Tales From Windmill Fields is hosting an Expat Blog Hop today, in which she poses the question, What is an Expat for you?
I use the term expat for myself, but I often wonder if immigrant isn’t a better word choice. To me, expat has a connotation of impermanence, someone who is only in the new country for a limited amount of time. I tend to think of expats as students or workers on a set contract for a few years. On the other hand, immigrant has gained a negative connotation over the years, as politicians try to blame a country’s problems on immigrants, usually people from poorer countries.
Even among my fellow expats, I’m a bit different. I’m not a “lovepat”, someone who moved here to be with their partner who is from this country. I’m not really a travelling spouse in the typical sense, either. While my partner did move here for his work, it was his own business, and we made the choice together that the Netherlands would be a nice place to move. It certainly had business benefits, but culturally and linguistically, things would have been easier in Italy, where my partner is from, and where I have visited, both on my own and with him. Certainly, my ability to converse in Italian would have been faster and easier, since I already had some knowledge of the language and found it much easier than any other language I’ve studied.
Among our Dutch friends here, we’re fondly (I hope!) referred to as the foreigners/buitenlanders. But at least we do have Dutch friends here now. We have a Dutch neighbor whom I met through Flickr and now we say a cheerful hello when we see each other out and about. Even some of the people working at the grocery stores we go to recognize us and say hi, making me feel at home.
I’ve moved around a bit over the years, even within the US. When you consider the size of the US, just moving from Florida to North Carolina, as I did when I was 16, was a bit like moving to another country. The accent was different; some of the cultural traditions were a bit different; and of course, I was too far away from my friends and some of my family to see them easily. I then moved to New Orleans (in another time zone!) when I went to university, so I left behind family and friends once again, only to make new friends who would also spread out to other states after graduation. I moved back to North Carolina for a few years, just in time to make some wonderful friends, but then I moved to New York, leaving those friends behind and having to make new friends all over again. I did make friends in New York (and New Jersey and Connecticut), but then left them behind once again when we moved back to North Carolina. My friends are now spread out across the US. After all, I’m not the only one to make big moves.
So I got used to not having all of my friends nearby. I also grew up with a small family spread on two continents, so I didn’t grow up with all of my family and friends in one place. Even my family in Florida was at least an hour’s drive from where we lived. Maybe that has helped me to make the adjustment to being so far away from family and friends. It’s nothing new to me.
Culturally, it’s not like the Netherlands is that different. It’s still a Western country with many of the same traditions and habits. The differences just make things interesting! Well, except for the lack of window screens and air conditioning. Warm weather without AC means open windows with no screens. That means me about to lose my mind killing flies that have gotten into the house. Yes! I just killed another! Ha!
In the end, my accent will always give me away as a foreigner here. I’m still not sure if I’m an expat or an immigrant, though. I don’t quite feel like either, as I suspect most expats/immigrants feel. We each have our own story and our own experiences. We just are. If I have to call myself anything, can I just be an Utrechter? I do love this city!