a wandering woman writes

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Am I an expat?

At the risk of getting myself thrown out of every blog ring that links to me, I'm not so sure.

Loaded word, expat. At least for me, as I recently discovered.

One afternoon a few weeks back, an “expat” site expressed interest in my writing. That same afternoon, I lunched with two self-proclaimed expats in Salamanca. I was surprised to find myself cringing on my way to the lunch. The reason? Well, I was meeting "expats" - and preparing to have lunch in English. My lunch companions, who both live in Salamanca, turned out to be lovely women. The newest arrival was dutifully studying Spanish and earnestly trying to meet Salmantinos, although she will likely live here for only one year.

When I returned from lunch, I found an e-mail from the expat site offering to publish some of my blogs, which they described as "Spanish life, seen from the outside." I cringed again: seen from the what?

The description sent me running to a dictionary.

expatriate: noun /ekspatri t/ a person who lives outside their native country.

verb: to leave one's native country to live elsewhere.

Ok, well, yes, that's true.
But look what comes next:

also: to renounce allegiance to one's native country

Well, now wait a minute.....

I moved on to Wikipedia: where things got worse:

The difference between an expatriate and an immigrant is that immigrants (for the most part) commit themselves to becoming a part of their country of residence, whereas expatriates are usually only temporarily placed in the host country and most of the time plan on returning to their home country, so they never adopt the culture in the host country - though some may end up never actually returning, with the distinction then becoming more a matter of their own viewpoint.

I comforted myself with the "most of the time", the "usually" and that warm little "for the most part".

So am I an expat?

I didn't move to Spain to escape from the US.
I didn't move to make a political statement.
I believe I still have a responsibility to vote in the US, and take my share of the heat for our role in the world.

Most importantly, I didn't move to Spain to live on the "outside" of anything. And aside from our shared belly laughs at a gaffed word, a missed r, or a pathetic attempt at a sevillana, my friends and neighbors have never made me feel like an outsider.

So maybe I'm a "less than usual" expat: the kind that shows up "less of the time" and "for the least part". Or maybe I am an immigrant.

I think of myself as a woman living in Spain, amongst the Spanish. As I was a woman living amongst Californians, long after I lived amongst St Louisans and shortly after boldly declaring myself an adopted Chicagoan.

I know that after three years in Salamanca, I feel more like an outsider strolling through LA then I do paseando through Salamanca. It's a funny thing, this "otherness".

Somewhere in all this pondering I joyfully realized that I will be something "other" than usual just about anywhere I go from here on out. I'm excited about that; it'll be my responsibility to make sure my "otherness" is always more of a bridge than a wall.

In the end, I told the site I'd be thrilled if they published my posts.

And I set my mind to thinking less about labels, and more about what to order next time I meet charming people for lunch. In any language.



  • Welcome to the club Erin!

    I was born and grew up in Brazil and with the exception of a year spent in the US (Washington state), I lived there until I was 24. Yet, even while in Brazil, I moved every 2 years and was always living in different places, with slightly different culture and lifestyles (Brazil, like the US, is a very large country and there's considerable regional variations). I then moved to Canada. Lived in Montreal & then in Toronto. Now I'm here in Barcelona for the year. Like you, I never felt like an outsider anywhere. Even moving to Canada was no big deal. Yeah, sure things were different but at the same time, they weren't. I mean, people everywhere sleep, eat, work, study.... It all depends on your outlook...

    I don't think you are an expat. I agree that the term expat, while literally meaning someone who lives outside their homeland, carry connotations of someone who doesn't try to fit in or what to stay only temporarily. It sounds too much like an outsider to reflect your situation.

    I don't like labels either so I understand your concern...

    By Anonymous Alexandra, at 11:06 PM  

  • A really enjoyable post :)

    Hey, I was messing around with some ideas about expats and immigrants and enjoyed this site. They might interest you too.

    Defining expat culture today - http://www.expatica.com/actual/article.asp?subchannel_id=24&story_id=36241

    By Blogger woman wandering, at 7:24 AM  

  • It's a label I've been preoccupied with for as long as I've lived in Spain. For me "Expat" suggests men in jungles with silly beige suits, shooting tigers and drinking tea during the raj! Although I occasionally use the tag "expat" in various bookmark websites I still can't face putting the word on my blog. I found your blog using the Expat blogs site directory, so I know the term is useful for people trying to find blogs.
    as such I think the label "expat" is a useful, but potentially easily misinterpreted term. These labels connected with nationality, creed and race are loaded with connotations you can't always control

    By Blogger neil wykes, at 9:34 AM  

  • Finally someone that feels like I do. My situation I think is even stranger than most. I was born in Spain but moved to the United States when I was 10 years old, lived there all my life, until two years a go when my American husband, my two children and I decided to move back to Spain..Now, I consider myself as much Spanish as American. It would be unfair to say I need to renounce any part of who I’m. So, yes I’m a Spanish citizen but could I also be considered an immigrant or an expat?

    I loved your post and I enjoy reading your blog, thanks for sharing all your thoughts.

    By Anonymous nuria, at 9:38 AM  

  • You don't seem like the kind of person who lets other define you. "Expat is only a word. Perhaps a better word is "Earthling"...

    By Blogger Yarbz www.juggernuts.com, at 2:20 PM  

  • An expat can be someone working and living abroad but with their main place of residence in their own country.

    But it can also be someone who has moved to another country for good.

    Although I have no immediate plans to leave the UK for Algeria after 31 years, I still wouldn't say I was an immigrant. I just came here to study, like and stayed. I had no intention of staying before I arrived.

    On a lighter note, to be an "expat" you need to have been a "pat" to start off with...;o)

    By Blogger Cream, at 2:52 PM  

  • LOL; well there you have it cream! THAT'S why I'm not an ex-pat. :-)

    Di, the old post about an essay on "home":

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 2:59 PM  

  • You don't seem like the kind of person who lets other define you. "Expat is only a word. Perhaps a better word is "Earthling"...


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:09 PM  

  • Yarb, I cut and pasted your comment in here. I've turned off comment moderation, shhh, don't tell the spammers. I seemed to be losing the comments thought I was publishing. Like the one, above from you.

    Which I liked. :-) Yes earthling suits me, although I have a feeling some day I may find that limiting as well. (LOL, a friend has been known to say she hopes they don't start colonization on Mars, soon..she's afraid I'll decide I need to move there,
    alone.. :-))

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 12:12 PM  

  • I prefer "citizen of the world," myself, or perhaps...yanno, adventurer, or something like that.

    Or just Kathy, that works too.

    Hope to see you very soon!

    By Anonymous Kathleen, at 2:00 PM  

  • Hi Kathy
    I was wondering if you'd like to contribute (and put a link to your blog) at our new site www.NativeSpain.com - it's our attempt to NOT be expats!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:45 AM  

  • Hey Debs, thanks for the comment, I'll go check out your site. Kathy is Kathleen the earthling also living in Spain who left the comment before yours. She might be interested in checking you out, too.

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 8:54 PM  

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