so undeveloped, my wife's family has any amount• of pull, and I can't boast of much at home. • It's really better for him to feel he belongs out here than being half and half." He was probably right. Earlier that day I had been talking to an Englishman who is cattle farming in Colombia and can count on a yearly profit of 25 per cent. It is rather an endurance feat as the temperature in his part of the Cauca Valley is generally round about too in the shade. But the Consul's boy with his mixture of Scottish and tropical blood could undertake a similar venture without anything like the same discomfort.
If the Consul's wife had been British, by combining the small percentage of money they could send home at a great loss of its value, with contributions from English relations, the boy would have somehow gone to a British school. But they would probably still see his future in South America.. Technically South American as well as British by nationality, the youngsters born out there usually return- and then the whole family probably remains English women also settle surprisingly well into South American life. I travelled ont with an English woman whose husband's job had taken them all over South America. She was the grumbling type and certainly she had something to grumble. at this time. She was in for three years at Buenaventura, a particularly unpleasant Pacific port, where it rains every day in the year as well as being unbearably hot, and apartfrom the docks there is practically nothing but a tin-roofed bamboo-walled negro town. But she did not want to go home. '" Life's so much easier out here."