One of the things that I like least of all about being an expat is the assumption – from other expats – that we are all the same. That our motivations, dreams, goals and hatreds all stem from the same place, and that we’ve all landed up somewhere else for the same reason.
I’m telling you now guys, it ain’t so.
We moved to Hong Kong for any number of different reasons, and I’m not going to list them all now as I’m sure they have plenty in common with other peoples’ lists; perhaps just with different weighting attached.
I can tell you categorically, that none of those reasons was the current state of UK immigration.
This old chestnut gets wheeled out with alarming frequency by expats here in HK; the theory that Britain is apparently ‘overrun’ with immigrants, that you won’t hear English spoken on the streets of London any more, that Eastern Europeans are taking all our jobs and leaving indigenous Brits out on their ear. IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY! (Shouty caps emphasis to indicate the conversation you can expect from pint four or five onwards).
And all spoken by expats here without the faintest shred of irony.
Because when I say ‘expat’, I obviously mean overseas worker. Or immigrant. Yes, I’m talking about you and me, matey – we’re immigrants!
And you can splutter into your $80 Guinness all you like and tell me it’s not the same as some poor Bangladeshi dude coming to drive minicabs in Leyton to make a better life for himself and his family, and I’m a ridiculous Guardian-reading bleeding heart liberal who doesn’t understand the wider political implications.
But it is the same. That guy, you and me; we’re all immigrants in order to hopefully forge a decent career and a good living for ourselves and our families by working in a foreign country. The only difference is the figures hitting our bank accounts each month. That, and the terminology.
So how about we just call it like it is and forget all this ‘expat’ nonsense?
Fellow immigrants – regardless of your income bracket – lets shoot for a bit of empathy for those who have made the same choices as we have.
So perhaps I’m wrong. Seems our motivation is pretty similar after all.
I understand your point, but I always thought if expats as temporary and immigrants as long-term/one place folks (or as people who aspire to become citizens in the place they have moved to).
Hmm, perhaps, but what about the people who describe themselves as ‘long-term expats’? I’ve met quite a few who are 20 years out of their home country and still describing themselves as an expat, rather than an immigrant.
And I’ve never heard of a migrant worker to the UK from a lower socio-economic background described as anything other than an ‘immigrant.’ I’m sure this also applies to other affluent countries.
I think my wider point was that there is an unpleasant degree of hypocrisy that is rife amongst the ‘expat’ community; whereby many of us justify our own economic migration as being somehow more acceptable and palatable than those people who come from a less well-off background.
I think this is reflected in the language we use to describe our situations – it suggests a subtle difference where I don’t really believe there is one.
To disparage a manual worker’s choice to come to the UK to improve their lifestyle, while being perfectly comfortable with a fund manager’s choice to come to HK to do the same is just pure hypocrisy.
In my opinion, it all boils down to the fact that everyone’s got to make a living, and some of us choose to live abroad to do so.
I completely agree with your point about affluent ‘expats’ being smug/wrong to think if themselves as somehow different than lower socio-economic country-movers. And indeed, it often seems to be ‘expats’ who never bother to learn a word of their host country’s language, but who complain about the language skills of ‘immigrant workers’ ‘back home.’ And all the terminology does end up with a socio-economic/racial/ethnic undertone. In the end, I suppose I’m just being dogmatic about what the words ought to mean (and those 20 year ‘expats’ who have been based in one place, should more correctly think of themselves as immigrants).