An expatriate does not have to be one who "forsakes" their native country to live elsewhere, today, many expatriates are living abroad on business and maintain ties to their native country. For example, I am an expatriate. Of several different countries (China, Canada and Australia at last count). The word "expatriate" is a misnomer.

I recall several of my American friends in China who had to undergo "repatriation training" to get them to "regain their patriotism". Sounds pretty ridiculous, especially when they only had been living abroad for 3 years, but true.

There are many ex-Southerners in our midst. Many of us used to live there, and some still feel an attachment to that part of the United States. We don't care for much of the politics, but the anachronisms that many people dislike, we love.

Extra care with manners, restaurants that require men to wear jackets, small towns with shops that are unattached to any chain, Spanish Moss and outdoor ceiling fans on wraparound porches. We love all those things, and more.

But we are not there, anymore. Visits are not the same as being in the South.

To be separated, estranged, is to be apart but left wanting. Wanting... what? The experience of a past that lives on... stubbornly, fitfully, but often gracefully.

Expatriation - the condition of being a white, middle class, migrant (economic or purely climatic) - can be a strangely addictive thing. Some benefits are clear:
  • Freedom from civic responsibility: if anything goes wrong in the motherland, you're not there to suffer from it and if (when) things go wrong in your host country, it's not your fault - you're just a foreigner.
  • Freedom to be a bit odd: it is expected that foreigners will be act abnormally, so you can cloak your real weird tendencies as mere national differences
  • Freedom to be a cultural magpie: you can cherry-pick aspects of your native culture and those of that into which you have moved.
  • Assuming it's a real foreign country, i.e. one where they don't speak your first language, your kids, should you have any, may well grow up bilingual. This will be deemed to be a great gift by all those you know, and is indeed quite handy, although not that uncommon in the world as a whole; about 70% of the world population speaks more than one language (it's just that the kids who are bilingual but whose other language happens to be Wolof or Tagalog - or even Spanish or Arabic - will just be assumed to be being awkward if they try and make anything of it, while having fluent English on top of whatever they speak where you've moved to is prestigious, of course).
But there is something more insidious, too. Some things take a time to settle down; usually a period of curious infatuation with the host culture (or at the very least, its food and drink) is followed by a period of re-linking to the homeland; this is the point at which the British become more interested in county cricket than they ever were when they lived there, and start importing Marmite in bulk; this also tends to coincide with struggles with the arbitrary weirdnesses of local bureaucracies and systems - not realising that bonfires are illegal on Sundays until the police turn up, spending weeks in state offices trying to get hold of a form that everybody else got sent automatically on their sixteenth birthday; these contrast with the what seems to be the clear logic of your native social security/banking/sewerage systems. But after a while you realise that it's just unfamiliarity, get a local accountant/lawyer/fixer, and things settle down. Then all of a sudden, on a trip "home", you realise that changes back there have passed you by. The landscape - physical and emotional - has changed. You don't feel as if you fit. It feels odd when people in shops speak your own language - but in fact your own language use is starting to raise a few eyebrows, a bit old fashioned-sounding and polluted by host country structures and terms, especially for things that hadn't entered mass consciousness when you left.

It's too late; you're hooked. And even if you had your doubts, house price differentials may either make you scared to get off the housing ladder in an expensive area or leave you unable to afford a rabbit hutch if you now live somewhere cheaper. You can probably move to a third country quite easily, but the one that raised you will never quite be right again.

Expatriate is a racist term for immigrant. Racist in the sense that it is usually used for white, European immigrants who are somehow considered something else than immigrants.

Even the words show a bias: an expatriate is a person who has left their native country, an immigrant is a person who has entered the country in question. An expatriate maintains an identity with their original country, an immigrant is merely seen as someone from an amorphous "outside". Immigrants struggle to provide for families, fear for their safety, and are at the victim of a confusing bureaucracy. Expatriates spend every night at the bar, visit the same five tourist sites that they assure you are "life-changing experiences" and are 'old hands' after they have memorized standard conversational terms in the native language.

My first six months in Chile, I was an expatriate, which is the normal term for being an expatriate. After that, I have become an immigrant. This change in self-perception wasn't a principled stand of solidarity with the immigrants from Haiti or The Dominican Republic that form Chile's marginalized migrant community. It was just a matter of realizing that my life involved standing in a lot of lines, worrying about a lot of bills, and trying very hard to accustom myself to a country where I had to live as a matter of fact. Also, I realized how stupid it was to pay $5 for a bottle of Stella Artois.

Ex*pa"tri*ate (?), v. t. [imp. & p. p. Expatriated (?); p. pr. & vb. n. Expatriating (?).] [LL. expatriatus, p. p. of expatriare; L. ex out + patria fatherland, native land, fr. pater father. See Patriot.]


To banish; to drive or force (a person) from his own country; to make an exile of.

The expatriated landed interest of France. Burke.


Reflexively, as To expatriate one's self: To withdraw from one's native country; to renounce the rights and liabilities of citizenship where one is born, and become a citizen of another country.


© Webster 1913.

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