if you’re waiting for the punchline, I’m sorry, there isn’t one.
in the wake of the political nightmare where my home country is currently attempting to divorce Europe – and indeed potentially itself – after 40 years of a harmonious, openly polygamous relationship, I found myself also awake, restless and brain on overdrive, in the middle of the night. it took us 3 proposals for Europe to eventually accept us and now we have decided we want to out, (although we also want access to the single market still wahey!) subsequently causing everyone involved in the affair to pull out the dusty prenups agreed upon from the bottom and back of an old unused drawer. nobody thought they would ever be opened. I still think we are living in a parallel universe. but isn’t denial one of the first stages of a breakup??!
anyway, one of the main, if not the most significant reasons why the British people wanted to leave this arrangement was to “take back control of our borders” and restrict the amount of European foreigners that freely and legally come into the country; namely those from poorer countries, entering our rich country and taking all our jobs etc.
this got me thinking.
what’s the difference between an immigrant and an expatriate anyway?
I am a British National who has not lived in the UK, or indeed Europe, for over 3 years. in truth, I do not actually have a home anywhere: my partner is an Australian-New Zealander hybrid, and we have been hopping between the two southern cross countries for over a year now. I still have my British passport; I decided a long time ago that I will never give that up. it is a part of my identity which I am proud of, despite the turmoil happening back in the UK. (seriously, can I wake up yet?) I have not yet gotten round to applying for Australian residency, and I am in no rush to settle down yet. maybe I might never apply for it. furthermore, because of my lifestyle, I am constantly filling out visa forms and going through immigration at international airports.
so, knowing this, does this make me an immigrant or an expat?
I asked some people what they associated with the word “immigrant”: “refugees”, “foreigners”, “asylum seekers” are what came to mind. when I asked what connotations they considered for “expat”, words like “wealthy”, “successful”, “Europeans” surfaced. so we think of British being retired expats in Spain, but working Poles in Britain as immigrants. hmmmmm….
now I’m not insinuating that these people are racist; this is the result of what we have learned by being conditioned to believe through the media I think I think… we know what immigration and expatriation means, just like we know what risk and hazard mean, but it’s correctly distinguishing between the two that is irritatingly particular and difficult to grasp. it’s a very interesting and charged topic, the racial bias and socioeconomic perspective, but that’s for a different blog post which I’m not prepared or articulate enough to write about. when I googled that very question I keep asking, I stumbled over here. anyway, for a more curious, innocent version, I thought I would look up the dictionary definitions of both “immigrant” and “expatriate”.
“expatriate“: verb, “an expatriate is an individual living in a country other than their country of citizenship, often temporarily and for work reasons. an expatriate can also be an individual who has relinquished citizenship in their home country to become a citizen of another.”
“immigrant“: noun, “a person who migrates to another country, usually for permanent residence.”
(I have to add this in as a side note: according to dictionary.com, the origins for the word “expatriate” comes from the French “expatrier” which means “to banish”, and the Latin “patria”, “one’s native country”. so before 1902, when the modern word came to mean “one who chooses to live abroad”, it originally meant “one who has been banished”. oh, the irony is not lost on me.)
but I digress… invaluably so, however. interestingly, the descriptions of the two lexicons seem more indistinguishable than we might have assumed, and actually has nothing to do with racial stereotypes – hurrah!. for me, the difference between them lies with a sense of commitment: an expatriate, according to this definition, lives “often temporarily and for work reasons” whereas an immigrant is deliberately looking for a fixed place to call home – a new residency. quite a contrast really.
so maybe there’s something more to it than just moving countries; maybe there’s a bigger emotional obligation for immigrants’ intentions to migrate; they don’t have the luxury that expats do to just get up and leave as they please.
well, this is awkward. rather than finding a clear definition I feel the line is blurred again. I’m dictionary defined as an expatriate, although I feel more immigrant by society’s (mis)conceptions. I guess I am simultaneously both and neither: as an expat, I am a wanderer, always hungry to explore more places, settling wholesomely and temporarily, but never getting too emotionally involved in the affair. as an immigrant, I dream of communism and being a citizen of the world, (oh UK how you’ve broken that unrealistic fantasy even more!), committing to every part of the world as my home and residence and making the effort to feel accepted and local wherever I am. however, I suppose I hold most characteristics from being an expatriate, almost organically, just from the privileges of the randomness of where I was born: I think, if it doesn’t work out for the long run in this country, I can always move on to the next. (which, as my best friend Emmarightfully pointed out, in turn makes me feel grateful across all my country’s social mobility: free healthcare, education, democracy, freedom of movement…) well, I guess that’s something to be happy about at least amongst all the current ambiguity of the future. thanks for being Great, Britain!