13 April 2011

Am I an Expat?

There is a Blogger on the Guardian Newspaper webpage who feels that they should not use the term expat as it smacks of colonialism and is now outdated. Reading the interesting discussion I had to ask myself, "well what am I?" I asked this also because I have just read "The Far Pavilions" by M.M. Kaye, a novel which I thoroughly enjoyed, not just because India is one of my all time favourite countries to travel in, but also because I was able to identify with Ashton in the novel. Being a "halfbreed" myself I have often had the problem of trying to decide what am I and where do I belong.

While serving in the Army and being abroad I never considered myself as an expat, though I did frequent with this breed of person in Uganda in 83. During my mainly solo circumnavigation I did consider myself to be an expat and of course met and socialised with similar cruisers from all nations. We all felt we were one big club, irrespective of the country of origin. It was, and I imagine it still is, a wonderful community and one I do miss.

When I finished my circumnavigation I came to Germany to settle in Mönchengladbach, where my partner of 23 years lives. I have now lived here 9 years and that is longer than I have lived anywhere in the world the whole of my life. Does this mean Mönchengladbach  is now my "Heimat"! The German word means so much more than the English "Home". It is certainly my home, for I feel very much at home here, but we do not have a shared history and all my closest friends do not live her, but are scattered around the Globe. So no I cannot say it has become my "Heimat" yet. Nor can I say that the authorities initially made me feel welcome. I had to register as a "Foreigner", and here I had the distinct impression that only because I was English and had a private income, was I one step above an asylum seeker in their eyes. Yet I have a distinct advantage over such unfortunate people, I can, like Ashton Hilary Akbar Pelham-Martyn, blend in and no one meeting me for the first time will know my origin. I speak the language fluently and with a Hamburg dialect. But that does not make me a German.   In all my travels I have noticed that every country in the world has barriers to outsiders who choose for one reason or another to live there. In certain countries in Asia they have certain expressions for foreigners. Gaijin, in Japan and Laowai in China for example. These terms are not in themselves derogatory, but some do find it so. Much depends on how it is used. Those expats in Japan who left after the earthquake are now known as Flyjin for example.

Being white I can blend in, in a predominantly white country. But I could not do this in the Caribbean, in Polynesia, in Asia, in Africa or in the Middle East. Learning the language of the country you are living in, helps get over the initial barriers, but there will always be one. In South Africa a black person I stopped to ask the way refused to speak to me, because I was white. In the Caribbean I was called "whitey". In Arabia, until I started to learn the language, many thought I was American and treated me accordingly until they learned otherwise. Yet once I spoke some Arabic, and to my delight I was told in Jordan that I spoke it with a Cairean accent, which is where Hanna and I initially went to learn, Arabs became really friendly. So learning the culture and language helps to foster understanding between different cultures at least.

 I do not complain about things here in Mönchengladbach,  except perhaps when the local football team, Borussia, lose. I take part in what goes on here as much or as little as I choose, which suits me. I would not do less or more were I in England. I am happy here, can vote at least in local elections, but not Bundestag ones and have chosen the piece of soil in which my bones will lie. So what am I? I would suggest I am an Englishman abroad. An English emigrant in Germany, and proud to be so.


My Photo of the day.


Christopher Thomas, my Grandson having fun playing with his shadow, while Omi, looks on.