14 comments on “Expat or immigrant?

  1. I blogged about this a little while ago but you’ve put it much more eloquently than me! I’m an Australian in the Netherlands and am constantly told I’m not an ‘allochtoon’; essentially, someone with non-Dutch parents even though I clearly am! It’s not just a label either; why is it that it’s ok if I don’t learn Dutch as ‘you don’t really need it’ but at the same time ‘those Polish, Moroccans etc aren’t integrating’? The double standard frustrates me to no end.

    • Hey Caitlin, thanks for your kind words! Yes, the double standards are quite frustrating (and annoying). For example, I’m willing to bet that the majority of Brits who move to Spain do not learn Spanish and are probably just as likely to be the ones who buy the Sun or Daily Mail and complain about immigrants flooding the British Isles. Argh!

  2. I too worked with refugees & immigrants (in the USA) before moving to Brazil. I’m fine with being called an “immigrant” here but less comfy with “expat”. You put your finger right on the crux of the reasons why! I’m working hard over here to make my own blend of American & Brazilian, and expat has the feeling of being in a bubble in a country. You’re so spot-on about the privilege that’s loaded into the word.

    • Hey Malvina, thanks for the comment. I’m glad there are so many who seem to feel the same way. What do you do here in Brazil now?

      • I’m still figuring that out! I used to work as a Spanish interpreter and later running an interpreter services department. Not a resume that is immediately transferable in rural Minas Gerais. It is a strange dissonance to be on the receiving end of so many things that I helped clients or interpreting staff go through (doctors visits in another language, dealing with unknown bureaucracies, the frustration of losing a career and the respect that went with it, re-building/creating a new career). I know the experiences and now am living them first hand. Maybe that’s why I prefer “immigrant” as well.

  3. I completely agree with your assertions about the contemporary implications of the word “expat” especially when juxtaposed against terms like “immigrant” – “refugee” – etc. I really love the sensitivity and humor in your writing and observations (overall.)

    For kicks…I’d like to complicate the word “expat” by adding that as a non-white citizen of the US who has recently moved to Brazil because of the dizzying, infuriating immigration policies that prevent me from sponsoring my partner – I’m also reminded of expats like Eartha Kitt and Josephine Baker…who lived in a time where being an expat signified that you’d been exiled from your home-country because you are less-than. With this in mind, I can’t tell if the euphemistic implications of the word have changed though…

    Do you think that perhaps, nowadays, in addition to being a differentiation between “other immigrants” the term “expat” is also a way to conceal privilege without “downgrading” too much? Or do you think it’s exclusively a matter of superiority?


    • Thanks for your kind comments, they are very much appreciated. As with other commenters I’m glad that there are other people who feel the same way as I do.

      Your point about the term ‘expat’ historically meaning exile is an interesting one, I wonder how many of today’s expat even know of this connotation?

      And the final point, I think both apply although I think either way it’s a way of differentiating between one type of migrant (them) and us.

  4. Glaring lapse in logic – immigrants settle in a new location permanently, expats, according to the definitions above, don’t.

    • Not really. Much of the Eastern European migration to the UK is often short-term, and I’ve also met many ‘expats’ in Brazil from countries like Spain and Portugal who have absolutely no intention of going back home – not surprising given their economies and the lifestyles they are provided here by companies like Santander.

  5. I am British and I live in Belo Horizonte with two Brazilians. I never see other foreigners here, and for this I love BH. All of my friends are Brazilians and my Portuguese is improving very fast. I hate when someone calls me a “gringo”, it is impersonal and an ugly word. Yes, there are problems in Brazil, but there are also so many good things here. Every country has its problems and its idiosyncrasies.

    People like to vent, leave them to it.

    Sou britânico e moro em Belo Horizonte com dois brasileiros. Eu nunca vi outros estrangeiros aqui, e por isso eu amo BH. Todos os meus amigos são brasileiros e meu Português está melhorando muito rápido.

    Eu odeio quando alguém me chama de “gringo”, é impessoal e uma palavra feia. Sim, há problemas no Brasil, mas há também muitas coisas boas aqui. Cada país tem seus problemas e suas idiossincrasias.

    I have a blog where I write about Funk Ostentacao, nightclubs and the Brazil lifestyle.


    • I also hate the word gringo (think that’s worth a separate post to be honest) and especially when Brazilians tell me they don’t use it in a pejorative way. My response is that it’s not really their position to tell me that, seeing as I’m the one being labelled. I’d be horrified if my friends in London referred to my wife as ‘the foreigner’, because that’s basically what ‘gringo’ is.

      Will check out your blog. Thanks!

  6. Como fala bem o português…
    Esse é um debate interessante. Essa diferença de conotação existe – sim – para quem está familiarizado com o processo de expatriação…Expatriado acaba carregando a ideia que é aquele que está por cima e imigrante é quem está por baixo…triste assim.
    É aquela necessidade de sempre que o tal do ser social tem de se diferenciar dando “nome aos bois”: eu não vou jantar, eu vou ao restaurante Tal; fulana não vou à praia, vai para o Leblon; beltrano não estava de calça e camisa, usava a grife “sei la o que”…
    Mas esse negócio de ser transferido para trabalhar ou estudar ou pesquisar em outro país com benefícios e upgrade no salário – que é o que caracterizado o expatriado – é coisa recente no Brasil. Ainda somos economicamente muito fechados. Muita gente ainda não está inserida no tema e tem dificuldade em entender de quem se trata exatamente o expatriado. Já quase ouvi um: “coitada…” quando disse – certa vez – que havia sido expatriada. A pessoa se segurou para não me perguntar por que eu havia sido expulsa do país…
    Enfim…gosto do seu blog…
    Não sei se já leu um livro beeeem interessante sobre preconceito linguístico no Brasil: “Preconceito linguístico, o que é, como se faz”, Marcos Bagno – ed.Edições Loyola.

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