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.