Words are powerful, especially the words we choose to describe ourselves with. Therefore, I’m especially interested in what words people living outside of their home country choose to use to describe themselves. There is a whole range of them, but the two most commonly used are Expat and Immigrant – and they are used in very different ways. Here is how I choose to define them, the way you do may be completely different. An Expat is someone who for work reasons moves to a new country for a fixed period of time, usually between 1-3 years, before returning to their home country. An Immigrant is someone who for economical reasons or because their wife/husband is from a different country moves to a new country but there is no plan to return to their home country. The word Expat is viewed favourably and is mostly used by reasonably well-off people (usually white) coming from Western countries. People will call themselves an Expat, even though they have lived in a foreign country for 10 or more years and have no desire to return to their home country. Immigrant is a word that is viewed quite negatively, particularly in the media. It is a word used to describe poor white people and all coloured people, regardless of their situation. To be quite frank, this pisses me off, especially in the racist world we currently live in.
After making the decision to become a permanent resident in Germany, I stopped referring to myself as an Expat and started referring to myself as an Immigrant, as that is precisely what I am now. I have no intention of moving back to Australia. I had, for all intent and purposes, ‘taken’ a job away from a German (and hope to ‘take’ another job away from them asap) and whilst my German is improving, it is obvious to all who speak to me that I am a foreigner. For me to continue to use the word Expat is, in my opinion, exercising my white privilege and that’s just bullshit. If an Arab woman who is in the exact same position as I am can’t call herself or be referred to as an Expat, then why should I? Anyway, when did Immigrant become a dirty word? My guess is sometime around the 1970s, maybe earlier.
I would like to see more people in the ‘Expat’ community – those who have moved here because their wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend is German and those who have chosen to make Germany their home, at least for the medium term, to start referring to themselves as Immigrants. If we want to stop the media from bashing Immigrants daily more of us ‘privileged’ folk need to start identifying as one. Most people, especially here in Germany, don’t consider white Westerners as Immigrants. I have on numerous occasions had Germans bitching about Immigrants to me and as soon I pointed out that I was one, they replied that no, I wasn’t because I’m not Turkish or Arab. I was an Expat. No, I’m fucking not. My time in Germany is not limited to a 3 year work contract and I have no plans to return to Australia. I am every bit as much of an Immigrant as the woman from Turkey who is also making her life here. Hell, at the moment, I’m also an Immigrant who has come over here and is stealing ‘our’ benefits (I’m on unemployment benefits at the moment). I just don’t get criticised for it because I’m white and from a well-off Western country. That is not fair and it is not right.
Perhaps referring to myself as an Immigrant and asking others in the same position as I am to do the same is not going to change anything on this matter. However, I like to think that every German I inform that when they bitch about Immigrants, they are bitching about me too might go away and think just a little longer before they do so again in the future and every person who reads this post might think a little harder about who they class as Immigrants and who they class as Expats and why or about how they choose to self-identify. Perhaps if more people in the same circumstances as I am in did this too, then just maybe we might be able to bring about a tiny change in the words we use to describe people and the reasons why.