Oh, the places we’ll go.

Or, adventures in expatting (verb, intransitive – the habit of living in countries that aren’t one’s own).

Booyah, Shakespeare, I just invented a word, too.

Or so I thought. This is a verb that has been hovering on the edge of my consciousness for a while, but it wasn’t until I idly looked it up to discover a raft of references in the Urban Dictionary that I realised why I feel part of neither one world or another. Even the wryly humorous term expatbagger (see note) seems to me to refer to someone who moved to one different country and then returned to their home country, rather than someone who left their original country, has travelled around and lived in a couple of others, and just hasn’t gone back home yet. In my current place of residence there are a high number of transient, short-term contractors passing through in a similar manner to me, but this is an exception. In previous places I’ve found myself part of a community who have moved in and stayed long-term. So what should I call myself that would fit the bill?

As part of writing this post I found myself engaged in the debate around the imperialistic overtones of the word ‘ex-pat.’ A great blog published in The Guardian expressed the injustice of this archaic terminology very well, as does the ongoing debate on the Wikipedia page for expatriate – check out the ‘talk’ tab for more points of view. For me, ‘ex-pat’ conjures images of the entitled jet-set, and of aged ‘Brits abroad’ retiring to the Costa del Sol to fill the beaches with pubs and chippies. I realised I wanted a less toxic term that better reflected my reality.

In a literal sense, I think the term is ‘migrant worker,’ as stated in the Guardian article. I have chosen (and I’m aware that my ability to choose my own term smacks of the white privilege which started the whole debate) either permaglobetrotter, which reflects my transient passage through the world, or post-coalitionbungle escapee, which reflects the reason I was able to put these travellin’ gears in motion, as well as the reason going home does not appeal right now.

Matters migratory have been jogged to the forefront of my consciousness by a number of recent events. Firstly, the arrival of my new passport. It fell out of its packet, shiny and golden on the front, stiff and full of electro-scanning-superspeed-queue beating wizardry in the back, jumbo sized at 48 pages, full of pictures of twee, conventionally English scenes ( I use ‘English’ advisedly – there’s precious little that I can see from the other home nations) and, if it wasn’t enough of a stereotype already, weather symbols from 1980s weather reports. The only things lacking to truly follow in the footsteps of the similarly grandiose US version are deep philosophical quotes from Our Nation’s Greatest on each page. Perhaps I can scrawl my favourite Colemanballs on there instead.

Then there was the recent General Election. I was among the hordes who took their redundancy and ran in the aftermath of the 2010 election. I never imagined when I booked my tickets in to Mexico and out of Argentina ten months later that my vague-but-unplanned dream of living abroad would come true, let alone that I would be away from home for long enough to require postal voting in the next election. Still less did I envisage the eventual last-minute chaos of arranging an emergency proxy, but that is another story.

Part of the shock to the system occasioned by the election (and the process of renewing a passport from overseas) was the realisation that I’ve missed half a decade of what now seems like quite radical change in my own country. I was an active citizen. I’d worked in the public sector and in the arts. I read the papers, listened to the Today programme, and wrote to my MP about the issues I cared about. During the riots in 2011 I felt a little out of the loop. I had to make an effort to find out what triggered them and I had a hazy, secondhand idea of what was going on. Four years later I’ve come round to the idea that if / when I move home I’ll be at only a tiny advantage over Wonderboy or any other immigrant when we start trying to fit in to the society around us.

On a smaller scale, there are the physical changes that take place over time. One of the reasons I love my hometown is its dynamism.The number of students and the student oriented areas have new things to see, places to go out, things to do. Other parts of the city rise and fall (but mostly rise), but there are dependable, unchanging institutions, like the fantastic Cornerhouse cinema, or the Central Library ….. oh, hang on, even they’ve disappeared or changed dramatically since I left! These are the things that aren’t international news, just stuff I Google when I’m thinking of home. What do the changes mean? Are they good or bad? What do people there think of them? What would I think if I were there? To quote bad soap operas, “It’s the not knowing that hurts.”

On the positive side, there are a number of aspects to my life as a perma-globetrotting teacher of English that are equally curious and bring me great joy, or sometimes happy befuddlement. One of the best things I’ve discovered here is the joy of staying somewhere long enough that friends who have left (sorrow) come back (joy)! Recently three good friends from the running group who moved away last year (sorrow) have returned either for a visit or for good (joy)!

A huge bonus is the childish sense of wonder occasioned by – well – everything! It’s possible I’ve always been excitable, but when your everyday life consists of things that you’ve always thought of as wildly exotic, it’s hard not to live in a state of continual ecstasy. Azaleas in spring – amazing! Tropical summers – awesome! Translating a menu for someone whose Korean is even more humble than mine – wow, did I just do that, that’s so cool! Then there are the ‘going abroad’ moments when you realise that the sight of a Korean restaurant makes you feel connected to home. On holiday, anything from my current country of residence sparks the tug of familiarity. At all times, anything peculiar to my home country sends me totally over the top. Tesco’s English breakfast tea leaves in Homeplus, oooooh! A packet of Hobnobs in the international food store, aaaaaaah! BRANSTON’S PICKLE – WAAAH…. (faints).

The really big perks are things like being able to consider Tokyo or Hong Kong for a weekend mini-break, or being able to say you’re a millionaire (in Korean won, at least) when you have over £650 in the bank.

There are the oddities, too, in part related to work. Keeping my language up-to-date is an essential part of my job, but global features and local adaptations creep in to my use of English. Me and a load of colleagues took ages to work out why we were so bothered by students answering, “So-so” to the question: “How are you today?” Until we thought about typical responses we might get at home, ranging from the standard, “Fine, thanks,” to “not so bad,” or negative equivalents, “oh, y’know… / alright, I s’pose.” And there are so many common sense changes that are commonly accepted by speakers in one country, but which couldn’t be considered ‘global English.’ “Do we say CVS instead of convenience store?” I recently had to check with Wonderboy. He swiftly set me straight. Of course not! Can I mention how great the infra is in Seoul? No, not if I want anyone else in the world to join in my conversation on infrastructure. In Mexico and Peru I even replaced sections of my English vocabulary with more convenient Spanish equivalents. As for keeping up with developments in colloquial English from home, it would be hard enough merely due to my age, it’s double homework when you’re over thirty and abroad!

All things considered, I wouldn’t exchange my migrant / post-coalitionbungle status for anything right now. There’s a price I pay for living my dream – all things cost. But it’s worth it.

Expatbagger: n. A person who elected to ex-patriate themselves around the time of the 2004 elections (US) and are now returning to find a distressed housing market, rock bottom mortgage rates, collapsed stock market and other circumstances that are ripe for exploiting when exchange rates on the dollar are strongly in your favor. (urbandictionary.com) On reflection, maybe this isn’t wry humour, maybe it’s caustic rage.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Caroline
    Jun 05, 2015 @ 20:00:08

    The new version of Central Library is pretty good; the New Cornerhouse (Home) is a bit out of the way and they had a really odd roof party there in a car park the other day. It had giant jenga but the wind kept blowing the stylus off the records.

    Like

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