Many of you reading this — and thanks for doing so — have probably been expatriates at some point in your lives, or still are. Skilled workers, educational professionals, retirees and others who have chosen to work or take up residence in a country other than your own.
Some of you may be flexipats, travelling internationally on business, or rex-pats, repeat expatriates, who have returned to live somewhere after working there for years. Sounds like you burned the candle at both ends the first time around, but then all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, even if his name is Jill.
People move to foreign parts for many different reasons, politics at home, sunshine abroad, low taxation (sometimes called ‘cheap booze’), better work conditions (often called ‘more money’) or friends and family there already. Just when they thought they had escaped you. It is estimated that it costs three times more to hire an expatriate than a local employee, but in that case the expat has three times more to plough back into the local economy. Often called ‘fun and games.’
There are large uprooted communities of Australians and oligarchs in London, tax-exiles in Monte Carlo, and British retirees in the Iberian Peninsula, France and elsewhere. The market research company Finaccord reckons the number of global expatriates exceeds 65 million, not counting the Lost Generation, wherever they went.
Many expats are — or were — famous or talented, not always both at once. Charlie Chaplin’s daughter Geraldine lived in Spain for 25 years, Orson Welles is buried there, and “Spain is my second home,” says Gwyneth Paltrow. “The buildings are years and years and years old.” Gwyneth is no spring chicken either.
A whole bookshelf of writers were famously expatriate. Lawrence Durrell experienced bitter lemons in Cyprus, Scott Fitzgerald found the night was tender in the South of France, Hemingway believed the sun also rose in Paris and Spain, and George Orwell was a policeman for many Burmese days.
Frequently mentioned is the problem of incomers adapting to their host country’s ‘alien’ culture, but in these days of global fried chicken, ubiquitous burgers, and colas and pizzas to suit every taste — except mine — who could tell the difference? How well people fit in will depend on their wealth, motives for moving, and sometimes their nationality. Not speaking Pyongan might be a disadvantage if you relocate to North Korea, so don’t go there. Really, I mean don’t go there.
I had to travel by rail to my first expatriate destination, in what was then West Germany, in what was then 1970. At least unlike many future flights, the trains ran on time. Watching people scurrying in airports nowadays, I want to tell them not to worry, their temporary destination will still be there waiting when their connecting flight arrives.
Some expatriates are asylum seekers, and some may end up in asylums. It all depends on where you settle. Or become unsettled. It is a bitter-sweet experience, getting to know other cultures, because once you leave your birthplace nothing is ever the same. Often it’s even better. If you are reading this, you probably know that already.