Tag: expatriate

Hail Britannia

In a recent post, I expressed my admiration for the British accent. I said that it was pretty damn sexy, at least on women. I can’t judge if it’s sexy on guys (one of you ladies or gay men will have to inform me). But I will admit that British men sound more sophisticated and intelligent than we who have been afflicted with the flat American way of speaking.

And of course, anything witty sounds twice as funny with a crisp English accent.

I presume that many Americans share my belief in the inherent coolness of these island dwellers. But for a Latino, this fascination is an extra burden. It comes across as self-loathing or pathetic.

For the record, I’ve never been ashamed of being Hispanic. Nor have I ever wished that I could magically turn white or become black or pass for Asian (although many people assume that I’m Japanese, as I wrote here).

But I have to admit, part of me would like to do life all over as a British guy. Those cheeky bastards have a hold on me.

The chief cultural influence on my sense of humor is Monty Python. My favorite band is Led Zeppelin. I think the Union Jack is the greatest flag design ever.

My god, Great Britain is everywhere in my head.

Perhaps this explains my running jokes about having an unhealthy obsession with Kate Winslet (my sympathies on her recent divorce, but I can’t understand why she is still not returning my phone calls). And maybe this is why I’ve spent my professional life focusing on the English language. Hell, maybe this is why I’ve had so many problems with my teeth (I’m not at British level in that regard, however).

I’ve written before about feeling a kinship with Jews. That’s true. But if I were not a proud American Latino, I would adopt an English persona. And I’m sure that many of you – whether white, black, Asian, or a fellow Hispanic – agree that it would be most cool to issue snide asides with flair and take the tube to Piccadilly Circus and complain about the bloody weather and keep a stiff upper lip and all of that.

My wife and I travelled to London once. We still talk about ditching it all and moving there someday. This is usually after a few drinks and/or a Republican political victory. In any case, don’t hold your breath, because we both agree that we would miss America too much to adopt the expatriate life (by the way, would I be considered an expat or an immigrant?).

Still, before I glamorize the British even more than I have, I will bring these smart, sexy, clever people back down to earth:

Their food really sucks.

There, I said it. It’s a cheap shot, I know, but at the moment, it’s all I’ve got.


Expats vs. Immigrants

The waiter approached our table and recited the specials in a flowery French accent. Because I live in Los Angeles, I assume that every waiter is an actor, especially ones who are speaking with outrageous inflections.

But as it turned out, he was the real deal. Over the course of the dinner, he informed us that former Parisians constituted most of the restaurant’s staff. Evidently, the owner was from France, and he liked to help his fellow countrymen get started in this country.

“So you’re an expatriate,” I said.

“Oui,” he answered.

Now, I’m certainly not going to claim that the French are wildly popular with Americans. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that people in this country were ordering freedom fries.

Strangely enough, I don’t recall anybody asking for a freedom kiss. But I digress.

The point is we can all agree that Europeans, in general, receive kinder greetings here than do people from Latin America. In fact, it’s in the very terms we use.

The French waiter was an expat. It’s a word that evokes a daring and exotic nature, an upscale sensibility. It’s a positive term.

In contrast, we refer to Guatemalans and Colombians and Ecuadorians as immigrants. That word conjures up a lot of connotations, but most of them, alas, are not positive.

What is the reason for this dichotomy?

Certainly, legality has something to do with it. I presume that the French waiter has a work visa. The Mexican busboy, in contrast, may not. But as I’ve written before, the self-righteous screeching over the “illegal” part of the phrase “illegal immigrant” doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. It’s a point, yes, but a minor one.

The differentiation, according to one unimpeachable source, “comes down to socioeconomic factors… skilled professionals working in another country are described as expatriates, whereas a manual laborer who has moved to another country to earn more money might be labeled an ‘immigrant.’ ”

It’s an arbitrary, even unfair, definition. But it’s accurate.

Still, that doesn’t explain the difference fully. For example, we would never call someone a Mexican expatriate, even if she were a successful businessperson like the owner of the French restaurant. She is forever an immigrant.

At its most basic level, the reason that we view Frenchman and German women and British people as expats, rather than as immigrants, is because we like them better. We respect them more.

It’s right there in the language.

It works the other way too. Any American adult who chooses to live abroad is an expatriate (with the possible exception of Peace Corps volunteers). It really doesn’t matter if you bum around Europe for years or head up the international office in Hong Kong. If you’re an American living in a foreign land, you’re an expat. You won’t be called an immigrant unless a native resents your presence, and even then, you’re more likely to be called “gringo,” “yanqui,” or “member of the invading imperialist army.”

There is, of course, a long history of Americans moving abroad to have their art better appreciated, or at least to sleep with people who have more interesting accents. It’s the Lost Generation of Hemingway, and the Beat Generation of Kerouac, and the Brooding Generation of Johnny Depp (he lives in France, you know).

So perhaps I will do my part and live out that dream I have about moving to London. It might be amusing to see the British try to figure out if I’m an American expatriate or a Latino immigrant.

Perhaps I would be both.


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