Ponderings On The Term Expat

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I recently came across an opinion piece in The Guardian on the term ‘expat’ that really piqued my interest. It asserted that the term was an inherently racist one that elevated European migrants to the status of ‘expat’ above their migrant peers from other parts of the world. For me, the term has an altogether different – less flattering – meaning based on the people who I have encountered use it and those that I have seen it used to describe.

I have never used the term myself, nor have I enjoyed it being thrust upon me, I much prefer the term traveller. However, at a push, I would refer to myself as a migrant. I travel in search of work and adventure and have left my home country in search of a better life. Therefore, the term migrant is a fitting one. However, the term expatriate has a more unsettling tone for me. This may be because of its pretentious Latin that is more fitting in modern English as a biological classification then a term to describe a migrant.

Although, I think that it’s more likely that my discomfort with the term is more linked with the people that I found flaunt it. These people I found to be invariably old, white, arrogant, rich and definable by their (frankly) putrid distain for and sense of superiority over, the citizens of the country they now considered ‘home’. I am aware that I risk prejudice with such a definition – and that like all prejudices it is a crude and unreliable form of judgement – but I must speak from experience.

I’ve unearthed them in Irish bars in Mongolia, American Cafés in Uganda and Five-Star hotels in Moscow. I would fall short of suggesting the term itself is racist; however, would argue that those who employ it act with an abhorrent sense of superiority. They treat the local people often with a ghastly condescension that would have them shunned and isolated in their homelands. For these – a throwback to late 19th century colonists – the term is almost a badge of honour and the term migrant would be more like a reference to those they refer to as ‘undesirables’ at home.

My current home – a volcanic rock off the coast of Morocco clung to by the Spanish government – has little in terms of a population that hasn’t begun it’s life elsewhere. However, that doesn’t stop the ‘expat’ community here exercising the same distain over the problems of the society they live in.

Confusion with and a lack of acceptance of the culture that you migrate to are not the sole features of ‘expats’; however, in my experience the arrogance and sense of superiority with which they are expressed largely is. It is for this reason that I can’t help but feel a little discomfort about what will follow when people refer to themselves as ‘expats’. Further it is the reason that I would never use the term to describe my-nomadic-traveller-self.

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