It is estimated that there are over 45,000 British citizens living in Portugal and I would hazard a guess that a very high percentage (if not all), if stopped in the street and asked what they consider their status to be here in this country, would reply that they consider themselves resident expats.
Fair enough, I considered myself an expat for many years, but what with the topic of immigration being bandied about, I asked myself a question.
What is the difference between an expat and an immigrant? The answer is nothing, there is no difference, it is playing with a made-up word originating from ex (out of) and patria (fatherland) and is exclusively used, world-wide, to denote white western Europeans who live and work abroad.
There are some who will differentiate between the two, postulating that expats are in the country temporarily whilst immigrants wish to settle permanently but I think that line is somewhat disingenuous.
Remarque Koutonin, in the Guardian newspaper, wrote: “Africans are immigrants. Arabs are immigrants. Asians are immigrants. However, Europeans are expats because they can’t be at the same level as other ethnicities. They are superior. Immigrant is a term set aside for inferior races.”
Sadly, I believe this is held to be true in many minds. Even as you are reading this, there are thousands of homeless, penniless people, marching through deserts, crowding into carts and boarding already overcrowded boats, all hoping for a ‘better life’.
Do you think they will ever be referred to as ‘expats’? I also came here for a ‘better life’; am I different? Whatever our reasons for travel, the man in the rubber dingy of the coast of Libya and the man sitting on a Ryan Air plane from Luton are both leaving their home countries. They are emigrating.
Does the sub-Saharan doctor with his universityeducated family think of himself as an expat when settling in Europe, and be regarded as so? I think not. But Brit retirees from all levels of society are expats, and being expats feel that they have no need to mix with the locals or learn the language.
And, before you jump down my throat and shout about ethnic and religious persecution, wars, famine, tribal differences and those people from countries where their colonial masters decided that borders should be redrawn to suit their own ignorant and misguided ideas. This is not about drawing parallels or making comparisons between these poor souls and our own decisions to continue our pampered lives as before, but in the sun.
No, this is about labels, unnecessary feel-good labels. I am an immigrant, as are all others who choose to move to a new country of residence. And I shall continue to refer to myself as such.