What makes an expat an expat?
March 20, 2015 2:58 PM   Subscribe

 
My parents, currently in the UAE, consider themselves expats to the UAE but immigrants to the US, even though they keep Korean citizenship, because they have a plan to retire in the US. It's where you can see yourself staying forever, I think.
posted by curuinor at 3:00 PM on March 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


And to stay here forever means something fundamentally to do with family and children. So it may be argued that a goose father is an expat in the country they were born and grew up in, and I don't think this breaks too much outside of the cognitive pale.
posted by curuinor at 3:03 PM on March 20, 2015


The WSJ article that the Guardian piece references is actually better than the Guardian piece - it's more contextualized (it's specifically about HK) and it comes to a more useful and accurate conclusion about inequality (rather than going to for the easy and less accurate whites vs the others answer) :

"A more current interpretation of the term “expat” has more to do with privilege. Expats are free to roam between countries and cultures, privileges not afforded to those considered immigrants or migrant workers."

(I would say "much freer to roam" than "free" though)
posted by Bwithh at 3:07 PM on March 20, 2015 [24 favorites]


The distinction is actually expat (from the first world) versus terms like guest worker and migrant labor (to the first world); immigrant has different connotations than expat in terms of permanency, mobility, and other such things.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:07 PM on March 20, 2015 [17 favorites]


Hmm... when I hear expat the first image in my mind is old retired white dude living somewhere in Asia. Who's not really ever planning on returning to the US (or UK or Australia).

Not sure how well it matches up with anybody else's definition, but that's my instinctual mental association.
posted by kmz at 3:08 PM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am also thinking of the old dichotomy between crazy and eccentric.
posted by Samizdata at 3:10 PM on March 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


I'm white, speak English with not much of an accent, and moved to Canada from the US 20 years ago. In other words, I fit in. So people give me weird looks when I refer to myself as an immigrant. I know I've heard the phrase "American Ex-Pat" up here, but I've never ever thought of myself in those terms.

Ex-pat does have the connotation of being in your new home by choice. Ex-pats could go back if they wanted to, and have a similar quality of life, but they choose to stay. Immigrants don't have any plans of moving back. Neither do I

Now having that choice, and what it says about western privilege, is an important distinction.
posted by thecjm at 3:12 PM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think part of the implication is that expats aren't ever going to assimilate.

There's also the dichotomy of the relative wealth of the countries - An English person working in Nigeria, even if they stay there forever is an expat. "No one" immigrates from England to Nigeria.

But all that said, yeah, it's a white thing. Although it's been a long time since I've heard anyone described as an expat. Maybe I'm not travelling enough.
posted by GuyZero at 3:15 PM on March 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


Having lived abroad for 15 years, with established roots and no intention of returning home, I consider myself an immigrant. Self-described "expats" that I know have a few things in common, among them the ability (if not also the intention) to go back home, frequent jaunts elsewhere and/or back home, and either jobs they could do anywhere in the world or enough money (their own or Mommy and Daddy's) to not have to work.

So yeah, basically a difference of both mobility and privilege which, in many if not most cases, often does have something to do with being white.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 3:16 PM on March 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


when I hear expat the first image in my mind is old retired white dude living somewhere in Asia.

Now, I guess. But to me, the term evokes Hemingway, F. Scott & etc in Paris between the wars, the people about whom Gertrude Stein said, "You are a Lost Generation."
posted by Rash at 3:19 PM on March 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


I had always had the understanding that immigrants were either citizens or hoping to become citizens in their new country, while expats maintained citizenship in their home country while residing elsewhere. It's entirely possible that I'm mistaken about this, but an informal poll of people in my immediate vicinity suggested that this is a common perception of the terms.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 3:23 PM on March 20, 2015 [21 favorites]


I think we were Indian expats in the Middle East when my dad was working on massive civil engineering projects for a couple of years at a time, but I'm an immigrant to the US because I have family here now. I'm not convinced this is necessarily a "white" thing, but what do I know, I was a kid back then.
posted by RedOrGreen at 3:25 PM on March 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


If you work for a large corporation and you travel to another country to reside and work, that corporation and your fellow employees refer to you as an expat regardless of whether or not you are white.

So the premise of this is totally, absolutely, factually false.
posted by bukvich at 3:26 PM on March 20, 2015 [15 favorites]


As a once and future expat, I would say that expats are temporary, while immigrants are permanent. I wouldn't call a Chinese businessman who is working in his company's US office for a couple of years an immigrant.
posted by betweenthebars at 3:26 PM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


Thanks for the WSJ post; it was a good examination of the nuances of expat vs. immigrant vs. guest worker. And I needed that nuance, because the Guardian article almost had me yelling at the screen. Right from the intro:

Surely any person going to work outside their country is an expatriate? But no, the word exclusively applies to white people

Expat is certainly a Western term, but not all Westerners are white. Nor are all Western expats white.
posted by kanewai at 3:28 PM on March 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


I wouldn't call a Chinese businessman who is working in his company's US office for a couple of years an immigrant.

Wipro and various other Indian-based consulting/body-shop companies routinely cycle their Indian staff between "off-shore" (India) and "on-shore" (the US) yet their employees in the US are never (to my knowledge) referred to as "ex-pats". They're just temporary workers and if you're anti-immigrant, well, they're often called much worse. But similarly, these people are usually not immigrants, although some do end up using the foothold to emigrate.
posted by GuyZero at 3:33 PM on March 20, 2015


I thought this was a pretty stupid meme because it misrepresents what an expat is.

An expat is someone who lives overseas for a time, and returns home. An immigrant (as opposed to an emigrant) is someone who has permanently relocated from another country.

A better dichotomy would be "expat" versus "guestworker."

Anyway, having lived overseas, in my mind an expat is a highly paid "professional" who lives inside a cocoon, never getting to connect with the local culture.

So it is an elitist term, that's for sure.

But expats are totally different than immigrants.
posted by Nevin at 3:35 PM on March 20, 2015 [8 favorites]




I also thought that expat = temporary, immigrant = permanent. The expat vs guest worker is a better comparison. (And if you take that as the example, the article makes a good point.)
posted by jeather at 3:52 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you work for a large corporation and you travel to another country to reside and work, that corporation and your fellow employees refer to you as an expat regardless of whether or not you are white.

I guess I need to update my resume then, because I thought I had worked for a couple of large corporations that don't do this nearly as universally as you insist they do.
posted by Etrigan at 3:55 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Some expats will stay in the "foreign" country for a long time. I'm pretty sure there were life-long British expats in India, although I suppose in a lot of senses they never immigrated to India exactly either.
posted by GuyZero at 4:03 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thinking about it, I don't think in my head the distinction between expat and immigrant is "temporary" vs. "permanent" or "white" vs "non-white", it's rather something like "voluntary" vs. "involuntary". Or not "involuntary", that's the wrong word, but something like it.

Like, an immigrant is an immigrant because life in their home country didn't offer the same opportunities that life in another country has, so they leave in search for a better life. An expat, on the other hand, has perfectly fine opportunities in their native country, but leaves because they want to, because they want new experiences in a new land. That rather naturally sorts people into "immigrants are from poor countries" and "expats are from rich countries" (and thus a general ethnic divide), but I don't think the terminology is inherently racially biased.

For instance, if an American moved to Europe, he or she would probably be considered an "American expat" regardless of whether they were white or black (or whatever). At least, that's the instinctual feeling I have about the terminology.
posted by gkhan at 4:04 PM on March 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


I also thought that expat = temporary, immigrant = permanent. The expat vs guest worker is a better comparison. (And if you take that as the example, the article makes a good point.)

Well, with their expense accounts, relocation budgets, paid home leave and that sort of thing, expats are the very definition of privilege.

Besides living overseas, in Canada I used to volunteer as a job coach at a non-profit for immigrants (I prefer the term "new Canadian" since my wife is herself a "landed immigrant") and I guess I may be a little more aware of the topic than whoever wrote the article.

I'm in Japan for a few months in our "home town" here (I never did make the leap to being an immigrant here, but it is something I would consider doing) and I have connected with the local Filipino population whom I never really noticed before.

At the revolving sushi place here in our little town the entire back end is staffed by Filipino guestworkers. A popular local noodle shop is staffed by Filipino guestworkers.

This is a new thing to me in my twenty years of connection to Japan.

Anyway, they are not immigrants, since they will return whom. And the world they live in is far, far harsher than that of an expat working at a bank or country office.

In the ten years that I lived here full-time I would have been called a "permanent resident" or "longterm resident", but not an expat.
posted by Nevin at 4:07 PM on March 20, 2015


Hmm... when I hear expat the first image in my mind is old retired white dude living somewhere in Asia. Who's not really ever planning on returning to the US (or UK or Australia).

Not sure how well it matches up with anybody else's definition, but that's my instinctual mental association.


The "white dude" part of that seems to be something rather idiosyncratic about your own mental image, as you suggested. (And speaking of word choices, why are men always "dudes" on Metafilter, while women are always simply "women"?) As the WSJ and many of the commenters here have noted, the real distinction doesn't seem to be racial; it seems to based on a confluence of other factors like class, freedom, restrictions, and permanence. Those factors might correlate with race/ethnicity/nationality. By the same token, the word "rich" correlates with race in the US since whites have more money on average than blacks, for instance — but that doesn't show that the word "rich" is racially tinged, as long as you don't hesitate to apply it to, say, Oprah Winfrey.
posted by John Cohen at 4:08 PM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


I knew a white woman from the UK by way of South African forebears who immigrated permanently to the U.S., and when I mentioned to her that I, a born-in-Canada Asian was "also an expat to the US," the woman became very uncomfortable and stated that she had never heard of a "Canadian being called an expat." What I think she really meant to say was she had never heard of an "Asian person being called an expat."

I think that an expat has a lot to do with being a white, native English speaker (usually from Canada, UK, South Africa or Australia) of a certain class, and living in a country that is "developing."

Though in general I agree with the distinction expat=temporary and immigrant=permanent, as in the example above, that UK woman I spoke with was a US citizen but thought of herself as an expat.
posted by Pocahontas at 4:12 PM on March 20, 2015


Parasite Unseen: "I had always had the understanding that immigrants were either citizens or hoping to become citizens in their new country, while expats maintained citizenship in their home country while residing elsewhere."

This is also my general understanding, although "expat community" (as in, "the American expat community in Paris ...") may include people who have given up their citizenship in their home country, but is largely made up with people who maintain close ties to it and intend to move back; indeed, many of them work for their home government abroad (such as at embassies).

Nevin: "A better dichotomy would be "expat" versus "guestworker.""

Yes.

My impression of the difference between those two terms in the US is that guestworkers are on temporary, time-limited visas (typically in low-skilled jobs; H-2A, H-2B), whereas expats are generally on H-1B (skilled worker visas sponsored by corporations) or diplomatic visas that are extended as long as the sponsoring company/government wishes.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:23 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm going to add this to my list of "words we only use to refer to Americans". There are others I've always wondered about - in the US we have "small towns", other countries have "villages" or "hamlets". Here, we have "the (working) poor", elsewhere "peasants". We don't call victims of natural disaster in the US "refugees". We don't seem to have orphans in the US anymore, either, we have foster children.
posted by backseatpilot at 4:26 PM on March 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


I think "peasant" and "hamlet" are more historical words ... I've never heard other countries' MODERN agricultural laborers referred to as "peasants." Town/village may be local use ... in the US it often refers to the legal organization of the muncipality; I think in England a "town" historically had a market and/or a palisade while a village didn't. I grew up in a village -- it had a board of trustees, not a mayor-and-council, which is the difference where I live -- although mostly we called it a suburb.

Most "foster children" in the US are not, in fact, orphans. They still have parents; those parents are just not able to care for them. There are still orphanages and orphans are still often called orphans in the US. (In fact there have been many posts on MetaFilter about international adoptions of "orphans" who are not, in fact, orphaned, but have living parents they are separated from.)

"Refugee" has the connotation of leaving one's home country due to disaster or war or whatever (actually google informs me that is the UN's definition of the term for treaties); others are called "internally displaced" or sometimes "internal refugees" to distinguish them from "regular" refugees. People displaced by disasters in the US aren't typically fleeing the country but moving internally within the US to get away from the disaster zone (partly that's because it's a very large country with a lot of space to move to get away from disasters without dicking around with emigrating to another country and all the paperwork that takes).
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:44 PM on March 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


If someone could kindly point me to a contemporary OECD society where there are "peasants"... it's kind of an archaic term unless we are talking about predominantly agrarian societies, which do exist in some parts of the world. But still...
posted by Nevin at 4:54 PM on March 20, 2015


backseatpilot: There are plenty of villages in the US. A town is larger than a village. I've lived in one, and residents called the place "The Village of XYZ" (as that was it's legal name). I don't recommend living in a village (in the US nor elsewhere).
posted by el io at 4:55 PM on March 20, 2015


Expatriates move to countries where general conditions are equivalent/poorer than their country of origins; immigrants move for better conditions with the intent to stay. The Venn bubbles definitely overlap, and they also line up uncomfortably (but unsurprisingly) with race/class boundaries.
posted by Freyja at 5:07 PM on March 20, 2015


My impression of the difference between those two terms in the US is that guestworkers are on temporary, time-limited visas (typically in low-skilled jobs; H-2A, H-2B)

Yeah, similar situation here where the temporary foreign worker program has become a political football of late.

I'd add to this that I frequently find myself in a situation where I hear white people banging on about "immigrants" in a derisive way. As a white guy, I'll point out to them that neither of my parents were born in Canada, had uneducated parents with little money, and in the case of my paternal grandparents, after well over fifty years as Canadian citizens, they were still speaking English in a way that's identical to the broken English of the people they're "annoyed" or "upset" by.

"Look," I'll say, "Your 'speak English if you want to come here' bullshit doesn't hold any water because I'm the second generation of people who came here speaking no English, but the first generation and second had no problem with it."

Sometimes it just breaks down like this: "I'm the child of immigrants. Sorry it doesn't fit in with your narrative of what 'immigrant' means...sooo what exactly are you driving at here?"

I dunno. Maybe it's because I grew up listening to a lot of broken English that I've never in my life had a problem communicating with someone who speaks halting or broken English. WIth a little patience, you can sort things out. Because people are people wherever you go.

I guess that kind of a derail, but whatever. What I'm getting at is that anti-immigrant sentiment makes me lose my shit.

This is a hard lesson some countries are learning. Japan, demographically, can't support its own economy for much longer with its demographic skew of many, many pensioners and far fewer working-age people.

Consequently, Nevin, is the sort of foreign workforce you're seeing in Japan, a manifestation of this? As in, they'll be allowed in to prop up the economy but at the same time not granted any of the rights of citizens, nor a shot at the prospect?

I guess this gets at the questions of freedom/restriction/permanace that John Cohen brought up. Because in the case of Japan, white isn't the correlation, but race still is.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 5:11 PM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is a hard lesson some countries are learning. Japan, demographically, can't support its own economy for much longer with its demographic skew of many, many pensioners and far fewer working-age people.

Consequently, Nevin, is the sort of foreign workforce you're seeing in Japan, a manifestation of this?


Actually Japan is similar to most G7/G8 countries. Like deflation, monetary easing and permanent recession, they are a little ahead of the curve.

There are nowhere near as many guestworkers in Japan as there are in Canada. Canada also relies on migrant labourers from Mexico and Central America to harvest crops. Japan can't do that easily (and so Japan focuses on producing higher value crops).

Speaking with Filipinos here, most come as wives (seriously) and then as caregivers (even though they have nursing accreditation).

In Canada, the Philippines is the single largest source of new immigrants. Most start as caregivers or as guestworkers at McDonalds. (speaking in general terms).

Back to Japan there is some talk of opening up immigration, but there is pretty high youth underemployment here in Japan as a matter of fact.

Japan is actually courting India as a source of engineering and software dev talent. Interesting times.
posted by Nevin at 5:43 PM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Upon reflection, I think 'ex-pat' refers to a certain social group, but the make-up of that group varies by location. I don't know if I can come up with a set definition. In my overseas experience:

Micronesia (FSM)
Expats: Lawyers, teachers, State Department workers. Mostly white. All short-term residents.
Not expats: Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs), Jesuit Volunteer Corps, US military, Japanese community workers (like the Peace Corps; I forget their exact name), missionaries, most Filipino workers.

For the PCVs saying that someone spent their time with the expats was an insult.

Jalisco
Expats: Retirees, yoga teachers, artists, surfers, hotel owners. A bit more diverse, but with a lot of long-term or life-long residents.

Bangkok
Expats: All of the above plus lots of musicians, lost veterans, hippies, models, actors, and mixed martial artists. A lot of ethnic diversity (at least, among the people I met).
posted by kanewai at 5:50 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Canada also relies on migrant labourers from Mexico and Central America to harvest crops.

Great point. When I was in school, I worked a couple of summers in a vegetable processing plant in southern Ontario. Saw this first hand. El Contrato is a documentary that tells a little bit of this story.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 5:56 PM on March 20, 2015


Expat versus immigrant are by definition different, living abroad while retaining citizenship of another country versus trying to become a citizen of a new country. Which one is preferable does largely depend on the relative status of the two countries involved, and therefore the value of citizenship, but it isn't racial, per se. One could easily be a Singaporean expat in the US. I'm a multiracial US expat living in France. Migrant workers often are expats, although expats are not necessarily migrant workers, as some may not work while others may be doing work remotely that has nothing to do with their country of residency. I think the primary factor is permanence/desired citizenship, the second is type of residency and employment status. Wealth surely has a lot to do with it, but this is one case where I think race has nothing to do with it. A young African/Asian/South American from an elite family spending some years in Paris or New York would absolutely be an expat.
posted by snofoam at 6:41 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Like other commenters, I think of "expat" as "temporary resident staying longer than a tourist" who has no real intention of staying permanently or even particularly fitting in. Some expats stay for a long time, but there is still that air of "I can go back any time...".

And I've also only heard white people use the term, but that just might be the ones I've met.

(Quite by chance, I find myself stuck in Hong Kong over the weekend while BA mend their dam' plane, and yes, there seem to be a *lot* of expats here)
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 10:15 PM on March 20, 2015


Seconding what kanewai said about it differing region to region; I've heard expat used to refer to various subsets of ethnic backgrounds country to country (and even city to city).

Living in Sydney, I generally hear white South Africans and Older Scottish Businessmen referred to as expats, the English referred to as immigrants and Americans and the Irish referred to as Americans and Irish right up until the point they're suddenly Aussies ha-ha-ha-of-course-they're-still-really-American/Irish-I-mean-really-but-seriously. I've also heard people from Singapore referred to as expats; I wonder if that's a colonial hangover?
posted by not the fingers, not the fingers at 12:15 AM on March 21, 2015




I always thought an ex-pat was someone who was not planning to stay in that country (and probably was just going to keep renewing their visas rather than gain citizenship) whereas an immigrant is someone who's in for the long haul.
posted by manderin at 1:59 AM on March 21, 2015


An expat is someone who lives overseas for a time, and returns home. An immigrant (as opposed to an emigrant) is someone who has permanently relocated from another country.

I have permanently moved to Australia from NZ, have been here 12 years and am currently trying to buy a house. Occasionally I end up in a room full of Australians, complaining about the unaffordability of the housing market. At that point someone always suggests it's because there are too many immigrants buying up good Australian land, and that maybe foreigners shouldn't be allowed to buy property here.

Then I enjoy saying loudly, "well, I sure am glad we are allowed to," and they reassure me that they don't mean me. And then I get to watch them tie themselves in conversational knots trying to explain why I don't count as an immigrant without outright saying that it's because I'm white.
posted by lollusc at 2:35 AM on March 21, 2015 [10 favorites]


Admitting the race/class connotations, I'd generally thought the term expat defined a person who was drawing a salary or a pension from a source outside the country they were living in. Usually diplomatic workers, financial or industrial managers, foreign news service employees, writers living off royalties, people living off investments from their home country.

Existing somewhat outside the local economy.
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:41 AM on March 21, 2015


I have to say I identify as an immigrant: I moved, settled, had a kid, and naturalised. But there's a certain part of me that is cautious when applying this label to myself.

I worry I might come across like the white guys from Capetown who demanded to be let into African-American institutions based on a technicality of nomenclature. I don't want to Be That Guy who co-opts a label that's still useful for social justice struggles.

But I will say that there is something WASPy about 'ex-pat' that makes me uncomfortable.

So yeah: privilege makes labels obnoxious.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 2:54 AM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is easy. Expats have their own culture and religion, form ghettos and do not assimilate.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:20 AM on March 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


the cognitive pale

An excellent euphemism for white privilege!
posted by chavenet at 4:24 AM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm an American in Canada and have permanent residency. I know very well that I am a landed immigrant given the nature of my PR application, but I've referred to myself as an expat at times.

I don't do it anymore. There is a lot of white privilege bound up in it for me once I really start to look at who is considered an expat (usually white people) and who is seen as an immigrant (everyone else not white). Obviously, YMMV, but I stopped because it made me feel uncomfortable and also because I am an immigrant. I have no intention of ever moving back to my country of birth, I moved to Canada to be with the man I love and take advantage of the opportunities afforded to me that I didn't feel I had back home, and am seriously considering dual citizenship.

So: yup, I'm a landed immigrant.
posted by Kitteh at 5:37 AM on March 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


Ditto with Kitteh.

I'm surprised at so many arguments about dictionary-type definitions and how those "accidentally" fit up with elements that are the very definition of systemic bias, privilege, and racism... as a way to wave off racist undertones. Most of you are unwittingly admitting, in your very arguments against any racism inherent in expat vs. immigrant, that there is indeed systemic bias and racism underlying the usage of those terms.

I've argued the racist privilege inherent in "expat" several times over the years on MeFi, especially in Ask. Remarks like "oh that's your image" are quite silly because if someone is going to explain something from their own experience, well I certainly hope it IS their image because otherwise how can they know of what they speak? If someone has a different image, where are they getting that from? Direct experience? Living in foreign countries? Do they know any people who self-proclaim to be expats? Read "expat" blogs? Know anyone who calls themself an expat but is called "immigrant" by others? The terms do have dogwhistle elements to them, which is why I point out those questions. It's yet another part of the invisible backpack of white privilege. There are "expats" who never realize the term has privileged connotations while flaunting those very connotations. (In fact, most self-proclaimed "expats" I know – and I've lived and worked in France for nearly 20 years, so I've met plenty – will tooth-and-nail cling to it "just" meaning their company sent them. They're always white. Their company sent them.)

Rather than look at dictionaries, in which it is rather difficult to find mention of systemic privilege inherent in dogwhistles etc., listen to people who've lived it. Read the FPP. Get to know immigrants/expats/people from other places. The FPP points out example upon concrete example of how the words are actually used.

One final example. I still do translations from time to time. With better agencies, we are specifically told that "expat" and "immigrant" have racist connotations, and to avoid using them if at all possible: we're to reword it. ("How do you do that?" Well, let's use me as an example. "Fraula, an American expat who's worked with Fortune 500 companies in France", carries a different connotation than "Fraula, an American immigrant...", than the more neutral "Fraula, originally from the USA, has lived in France since 1997 and worked with Fortune 500 companies." Voilà. Now tell me there's no dogwhistle between the terms "expat" and "immigrant".)
posted by fraula at 6:00 AM on March 21, 2015 [13 favorites]


To me an expat has the following characteristics: independent source of wealth that means they do not need to work in the country that is currently hosting them (they can and do work, but expats are the foreigners who drift from job to job not due to financial reasons, but because they feel like it), spend their time with other people from their (or similar) culture and do not attempt to integrate into where they are, communicate primarily in their native language if it is not the same as the local one, have the capability to return to their country of origin with ease at any time, etc. Basically, trustafarians living outside of their native country. Expat to me has a built in sense of laziness and assholishness/douchiness built into it. People who come to a country to actually do something are foreign students or foreign/guest workers or temporary residents or aliens.

I'm probably overthinking this, but expat is not only an expression of privilege, but also (in my mind) a term used by people who never examine theirs.
posted by Hactar at 7:48 AM on March 21, 2015


I've referred to myself as an expat at times. I don't do it anymore.

Funny how Americans in Canada are sometimes called expats, but I've never heard Canadians in the US described the same way. So even among a group of mostly-white people there's some implied difference.
posted by GuyZero at 8:19 AM on March 21, 2015


To me an expat has the following characteristics: independent source of wealth that means they do not need to work in the country that is currently hosting them

My uncle was in international oil exploration and lived in England, Malaysia and Colombia over the years. He was most certainly an expat but not independently wealthy per se - as you say, his work wasn't directly bound to the country he lived in, but it wasn't separate from it either. Most expats are where they are because of their work which presumably wouldn't exist if they hadn't moved. Certainly most expats are not poor, definitely not by the standards of the countries they live in but by the standards of their home countries they are sometimes (often?) middle-class.
posted by GuyZero at 8:23 AM on March 21, 2015


Basically, trustafarians living outside of their native country

Trustifarians, you say. If that's so, I've been hanging out with the wrong crowds of people.

Trustifarians? Not the doctors, university staff, civil engineers, tunnellers, urban planners, lawyers, IT people, teachers, NGO staff and, er, bankers, I've met and known.
posted by Mister Bijou at 8:43 AM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Its class based more than race based, imho.
posted by infini at 1:06 PM on March 21, 2015


I had always had the understanding that immigrants were either citizens or hoping to become citizens in their new country, while expats maintained citizenship in their home country while residing elsewhere.

Yeah this - who insist that they're Americans forever, but are just irritated at their country right now.
posted by corb at 1:31 PM on March 21, 2015


Trustifarians, you say. If that's so, I've been hanging out with the wrong crowds of people.


To be fair, and while i agree with the various racist/classist connotations brought up in thread, if someone just does a free association thing with me and says expat i think of some guy like this.

Affluent white dude, probably kind of a cocky douchebag, doesn't integrate with the local culture much of at all and just kind of lives in a bubble thinking that "living abroad" makes him worldly and more interesting than the average white guy with money.

It has most of the same class associations and background assumptions as "frat boy" to me. An expat probably is a frat boy just 10-15 years down the road.

I realize it's a lot more freighted than that, and there's huge issues with the phrase, but all i can think of when i hear expat is mid 30s cocky douche guy or some 60 year old dude who probably lives on a boat, or did right up until he moved in to his beach house in southeast asia or whatever.

I also generally associate the term with someone who doesn't really speak the local language more than barely enough to buy another fifth at the corner store. Or who does, but once again, thinks it makes them that much superior to the average white guy.

If someone brought it up to me as an identifying term for themselves in regular conversation, or as something they did for a while, i'd take it about the same was as if they said "i work in marketing" right after they blatantly set their keychain with a BMW fob on it on the table. Douchey.
posted by emptythought at 3:35 PM on March 21, 2015


Expat definitely has racial connotations to me.

I've met plenty of white expats in India, who had no intention of leaving India (in fact, they were married and settled there), but still used the term expat for themselves. I doubt that it had much to do with the fact that they were independently wealthy -- many of them seemed to live in fairly reduced circumstances, and enjoyed that their money went further in India.

I am honestly uncomfortable using either expat or immigrant for myself, an Indian with permanent residency in the US. Perhaps this reflects my ambivalence about actually admitting that this move to the US is more or less permanent, given that I've completed grad school here, acquired my darling husband (who is neither American nor Indian) and a job I like. Expat seems to reflect my ambivalence better, but as is pointed out, I think I would feel uncomfortable applying the term to myself, as it does seem to be reserved for white foreigners living in non-majority white countries.

I still think the term comes closer than immigrant, which has connotations for me of having left one's native country under duress, which couldn't be further from the truth. I had a pampered and privileged upbringing that I am extremely unlikely to be able to provide for my children. I am always uncomfortable reading articles by the children of "immigrants", in which they talk about the "sacrifices" their parents made in order to "give them a better life" in the new world. I don't seem myself as making sacrifices. I moved to the US at 21 for much the same reasons that American 21-year-olds teach English in Japan -- going to grad school seemed as good a way of seeing more of the world as any other. One thing led to another and now I seem to have put down some roots here. But I still wouldn't say I had "immigrated".
posted by peacheater at 3:36 PM on March 21, 2015


I stayed for a number of years in the Czech Republic. Many of the people living in Prague but from abroad identify quite readily as ex-pats (one of the most popular websites advertised in sports bars and elsewhere likely to have many foreigners is expats.cz).

I have to concur that the term as used is somewhat racist/elitist. "Expats" as I heard the word used could describe anyone from Western Europe, US, Oz, NZ. Vietnamese or indeed Ukrainians were never referred to as ex-pats.

For me there was often an air of misplaced superiority from those who self-identified as ex-pats. People who would boast about how little Czech they had learned in 10+ years of residency. UK people who would identify as "ex-pats" but share horror stories from the Daily Mail about "migrants breaking Britain".

It is a term for people who expect their host country to thank them for coming and sharing their way of life, and if you call them a migrant will have to bite their tongue not to say "but I'm white".
posted by Gratishades at 7:58 AM on March 23, 2015


Well, until recently having read some articles like this, I would have called myself an "expat" maybe for shorthand, though I was never comfortable with the word. I hadn't examined it on the racist or racial axis (though it obviously makes sense to do so, ZOMG), it just sounded silly for my circumstances, seeming (to me) to suggest that I made some big decision to reject my birth country, or that I was drawn away by Very Important Things, or in some elite social/economic class, or a globe-trotting adventuress or something, when the mundane truth is that I fell in love with someone from a different country, we lived in my birth country for a while, and now we live in his. I don't think of myself as an immigrant, either. "Born in X, now living in Y" is definitely more my speed.

(I also didn't think of my husband as either an expat or immigrant when we were living in my country.)

Most of my friends who are from various other countries (not all white or Western!) are pretty much the same. I did go to a couple of internet-organized "expat" meetups at one point, but didn't like it at all and never returned because my experience was that it was mostly people from Anglosphere countries (one, in particular) being snide and condescending about Greece and Greeks, so I understand how one might get the impression that people calling themselves expats can be fairly vile... but there are a whole lot of people like me, too, and not all of them may be au courant on the newer understanding of using the term.
posted by taz at 11:03 AM on March 23, 2015


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