Expat Blues

Columns | Meg David | July / August 2011

Having left my British Mother-land over seventeen years ago to live in sunny/snowy (not much in between really) Austria, I found myself, despite not being at all certain if the move was permanent, pretty quickly branded as an ‘Expat’! I say branded, as I have always struggled a bit identifying with this somewhat dubious title.

Expatriate, from the Latin term expatriàtus meaning ‘out of the father land,’ strikes me as being poignantly true, but also, especially after having lived so long in this country, a little unfair.

I am married to an Austrian man; we have a daughter (with dual nationality), a house, two cats, and in-laws living VERY close to us. I have diligently learnt to speak the native tongue fluently. And yet, I am still very much aware of being ‘out-of.’

I’m not entirely sure how much this is self-inflicted, and at what stage it is possible to break the ‘Expat’ mould and be regarded, both by yourself and others, as someone who ‘lives in……’ as a pose to someone who ‘comes from…’.

I have never considered repatriation. Not out of principle (I’ve never been overwhelmingly patriotic), but simply because it didn’t seem, as a EU citizen (and a British one to boot, you get extra brownie points for that here!) worth it. I don’t think it would make a jot of difference anyway, either to myself or others. That’s not what it’s about.

From my experience, people choose to settle in another country for all sorts of reasons. The intention for some, may always have been to `start a new life`, but more often than not it’s a, `let’s try it out for a while and see how we feel`. In my case, it was a `dreadful new boss, broken up with boyfriend, one-way ticket and onto pastures new`-jobby (not, incidentally, to be recommended!).

However it begins, I have found that there is a certain element of reinventing yourself in acclimatizing to a new culture. This can be quite liberating (perhaps a big attraction to moving in the first place), but also a bit daunting, especially when your old self catches up with you!

Sooner or later though, I think it’s essential - if only to prevent being perpetually ‘out-of’- to start calling ‘home’ where you live now, and not where you came from. And mean it.

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