Expat vs Immigrant: Put a Label On Me


Last week Huff Post published Independent Dependant. I knew that this would be opening myself up for public ridicule online, I knew that there would be some people who would go out of their way to deliberately be offended by it, and I knew there would be a small number of people who would contact me directly to tell me so. For the most part I'm not arsed. The handful of comments, tweets and messages is a drop in the ocean compared to the thousands of likes, loves, thanks and understanding. But there was one theme that kept cropping up again and again. Apparently, the term "expat" is a contentious one.

Call me naive, go all out and call me ignorant if you really want, but calling myself an expat isn't inaccurate. Neither do I call myself that because I'm British, or white, or on a Visa, or living somwhere with a different culture to my home country.

The term expatriate (shortened to expat), comes from the Latin "ex" and "patria" - "out of" and "native country" respectively. It's quite a vague term to use, when you think about it. And, in contrast to the pearls of wisdom I was offered in response to my Huff Post article, to call myself an expat does not necessarily make me an immigrant. You see the word immigrant is far less open ended, the subtle difference between an expat and an immigrant being that an immigrant moves to a country other than their own with the intention of settling there permanently. Singapore, you're great, but I have no intention of settling here permanently. I am not an immigrant in the strict sense. Although, and this is where I was slightly riled, even if I was technically an immigrant, so what? Does that suddenly mean my struggle to adjust to my new life becomes invalid? I don't think so...

We are, I will freely admit, migrants, and I haven't described us as that before. But I would have thought that was obvious? I mean, to crack out some quality GCSE Geography know-how, technically we're economic migrants because our primary reason to be here is employment. But "The Economic Migrant's Wife and Mother of His Children" doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, does it? It's also probably worth pointing out that, even in the UK, technically speaking, I am the wife of an economic migrant also. The difference being in the UK I'm on my home turf. But he's not. He's an economic migrant there too. So, let's stop getting our knickers in a twist about this and not get distracted by the implied viability of one's worth (and right to openly discuss it) in society based on being an immigrant, or a migrant.

The PC brigade who went out of their way to suggest my use of "expat" was somehow a misrepresentation (or worse) need to check themselves. The joke's on them really, you see. They took my use of the word expat and immediately jumped to conclusions about me, based on their own outdated stereotype of an expat. The implication that I am the one behind the times here is quite laughable in the end. Expatriate, whether they like it not, is a widely used term that crosses continents and races these days. Get with it guys. An expat is not a rich white person sipping gin on the lawns of a gated compound away from the locals. Not anymore, anyway.

I can't speak for everyone living the migrant life, but I can speak for those I understand and am one of- the modern expat wives. And we're an eclectic bunch of women from all sorts of backgrounds, with different levels of personal wealth, different levels of education, different aspirations, different personal values, different cultural traditions, different lives and very different stories to tell as to how we have ended up where we are. Some of us are immigrants, some of us are migrants, some of us are somewhere between the two. But the overarching term for us - expats - is not defined by these factors, and as such, is no less accurate.